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Elife. 2019 Mar 15;8. pii: e41626. doi: 10.7554/eLife.41626.

Across-species differences in pitch perception are consistent with differences in cochlear filtering.

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Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States.
Program in Speech and Hearing Biosciences and Technology, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States.
Contributed equally


Pitch perception is critical for recognizing speech, music and animal vocalizations, but its neurobiological basis remains unsettled, in part because of divergent results across species. We investigated whether species-specific differences exist in the cues used to perceive pitch and whether these can be accounted for by differences in the auditory periphery. Ferrets accurately generalized pitch discriminations to untrained stimuli whenever temporal envelope cues were robust in the probe sounds, but not when resolved harmonics were the main available cue. By contrast, human listeners exhibited the opposite pattern of results on an analogous task, consistent with previous studies. Simulated cochlear responses in the two species suggest that differences in the relative salience of the two pitch cues can be attributed to differences in cochlear filter bandwidths. The results support the view that cross-species variation in pitch perception reflects the constraints of estimating a sound's fundamental frequency given species-specific cochlear tuning.


cochlea; ferret; hearing; human; neuroscience; pitch; psychophysics; resolved harmonics

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