Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 16;34(16):5564-74. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5169-13.2014.

Vocal generalization depends on gesture identity and sequence.

Author information

Neuroscience Doctoral Program and Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322.


Generalization, the brain's ability to transfer motor learning from one context to another, occurs in a wide range of complex behaviors. However, the rules of generalization in vocal behavior are poorly understood, and it is unknown how vocal learning generalizes across an animal's entire repertoire of natural vocalizations and sequences. Here, we asked whether generalization occurs in a nonhuman vocal learner and quantified its properties. We hypothesized that adaptive error correction of a vocal gesture produced in one sequence would generalize to the same gesture produced in other sequences. To test our hypothesis, we manipulated the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in Bengalese finches (Lonchura striata var. domestica) to create sensory errors during vocal gestures (song syllables) produced in particular sequences. As hypothesized, error-corrective learning on pitch-shifted vocal gestures generalized to the same gestures produced in other sequential contexts. Surprisingly, generalization magnitude depended strongly on sequential distance from the pitch-shifted syllables, with greater adaptation for gestures produced near to the pitch-shifted syllable. A further unexpected result was that nonshifted syllables changed their pitch in the direction opposite from the shifted syllables. This apparently antiadaptive pattern of generalization could not be explained by correlations between generalization and the acoustic similarity to the pitch-shifted syllable. These findings therefore suggest that generalization depends on the type of vocal gesture and its sequential context relative to other gestures and may reflect an advantageous strategy for vocal learning and maintenance.


Bengalese finch; generalization; motor error correction; motor learning; vocal error correction; vocal learning

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center