Songbirds Shed Light on Brain Circuits and Learning
By studying how birds master songs used in courtship, scientists have found that regions of the brain involved in planning and controlling complex vocal sequences may also be necessary for memorizing sounds that serve as models for vocal imitation. In a paper appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Duke and Harvard universities observed the imitative vocal learning habits of male zebra finches to pinpoint which circuits in the birds’ brains are necessary for learning their songs.
Knowing which brain circuits are involved in learning by imitation could have broader implications for diagnosing and treating human developmental disorders, the researchers said. The finding shows that the same circuitry used for vocal control also participates in auditory learning, raising the possibility that vocal circuits in our own brain also help encode auditory experience important to speech and language learning.