Effective processing of information from the environment requires the brain to selectively sample relevant inputs. The visual perceptual system has been shown to sample information rhythmically, oscillating rapidly between more and less input-favorable states. Evidence of parallel effects in auditory perception is inconclusive. Here, we combined a bilateral pitch-identification task with electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate whether the phase of ongoing EEG predicts auditory discrimination accuracy. We compared prestimulus phase distributions between correct and incorrect trials. Shortly before stimulus onset, each of these distributions showed significant phase concentration, but centered at different phase angles. The effects were strongest in theta and beta frequency bands. The divergence between phase distributions showed a linear relation with accuracy, accounting for at least 10% of inter-individual variance. Discrimination performance oscillated rhythmically at a rate predicted by the neural data. These findings indicate that auditory discrimination threshold oscillates over time along with the phase of ongoing EEG activity. Thus, it appears that auditory perception is discrete rather than continuous, with the phase of ongoing EEG oscillations shaping auditory perception by providing a temporal reference frame for information processing.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience