Binaural hearing, the ability to detect small differences in the timing and level of sounds at the two ears, underpins the ability to localize sound sources along the horizontal plane, and is important for decoding complex spatial listening environments into separate objects – a critical factor in ‘cocktail-party listening’. For human listeners, the most important spatial cue is the interaural time difference (ITD). Despite many decades of neurophysiological investigations of ITD sensitivity in small mammals, and computational models aimed at accounting for human perception, a lack of concordance between these studies has hampered our understanding of how the human brain represents and processes ITDs. Further, neural coding of spatial cues might depend on factors such as head-size or hearing range, which differ considerably between humans and commonly used experimental animals. Here, using magnetoencephalography (MEG) in human listeners, and electro-corticography (ECoG) recordings in guinea pig—a small mammal representative of a range of animals in which ITD coding has been assessed at the level of single-neuron recordings—we tested whether processing of ITDs in human auditory cortex accords with a frequency-dependent periodic code of ITD reported in small mammals, or whether alternative or additional processing stages implemented in psychoacoustic models of human binaural hearing must be assumed. Our data were well accounted for by a model consisting of periodically tuned ITD-detectors, and were highly consistent across the two species. The results suggest that the representation of ITD in human auditory cortex is similar to that found in other mammalian species, a representation in which neural responses to ITD are determined by phase differences relative to sound frequency rather than, for instance, the range of ITDs permitted by head size or the absolute magnitude or direction of ITD.
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- Auditory cortex
- Guinea pig
- Interaural time difference
- Sound source localization