Sarah M. N. Woolley, PhD

  • Associate Professor of Psychology (Columbia University)
Profile Headshot



Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor of Psychology (Columbia University)

Administrative Titles

  • Chair, Department of Psychology


  • Female

Credentials & Experience

Committees, Societies, Councils

  • Society for Neuroscience
  • Association for Research in Otolaryngology
  • International Society for Neuroethology


The Woolley laboratory studies how auditory neurons, networks, and circuits extract information from vocal communication sounds in the service of social behavior, and the role of experience in auditory processing and behavior. We study songbirds because males sing to court females, females analyze songs to choose mates, the adults mate and raise offspring, and juveniles learn communication skills, all in the laboratory.

Importantly, songbirds are unique among non-human animals because juveniles learn to sing during a critical period by copying the songs of adult tutors via social interaction and practice. Songbird auditory neurons encode sound with exquisite accuracy and songbird auditory perceptual skills parallel those of humans.

Research Interests

  • Cognitive/Systems Neuroscience
  • Sensory Physiology
  • Systems and Circuits

Selected Publications

So NLT, Edwards JA, Woolley SMN. Auditory selectivity for spectral contrast in cortical neurons and behavior. The Journal of Neuroscience: the Official Journal of the Society For Neuroscience. PMID 31826944 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1200-19.2019

Woolley, SC, Woolley, SMN. Integrating Form and Function in the Songbird Auditory Forebrain. Handbook on Auditory Research: The Neuroethology of Birdsong, Eds. Sakata, J., Woolley, SC, Fay, R.R., Popper, A.
Moore JM, Woolley SMN. Emergent tuning for learned vocalizations in auditory cortex. Nature Neuroscience. PMID 31406364 DOI: 10.1038/s41593-019-0458-4

Woolley, SMN. Early Experience and Auditory Development in Songbirds. In: Springer Handbook on Auditory Research: Auditory Development and Plasticity, Vol. 63. Eds. Cramer, K., Coffin, A., Fay, R.R., Popper, A.

Calabrese A, Woolley SM. Coding principles of the canonical cortical microcircuit in the avian brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 112: 3517-22. PMID 25691736 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408545112

Schneider DM, Woolley SM. Sparse and background-invariant coding of vocalizations in auditory scenes. Neuron. 79: 141-52. PMID 23849201 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.04.038