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Humans have more distinctive hearing than animals, Hebrew U study shows
Date:4/1/2008

Prof. Itzhak Fried from UCLA and Tel Aviv Medical Center, and Prof. Rafi Malach of the Weizmann Institute of Science, together with their students Roy Mukamel and Yael Bitterman. Their work was described in an article appearing in the journal Nature.

In tests measuring response to artificial sounds, the researchers found that neurons in the human auditory cortex responded to specific frequencies with unexpected precision. Frequency differences as small as a quarter of a tone (in western music, the smallest interval is half a tone) could be reliably detected from individual responses of single neurons.

Such resolution exceeds that typically found in the auditory cortex of other mammalian species (besides, perhaps, bats, which make unique use of their auditory system), serving as a possible correlate of the finding that the human auditory system can discriminate between frequencies better than animals. The result suggests that the neural representation of frequency in the human brain has unique features.

Interestingly, when the patients in the study were presented with real-world sounds including dialogues, music (from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" soundtrack) and background noise the neurons exhibited complex activity patterns which could not be explained based solely on the frequency selectivity of the same neurons. This phenomenon has been shown in animal studies but never before in humans.

Thus, it can be seen that in contrast to the artificial sounds, behaviorally relevant sounds such as speech and music engage additional, context-dependant processing mechanisms in the human auditory cortex.


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Contact: Jerry Barach
jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il
972-258-82904
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Source:Eurekalert  

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