The ability to group stimuli into perceptual categories is essential for efficient interaction with the environment. Discrete dynamics that emerge in brain networks are believed to be the neuronal correlate of category formation. Observations of such dynamics have recently been made; however, it is still unresolved if they actually match perceptual categories. Using in vivo two-photon calcium imaging in the auditory cortex of mice, we show that local network activity evoked by sounds is constrained to few response modes. Transitions between response modes are characterized by an abrupt switch, indicating attractor-like, discrete dynamics. Moreover, we show that local cortical responses quantitatively predict discrimination performance and spontaneous categorization of sounds in behaving mice. Our results therefore demonstrate that local nonlinear dynamics in the auditory cortex generate spontaneous sound categories which can be selected for behavioral or perceptual decisions. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.