Study finds some birds process sound much as people do, suggesting stream segregation is not a uniquely human ability
Date: May 11, 2016
Source: University at Buffalo
While analyzing and untangling multiple environmental sounds is an important social tool for humans, for animals that analysis is a critical survival skill. Yet humans and animals use similar cues to make sense of their acoustic worlds, according to new research from the University at Buffalo.
The study, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, fills an important gap in the literature on how animals group sounds into auditory objects.
When several sounds occur simultaneously in social settings, like music, a ticking clock and the buzz of fluorescent lighting, humans have no difficulty identifying those as separate auditory objects.
This is auditory stream segregation.
"There have been many studies like this in humans, but there has been a lot less work done to figure out how animals parse auditory objects," says Micheal Dent, an associate professor in UB's Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.
"But animals can decipher the auditory world in a similar way as humans," she says.
Dent's study used budgerigars (parakeets) and zebra finches (songbirds), both vocal learners, to investigate the utility of cues used in stream segregation of the zebra finches' song.
People use cues like intensity (volume), frequency (pitch), location and time to segregate sounds. This capacity can facilitate conversation in a noisy room, but for animals, segregating sounds in the environment can mean the difference between distinguishing a suitable mate from a potential predator.