Dr. Micheal Dent
Department of Psychology
University at Buffalo, SUNY

The Perception of Auditory Illusions by Birds and Mammals

The coding of information in the vertebrate nervous system is central to our understanding of complex behaviors. Animal models have been particularly useful in elucidating the mechanisms and limits of information coding in the auditory domain. Some of the most fertile examples come from animals with "specialized" auditory systems such as barn owls, echolocating bats, and cats. Much less is known, however, about how auditory "nonspecialists" are able to effectively communicate. Parrots and songbirds are highly social and vocal animals; therefore, acoustic communication is very important for everyday survival. A great deal of behavioral and physiological research has been conducted on how birds learn and use their vocalizations, yet much less is known about what the environment does to these vocalizations and how birds deal with the environmental problems at the receiving end of the communication pathway. Here, results from several behavioral experiments on complex sound perception and auditory illusions in birds will be discussed and compared with behavioral and physiological results from humans and non-human mammals. These experiments demonstrate a remarkable similarity in how birds deal with complex environments despite large differences in evolutionary histories, lifestyles, and anatomical structures for hearing.