The dynamics of auditory stream segregation: effects of sudden changes in frequency, level, or modulation

Saima L. Rajasingam, Robert J. Summers, Brian Roberts

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Three experiments explored the effects of abrupt changes in stimulus properties on streaming dynamics. Listeners monitored 20-s-long low- and high-frequency (LHL–) tone sequences and reported the number of streams heard throughout. Experiments 1 and 2 used pure tones and examined the effects of changing triplet base frequency and level, respectively. Abrupt changes in base frequency (±3–12 semitones) caused significant magnitude-related falls in segregation (resetting), regardless of transition direction, but an asymmetry occurred for changes in level (±12 dB). Rising-level transitions usually decreased segregation significantly, whereas falling-level transitions had little or no effect. Experiment 3 used pure tones (unmodulated) and narrowly spaced (±25 Hz) tone pairs (dyads); the two evoke similar excitation patterns, but dyads are strongly modulated with a distinctive timbre. Dyad-only sequences induced a strongly segregated percept, limiting scope for further build-up. Alternation between groups of pure tones and dyads produced large, asymmetric changes in streaming. Dyad-to-pure transitions caused substantial resetting, but pure-to-dyad transitions sometimes elicited even greater segregation than for the corresponding interval in dyad-only sequences (overshoot). The results indicate that abrupt changes in timbre can strongly affect the likelihood of stream segregation without introducing significant peripheral-channeling cues. These asymmetric effects of transition direction are reminiscent of subtractive adaptation in vision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3769-3784
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 Author(s). All article content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

Funding Information:
This research was by supported Aston University, which funded a Ph.D. studentship for S.R. under the supervision of B.R. We thank Nick Haywood and Brian Moore for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and Mark Georgeson for drawing our attention to the literature on subtractive adaptation in vision. The experiments reported here correspond to reanalyzed versions of experiments 1, 3, and 4 in the doctoral thesis of S.R. (Rajasingam, 2016).


  • Auditory system
  • auditory perception
  • acoustical properties
  • timbre
  • signal processing


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