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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jun 14;113(24):6641-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1522306113. Epub 2016 May 31.

Mechanisms underlying the social enhancement of vocal learning in songbirds.

Author information

1
Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Quebec, QC, Canada H1A 2B4;
2
Department of Biology, McGill University, Quebec, QC, Canada H3A 1B1;
3
Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Quebec, QC, Canada H1A 2B4; Department of Biology, McGill University, Quebec, QC, Canada H3A 1B1; Centre for Research on Brain, Language, and Music, Quebec, QC, Canada H3G 2A8; Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology, Quebec, QC, Canada H4B 1R6 jon.sakata@mcgill.ca.

Abstract

Social processes profoundly influence speech and language acquisition. Despite the importance of social influences, little is known about how social interactions modulate vocal learning. Like humans, songbirds learn their vocalizations during development, and they provide an excellent opportunity to reveal mechanisms of social influences on vocal learning. Using yoked experimental designs, we demonstrate that social interactions with adult tutors for as little as 1 d significantly enhanced vocal learning. Social influences on attention to song seemed central to the social enhancement of learning because socially tutored birds were more attentive to the tutor's songs than passively tutored birds, and because variation in attentiveness and in the social modulation of attention significantly predicted variation in vocal learning. Attention to song was influenced by both the nature and amount of tutor song: Pupils paid more attention to songs that tutors directed at them and to tutors that produced fewer songs. Tutors altered their song structure when directing songs at pupils in a manner that resembled how humans alter their vocalizations when speaking to infants, that was distinct from how tutors changed their songs when singing to females, and that could influence attention and learning. Furthermore, social interactions that rapidly enhanced learning increased the activity of noradrenergic and dopaminergic midbrain neurons. These data highlight striking parallels between humans and songbirds in the social modulation of vocal learning and suggest that social influences on attention and midbrain circuitry could represent shared mechanisms underlying the social modulation of vocal learning.

KEYWORDS:

attention; birdsong; catecholamines; social influences; speech

PMID:
27247385
PMCID:
PMC4914165
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1522306113
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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