Study 3 - The cocktail party problem: What is it? How can it be solved? Why should animal behaviorists study it?

My 4 guinea pigs: S’mores, Brownie, Mrs. Piggy, and Cinnamon Bun in that order from left to right in the picture below

Cocktail Parties?

“The essence of the cocktail party problem can be formulated as a deceptively simple question: “How do we recognize what one person is saying when others are speaking at the same time?” (Bee & Micheyl 2008).


In some instances, guinea pigs sounds can drown each other out in the same way, and it is hard to tell which one may be “speaking” at one time, leading to signal confusion and in-fighting.


As a personal reference, my guinea pigs on the left, make a lot of noise, and sometimes even “talk.”


An example of how noise was measured in this study (noise is supposed to appear low quality)


Comodulating Detection Difference(CMR):


Crossmodal recognition requires the combination of information from multiple sensory modalities—for example, vision and touch.


While guinea pigs have extremely good hearing due to their cochlea, it may be difficult to distinguish certain signals with heavy background noise. CMR helps with this excessive background noise in many animals and not just guinea pigs. Some more common household pet examples would include dogs, cats, insects, and more!

Guinea pig wheeking/yawning

Anthropogenic noise

 “Anthropogenic noise represents an evolutionary recent intruder into the acoustic scenes that humans and other animals have evolved to analyze. There is an increasing concern among animal behaviorists and conservation biologists that noise pollution could interfere with animal acoustic communication systems”(Bee & Micheyl 2008).


While this can certainly create problems within the animals communication patterns, guinea pigs in particular are susceptible to outside noise. One noise in particular that they respond to from a CS is plastic bags, which will usually be followed by a large “wheeking” or “rumbling sound”

Definitions from Study


Sequential Integration: integration of temporarily separated sounds from one sound source into a coherent auditory stream and the segregation of these sounds from other intervening and overlapping sounds from intervening and overlapping sounds from other sources.


Simultaneous Integration: refers to the perceptual grouping of different, simultaneously occurring components of the frequency spectrum


Bottom-up mechanisms: stimulus driven, meaning that they operate only or primarily on cues present in the acoustic signal itself; they are largely automatic and obligatory, meaning they do not critically depend on attention.


Bottom-up mechanisms: depending on a listener’s prior experience and expectations and thus involve higher level cognitive processes, such as learning, memory, and attention.

Source: Bee, M. A., & Micheyl, C. (2008). The cocktail party problem: What is it? How can it be solved? And why should animal behaviorists study it? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 122(3), 235-251.

Source: Chittka, L., & Al-Khudhairy, S. G. (2020, February 21). Bumble bees display cross-modal object recognition between visual and tactile senses. Science; American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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