AUTHORS: Cappe C, Thut G, Romei V, Murray MM

Neuropsychologia, 47(4): 1045-52, March 2009


An object’s motion relative to an observer can confer ethologically meaningful information. Approaching or looming stimuli can signal threats/collisions to be avoided or prey to be confronted, whereas receding stimuli can signal successful escape or failed pursuit. Using movement detection and subjective ratings, we investigated the multisensory integration of looming and receding auditory and visual information by humans. While prior research has demonstrated a perceptual bias for unisensory and more recently multisensory looming stimuli, none has investigated whether there is integration of looming signals between modalities. Our findings reveal selective integration of multisensory looming stimuli. Performance was significantly enhanced for looming stimuli over all other multisensory conditions. Contrasts with static multisensory conditions indicate that only multisensory looming stimuli resulted in facilitation beyond that induced by the sheer presence of auditory-visual stimuli. Controlling for variation in physical energy replicated the advantage for multisensory looming stimuli. Finally, only looming stimuli exhibited a negative linear relationship between enhancement indices for detection speed and for subjective ratings. Maximal detection speed was attained when motion perception was already robust under unisensory conditions. The preferential integration of multisensory looming stimuli highlights that complex ethologically salient stimuli likely require synergistic cooperation between existing principles of multisensory integration. A new conceptualization of the neurophysiologic mechanisms mediating real-world multisensory perceptions and action is therefore supported.

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