Dr. Mitchell Sutter

Position Title

NPB, Center for Neuroscience

Center for Neuroscience


1991    PhD    (Bioengineering)    University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley
1985    BS    (Bioengineering)    Brown University

Research Interests


Our lab researches how the brain analyzes sounds, how attention influences this neural analysis, and how this leads to decisions and actions in response to sound. To do this we use a multidisciplinary approach combining neuroscience (recording the electrical activity of single neurons), behavior, psychology, and quantitative approaches.

The Questions We Address

How can we tell the sound of an alarm clock from a barking dog, or of an ambulance siren from a car horn? How do animals process vocalizations or humans process speech? How can we stand in a crowded cocktail party and understand one person's speech while our ears are bombarded with sounds from a barrage of sources: 100 other people talking, cell phones, air conditioners, glasses jingling, background music? To answer these questions we need a fundamental knowledge of hearing and how the brain analyzes sounds. Our lab's research focuses on these fundamental questions.

The Role of 'Higher' Auditory Areas in the Brain

Little is now about what role the higher auditory areas (in the midbrain, thalamus, and cortex) play in sound perception, and sound guided behavior and action. A goal of our research is to elucidate how 'higher' brain areas, contribute to hearing, with a particular emphasis on the role of auditory cortex. We believe 'higher' levels of the brain are essential for hearing in the complex environments encountered by all animals. We also have recently found that areas thought to be auditory only are strongly influenced by attention and decisions made by the animal. The latter is surprising since sensory cortex appears not just to be involved in sensing the sound, but also in guiding the behavior.

Department and Center Affiliations


Center for Neuroscience

CBS Grad Group Affiliations


Specialties / Focus


  • Systems Neuroscience



  • Mitch Sutter, Kevin O'Connor, Joshua Downer, Jennifer Mohn, and Jeff Johnson.

Teaching Interests

Neurobiology. Hearing. Modeling.


NPB 100 Neurobiology (multiple)

NPB 12 The Human Brain and Disease (multiple)

NPB 17 The Path to Cyborgs: Introduction to Prostheses and Human Machine Interfaces (Winter)