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J Acoust Soc Am. 2008 Aug;124(2):1350-9. doi: 10.1121/1.2945705.

Temporal scales of auditory objects underlying birdsong vocal recognition.

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Department of Psychology, Neurosciences Graduate Program, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


Vocal recognition is common among songbirds, and provides an excellent model system to study the perceptual and neurobiological mechanisms for processing natural vocal communication signals. Male European starlings, a species of songbird, learn to recognize the songs of multiple conspecific males by attending to stereotyped acoustic patterns, and these learned patterns elicit selective neuronal responses in auditory forebrain neurons. The present study investigates the perceptual grouping of spectrotemporal acoustic patterns in starling song at multiple temporal scales. The results show that permutations in sequencing of submotif acoustic features have significant effects on song recognition, and that these effects are specific to songs that comprise learned motifs. The observations suggest that (1) motifs form auditory objects embedded in a hierarchy of acoustic patterns, (2) that object-based song perception emerges without explicit reinforcement, and (3) that multiple temporal scales within the acoustic pattern hierarchy convey information about the individual identity of the singer. The authors discuss the results in the context of auditory object formation and talker recognition.

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