Did We Learn to Talk From the Birds?

It's for the birds.  The way we learn, that is.  A recent study has found that the way birds learn to sing is the same way humans learn to talk.

According to newswise.com, songbirds "learn their songs during development in a manner similar to how humans learn to speak. Songbirds memorize the song of their father or tutor, then practice that song until they can produce a similar song."

In much the same way babies mimic their parents and others who speak to them, and why it's so important for people to talk to babies all the time, even when you know they can't understand you.  The sound of the words is what's important.

“As adults, (songbirds) continue to produce this learned song, but what's interesting is that they keep it just a little bit variable” the Web site quotes Duke University, Professor Sarah Woolley . “The variability isn’t a default, it isn’t that they can’t produce a better version, they can -- in particular when they sing to a female. So when they sing alone and their song is variable it's because they are actively making it that way.”
The team used this change in the variability of the song to look at how the activity of single cells in different parts of the brain altered their activity depending on the social environment.
“We found that the social modulation of variability emerged within the basal ganglia, a brain area known to be important for learning and producing movements not only in birds but also in mammals, including humans” says Woolley at newswise.com. “This indicates that one way that the basal ganglia may be important in motor learning across species is through its involvement in generating variability.”
She adds, "The evolution in songbirds of an identifiable circuit for a single complex behavior gives us a tremendous advantage as we try to parse out exactly what these parts of the brain do and how they do it."


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