Objects and events in the sensory environment are generally predictable, making most of the energy impinging upon sensory transducers redundant. Given this fact, efficient sensory systems should detect, extract, and exploit predictability in order to optimize sensitivity to less predictable inputs that are, by definition, more informative. Not only are perceptual systems sensitive to changes in physical stimulus properties, but growing evidence reveals sensitivity both to relative predictability of stimuli and to co-occurrence of stimulus attributes within stimuli. Recent results revealed that auditory perception rapidly reorganizes to efficiently capture covariance among stimulus attributes. Acoustic properties per se were perceptually abandoned, and sounds were instead processed relative to patterns of cooccurrence. Here, we show that listeners' ability to distinguish sounds from one another is driven primarily by the extent to which they are consistent or inconsistent with patterns of covariation among stimulus attributes and, to a lesser extent, whether they are heard frequently or infrequently. When sounds were heard frequently and deviated minimally from the prevailing pattern of covariance among attributes, they were poorly discriminated from one another. In stark contrast, when sounds were heard rarely and markedly violated the pattern of covariance, they became hyperdiscriminable with discrimination performance beyond apparent limits of the auditory system. Plausible cortical candidates underlying these dramatic changes in perceptual organization are discussed. These findings support efficient coding of stimulus statistical structure as a model for both perceptual and neural organization. © 2016 Stilp, Kluender. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Date of this Version
Stilp, C.E.a , Kluender, K.R. Stimulus statistics change sounds from near-indiscriminable to hyperdiscriminable. PLoS ONE Volume 11, Issue 8, August 2016, Article number e0161001. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0161001