A fundamental problem in hearing is detecting a "target" stimulus (e.g., a friend's voice) that is presented with a noisy background (e.g., the din of a crowded restaurant). Despite its importance to hearing, a relationship between spiking activity and behavioral performance during such a "detection-in-noise" task has yet to be fully elucidated. In this study, we recorded spiking activity in primary auditory cortex (A1) while rhesus monkeys detected a target stimulus that was presented with a noise background. Although some neurons were modulated, the response of the typical A1 neuron was not modulated by the stimulus- and task-related parameters of our task. In contrast, we found more robust representations of these parameters in population-level activity: small populations of neurons matched the monkeys' behavioral sensitivity. Overall, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the sensory evidence, which is needed to solve such detection-in-noise tasks, is represented in population-level A1 activity and may be available to be read out by downstream neurons that are involved in mediating this task.NEW & NOTEWORTHY This study examines the contribution of A1 to detecting a sound that is presented with a noisy background. We found that population-level A1 activity, but not single neurons, could provide the evidence needed to make this perceptual decision.
Keywords: auditory cortex; behavior; hearing in noise; rhesus monkey.
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