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PLoS One. 2009 Jun 24;4(6):e5974. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005974.

Stimulus familiarity affects perceptual restoration in the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

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Animal Physiology and Behavior Group, Institute of Biology and Environmental Sciences, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany.



Humans can easily restore a speech signal that is temporally masked by an interfering sound (e.g., a cough masking parts of a word in a conversation), and listeners have the illusion that the speech continues through the interfering sound. This perceptual restoration for human speech is affected by prior experience. Here we provide evidence for perceptual restoration in complex vocalizations of a songbird that are acquired by vocal learning in a similar way as humans learn their language.


European starlings were trained in a same/different paradigm to report salient differences between successive sounds. The birds' response latency for discriminating between a stimulus pair is an indicator for the salience of the difference, and these latencies can be used to evaluate perceptual distances using multi-dimensional scaling. For familiar motifs the birds showed a large perceptual distance if discriminating between song motifs that were muted for brief time periods and complete motifs. If the muted periods were filled with noise, the perceptual distance was reduced. For unfamiliar motifs no such difference was observed.


The results suggest that starlings are able to perceptually restore partly masked sounds and, similarly to humans, rely on prior experience. They may be a suitable model to study the mechanism underlying experience-dependent perceptual restoration.

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