Converging lines of evidence suggest that auditory system short-term plasticity can enable several perceptual and cognitive functions that have been previously considered as relatively distinct phenomena. Here we review recent findings suggesting that auditory stimulation, auditory selective attention and cross-modal effects of visual stimulation each cause transient excitatory and (surround) inhibitory modulations in the auditory cortex. These modulations might adaptively tune hierarchically organized sound feature maps of the auditory cortex (e.g. tonotopy), thus filtering relevant sounds during rapidly changing environmental and task demands. This could support auditory sensory memory, pre-attentive detection of sound novelty, enhanced perception during selective attention, influence of visual processing on auditory perception and longer-term plastic changes associated with perceptual learning.
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