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Neural correlates of categorical perception in learned vocal communication

Summary: Neural correlates of categorical perception in learned
vocal communication
Jonathan F Prather1, Stephen Nowicki1,2, Rindy C Anderson2, Susan Peters2 & Richard Mooney1
The division of continuously variable acoustic signals into discrete perceptual categories is a fundamental feature of vocal
communication, including human speech. Despite the importance of categorical perception to learned vocal communication,
the neural correlates underlying this phenomenon await identification. We found that individual sensorimotor neurons in freely
behaving swamp sparrows expressed categorical auditory responses to changes in note duration, a learned feature of their songs,
and that the neural response boundary accurately predicted the categorical perceptual boundary measured in field studies of
the same sparrow population. Furthermore, swamp sparrow populations that learned different song dialects showed different
categorical perceptual boundaries that were consistent with the boundary being learned. Our results extend the analysis
of the neural basis of perceptual categorization into the realm of vocal communication and advance the learned vocalizations
of songbirds as a model for investigating how experience shapes categorical perception and the activity of categorically
responsive neurons.
One way that perception enables adaptive behavior is by grouping
variable stimuli into classes. An impressive example of this synthetic
capacity of the nervous system occurs when continuous changes in a
stimulus parameter are perceived as discrete perceptual categories1.
Categorical perception has a prominent role in processing acoustic
signals that are important to social communication2, including vocaliz-
ations made by humans3,4, monkeys5, rodents6, birds7 and frogs8,9. In


Source: Anderson, Rindy C. - Department of Biology, Duke University


Collections: Environmental Sciences and Ecology; Biology and Medicine