Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Perception is a multisensory process, and previous work has shown that multisensory interactions occur not only for object-related stimuli but also for simplistic and apparently unrelated inputs to the different senses. We here compare the facilitation of visual perception induced by transient (target-synchronized) sounds to the facilitation provided by continuous background noise like sounds. Specifically, we show that continuous acoustic noise improves visual contrast detection by systematically shifting psychometric curves in an amplitude-dependent manner. This multisensory benefit was found to be both qualitatively and quantitatively similar to that induced by a transient and target synchronized sound in the same paradigm. Studying the underlying neural mechanisms using electric neuroimaging (EEG), we found that acoustic noise alters occipital alpha (8–12 Hz) power and decreases beta-band (14–20 Hz) coupling of occipital and temporal sites. Task-irrelevant and continuous sounds thereby have an amplitude-dependent effect on cortical mechanisms implicated in shaping visual cortical excitability. The same oscillatory mechanisms also mediate visual facilitation by transient sounds, and our results suggest that task-related sounds and task-irrelevant background noises could induce perceptually and mechanistically similar enhancement of visual perception. Given the omnipresence of sounds and noises in our environment, such multisensory interactions may affect perception in many everyday scenarios.