Estimating sparse spectro-temporal receptive fields with natural stimuli

Stephen V. David, Nima Mesgarani, Shihab A. Shamma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Several algorithms have been proposed to characterize the spectro-temporal tuning properties of auditory neurons during the presentation of natural stimuli. Algorithms designed to work at realistic signal-to-noise levels must make some prior assumptions about tuning in order to produce accurate fits, and these priors can introduce bias into estimates of tuning. We compare a new, computationally efficient algorithm for estimating tuning properties, boosting, to a more commonly used algorithm, normalized reverse correlation. These algorithms employ the same functional model and cost function, differing only in their priors. We use both algorithms to estimate spectro-temporal tuning properties of neurons in primary auditory cortex during the presentation of continuous human speech. Models estimated using either algorithm, have similar predictive power, although fits by boosting are slightly more accurate. More strikingly, neurons characterized with boosting appear tuned to narrower spectral bandwidths and higher temporal modulation rates than when characterized with normalized reverse correlation. These differences have little impact on responses to speech, which is spectrally broadband and modulated at low rates. However, we find that models estimated by boosting also predict responses to non-speech stimuli more accurately. These findings highlight the crucial role of priors in characterizing neuronal response properties with natural stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-212
Number of pages22
JournalNetwork: Computation in Neural Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory cortex
  • Boosting
  • Reverse correlation
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)


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