Probe tone thresholds in the auditory nerve measured by two-interval forced-choice procedures

Evan M. Relkin, Denis G. Pelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An important goal of auditory physiology is to relate the coding of signals in the auditory nerve to behavioral sensitivity. A useful step towards that goal is to measure physiological thresholds for the detection of tones in the neural spike train that are comparable to psychophysical thresholds. Detectability depends on the variability as well as the mean value of the response. A two-interval forced-choice task provides a criterion-free measure of detectability. On each trial of our experiments a probe tone was taken to be correctly detected if the number of spikes in response to the tone exceeded the number of spikes in an otherwise identical interval that did not contain the probe tone. (Analysis of the pulse-number distributions also allowed construction of ROC curves directly comparable to psychophysical ROC curves.) The proportion of trials that yielded correct detections was measured as a function of stimulus intensity to form a neurometric function, directly comparable to a psychophysical psychometric function. Threshold was defined as the intensity that produced a given proportion correct. The threshold intensity was also measured by an up-down procedure. Agreement between the two measures of threshold was excellent. Using the up-down procedure we could measure threshold in about 1 min, making it practical to measure the thresholds of a single neuron for many conditions. Comparisons of physiological and psychophysical ROC curves and neurometric and psychometric functions show systematic differences indicating that the animal makes its decisions inefficiently, perhaps by basing its decision on the maximum response among many neurons, rather than just the activity of the single most sensitive neuron.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1679-1691
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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