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Pecka, Michael ORCID: 0000-0001-8960-1651; Leibold, Christian ORCID: 0000-0002-4859-8000; Grothe, Benedikt ORCID: 0000-0001-7317-0615 : Biological Aspects of Perceptual Space Formation. In: The Technology of Binaural Understanding. Modern Acoustics and Signal Processing, Springer, Cham. pp. 151-171
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Abstract

Traditional ideas of how auditory space is formed and represented in the brain have been dominated by the concept of topographically arranged neuronal maps —similar to what is known from the visual system. Specifically, it had canonically been assumed that the brain’s representation of the location of sound sources is “hard-wired”, that is a specific location in space relative to the head is encoded by a particular sub-set of neurons tuned to that head angle. However, recent experimental findings strongly contradict this assumption for the computation of sound location in mammals (including humans). These data rather suggest a “relative” spatial code that favors the determination of changes in location over its absolute position. Here we explain the mechanisms underlying neuronal spatial sensitivity in mammals and summarize the data that led to this paradigm shift. We further explain that a consideration of evolutionary constraints of spatial cue use and their processing strategies is crucial for the understanding of the concepts underlying auditory spatial representation in mammals. Finally, we review recent neurophysiological and psychophysical findings demonstrating pronounced context-dependent plasticity in the neuronal coding and perception. We conclude that mammalian spatial hearing is based on a relative representation of auditory space, which has significant implications for how we localize sound sources in complex environments.