Saturday, February 06, 2016

Do songbirds perceive melody different from humans?

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Last week a fascinating study appeared in PNAS on melody (re)cognition in sparrows (Sturnus vulgaris). It provides an alternative interpretation to the widespread believe that songbirds have a strong bias to rely on absolute pitch (AP) for the recognition of melodies (e.g. Hulse et al., 1992).

In a series of behavioral experiments, Bregman et al. (2016) find that the human percepts of both pitch and timbre are poor descriptions of the perceptual cues used for melody recognition by the five sparrows that participated in the study. The results suggest that auditory sequence recognition in sparrows might be largely dependent on the perception of acoustic spectral shape, and not just AP. Sounds that preserve this shape, even in the absence of pitch cues, seem to be perceived as equivalent. The finding suggests that songbirds (unlike humans, for whom pitch plays a dominant role in the perception of melodic sequences) rely on a perceptual representation that is a combination of pitch and timbre. It suggests that the perceptual separability of pitch and timbre might also in humans be largely based on experience. Hulse, S., Takeuchi, A., & Braaten, R. (1992). Perceptual Invariances in the Comparative Psychology of Music Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 10 (2), 151-184 DOI: 10.2307/40285605 Bregman, M., Patel, A., & Gentner, T. (2016). Songbirds use spectral shape, not pitch, for sound pattern recognition Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1515380113

No comments:

Post a Comment