In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, David Vicario and Mimi Phan of Rutgers, and Carolyn Pytte of Wesleyan University, report that songbirds store the memory of caregivers' songs in a part of the brain involved in hearing. This suggests the auditory version of the caregiver's song is stored first, and that it may serve to guide the vocal learning process. The paper is titled "Early Auditory Experience Generates Long-Lasting Memories That May Subserve Vocal Learning in Songbirds."
"There is independent evidence, notably from work done by Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington in Seattle, that something similar may underlie the acquisition of human speech by infants and, thus, be part of the mechanism that allows kids to learn any human language if they start early enough," Vicario says.
"These findings are exciting," Kuhl says of the research reported in the paper. "They provide neurobiological evidence that helps explain human infants' acquisition of speech."
Vicario, Phan and Pytte worked with zebra finches, tiny songbirds native to Australia and favored by researchers because they breed well in captivity and all year- round. There are other animals that also learn vocalizations by imitating members of their species ?whales, dolphins and parrots, for instance ?but they take a long time to mature, are endangered or are too difficult to work with in laboratories.
Vicario, an associate professor of psychology, and Phan, a postdoctoral associate in psychology, study sensorimotor processes involved in the acquisition and production of learned behaviors. Pytte, a pos
Source:Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey