Spatial unmasking of birdsong in human listeners: Energetic and informational factors

Virginia Best, Erol Ozmeral, Frederick J. Gallun, Kamal Sen, Barbara G. Shinn-Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Spatial unmasking describes the improvement in the detection or identification of a target sound afforded by separating it spatially from simultaneous masking sounds. This effect has been studied extensively for speech intelligibility in the presence of interfering sounds. In the current study, listeners identified zebra finch song, which shares many acoustic properties with speech but lacks semantic and linguistic content. Three maskers with the same long-term spectral content but different short-term statistics were used: (1) chorus (combinations of unfamiliar zebra finch songs), (2) song-shaped noise (broadband noise with the average spectrum of chorus), and (3) chorus-modulated noise (song-shaped noise multiplied by the broadband envelope from a chorus masker). The amount of masking and spatial unmasking depended on the masker and there was evidence of release from both energetic and informational masking. Spatial unmasking was greatest for the statistically similar chorus masker. For the two noise maskers, there was less spatial unmasking and it was wholly accounted for by the relative target and masker levels at the acoustically better ear. The results share many features with analogous results using speech targets, suggesting that spatial separation aids in the segregation of complex natural sounds through mechanisms that are not specific to speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3766-3773
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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