New perspectives on the measurement and time course of auditory enhancement

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A target sound can become more audible and may "pop out" from a simultaneously presented masker if the masker is presented first by itself, as a precursor. This phenomenon, known as auditory enhancement, may reflect the general perceptual principle of contrast enhancement, which facilitates adaptation to ongoing acoustic conditions and the detection of new events. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying enhancement, and potential confounding factors have made the size of the effect and its time course a point of contention. Here we measured enhancement as a function of precursor duration and delay between precursor offset and target onset, using 2 single-interval pitch comparison tasks, which involve either same-different or up-down judgments, to avoid the potential confounds of earlier studies. Although these 2 tasks elicit different levels of performance and may reflect different underlying mechanisms, they produced similar amounts of enhancement. The effect decreased with decreasing precursor duration, but remained present for precursors as short as 62.5 ms, and decreased with increasing gap between the precursor and target, but remained measurable 1 s after the precursor. Additional conditions, examining the effect of precursor/masker similarity and the possible role of grouping and cueing, suggest multiple sources of auditory enhancement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1696-1708
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Psychological Association.


  • Auditory perception
  • Contrast enhancement
  • Perceptual invariance


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