June 2016 News Stories

AIRS presentations at the Society for Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science (CSBBCS). University of Ottawa June 24-27.

  • Songbirds as objective listeners: Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) can discriminate infantdirected song and speech in two languages. Leslie S. Phillmore, Dalhousie University, Jordan Fisk, Dalhousie University, Simone Falk, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit at M unchen, Christine D. Tsang, Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario


    Infant-directed speech and  infant-directed song are two modes of communication that have very similar features however infants can discriminate between these two types of \musical speech", showing a preference for song over speech (Tsang et al in press). This preference was maintained even when the stimuli were not in an infant's native language (i.e. Russian stimuli for English-speaking babies; Tsang & Falk, in preparation). We wondered if these results could be extended to non-human listeners, in a species to which acoustic stimuli are extremely important: the songbird. We presented male and female zebra _nches, Taeniopygia guttata, with the same Russian and English stimuli used in the infant studies, and used an operant paradigm to ask birds to discriminate simultaneously between song and speech in both languages. Birds easily learned the discrimination of both Russian and English song and speech, and transferred the learning to new stimuli not heard during training. There were no di_erences between languages or between male and female birds. Finally, we presented birds with stimuli that were diffcult to label as song or speech by adult humans to see if they could accurately categorize these ambiguous sounds. Our results support the idea that infant-directed song and speech stimuli are discriminable regardless of native language as finches are unbiased listeners for these stimuli.

  • Key-note variability in singing of university élite athletes. Annabel Joan Cohen, University, Eric A. Da Silva, Kyle Dutton, University of Prince Edward Island, Bing-Yi Pan, Concordia University. 


    Forty university élite student athletes (24 females) sang the song Brother John (Frère Jacques) after 3 contexts: presentation of the melody in the key of C; learning a new song in the key of Eb, and telling an original story. The data were collected via the AIRS Test Battery of Singing Skills (Cohen, 2015) on-line version (Pan & Cohen, 2012). The pitch of the 10 tonic (key) notes in the 32-note song was measured using Praat (by experimenters ED & KD). Variability of the 10 tonics in  each song was taken as a measure of vocal control and musical understanding. The mean SD of 7.35 Hz (SE 0.96; 5.41 - 9.30, 95% confidence interval) for athletes exceeded that of non-musicians (5.05) and musicians (2.71) obtained previously in our laboratory. The athletes' music training history was rated by 3 musically-trained judges. Athletes also completed a short test of music theory, sightreading, and song recognition, scored out of 10, mean 2.78 (SD 2.15) (average for musicians was 9.55 and non-musicians 0.25). The SD of the pitch of tonics for athletes was inversely correlated with music test scores and to a lesser extent with the mean rating of musical experience. As a group, the athletes had more music training than our untrained musicians, yet they performed more like the non-musicians than musicians suggesting the importance of musical immersion as opposed to general motor training for singing skill. 


AIRS staff are working towards providing the results of Project research, so that information and research findings can be shared amongst the researchers and interested individuals.  Please direct any questions or comments regarding the AIRS Web site to the AIRS Information Technology Coordinator. Contact information can be found on our Contact AIRS page.