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J Acoust Soc Am. 2009 Sep;126(3):1321-35. doi: 10.1121/1.3179676.

Pitch discrimination by ferrets for simple and complex sounds.

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Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Sherrington Building, Parks Road, University of Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.


Although many studies have examined the performance of animals in detecting a frequency change in a sequence of tones, few have measured animals' discrimination of the fundamental frequency (F0) of complex, naturalistic stimuli. Additionally, it is not yet clear if animals perceive the pitch of complex sounds along a continuous, low-to-high scale. Here, four ferrets (Mustela putorius) were trained on a two-alternative forced choice task to discriminate sounds that were higher or lower in F0 than a reference sound using pure tones and artificial vowels as stimuli. Average Weber fractions for ferrets on this task varied from approximately 20% to 80% across references (200-1200 Hz), and these fractions were similar for pure tones and vowels. These thresholds are approximately ten times higher than those typically reported for other mammals on frequency change detection tasks that use go/no-go designs. Naive human listeners outperformed ferrets on the present task, but they showed similar effects of stimulus type and reference F0. These results suggest that while non-human animals can be trained to label complex sounds as high or low in pitch, this task may be much more difficult for animals than simply detecting a frequency change.

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