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There is a delay before sensory information arising from a given event reaches the central nervous system. This delay may be different for information carried by different senses. It will also vary depending on how far the event is from the observer and stimulus properties such as intensity. However, it seems that at least some of these processing time differences can be compensated for by a mechanism that resynchronizes asynchronous signals and enables us to perceive simultaneity correctly. This chapter explores how effectively simultaneity constancy can be achieved, both intramodally within the visual and tactile systems and cross-modally between combinations of auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli. We propose and provide support for a three-stage model of simultaneity constancy in which (1) signals within temporal and spatial windows are identified as corresponding to a single event, (2) a crude resynchronization is applied based on simple rules corresponding to the average processing speed differences between the individual sensory systems, and (3) fine-tuning adjustments are applied based on previous experience with particular combinations of stimuli.
Although time is essential for the perception of the outside world, there is no energy that carries duration information, and consequently there can be no sensory system for time. Time needs to be constructed by the brain, and because this process itself takes time, it follows that the perception of when an event occurs must necessarily lag behind the occurrence of the event itself.
We investigated the effect of auditory–visual sensory integration on visual tasks that were predominantly dependent on parvocellular processing. These tasks were (i) detecting metacontrast-masked targets and (ii) discriminating orientation differences between high spatial frequency Gabor patch stimuli. Sounds that contained no information relevant to either task were presented before, synchronized with, or after the visual targets, and the results were compared to conditions with no sound. Both tasks used a two-alternative forced choice technique. For detecting metacontrast-masked targets, one interval contained the visual target and both (or neither) intervals contained a sound. Sound–target synchrony within 50 ms lowered luminance thresholds for detecting the presence of a target compared to when no sound occurred or when sound onset preceded target onset. Threshold angles for discriminating the orientation of a Gabor patch consistently increased in the presence of a sound. These results are compatible with sound-induced activity in the parvocellular visual pathway increasing the visibility of flashed targets and hindering orientation discrimination.
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