Pitch-specific neurones found
By terryh on Aug 24, 2005
There was an interesting piece in Nature today about the discovery of pitch-sensitive neurones in primate brains (the study was done on monkeys, and I'm glad I wasn't one of those monkeys...) Apparently there is a region which has specific neurones which fire in a kind of "pitch map". I suppose this is vaguely similar to the sensory homonculus region, in as much as there's a physical mapping of cells in the brain from something external. The fascinating thing is that the cells react to the percived fundamental frequency of a note. Humans typically will hear a note as having a particular pitch based on the harmonics present, even if there is no energy in the fundamental frequency. As I understand it, this isn't the case for the hair cells in the cochelea which actually detect the sound. So what we have is one step more abstract than the physical representation which is the "output" of the ear. Hopefully this physical work will eventually tie up with the cog psych guys and their fMRI experiments on people listening to music. The brain sure is complex, but it seems to me that we've gotten quite a bit further in understanding it in the last 10 years.