Nagel KI, McLendon HM, Doupe AJ
Differential influence of frequency, timing, and intensity cues in a complex acoustic categorization task.
J Neurophysiol. 2010 Sep;104(3):1426-37
Authors: Nagel KI, McLendon HM, Doupe AJ
Songbirds, which, like humans, learn complex vocalizations, provide an excellent model for the study of acoustic pattern recognition. Here we examined the role of three basic acoustic parameters in an ethologically relevant categorization task. Female zebra finches were first trained to classify songs as belonging to one of two males and then asked whether they could generalize this knowledge to songs systematically altered with respect to frequency, timing, or intensity. Birds' performance on song categorization fell off rapidly when songs were altered in frequency or intensity, but they generalized well to songs that were changed in duration by >25%. Birds were not deaf to timing changes, however; they detected these tempo alterations when asked to discriminate between the same song played back at two different speeds. In addition, when birds were retrained with songs at many intensities, they could correctly categorize songs over a wide range of volumes. Thus although they can detect all these cues, birds attend less to tempo than to frequency or intensity cues during song categorization. These results are unexpected for several reasons: zebra finches normally encounter a wide range of song volumes but most failed to generalize across volumes in this task; males produce only slight variations in tempo, but females generalized widely over changes in song duration; and all three acoustic parameters are critical for auditory neurons. Thus behavioral data place surprising constraints on the relationship between previous experience, behavioral task, neural responses, and perception. We discuss implications for models of auditory pattern recognition.
PMID: 20610781 [PubMed - in process]