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Localization of complex sounds is modulated by behavioral relevance and sound category

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Meaningful sounds represent the majority of sounds that humans hear and process in everyday life. Yet studies of human sound localization mainly use artificial stimuli such as clicks, pure tones, and noise bursts. The present study investigated the influence of behavioral relevance, sound category, and acoustic properties on the localization of complex, meaningful sounds in the horizontal plane. Participants localized vocalizations and traffic sounds with two levels of behavioral relevance (low and high) within each category, as well as amplitude-modulated tones. Results showed a small but significant effect of behavioral relevance: localization acuity was higher for complex sounds with a high level of behavioral relevance at several target locations. The data also showed category-specific effects: localization biases were lower, and localization precision higher, for vocalizations than for traffic sounds in central space. Several acoustic parameters influenced sound localization performance as well. Correcting localization responses for front-back reversals reduced the overall variability across sounds, but behavioral relevance and sound category still had a modulatory effect on sound localization performance in central auditory space. The results thus demonstrate that spatial hearing performance for complex sounds is influenced not only by acoustic characteristics, but also by sound category and behavioral relevance.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1757-1773
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017