Treefrogs as animal models for research on auditory scene analysis and the cocktail party problem

Int J Psychophysiol. 2015 Feb;95(2):216-37. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.01.004. Epub 2014 Jan 11.


The perceptual analysis of acoustic scenes involves binding together sounds from the same source and separating them from other sounds in the environment. In large social groups, listeners experience increased difficulty performing these tasks due to high noise levels and interference from the concurrent signals of multiple individuals. While a substantial body of literature on these issues pertains to human hearing and speech communication, few studies have investigated how nonhuman animals may be evolutionarily adapted to solve biologically analogous communication problems. Here, I review recent and ongoing work aimed at testing hypotheses about perceptual mechanisms that enable treefrogs in the genus Hyla to communicate vocally in noisy, multi-source social environments. After briefly introducing the genus and the methods used to study hearing in frogs, I outline several functional constraints on communication posed by the acoustic environment of breeding "choruses". Then, I review studies of sound source perception aimed at uncovering how treefrog listeners may be adapted to cope with these constraints. Specifically, this review covers research on the acoustic cues used in sequential and simultaneous auditory grouping, spatial release from masking, and dip listening. Throughout the paper, I attempt to illustrate how broad-scale, comparative studies of carefully considered animal models may ultimately reveal an evolutionary diversity of underlying mechanisms for solving cocktail-party-like problems in communication.

Keywords: Auditory grouping; Auditory stream segregation; Comodulation masking release; Dip listening; Perceptual restoration; Spatial release from masking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Acoustics
  • Animals
  • Anura / physiology*
  • Auditory Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Female
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Models, Animal*
  • Noise
  • Psychophysics
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors