Natural acoustic signals and their neural
UC San Diego
Professor Psychology and Neurobiology
Acoustic communication signals underlie a wide range of perceptual and cognitive behaviors, and typically drive strong, selective neuronal responses in higher cortical regions. As such, they provide attractive targets for studying the neural mechanisms of real-world auditory processing and cognition. But natural signals are difficult to work with. Their spectral and temporal complexity can be difficult to quantify, parameterize, and model; and their high-dimensional structure challenges many classical notions of stimulus encoding. I will discuss recent studies from my lab that address these challenges, describing a suite of unsupervised machine learning techniques that permit direct measurement, parameterization, and generative control over the spectro-temporal structure of arbitrarily complex vocal signals. I will introduce a topological technique to analyze activity in arbitrarily large neural populations that preserves single spike and single trial precision. I will then discuss recent experiments in European starlings, a songbird species, that apply these techniques to understand neural mechanisms supporting perception and cognition of natural communication signals.