Frontal cortex selectively overrides auditory processing to bias perception for looming sonic motion


Rising intensity sounds signal approaching objects traveling toward an observer. A variety of species preferentially respond to looming over receding auditory motion, reflecting an evolutionary perceptual bias for recognizing approaching threats. We probed the neural origins of this stark perceptual anisotropy to reveal how the brain creates privilege for auditory looming events. While recording neural activity via electroencephalography (EEG), human listeners rapidly judged whether dynamic (intensity varying) tones were looming or receding in percept. Behaviorally, listeners responded faster to auditory looms confirming a perceptual bias for approaching signals. EEG source analysis revealed sensory activation localized to primary auditory cortex (PAC) and decision-related activity in prefrontal cortex (PFC) within 200 ms after sound onset followed by additional expansive PFC activation by 500 ms. Notably, early PFC (but not PAC) activity rapidly differentiated looming and receding stimuli and this effect roughly co-occurred with sound arrival in auditory cortex. Brain-behavior correlations revealed an association between PFC neural latencies and listeners’ speed of sonic motion judgments. Directed functional connectivity revealed stronger information flow from PFC → PAC during looming vs. receding sounds. Our electrophysiological data reveal a critical, previously undocumented role of prefrontal cortex in judging dynamic sonic motion. Both faster neural bias and a functional override of obligatory sensory processing via selective, directional PFC signaling toward auditory system establish the perceptual privilege for approaching looming sounds.

Publication Title

Brain Research