Sight and Sound

There’s notice in Scientific American Online of a neurological study of owls showing that the coordination of sight and sound processing in the brain modulates attention: there is increased attention given to sounds that correlate with the direction of gaze. The article notes that this is the first nonprimate species in which this sort of phenomenon has been seen.

There is speculation mentioned that this sort of system may be common to all vertebrates. If so, that will be an interesting finding, since the underlying brain anatomy is not the same across all vertebrates. While the lateral superior olive is implicated as a part of the brain that links sight and sound in primates, those renowned sound processors, bats and dolphins, entirely lack the structure. I’m not sure what the neural architecture of the owl brain is, and a brief Google search doesn’t shed immediate light on whether owls have the lateral superior olive, either.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Sight and Sound

  • 2006/01/25 at 8:16 am
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    Frankly, I do not know if birds have a lateral olive (I doubt it), but the optic tectum and the auditory tectum (equivalents of the mammalian superior and inferior colliculus) are right on top of each other and they map space equally, i.e., a neuron responding to a dot of light from a particular coordinate in space lies directly above a neuron that responds to sound coming from the same spot. The two may even communicate with each other. That was worked out by Knudsen in owls some years ago.

  • 2006/01/25 at 12:01 pm
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    Thanks, coturnix, that’s a useful bit of information there. It will be interesting to see if the current paper cites Knudsen.

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