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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spatial Stream Segregation by Cats.

  • Author(s): Javier, Lauren K
  • McGuire, Elizabeth A
  • Middlebrooks, John C
  • et al.

Listeners can perceive interleaved sequences of sounds from two or more sources as segregated streams. In humans, physical separation of sound sources is a major factor enabling such stream segregation. Here, we examine spatial stream segregation with a psychophysical measure in domestic cats. Cats depressed a pedal to initiate a target sequence of brief sound bursts in a particular rhythm and then released the pedal when the rhythm changed. The target bursts were interleaved with a competing sequence of bursts that could differ in source location but otherwise were identical to the target bursts. This task was possible only when the sources were heard as segregated streams. When the sound bursts had broad spectra, cats could detect the rhythm change when target and competing sources were separated by as little as 9.4°. Essentially equal levels of performance were observed when frequencies were restricted to a high, 4-to-25-kHz, band in which the principal spatial cues presumably were related to sound levels. When the stimulus band was restricted from 0.4 to 1.6 kHz, leaving interaural time differences as the principal spatial cue, performance was severely degraded. The frequency sensitivity of cats in this task contrasts with that of humans, who show better spatial stream segregation with low- than with high-frequency sounds. Possible explanations for the species difference includes the smaller interaural delays available to cats due to smaller sizes of their heads and the potentially greater sound-level cues available due to the cat's frontally directed pinnae and higher audible frequency range.

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