Optimal features for auditory categorization

Shi Tong Liu, Pilar Montes-Lourido, Xiaoqin Wang, Srivatsun Sadagopan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans and vocal animals use vocalizations to communicate with members of their species. A necessary function of auditory perception is to generalize across the high variability inherent in vocalization production and classify them into behaviorally distinct categories (‘words’ or ‘call types’). Here, we demonstrate that detecting mid-level features in calls achieves production-invariant classification. Starting from randomly chosen marmoset call features, we use a greedy search algorithm to determine the most informative and least redundant features necessary for call classification. High classification performance is achieved using only 10–20 features per call type. Predictions of tuning properties of putative feature-selective neurons accurately match some observed auditory cortical responses. This feature-based approach also succeeds for call categorization in other species, and for other complex classification tasks such as caller identification. Our results suggest that high-level neural representations of sounds are based on task-dependent features optimized for specific computational goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1302
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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