Frederic Theunissen, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychology & Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, UC Berkeley
My laboratory is interested in the neural basis of auditory perception. We use a combination of behavior, neurophysiology, computational and comparative approaches. Our core hypothesis is derived from the principal that the auditory system uses computational schemes that would be beneficial for biological organisms faced with the identification of behaviorally relevant sounds or sound features presented in a background of environmental noise. We then study the link between these optimal computational schemes, the major perceptual dimensions in audition and their neural underpinnings. These theoretical predictions are tested against our psychophysical and physiological data. To do so we study perceptual acoustical behavior in humans (speech and music perception), birds (song discrimination), and, in collaboration with other research groups, in hyenas and other primates. Our physiological studies are done in songbirds. Recently, we have described the functional organization of the avian auditory cortex analog and shown specialization for extracting features important for pitch, rhythm and timbre.
Our developmental work has followed two lines of research. First, we have studied how auditory representations change during normal development. Second, we have manipulated early auditory environment to examine the effect of abnormal early experience on the auditory system. In the near future, we will also examine how experience as a parent affects both behavioral and neural discrimination of conspecific calls.