The brain decomposes mixtures of sounds, such as competing talkers, into perceptual streams that can be attended to individually. Attention can enhance the cortical representation of streams, but it is unknown what acoustic features the enhancement reflects, or where in the auditory pathways attentional enhancement is first observed. Here, behavioral measures of streaming were combined with simultaneous low- and high-frequency envelope-following responses (EFR) that are thought to originate primarily from cortical and subcortical regions, respectively. Repeating triplets of harmonic complex tones were presented with alternating fundamental frequencies. The tones were filtered to contain either low-numbered spectrally resolved harmonics, or only high-numbered unresolved harmonics. The behavioral results confirmed that segregation can be based on either tonotopic or pitch cues. The EFR results revealed no effects of streaming or attention on subcortical responses. Cortical responses revealed attentional enhancement under conditions of streaming, but only when tonotopic cues were available, not when streaming was based only on pitch cues. The results suggest that the attentional modulation of phase-locked responses is dominated by tonotopically tuned cortical neurons that are insensitive to pitch or periodicity cues.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by NIH Grant No. R01 DC016119. We thank Alain de Cheveigné, Leonard Varghese, and Hari Bharadwaj for their generous assistance in analyzing the EEG data.