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Detecting modulated signals in modulated noise: (II) neural thresholds in the songbird forebrain

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Sounds in the real world fluctuate in amplitude. The vertebrate auditory system exploits patterns of amplitude fluctuations to improve signal detection in noise. One experimental paradigm demonstrating these general effects has been used in psychophysical studies of ‘comodulation detection difference’ (CDD). The CDD effect refers to the fact that thresholds for detecting a modulated, narrowband noise signal are lower when the envelopes of flanking bands of modulated noise are comodulated with each other, but fluctuate independently of the signal compared with conditions in which the envelopes of the signal and flanking bands are all comodulated. Here, we report results from a study of the neural correlates of CDD in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). We manipulated: (i) the envelope correlations between a narrowband noise signal and a masker comprised of six flanking bands of noise; (ii) the signal onset delay relative to masker onset; (iii) signal duration; and (iv) masker spectrum level. Masked detection thresholds were determined from neural responses using signal detection theory. Across conditions, the magnitude of neural CDD ranged between 2 and 8 dB, which is similar to that reported in a companion psychophysical study of starlings [ U. Langemann & G.M. Klump (2007) Eur. J. Neurosci., 26, 1969–1978 ]. We found little evidence to suggest that neural CDD resulted from the across-channel processing of auditory grouping cues related to common envelope fluctuations and synchronous onsets between the signal and flanking bands. We discuss a within-channel model of peripheral processing that explains many of our results.
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Keywords: European starling; auditory grouping; comodulation detection difference; field L2; within-channel processing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment, Carl-von Ossietzky Universität, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany 2: Institute for Biology and Environmental Sciences, Carl-von Ossietzky Universität, D-26111 Oldenburg, Germany

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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