Principles of multisensory behavior

The combined use of multisensory signals is often beneficial. Based on neuronal recordings in the superior colliculus of cats, three basic rules were formulated to describe the effectiveness of multisensory signals: the enhancement of neuronal responses to multisensory compared with unisensory signals is largest when signals occur at the same location (“spatial rule”), when signals are presented at the same time (“temporal rule”), and when signals are rather weak (“principle of inverse effectiveness”). These rules are also considered with respect to multisensory benefits as observed with behavioral measures, but do they capture these benefits best? To uncover the principles that rule benefits in multisensory behavior, we here investigated the classical redundant signal effect (RSE; i.e., the speedup of response times in multisensory compared with unisensory conditions) in humans. Based on theoretical considerations using probability summation, we derived two alternative principles to explain the effect. First, the “principle of congruent effectiveness” states that the benefit in multisensory behavior (here the speedup of response times) is largest when behavioral performance in corresponding unisensory conditions is similar. Second, the “variability rule” states that the benefit is largest when performance in corresponding unisensory conditions is unreliable. We then tested these predictions in two experiments, in which we manipulated the relative onset and the physical strength of distinct audiovisual signals. Our results, which are based on a systematic analysis of response time distributions, show that the RSE follows these principles very well, thereby providing compelling evidence in favor of probability summation as the underlying combination rule.

Otto TU, Dassy B, & Mamassian P (2013). Principles of multisensory behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(17): 7463-7474.

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