Avinash D. Singh Bala

138 Esslinger Hall, Institute of Neuroscience

University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403

avinash( at )uoregon(d o t)edu


My research focuses on our ability to detect relevant information, which is usually buried in all sorts of signals from our complex environment. As a result, we depend on neural mechanisms that allow us to focus on the  important stuff - or at least, the stuff that was important to our species during its evolution. For example, unexpected events are particularly salient, and attract our attention even when we are focused on something else. So, both content and context of a signal determine what our brain considers worthy of attention. This ability to shift our focus to new events is called orienting, and is enabled by our ability to ignore, or habituate to, events we have already experienced. For example, when we move to a new room, we wonder if we can ever sleep, but a week later, the strange noises and creaks are forgotten. Biology is never that simple of course - as one example, stimuli that evoke strong emotions usually don't habituate, regardless of how often they repeat.   

Overt orienting is the term used to describe the visible changes in orientation of the body that result from us hearing a sudden sound - for example, moving our head and eyes toward the source. Pavlov discovered covert orienting: a set of phsyiological responses that occur along with overt orienting, such as changes in heart rate, skin conductance, EEG activity, and pupil size. We first discovered the novelty-induced pupil dilation response (PDR) in the barn owl, and have used it to track orienting and habituation in owls and in human subjects. The PDR allows us to probe our ability to detect and discriminate between stimuli, allowing use to study the barn owl's spatial hearing, and the human ability to detect quiet sounds.


The best use of the PDR, though, may be to test hearing in babies, who can't otherwise tell us whether or not they heard a sound. To explore that possibility, I founded Perceptivo LLC with my friend and mentor, the late Prof. Terry Takahashi. Perceptivo LLC, is working to translate our innovation from basic research to clinical tool, funded by grants from the National Institutes of  Health and the Murdock Foundation. Recently, Innovation Funding from the VP Research and Innovation, UO, has made available some  seed money for funding translational research: this Innovation award was hugely helpful in enabling progress towards funding from external sources.


I am the Faculty Fellow for Carson Hall, University of Oregon. Residents can meet me during office hours - Wednesdays 3:00 to 4:00 pm in the Carson Lounge.  Or email me: I'm always happy to meet Carson people!


I will be teaching BI390 Animal Behavior in Winter 2024, and BI360 Neurobiology in Spring 2024. My teaching office hours are Wednesdays, 2 pm to 3 pm (see calendar below for Teaching/Advising events)

Advising/Teaching Calendar