Recognition of non-harmonic natural sounds by small mammals using competitive training

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51318. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051318. Epub 2012 Dec 10.


Animals recognize biologically relevant sounds, such as the non-harmonic sounds made by some predators, and respond with adaptive behaviors, such as escaping. To clarify which acoustic parameters are used for identifying non-harmonic, noise-like, broadband sounds, guinea pigs were conditioned to a natural target sound by introducing a novel training procedure in which 2 or 3 guinea pigs in a group competed for food. A set of distinct behavioral reactions was reliably induced almost exclusively to the target sound in a 2-week operant training. When fully conditioned, individual animals were separately tested for recognition of a set of target-like sounds that had been modified from the target sound, with spectral ranges eliminated or with fine or coarse temporal structures altered. The results show that guinea pigs are able to identify the noise-like non-harmonic natural sounds by relying on gross spectral compositions and/or fine temporal structures, just as birds are thought to do in the recognition of harmonic birdsongs. These findings are discussed with regard to similarities and dissimilarities to harmonic sound recognition. The results suggest that similar but not identical processing that requires different time scales might be used to recognize harmonic and non-harmonic sounds, at least in small mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Competitive Behavior*
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C)(General) from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (no. 22500368 to H.O.). Please see The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.