The acoustic frequency ranges in birdsongs and human speech can provide important pitch cues for recognition. Zebra finches and humans were trained to sort contiguous frequencies into 3 or 8 ranges, based on associations between the ranges and reward. The 3-range task was conducted separately in 3 spectral regions. Zebra finches discriminated 3 ranges in the medium and high spectral regions faster than in the low region and discriminated 8 ranges with precision. Humans discriminated 3 ranges in all 3 spectral regions to the same modest standard and acquired only a crude discrimination of the lowest and highest of 8 ranges. The results indicate that songbirds have a special sensitivity to the pitches in conspecific songs and, relative to humans, have a remarkable general ability to sort pitches into ranges.
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