Looming sounds enhance orientation sensitivity for visual stimuli on the same side as such sounds
Several recent multisensory studies show that sounds can influence visual processing. Some visual judgments can be enhanced for visual stimuli near a sound occurring around the same time. A recent TMS study (Romei et al. 2009) indicates looming sounds might influence visual cortex particularly strongly. But unlike most previous behavioral studies of possible audio–visual exogenous effects, TMS phosphene thresholds rather than judgments of external visual stimuli were measured. Moreover, the visual hemifield assessed relative to the hemifield of the sound was not varied. Here, we compared the impact of looming sounds to receding or “static” sounds, using auditory stimuli adapted from Romei et al. (2009), but now assessing any influence on visual orientation discrimination for Gabor patches (well-known to involve early visual cortex) when appearing in the same hemifield as the sound or on the opposite side. The looming sounds that were effective in Romei et al. (2009) enhanced visual orientation sensitivity (d′) here on the side of the sound, but not for the opposite hemifield. This crossmodal, spatially specific effect was stronger for looming than receding or static sounds. Similarly to Romei et al. (2009), the differential effect for looming sounds was eliminated when using white noise rather than structured sounds. Our new results show that looming structured sounds can specifically benefit visual orientation sensitivity in the hemifield of the sound, even when the sound provides no information about visual orientation itself.