OPEN PLoS computational biology | 10 Dec 2015
B Odegaard, DR Wozny and L Shams
Localization of objects and events in the environment is critical for survival, as many perceptual and motor tasks rely on estimation of spatial location. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that spatial localizations should generally be accurate. Curiously, some previous studies have reported biases in visual and auditory localizations, but these studies have used small sample sizes and the results have been mixed. Therefore, it is not clear (1) if the reported biases in localization responses are real (or due to outliers, sampling bias, or other factors), and (2) whether these putative biases reflect a bias in sensory representations of space or a priori expectations (which may be due to the experimental setup, instructions, or distribution of stimuli). Here, to address these questions, a dataset of unprecedented size (obtained from 384 observers) was analyzed to examine presence, direction, and magnitude of sensory biases, and quantitative computational modeling was used to probe the underlying mechanism(s) driving these effects. Data revealed that, on average, observers were biased towards the center when localizing visual stimuli, and biased towards the periphery when localizing auditory stimuli. Moreover, quantitative analysis using a Bayesian Causal Inference framework suggests that while pre-existing spatial biases for central locations exert some influence, biases in the sensory representations of both visual and auditory space are necessary to fully explain the behavioral data. How are these opposing visual and auditory biases reconciled in conditions in which both auditory and visual stimuli are produced by a single event? Potentially, the bias in one modality could dominate, or the biases could interact/cancel out. The data revealed that when integration occurred in these conditions, the visual bias dominated, but the magnitude of this bias was reduced compared to unisensory conditions. Therefore, multisensory integration not only improves the precision of perceptual estimates, but also the accuracy.
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