Short-term effects of sound localization training in virtual reality
Steadman MA, Kim C, Lestang JH, Goodman DFM, Picinali L
Scientific Reports (2019) 9, 18284
Head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) capture the direction-dependant way that sound interacts with the head and torso. In virtual audio systems, which aim to emulate these effects, non-individualized, generic HRTFs are typically used leading to an inaccurate perception of virtual sound location. Training has the potential to exploit the brain's ability to adapt to these unfamiliar cues. In this study, three virtual sound localization training paradigms were evaluated; one provided simple visual positional confirmation of sound source location, a second introduced game design elements ("gamification") and a final version additionally utilized head-tracking to provide listeners with experience of relative sound source motion ("active listening"). The results demonstrate a significant effect of training after a small number of short (12-minute) training sessions, which is retained across multiple days. Gamification alone had no significant effect on the efficacy of the training, but active listening resulted in a significantly greater improvements in localization accuracy. In general, improvements in virtual sound localization following training generalized to a second set of non-individualized HRTFs, although some HRTF-specific changes were observed in polar angle judgement for the active listening group. The implications of this on the putative mechanisms of the adaptation process are discussed.