Time-varying sounds: amplitude envelope modulations

Brian Malone and Christoph E. Schreiner

in The Oxford Handbook of Auditory Science: The Auditory Brain

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780199233281
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Time-varying sounds: amplitude envelope modulations

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Psychology



Time-varying sounds exhibit fluctuations in amplitude or frequency. Ecologically relevant sounds exhibit ongoing changes in their temporal structure, and provide answers to fundamental perceptual and informational questions regarding incoming sounds such as ‘who or what or where’, which require the accurate discrimination of such changes. This article helps to distinguish between the fine structure and the envelope of a temporal waveform. It focuses on one class of experimental stimuli that involves relatively simple modulations of the envelope: sinusoidal modulations of amplitude. It shows that these stimuli cannot capture the full complexity of auditory temporal processing, which has also been studied with a range of informative paradigms. The encoding of time-varying signals is thus necessarily complex because these mechanisms, as well as being passive filtering mechanisms operating in cells and synapses, have their own time constants, and these too inform the neural representation of the stimulus as it passes through the system.

Keywords: time-varying sounds; temporal structure; amplitude; sinusoidal modulations; neural representation

Article.  11559 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Cognitive Psychology

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