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Recent cross-modal statistical learning influences visual perceptual selection.

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Incoming sensory signals are often ambiguous and consistent with multiple perceptual interpretations. Information from one sensory modality can help to resolve ambiguity in another modality, but the mechanisms by which multisensory associations come to influence the contents of conscious perception are unclear. We asked whether and how novel statistical information about the coupling between sounds and images influences the early stages of awareness of visual stimuli. We exposed subjects to consistent, arbitrary pairings of sounds and images and then measured the impact of this recent passive statistical learning on subjects' initial conscious perception of a stimulus by employing binocular rivalry, a phenomenon in which incompatible images presented separately to the two eyes result in a perceptual alternation between the two images. On each trial of the rivalry test, subjects were presented with a pair of rivalrous images (one of which had been consistently paired with a specific sound during exposure while the other had not) and an accompanying sound. We found that, at the onset of binocular rivalry, an image was significantly more likely to be perceived, and was perceived for a longer duration, when it was presented with its paired sound than when presented with other sounds. Our results indicate that recently acquired multisensory information helps resolve sensory ambiguity, and they demonstrate that statistical learning is a fast, flexible mechanism that facilitates this process.

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