New Perspectives on Absolute Pitch in Birds and Mammals

Ronald G. Weisman, Douglas J. K. Mewhort, Marisa Hoeschele and Christopher B. Sturdy

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Cognition

Second edition

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780195392661
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 New Perspectives on Absolute Pitch in Birds and Mammals

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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This chapter discusses the perceptual determinants of birds and mammals’ use of pitch information in communication. The authors report on a suite of operant tasks that provide comparable quantitative measures of pitch-range discriminations across several species of birds and mammals. Here the authors used a quantitative sensory array model to describe differences among avian species in eight-range discriminations. The results indicate that in birds these discriminations are based on absolute pitch height perception. When mammals (rats and humans) were tested in pitch-range discriminations, both species mastered simple three-range discriminations but could master only one transition in the eight-range discrimination, with the exception of human absolute pitch possessors who used chroma to solve the discrimination. It now appears unlikely that the auditory systems of birds and mammals, particularly birds and humans, yield homologous perceptions.

Keywords: pitch perception; birds; mammals; absolute pitch; auditory perception; phylogenetic development

Article.  8059 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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