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Re: Innate responses to sound

Hello Ross,

Extending Dr. Schnupp's comments even further:

Experience-independent spontaneous activity in the auditory system can
also shape its organization, including the organization of tonotopic
maps.  There was a nice study of how this activity arises in rats last
November in Nature:


Tritsch, N.X. et al. (2007).  The origin of spontaneous activity in
the developing auditory system.  Nature, 450, 50-55.

When hearing begins in rats this activity decreases and experience
takes over in determining the organization.  The authors refer to this
experience-independent activity as 'endogenous' rather than innate
given that the mechanisms for regulating this activity are still
unknown and may therefore be found to depend upon some
non-deterministic factors.  If this type of (experience-independent)
activity is not described as innate, it will be difficult to make an
argument that anything after the onset of hearing or further upstream
in processing is innate.


Brandon Abbs
Graduate Student
University of Iowa
Department of Psychology
Iowa City, IA 52242

Office: E310 SSH
Lab Phone: (319) 335-2472

On May 22, 2008, at 4:10 AM, Jan Schnupp wrote:

> Hi Ross,
> I would agree with Brian that you may find it very hard to find much, particularly on humans, that you can root properly in hard science. There are of course dozens and dozens of papers from numerous labs which have looked at the consequences of manipulations or early auditory or multisensory experience in various laboratory animals, (Merzenich, Kilgard, Grothe, Knudsen, Withington, King, to name but a few - apologies to the many of our colleagues who I should also have mentioned here...) and they mostly find that, surprise surprise, early experience can influence auditory development substantially, changing many things from psychophysical performance to cortical map organization and right down to the "neural cabling" in the brainstem and midbrain. My worry with your proposed thesis would be that you may have a terribly hard time just to pin down what you mean by "innate". All hearing is innate because if you are born without ears you don't have any, but all hearing is also environmental because how the innate potential will unfold critically depends on countless environmental variables, many of which you cannot easily control or observe.
> When I started as a grad student, Andy King advised me to try to stay clear of nature vs nurture type debates. It was the first of many good pieces of advice I got from him. Everything is ultimately nature AND nurture, and trying to tease these two apart often ends up as a slippery kind of exercise which is not really that insightful.
> I hope I don't sound too discouraging. I think asking why people, or other animals, react to particular sounds the way they do could be very worthwhile, but if you say a priori that anything that is not "essentially and demonstrably innate" does not interest you then you might be painting yourself into a corner.
> Best wishes,
> Jan
> 2008/5/22 Ross Rochford <digiology@xxxxxxxxx>:
> Hi,
> I am considering for my thesis an exploration of innate responses to sounds, that is, unlearned and presumably having evolved to serve some function. The idea of the evolutionary lag where we have evolved to adapt to an environment that existed thousands of years ago interests me, I wonder what the implications of this are for how we respond to sound and how music affects our mood.
> I am looking for papers (or books) on responses to sound that are likely to be innate in humans. Also papers that discuss the evolutionary origins of our responses to sound and music and how our past environment (and tasks therein, e.g. hunting) have shaped them. I am hoping for the kinds of explanations that have been proposed for arachnophobia, that a fear of spiders had survival advantage as we may have evolved among poisonous spiders.
> While researching, I found a suggestion that our response to nails on a blackboard is because of the similarity (of its spectrum) to the warning call of macaque monkeys. Although I don't believe this is an adequate explanation (the warning calls don't produce the same response as nails on a blackboard in humans), it is similar to what I am looking for.
> Any suggestions on where to start are greatly appreciated.
> Ross
> --
> Dr Jan Schnupp
> University of Oxford
> Dept. of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics
> Sherrington Building - Parks Road
> Oxford OX1 3PT - UK
> +44-1865-272513
> www.oxfordhearing.com