Musicians have enhanced audiovisual multisensory binding: experience-dependent effects in the double-flash illusion


Musical training is associated with behavioral and neurophysiological enhancements in auditory processing for both musical and nonmusical sounds (e.g., speech). Yet, whether the benefits of musicianship extend beyond enhancements to auditory-specific skills and impact multisensory (e.g., audiovisual) processing has yet to be fully validated. Here, we investigated multisensory integration of auditory and visual information in musicians and nonmusicians using a double-flash illusion, whereby the presentation of multiple auditory stimuli (beeps) concurrent with a single visual object (flash) induces an illusory perception of multiple flashes. We parametrically varied the onset asynchrony between auditory and visual events (leads and lags of ±300 ms) to quantify participants’ “temporal window” of integration, i.e., stimuli in which auditory and visual cues were fused into a single percept. Results show that musically trained individuals were both faster and more accurate at processing concurrent audiovisual cues than their nonmusician peers; nonmusicians had a higher susceptibility for responding to audiovisual illusions and perceived double flashes over an extended range of onset asynchronies compared to trained musicians. Moreover, temporal window estimates indicated that musicians’ windows (<100 ms) were ~2–3× shorter than nonmusicians’ (~200 ms), suggesting more refined multisensory integration and audiovisual binding. Collectively, findings indicate a more refined binding of auditory and visual cues in musically trained individuals. We conclude that experience-dependent plasticity of intensive musical experience extends beyond simple listening skills, improving multimodal processing and the integration of multiple sensory systems in a domain-general manner.

Publication Title

Experimental Brain Research