Intensity coding and the dynamic range problem

Neal F. Viemeister

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100 Scopus citations


The psychophysical data on intensity discrimination indicate that certain schemes are unlikely as general intensity codes at the level of the auditory nerve and indirectly suggest that the most likely code is one based upon the firing rates of frequency-localized groups of fibers. A detection-theory analysis of a rate-based intensity code indicates that information from very few fibers can, if the information is appropriately combined, account for psychophysical discrimination even at high intensities. This suggests that fibers with similar CFs can code intensity over a wide range and that complex spectra can be represented at the level of the auditory nerve by a rate-CF code over the dynamic range of hearing. The analysis also indicates, however, a substantial discrepancy between the psychophysical data on the dependence of discrimination thresholds on level and the predicted discrimination behavior of a representative population of auditory nerve fibers. Thus, if intensity coding is based on localized firing rate, this fundamental psychophysical behavior does not result solely from peripheral processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-274
Number of pages8
JournalHearing Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1988

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
My thanks to the many colleagues who have stimulated and contributed to this work and to V.M. Kirby for help with this manuscript. Supported by NS 12125 from NINCDS.


  • Dynamic range
  • Intensity coding
  • Intensity discrimination


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