Like Humans, Bats Use Both Sides of Brain to Listen
Just like humans, bats also use the left and right sides of their brains to process different aspects of sounds
Just like humans, bats also use the left and right sides of their brains to process different aspects of sounds, a new study has found.
Aside from humans, no other animal that has been studied, not even monkeys or apes, has proved to use such hemispheric specialisation for sound processing - meaning that the left brain is better at processing fast sounds, and the right processing slow ones.
The study opens a pathway to studying bat brains in order to understand certain human language disorders and potentially even improving computer speech recognition, researchers said.
“These findings upset the notion that only humans use different sides of their brains to distinguish different aspects of sound,” said the study’s senior author, Stuart Washington, a neuroscientist at the Georgetown University Medical Centre.
Washington said the findings of asymmetrical sound processing in both human and bat brains make evolutionary sense.
The slower timing of the right hemisphere may allow us to identify who is speaking, to gauge their emotional state via tone-of-voice and to tease out pitch in music, which is thought to be important for getting groups of people to coordinate their activities and can ultimately lead to the formation of cultures.
– Washington said.
“It is therefore reasonable to understand why humans needed to evolve this asymmetry in their brains,” Washington added.
For mustached bats, the need is even more compelling, he said.
“Bats need to use the fast timing of the left hemisphere to distinguish communication sounds from each other, because their communication sounds have rapid changes in frequency.
Otherwise, they cannot communicate with other bats, and bats are even more social than humans.
“The bats also need to use the slow timing of the right hemisphere to use sonar - which relies on detecting small changes in frequency - to track the velocity of the fast-moving insects they fly after and eat,” Washington said.
This asymmetric sampling in bats is sex-dependent (males have more asymmetry than females), which is also consistent with humans, he said.
“Women tend to use both the left and right hemispheres for language, but men largely use just the left hemisphere.
Since this asymmetric sound processing is the basis for left hemispheric specialisation for language, it too is assumed to be more common in men than in women. Our results in bats may spur research to confirm that assumption in humans,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience.
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