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Bats bolster brain hypothesis, maybe technology, too
Date:8/15/2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Amid a neuroscience debate about how people and animals focus on distinct objects within cluttered scenes, some of the newest and best evidence comes from the way bats "see" with their ears, according to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology. In fact, the perception process in question could improve sonar and radar technology.

Bats demonstrate remarkable skill in tracking targets such as bugs through the trees in the dark of night. Brown University neuroscience Professor James Simmons, the review paper's author, has long sought to explain how they do that.

It turns out that experiments in Simmons' lab point to the "temporal binding hypothesis" as an explanation. The hypothesis proposes that people and animals focus on objects versus the background when a set of neurons in the brain attuned to object features all respond in synchrony, as if shouting in unison "yes, look at that!" When the neurons don't respond together to an object, the hypothesis predicts, an object is relegated to the perceptual background.

Because bats have an especially acute need to track prey through crowded scenes, albeit with echolocation rather than vision, they have evolved to become an ideal testbed for the hypothesis.

"Sometimes the most critical questions about systems in biology that relate to humans are best approached by using an animal species whose lifestyle requires that the system in question be exaggerated in some functional sense so its qualities are more obvious," said Simmons, who plans to discuss the research at the 2014 Cold Spring Harbor Asia Conference the week of September 15 in Suzhou, China.

A Focus of Frequencies

Here's how he's determined over the years that temporal binding works in a bat. As the bat flies it emits two spectra of sound frequencies one high and one low into a wide cone of space ahead of it. Within the spectra are harmonic pairs
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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