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Frontiers In Computational Neuroscience


Illusions give intriguing insights into perceptual and neural dynamics. In the auditory continuity illusion, two brief tones separated by a silent gap may be heard as one continuous tone if a noise burst with appropriate characteristics fills the gap. This illusion probes the conditions under which listeners link related sounds across time and maintain perceptual continuity in the face of sudden changes in sound mixtures. Conceptual explanations of this illusion have been proposed, but its neural basis is still being investigated. In this work we provide a dynamical systems framework, grounded in principles of neural dynamics, to explain the continuity illusion. We construct an idealized firing rate model of a neural population and analyze the conditions under which firing rate responses persist during the interruption between the two tones. First, we show that sustained inputs and hysteresis dynamics (a mismatch between tone levels needed to activate and inactivate the population) can produce continuous responses. Second, we show that transient inputs and bistable dynamics (coexistence of two stable firing rate levels) can also produce continuous responses. Finally, we combine these input types together to obtain neural dynamics consistent with two requirements for the continuity illusion as articulated in a well-known theory of auditory scene analysis: responses persist through the noise-filled gap if noise provides sufficient evidence that the tone continues and if there is no evidence of discontinuities between the tones and noise. By grounding these notions in a quantitative model that incorporates elements of neural circuits (recurrent excitation, and mutual inhibition, specifically), we identify plausible mechanisms for the continuity illusion. Our findings can help guide future studies of neural correlates of this illusion and inform development of more biophysically-based models of the auditory continuity illusion.


auditory scene analysis, bistability, computational neuroscience, continuity illusion, hysteresis, neural dynamics

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


This work is freely available under a Creative Commons license.

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