A precedence effect resolves phantom sound source illusions in the parasitoid fly Ormia ochracea

Norman Lee, Damian O. Elias, Andrew C. Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Localizing individual sound sources under reverberant environmental conditions can be a challenge when the original source and its acoustic reflections arrive at the ears simultaneously from different paths that convey ambiguous directional information. The acoustic parasitoid fly Ormia ochracea (Diptera: Tachinidae) relies on a pair of ears exquisitely sensitive to sound direction to localize the 5-kHz tone pulsatile calling song of their host crickets. In nature, flies are expected to encounter a complex sound field with multiple sources and their reflections from acoustic clutter potentially masking temporal information relevant to source recognition and localization. In field experiments, O. ochracea were lured onto a test arena and subjected to small random acoustic asymmetries between 2 simultaneous sources. Most flies successfully localize a single source but some localize a 'phantom' source that is a summed effect of both source locations. Such misdirected phonotaxis can be elicited reliably in laboratory experiments that present symmetric acoustic stimulation. By varying onset delay between 2 sources, we test whether hyperacute directional hearing in O. ochracea can function to exploit small time differences to determine source location. Selective localization depends on both the relative timing and location of competing sources. Flies preferred phonotaxis to a forward source. With small onset disparities within a 10-ms temporal window of attention, flies selectively localize the leading source while the lagging source has minimal influence on orientation. These results demonstrate the precedence effect as a mechanism to overcome phantom source illusions that arise from acoustic reflections or competing sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6357-6362
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 14 2009


  • Cocktail party problem
  • Sound localization
  • Temporal window of attention

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