Frogs Exploit Statistical Regularities in Noisy Acoustic Scenes to Solve Cocktail-Party-like Problems

Norman Lee, Jessica L. Ward, Alejandro Vélez, Christophe Micheyl, Mark A. Bee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Noise is a ubiquitous source of errors in all forms of communication [1]. Noise-induced errors in speech communication, for example, make it difficult for humans to converse in noisy social settings, a challenge aptly named the “cocktail party problem” [2]. Many nonhuman animals also communicate acoustically in noisy social groups and thus face biologically analogous problems [3]. However, we know little about how the perceptual systems of receivers are evolutionarily adapted to avoid the costs of noise-induced errors in communication. In this study of Cope's gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis; Hylidae), we investigated whether receivers exploit a potential statistical regularity present in noisy acoustic scenes to reduce errors in signal recognition and discrimination. We developed an anatomical/physiological model of the peripheral auditory system to show that temporal correlation in amplitude fluctuations across the frequency spectrum (“comodulation”) [4–6] is a feature of the noise generated by large breeding choruses of sexually advertising males. In four psychophysical experiments, we investigated whether females exploit comodulation in background noise to mitigate noise-induced errors in evolutionarily critical mate-choice decisions. Subjects experienced fewer errors in recognizing conspecific calls and in selecting the calls of high-quality mates in the presence of simulated chorus noise that was comodulated. These data show unequivocally, and for the first time, that exploiting statistical regularities present in noisy acoustic scenes is an important biological strategy for solving cocktail-party-like problems in nonhuman animal communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-750
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 6 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank C. Miller, K. Schrode, J. Tumulty, J. Tanner, and three anonymous reviewers for feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (R01 DC 009582) to M.A.B. Animals were treated according to protocols reviewed and approved by the University of Minnesota's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (1202A10178 and 1401-31258A).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • acoustic communication
  • auditory masking
  • auditory scene analysis
  • cocktail party problem
  • comodulation masking release
  • mate choice
  • natural scene statistics
  • noise
  • sexual selection
  • species recognition


Dive into the research topics of 'Frogs Exploit Statistical Regularities in Noisy Acoustic Scenes to Solve Cocktail-Party-like Problems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this