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J Acoust Soc Am. 1989 Aug;86(2):557-65.

Detection and discrimination of synthetic English vowels by Old World monkeys (Cercopithecus, Macaca) and humans.

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  • 1Psychology Department, University of South Alabama, Mobile 36688.


Abilities to detect and discriminate ten synthetic steady-state English vowels were compared in Old World monkeys (Cercopithecus, Macaca) and humans using standard animal psychophysical procedures and positive-reinforcement operant conditioning techniques. Monkeys' detection thresholds were close to humans' for the front vowels /i-I-E-ae-E), but 10-20 dB higher for the back vowels /V-D-C-U-u/. Subjects were subsequently presented with groups of vowels to discriminate. All monkeys experienced difficulty with spectrally similar pairs such as /V-D/, /E-ae/, and /U-u/, but macaques were superior to Cercopithecus monkeys. Humans discriminated all vowels at 100% correct levels, but their increased response latencies reflected spectral similarity and correlated with higher error rates by monkeys. Varying the intensity level of the vowel stimuli had little effect on either monkey or human discrimination, except at the lowest levels tested. These qualitative similarities in monkey and human vowel discrimination suggest that some monkey species may provide useful models of human vowel processing at the sensory level.

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