What are the latest research and explanations concerning this auditory effect? I haven't managed to turn up much on the net, so just to check that I've named it correctly, my experience of it was being exposed to two alternately repeated beeps differing distinctly in pitch and finding that after a while I just heard a single repeated beep of constant pitch as if my brain had merged the two.


Jansson (1994) writes:

Music may also be intercepted successively by noise bursts and still be perceived as continuous, even if the music signals are deleted within the noise bursts (van Norden, 1975)


  • Jansson, E. V. (1994). Violin timbre and the picket fence. Quarterly Progress and Status Report, KTH, Stockholm, 35, 79-84.PDF
  • van Norden, L.P.A.S. (1975): Temporal Coherence in the Perception of Tone Sequences, Thesis, Technical University, Eindhoven.
  • $\begingroup$ Could you provide a quick citation or link to a source for the van Norden percept for clarity's and posterity's sake? $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 27 '15 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/qpsr/1990/… (found by googling) $\endgroup$ – Wanderlust Mar 27 '15 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Wanderlust I searched the document you mentioned and added the only text that seemed relevant to van Norden. Please check and feel free to edit further. $\endgroup$ – Jeromy Anglim Mar 31 '15 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Jeromy. Your response, especially the second of your references ( which was cited in the first) stirred me to get googling again and I found van Noorden (note spelling) on ipem.ugent.be/user/8. I've mailed him for more information. What revived my interest was a Scientific American article, March 2015, "Sound Bytes" about the ear's "exceptional ability to pick out subtle differences in a pattern, which is helpful in discovering phenomena not obvious in a visual display". At first sight the vN effect entails the contrary, merging differences, but maybe this is just what helps. $\endgroup$ – Wanderlust Apr 1 '15 at 8:04

I have found the following — all mention van Norden, (1975):

Chang, A.-C., Lutfi, R., Lee, J., & Heo, I. (2016). A Detection-Theoretic Analysis of Auditory Streaming and Its Relation to Auditory Masking. Trends in Hearing, 20
DOI: 10.1177/2331216516664343 PMCID: PMC5029798


Research on hearing has long been challenged with understanding our exceptional ability to hear out individual sounds in a mixture (the so-called cocktail party problem). Two general approaches to the problem have been taken using sequences of tones as stimuli. The first has focused on our tendency to hear sequences, sufficiently separated in frequency, split into separate cohesive streams (auditory streaming). The second has focused on our ability to detect a change in one sequence, ignoring all others (auditory masking). The two phenomena are clearly related, but that relation has never been evaluated analytically. This article offers a detection-theoretic analysis of the relation between multitone streaming and masking that underscores the expected similarities and differences between these phenomena and the predicted outcome of experiments in each case. The key to establishing this relation is the function linking performance to the information divergence of the tone sequences, DKL (a measure of the statistical separation of their parameters). A strong prediction is that streaming and masking of tones will be a common function of DKL provided that the statistical properties of sequences are symmetric. Results of experiments are reported supporting this prediction.

Krogholt Christiansen, S., & Oxenham, A. J. (2014). Assessing the effects of temporal coherence on auditory stream formation through comodulation masking release. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 135(6): pp. 3520—3529.
DOI: 10.1121/1.4872300 PMCID: PMC4048442


Recent studies of auditory streaming have suggested that repeated synchronous onsets and offsets over time, referred to as “temporal coherence,” provide a strong grouping cue between acoustic components, even when they are spectrally remote. This study uses a measure of auditory stream formation, based on comodulation masking release (CMR), to assess the conditions under which a loss of temporal coherence across frequency can lead to auditory stream segregation. The measure relies on the assumption that the CMR, produced by flanking bands remote from the masker and target frequency, only occurs if the masking and flanking bands form part of the same perceptual stream. The masking and flanking bands consisted of sequences of narrowband noise bursts, and the temporal coherence between the masking and flanking bursts was manipulated in two ways: (a) By introducing a fixed temporal offset between the flanking and masking bands that varied from zero to 60 ms and (b) by presenting the flanking and masking bursts at different temporal rates, so that the asynchronies varied from burst to burst. The results showed reduced CMR in all conditions where the flanking and masking bands were temporally incoherent, in line with expectations of the temporal coherence hypothesis.

Winkler, I. & Schröger, E. (2015) Auditory perceptual objects as generative models: Setting the stage for communication by sound. Brain and Language 148(1): pp. 1—22
DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2015.05.003 PMID: 26184883


Communication by sounds requires that the communication channels (i.e. speech/speakers and other sound sources) had been established. This allows to separate concurrently active sound sources, to track their identity, to assess the type of message arriving from them, and to decide whether and when to react (e.g., reply to the message). We propose that these functions rely on a common generative model of the auditory environment. This model predicts upcoming sounds on the basis of representations describing temporal/sequential regularities. Predictions help to identify the continuation of the previously discovered sound sources to detect the emergence of new sources as well as changes in the behavior of the known ones. It produces auditory event representations which provide a full sensory description of the sounds, including their relation to the auditory context and the current goals of the organism. Event representations can be consciously perceived and serve as objects in various cognitive operations.


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