Retroactive streaming fails to improve concurrent vowel identification

Eugene J. Brandewie, Andrew J. Oxenham.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sequential organization of sound over time can interact with the concurrent organization of sounds across frequency. Previous studies using simple acoustic stimuli have suggested that sequential streaming cues can retroactively affect the perceptual organization of sounds that have already occurred. It is unknown whether such effects generalize to the perception of speech sounds. Listeners' ability to identify two simultaneously presented vowels was measured in the following conditions: no context, a preceding context stream (precursors), and a following context stream (postcursors). The context stream was comprised of brief repetitions of one of the two vowels, and the primary measure of performance was listeners' ability to identify the other vowel. Results in the precursor condition showed a significant advantage for the identification of the second vowel compared to the no-context condition, suggesting that sequential grouping mechanisms aided the segregation of the concurrent vowels, in agreement with previous work. However, performance in the postcursor condition was significantly worse compared to the no-context condition, providing no evidence for an effect of stream segregation, and suggesting a possible interference effect. Two additional experiments involving inharmonic (jittered) vowels were performed to provide additional cues to aid retroactive stream segregation; however, neither manipulation enabled listeners to improve their identification of the target vowel. Taken together with earlier studies, the results suggest that retroactive streaming may require large spectral differences between concurrent sources and thus may not provide a robust segregation cue for natural broadband sounds such as speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0140466
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 9 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Brandewie, Oxenham.


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