Questioning the automaticity of audiovisual correspondences

Cognition 175 (C):101-108 (2018)
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An audiovisual correspondence (AVC) refers to an observer’s seemingly arbitrary yet consistent matching of sensory features across the two modalities; for example, between an auditory pitch and visual size. Research on AVCs has frequently used a speeded classification procedure in which participants are asked to rapidly classify an image when it is either accompanied by a congruent or an incongruent sound (or vice versa). When, as is typically the case, classification is faster in the presence of a congruent stimulus, researchers have inferred that the AVC is automatic and bottom-up. Such an inference is incomplete because the procedure does not show that the AVC is not subject to top-down influences. To remedy this problem, we devised a procedure that allows us to assess the degree of “bottom-up-ness” and “top-down-ness” in the processing of an AVC. We did this in studies of AVCs between pitch and five visual features: size, height, spatial frequency, brightness, and angularity. We find that all the AVCs we studied involve both bottom-up and top-down processing, thus undermining the prevalent generalization that AVCs are automatic.

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