Pulsed, mid-infrared lasers were recently investigated as a method to stimulate neural activity. There are significant benefits of optically stimulating nerves over electrically stimulating, in particular the application of more spatially confined neural stimulation. We report results from experiments in which the gerbil auditory system was stimulated by optical radiation, acoustic tones, or electric current. Immunohistochemical staining for the protein c-FOS revealed the spread of excitation. We demonstrate a spatially selective activation of neurons using a laser; only neurons in the direct optical path are stimulated. This pattern of c-FOS labeling is in contrast to that after electrical stimulation. Electrical stimulation leads to a large, more spatially extended population of labeled, activated neurons. In the auditory system, optical stimulation of nerves could have a significant impact on the performance of cochlear implants, which can be limited by the electric current spread.