Timing cues for azimuthal sound source localization

Abstract : Azimuth sound localization in many animals relies on the processing of differences in time-of-arrival of the low-frequency sounds at both ears: the interaural time differences (ITD). It was observed in some species that this cue depends on the spectrum of the signal emitted by the source. Yet, this variation is often discarded, as humans and animals are assumed to be insensitive to it. The purpose of this thesis is to assess this dependency using acoustical techniques, and explore the consequences of this additional complexity on the neurophysiology and psychophysics of sound localization. In the vicinity of rigid spheres, a sound field is diffracted, leading to frequency-dependent wave propagation regimes. Therefore, when the head is modeled as a rigid sphere, the ITD for a given position is a frequency-dependent quantity. I show that this is indeed reflected on human ITDs by studying acoustical recordings for a large number of human and animal subjects. Furthermore, I explain the effect of this variation at two scales. Locally in frequency the ITD introduces different envelope and fine structure delays in the signals reaching the ears. Second the ITD for low-frequency sounds is generally bigger than for high frequency sounds coming from the same position. In a second part, I introduce and discuss the current views on the binaural ITD-sensitive system in mammals. I expose that the heterogenous responses of such cells are well predicted when it is assumed that they are tuned to frequency-dependent ITDs. Furthermore, I discuss how those cells can be made to be tuned to a particular position in space irregardless of the frequency content of the stimulus. Overall, I argue that current data in mammals is consistent with the hypothesis that cells are tuned to a single position in space. Finally, I explore the impact of the frequency-dependence of ITD on human behavior, using psychoacoustical techniques. Subjects are asked to match the lateral position of sounds presented with different frequency content. Those results suggest that humans perceive sounds with different frequency contents at the same position provided that they have different ITDs, as predicted from acoustical data. The extent to which this occurs is well predicted by a spherical model of the head. Combining approaches from different fields, I show that the binaural system is remarkably adapted to the cues available in its environment. This processing strategy used by animals can be of great inspiration to the design of robotic systems.
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Victor Benichoux. Timing cues for azimuthal sound source localization. Human health and pathology. Université René Descartes - Paris V, 2013. English. ⟨NNT : 2013PA05T057⟩. ⟨tel-00931645⟩

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