Covert Auditory Spatial Orienting: An Evaluation of the Spatial Relevance Hypothesis

Katherine L. Roberts*, A. Quentin Summerfield, Deborah A. Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The spatial relevance hypothesis (J. J. McDonald & L. M. Ward, 1999) proposes that covert auditory spatial orienting can only be beneficial to auditory processing when task stimuli are encoded spatially. We present a series of experiments that evaluate 2 key aspects of the hypothesis: (a) that "reflexive activation of location-sensitive neurons is not sufficient to produce attentional facilitation" and (b) that "any task constraint that makes space important for the listener will produce auditory spatial cue effects" (p. 1236). Experiment 1 showed significant reflexive-orienting benefits on a nonspatial task, refuting the first claim. However, Experiments 2 to 4 reveal that informative spatial cues can improve performance on a nonspatial task, consistent with the second claim. Auditory spatial-cue benefits found with nonspatial tasks appear smaller and less reliable than those found in visual spatial-orienting studies, possibly due to differences in the coding of spatial information in vision and audition. The final experiments consider the mechanisms by which auditory spatial orienting might facilitate auditory processing and provide tentative evidence that attention enhances processing at one ear rather than influencing neurons tuned to the attended location.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1178-1191
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


  • attention
  • auditory perception
  • cues
  • endogenous orienting
  • exogenous orienting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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