Neurons in sensory cortices are often assumed to be “feature detectors”, computing simple and then successively more complex features out of the incoming sensory stream. These features are somehow integrated into percepts. Despite many years of research, a convincing candidate for such a feature in primary auditory cortex has not been found. We argue that feature detection is actually a secondary issue in understanding the role of primary auditory cortex. Instead, the major contribution of primary auditory cortex to auditory perception is in processing previously derived features on a number of different timescales. We hypothesize that, as a result, neurons in primary auditory cortex represent sounds in terms of auditory objects rather than in terms of feature maps. According to this hypothesis, primary auditory cortex has a pivotal role in the auditory system in that it generates the representation of auditory objects to which higher auditory centers assign properties such as spatial location, source identity, and meaning.
Primary auditory cortex of cats: feature detection or something else?
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