Social Modulation of Songbird Learning The way that songbirds learn to sing may be a good model of the way humans learn language. One key feature of songbird learning is that it has a strong social component that is, songbirds learn to sing much better by interacting with a live tutor than by listening to taped birdsong. This study examines the parts of the brain that are involved in this learning process.
SOCIAL MODULATION OF LEARNING IN THE SONG SYSTEM
A simple animal model for the acquisition of social behavior is the songbird, which learns to sing in much the same way that humans learn language. In particular, normal song learning is dependent both on hearing the songs of others during a critical period, and on social cues from adults. This study will examine how those social cues (or their absence) change both brain and behavior in adult birds and in birds learning to sing. Studies in a simple animal model such as this can shed light on the neural mechanisms involved in social modulation of learning in humans.
A Network-supported study is examining how these social cues (or their absence) change both brain and behavior in adult birds vs. in birds still learning to sing. Studies in a simple animal model like this can shed light on the neural mechanisms involved in social modulation of learning.
This study uses several new methods that should prove enlightening. One new method has yielded interesting findings, namely that depleting the birds brain of dopamine (a neurotransmitter thought to be critical for learning and attention) alters the birds ability to learn to sing properly. This suggests that dopamine may be produced or transmitted differently in birds who learn to sing from in a social situation (from a live tutor bird) compared to those birds who learn to sing from a tape, which has been shown to inhibit proper song learning.