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Mammalian behavior and physiology converge to confirm sharper cochlear tuning in humans

Sumner, Christian J.; Wells, Toby; Bergevin, Christopher; Sollini, Joseph; Kreft, Heather; Palmer, Alan; Oxenham, Andrew; Shera, Christopher


Christian J. Sumner

Toby Wells

Christopher Bergevin

Heather Kreft

Alan Palmer

Andrew Oxenham

Christopher Shera


© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Frequency analysis of sound by the cochlea is the most fundamental property of the auditory system. Despite its importance, the resolution of this frequency analysis in humans remains controversial. The controversy persists because the methods used to estimate tuning in humans are indirect and have not all been independently validated in other species. Some data suggest that human cochlear tuning is considerably sharper than that of laboratory animals, while others suggest little or no difference between species. We show here in a single species (ferret) that behavioral estimates of tuning bandwidths obtained using perceptual masking methods, and objective estimates obtained using otoacoustic emissions, both also employed in humans, agree closely with direct physiological measurements from single auditory-nerve fibers. Combined with human behavioral data, this outcome indicates that the frequency analysis performed by the human cochlea is of significantly higher resolution than found in common laboratory animals. This finding raises important questions about the evolutionary origins of human cochlear tuning, its role in the emergence of speech communication, and the mechanisms underlying our ability to separate and process natural sounds in complex acoustic environments.


Sumner, C. J., Wells, T., Bergevin, C., Sollini, J., Kreft, H., Palmer, A., …Shera, C. (2018). Mammalian behavior and physiology converge to confirm sharper cochlear tuning in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(44), 11322-11326.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 17, 2018
Online Publication Date Oct 15, 2018
Publication Date Oct 30, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 24, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 24, 2018
Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Print ISSN 0027-8424
Electronic ISSN 1091-6490
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 115
Issue 44
Pages 11322-11326
Keywords Multidisciplinary
Public URL
Publisher URL


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