Tecumseh Fitch

Dept. of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna 

Tecumseh Fitch received his PhD in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University, USA. He worked from 1999-2002 as lecturer at the Dept. of Biology/Dept. of Psychology at Harvard University, USA, from 2002-2003 as visiting fellow at the European Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, Germany, from 2005-2006 as visiting professor at the University of Leipzig, Germany, and from 2003-2008 as reader at the School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, UK. Finally, he joined the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Vienna as a full Professor in June 2009, where he co-founded the Department of Cognitive Biology, and has remained since.
TF's biolinguistics research was funded by a five year (2009 - 2014) ERC Advanced Grant to study the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underlying syntax in humans, nonhuman primates (chimpanzees, marmosets, squirrel monkeys), birds (corvids, parrots, pigeons) and reptiles (alligators) (€2 million, funding five postdocs & six PhD students, and producing >80 publications). He is involved in a collaborative brain-imaging project using fMRI to study the overlaps between music and language. Ongoing research is focused on understanding the mechanisms of vocal production in mammals and birds, allowing the computer-controlled synthesis of realistic animal vocalizations for playbacks, and on open-source technological solutions for analyzing animal communication (e.g. automated computer scoring of playback experiments) and cognition (e.g. computer-controlled operant testing in immersive environments).
TF is trained both as a biologist and cognitive scientist, and his experimental work has incorporated both humans and a wide variety of other vertebrate species including fish, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Tecumseh Fitch is interested in the evolution of cognition and communication, particularly the mechanisms underlying vocal production and complex pattern perception. These two main strands of research - communication and cognition - are both relevant to this DK program. His bioacoustics research focuses on the morphological, physiological, and neural mechanisms underlying vocal production in diverse terrestrial vertebrates. Using a detailed understanding of these mechanisms then allows lab members to produce computer-synthesized vocalizations for use in playback experiments (vocal perception). This allows investigation of the evolution of communication from a broad comparative perspective, grounded in mechanisms of production and perception, and ultimately uncovering the key acoustic variables that transmit relevant information for a particular species.
TF's research on the biology and evolution of music and language - biolinguistics and biomusicology - stresses the value of comparative research in understanding the multiple mechanisms humans use to process complex acoustic and visual signals, and to determine which of these are shared with other animals. By probing the pattern-discovery capabilities of a wide range of vertebrate species, in both visual and auditory domains, Fitch's group has tested the hypothesis that hierarchical cognition is a key component of human music and language that is absent or poorly developed in most other species (the "dendrophilia hypothesis"). In contrast, most mechanisms involved in serial auditory perception and phonology (as well as voice perception - phonetics) appear to be shared with other species (the "phonological continuity hypothesis"). Fitch's other interests include empirical aesthetics where his group has pioneered new user interfaces allowing untrained participants to produce artwork under controlled conditions. He also works in computational neuroscience where he has tested models of hierarchical computation ("dendrophilia") in human cognition using fMRI, and more theoretically has stressed the value of the comparative approach in understanding its evolutionary and neural basis.

For more information see the website.