Multistability in perception is a powerful tool for investigating sensory–perceptual transformations, because it produces dissociations between sensory inputs and subjective experience. Spontaneous switching between different perceptual objects occurs during prolonged listening to a sound sequence of tone triplets or repeated words (termed auditory streaming and verbal transformations, respectively). We used these examples of auditory multistability to examine to what extent neurochemical and cognitive factors influence the observed idiosyncratic patterns of switching between perceptual objects. The concentrations of glutamate–glutamine (Glx) and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in brain regions were measured by magnetic resonance spectroscopy, while personality traits and executive functions were assessed using questionnaires and response inhibition tasks. Idiosyncratic patterns of perceptual switching in the two multistable stimulus configurations were identified using a multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis. Intriguingly, although switching patterns within each individual differed between auditory streaming and verbal transformations, similar MDS dimensions were extracted separately from the two datasets. Individual switching patterns were significantly correlated with Glx and GABA concentrations in auditory cortex and inferior frontal cortex but not with the personality traits and executive functions. Our results suggest that auditory perceptual organization depends on the balance between neural excitation and inhibition in different brain regions.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Auditory and visual scene analysis'.
- Accepted August 8, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.