Timing and Classifying Brief Acoustic Stimuli by Songbirds and Humans

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The durations of animals' brief vocalizations provide conspecifics with important recognition cues. In the present experiments, zebra finches and humans (trained musicians) were rewarded for responding after S+ (standard) auditory signals from 56 to 663 ms and not for responding after shorter or longer S− (comparison) durations from 10 to 3684 ms. With either a single standard (Experiment 1) or multiple standards (Experiment 2), both zebra finches and humans timed brief signals to about the same level of accuracy. The results were in qualitative agreement with predictions from scalar timing theory and its connectionist implementation in both experiments. The connectionist model provides a good quantitative account of temporal gradients with a single standard (Experiment 1) but not with multiple standards (Experiment 2).

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