Frederic Theunissen
3425 Tolman Hall
Office Hours: 
By Appointment Only
Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley
Secondary Research Area: 
Research Interests: 
Neural basis of vocal learning in songbirds; auditory physiology; speech perception
  • whatshotResearch Description
    Auditory Sciences: Perception of Complex Sounds

    The overarching goal of our laboratory is to understand how complex natural sounds, such as human speech, music and animal vocalizations, are detected and recognized by the brain.  We study the nature of the communication signals used by humans (speech and music) and animals using behavioral and statistical approaches. We study the auditory system of humans and songbirds using neurophysiological techniques. We use computational methods to generate theories of audition, to study sounds and to analyze our neural data.

    Our working hypothesis is that the dimensions that define the auditory perceptual space (such as pitch, timbre and loudness) exist because they correspond to acoustical features that provide robust cues about the information present in the communication signal.  We are attempting to prove this hypothesis by analyzing the statistics of natural sounds and by performing various behavioral studies in humans and animals.  In parallel we are studying the computations performed by the auditory system that can extract the acoustical cues that correspond to these auditory percepts. Finally, we are interested in the role of experience in shaping our auditory perceptual abilities and on the development of our auditory system.

    These investigations have led us to study the nature of the speech signal, to examine the perceptual space of timbre, to study the vocal communication system in non-human animals, to record the activity of auditory neurons in songbirds and to examine auditory responses in the human brain using imaging techniques.  Additional details and a synopsis of current results can be found on the lab website.

  • placeSelected Publications

    Mathevon, N., Koralek A, Weldele M, Glickman SE, Theunissen FE.  What the hyena's laugh tells: Sex, age, dominance and individual signature in the giggling call of Crocuta crocuta. BMC Ecology10(1): p. 9, 2010

    Gastpar MC, Gill PR, Huth AG, and Theunissen FE. Anthropic correction of information estimates and its application to neural coding. IEEE Trans of Information Theory 56(2):890-900, 2010

    Woolley SM, Hauber ME, Theunissen FE.  Developmental experience alters information coding in auditory midbrain and forebrain neurons. Dev Neurobiol. 70(4):235-52, 2010

    Elliott TM and Theunissen FE.  The modulation transfer function for speech intelligibility. PLoS Comput Biol. 3: e1000302. PMID: 19266016, 2009

    Woolley SM, Gill PR, Fremouw T, Theunissen FE.  Functional groups in the avian auditory system. J Neurosci. 29(9):2780-93. PMID: 19261874, 2009

    Woolley S, Fremouw T, Hsu A and Theunissen FE. Tuning for spectro-temporal modulations: a mechanism for auditory discrimination of natural sounds. Nature Neuroscience 8(10):1371-9. PMID: 16136039, 2005

    Singh N and Theunissen FE. Modulation spectra of natural sounds and ethological theories of auditory processing.  JASA 114:3394-3411. PMID: 14714819, 2003

    Theunissen FE, David SV, Singh NC, Hsu A, Vinje WE and Gallant JL. Estimating spatio-temporal receptive fields of auditory and visual neurons from their responses to natural stimuli. Network: Comp. Neural Syst.12  289-316, PMID: 11563531, 2001

    Borst A and Theunissen FE. Information theory and neural coding. Nature Neuroscience2(11):947-957, 1999

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