Multisensory Neurons and Neural Convergence [...]

A surprisingly large number of brain regions in the midbrain and cerebral cortex are related to multimodal perception. These regions contain neurons that respond to stimuli from not just one, but multiple sensory modalities. For example, a region called the superior temporal sulcus contains single neurons that respond to both the visual and auditory components of speech (Calvert, 2001;Calvert, Hansen, Iversen, & Brammer, 2001). These multisensory convergence zones are interesting, because they are a kind of neural intersection of information coming from the different senses. That is, neurons that are devoted to the processing of one sense at a time—say vision or touch—send their information to the convergence zones, where it is processed together.

One of the most closely studied multisensory convergence zones is the superior colliculus (Stein & Meredith, 1993), which receives inputs from many different areas of the brain, including regions involved in the unimodal processing of visual and auditory stimuli (Edwards, Ginsburgh, Henkel, & Stein, 1979). Interestingly, the superior colliculus is involved in the “orienting response,” which is the behavior associated with moving one’s eye gaze toward the location of a seen or heard stimulus. Given this function for the superior colliculus, it is hardly surprising that there are multisensory neurons found there (Stein & Stanford, 2008).

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