Manhattan Multisensory Meet-up

June 9, 2012

This week, my lab co-organized a multisensory journal club at NYU. Members from 5 labs at 3 institutions attended. In addition to our lab, we heard about the latest multisensory research from Denis Pelli’s lab, Mike Landy’s lab, David Poeppel’s lab and Maggie Shiffrar’s lab.

Two themes emerged in a number of the talks:the first was the role of timing in multisensory integration. James Thomas, from Maggie Shiffrar’s lab, presented psychophysical data describing judgments about biological motion using point-light walker simuli. He found that auditory stimuli,the sound of footsteps, helped subjects to distinguish real biological motion from scrambled biological motion. Interestingly, however, the auditory stimuli didn’t need to be precisely timed relative to the visual stimuli in order to see the effect. This is reminiscent of a recent paper from our lab: we find that subjects are better able to estimate stimulus rate when it is presented to the auditory and visual systems, but the exact timing of individual stimulus events doesn’t matter much. David Poeppel likewise reported a similar tolerance for temporal slop in the McGurk effect. We couldn’t agree on the explanation, however, and in the end, David and I made a bet about the degree to which the effect from the Shiffrar lab depended on the relative phase of the auditory visual stimulus (it was only for US$1, but I still await the results from James’ analysis with anticipation).

The second theme was highlighted by Mike Landy’s work: he has been studying how color and texture cues contribute to object segmentation. He reports that salient stimulus features bias subjects’ choices even when the subjects are explicitly instructed to ignore them.  This is contrary to both my intuition and to scientific findings that feature-based attention can be modulated at will depending on the task at hand. Mike’s data suggests that, instead, feature-based attention may only operate in a restricted set of circumstances.

The lively discourse was lots of fun and the focus on behavior was especially compelling for my lab where our efforts are concentrated heavily on physiology at the moment. The picture above shows us at the end of the day.

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