Categorical perception of a natural stimulus continuum: birdsong

Science  26 May 1989:
Vol. 244, Issue 4907, pp. 976-978
DOI: 10.1126/science.2727689


A fundamental issue in perception and communication is how continuously varying stimuli are partitioned into discrete categories. In swamp sparrow songs, note duration is a critical feature distinguishing two note categories with different roles in song construction. Pairs of songs with initial notes from different categories contrast more in their effects on territorial males than song pairs with initial notes differing by the same amount but taken from within one note category. The results indicate categorical perception by wild swamp sparrows.