The time course of attention in a simple auditory detection task

Beverly A. Wright*, Matthew B. Fitzgerald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


What is the time course of human attention in a simple auditory detection task? To investigate this question, we determined the detectability of a 20-msec, 1000-Hz tone presented at expected and unexpected times. Twelve listeners who expected the tone to occur at a specific time after a 300-msec narrowband noise rarely detected signals presented 150-375 msec before or 100-200 msec after that expected time. The shape of this temporal-attention window depended on the expected presentation time of the tone and the temporal markers available in the trials. Further, though expecting the signal to occur in silence, listeners often detected signals presented at unexpected times during the noise. Combined with previous data, these results further clarify the listening strategy humans use when trying to detect an expected sound: Humans seem to listen specifically for that sound, while ignoring the background in which it is presented, around the time when the sound is expected to occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-516
Number of pages9
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Psychology(all)

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