It has repeatedly been demonstrated that the presence of multiple cues in different sensory modalities can enhance behavioral performance by speeding responses, increasing accuracy, and/or improving stimulus detection. Despite an extensive knowledge base as to how the spatial, temporal, and physical (e.g., intensity) characteristics of multisensory stimuli influence such enhancements, little is known about the role of semantic or contextual congruence. Our hypothesis was that semantically congruent multisensory stimuli would result in enhanced behavioral performance, and that semantically incongruent multisensory stimuli would result in either no enhancement or a decrement in behavioral performance. The results from a redundant cue feature discrimination task clearly demonstrate that congruent cross-modal stimulation improves behavioral performance. This effect is specific to the multisensory stimuli, as no improvements are seen in the presence of redundant unimodal stimulus pairs. In contrast, incongruent stimulus pairs result in behavioral decrements for both multisensory and paired unimodal stimuli. These results highlight that in addition to such simple stimulus features as space, time and relative effectiveness, the semantic content of a multisensory stimulus plays a critical role in determining how it is processed by the nervous system.
ASJC Scopus subject areas