The auditory two-tone streaming paradigm has been used extensively to study the mechanisms that underlie the decomposition of the auditory input into coherent sound sequences. Using longer tone sequences than usual in the literature, we show that listeners hold their first percept of the sound sequence for a relatively long period, after which perception switches between two or more alternative sound organizations, each held on average for a much shorter duration. The first percept also differs from subsequent ones in that stimulus parameters influence its quality and duration to a far greater degree than the subsequent ones. We propose an account of auditory streaming in terms of rivalry between competing temporal associations based on two sets of processes. The formation of associations (discovery of alternative interpretations) mainly affects the first percept by determining which sound group is discovered first and how long it takes for alternative groups to be established. In contrast, subsequent percepts arise from stochastic switching between the alternatives, the dynamics of which are determined by competitive interactions between the set of coexisting interpretations.
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