Psychophysical evidence of damaged active processing mechanisms in Belgian Waterslager Canaries

Amanda M. Lauer, Robert J. Dooling, Marjorie R. Leek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Belgian Waterslager canaries (BWC), bred for a distinct low-pitched song, have an inherited high-frequency hearing loss associated with hair cell abnormalities. Hair cells near the abneural edge of the papilla, which receive primarily efferent innervation in normal birds, are among the most severely affected. These cells are thought to support nonlinear active processing in the avian ear, though the mechanisms are poorly understood. Here we present psychophysical evidence that suggests degraded active processing in BWC compared to normal-hearing non-BWC. Critical ratios, psychophysical masking patterns and phase effects on masking by harmonic complexes were measured in BWC and non-BWC using operant conditioning procedures. Critical ratios were much larger in BWC than in non-BWC at high frequencies. Psychophysical tuning curves derived from the masking patterns for BWC were broadened at high frequencies. BWC also showed severely reduced phase effects on masking by harmonic complexes compared to non-BWC. As has been hypothesized previously for hearing-impaired humans, these results are consistent with a loss of active processing mechanisms in BWC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-202
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Active processing
  • Bird hearing
  • Harmonic complex
  • Masking
  • Psychophysical tuning curve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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