Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Cocktail Party Effect: Birds Hear Like We Do

I worked in Dr. Micheal L. Dent’s laboratory for a few years as I was earning my undergraduate degree in animal behavior. I was interested in studying birds, and Dr. Dent was interested in studying acoustic communication in animals. Dr. Dent is an associate professor in the Psychology Department at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. “In the past, I’ve worked with budgerigars, starlings, canaries (multiple strains), Japanese quail, zebra finches, and barn owls,” she recently told me. “I currently work with budgerigars and zebra finches.” Acoustic communication refers to hearing. Other ways that animals can communicate include visual, olfaction, touch, thermal, and some can communicate even through electromagnetic fields. In Dr. Dent’s lab we used operant conditioning and positive reinforcement to measure birds’ abilities to detect, discriminate, identify, and localize sounds by training them to peck keys. One interesting occurrence she discovered was that parakeets and zebra finches exhibit the cocktail party effect. more

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