Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 48-58

First online:

Discrimination of Direction in Fast Frequency-Modulated Tones by Rats

  • Bernhard H. GaeseAffiliated withInstitut für Biologie IIZoologisches Institut, J.W. Goethe Universität Email author 
  • , Isabella KingAffiliated withInstitut für Biologie II
  • , Christian FelsheimAffiliated withLehrstuhl Tierphysiologie, Universität Tübingen
  • , Joachim OstwaldAffiliated withLehrstuhl Tierphysiologie, Universität Tübingen
  • , Wolfger von der BehrensAffiliated withZoologisches Institut, J.W. Goethe Universität


Fast frequency modulations (FM) are an essential part of species-specific auditory signals in animals as well as in human speech. Major parameters characterizing non-periodic frequency modulations are the direction of frequency change in the FM sweep (upward/downward) and the sweep speed, i.e., the speed of frequency change. While it is well established that both parameters are represented in the mammalian central auditory pathway, their importance at the perceptual level in animals is unclear. We determined the ability of rats to discriminate between upward and downward modulated FM-tones as a function of sweep speed in a two-alternative-forced-choice-paradigm. Directional discrimination in logarithmic FM-sweeps was reduced with increasing sweep speed between 20 and 1,000 octaves/s following a psychometric function. Average threshold sweep speed for FM directional discrimination was 96 octaves/s. This upper limit of perceptual FM discrimination fits well the upper limit of preferred sweep speeds in auditory neurons and the upper limit of neuronal direction selectivity in the rat auditory cortex and midbrain, as it is found in the literature. Influences of additional stimulus parameters on FM discrimination were determined using an adaptive testing-procedure for efficient threshold estimation based on a maximum likelihood approach. Directional discrimination improved with extended FM sweep range between two and five octaves. Discrimination performance declined with increasing lower frequency boundary of FM sweeps, showing an especially strong deterioration when the boundary was raised from 2 to 4 kHz. This deterioration corresponds to a frequency-dependent decline in direction selectivity of FM-encoding neurons in the rat auditory cortex, as described in the literature. Taken together, by investigating directional discrimination of FM sweeps in the rat we found characteristics at the perceptual level that can be related to several aspects of FM encoding in the central auditory pathway.


FM sweep direction discrimination two-alternative-forced choice auditory-threshold adaptive-procedure