Looming Signals Reveal Synergistic Principles of Multisensory Integration
Multisensory interactions are a fundamental feature of brain organization. Principles governing multisensory processing have been established by varying stimulus location, timing and efficacy independently. Determining whether and how such principles operate when stimuli vary dynamically in their perceived distance (as when looming/receding) provides an assay for synergy among the above principles and also means for linking multisensory interactions between rudimentary stimuli with higher-order signals used for communication and motor planning. Human participants indicated movement of looming or receding versus static stimuli that were visual, auditory, or multisensory combinations while 160-channel EEG was recorded. Multivariate EEG analyses and distributed source estimations were performed. Nonlinear interactions between looming signals were observed at early poststimulus latencies (∼75 ms) in analyses of voltage waveforms, global field power, and source estimations. These looming-specific interactions positively correlated with reaction time facilitation, providing direct links between neural and performance metrics of multisensory integration. Statistical analyses of source estimations identified looming-specific interactions within the right claustrum/insula extending inferiorly into the amygdala and also within the bilateral cuneus extending into the inferior and lateral occipital cortices. Multisensory effects common to all conditions, regardless of perceived distance and congruity, followed (∼115 ms) and manifested as faster transition between temporally stable brain networks (vs summed responses to unisensory conditions). We demonstrate the early-latency, synergistic interplay between existing principles of multisensory interactions. Such findings change the manner in which to model multisensory interactions at neural and behavioral/perceptual levels. We also provide neurophysiologic backing for the notion that looming signals receive preferential treatment during perception.