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Dr Kerry Walker and her team help us to better understand how we perceive pitch, a feature of hearing critical to recognising communication through sound, such as speech and music.

Walker ferret

“Pitch” refers to our experience of the tonal quality of sound on a low-to-high musical scale, and it is one of the most behaviourally important features of hearing.

Animal models allow us to better understand the brain mechanisms responsible for experiencing a perception of pitch, but we currently have a poor understanding of the extent to which these mechanisms are conserved across species.

In a new study published in eLife, Dr Walker and her team have uncovered key differences in the way that pitch is extracted from sound waves in humans and non-human animals. Using behavioural tasks, their research shows that ferrets primarily derive pitch from the temporal properties of sounds, while human listeners depend more on the sound’s frequency content. They also apply computational models to explain how these species differences can result from mechanisms in the inner ear.

The full study, "Across-species differences in pitch perception are consistent with differences in cochlear filtering," is available to read here.