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J Neurobiol. 1997 Nov;33(5):501-16.

Three models of song learning: evidence from behavior.

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Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior, University of California, Davis 95616, USA.


Research on avian song learning has traditionally been based on an instructional model, as exemplified by the sensorimotor model of song development. Several large-scale, species-wide field studies of learned birdsongs have revealed that variation is narrowly restricted to certain aspects of song structure. Other aspects are sufficiently stereotyped and so widely shared by species' members that they qualify as species-specific universals. The limitations on natural song variation are difficult to reconcile with a fully open, instructive model of song learning. An alternative model based on memorization by selection postulates a system of innate neural templates that facilitate the recognition and rapid memorization of conspecific song patterns. Behavioral evidence compatible with this model includes learning preferences, rapid conspecific song learning, and widespread ocurrence of species-specific song universals that are recognized innately but fail to develop in songs of social isolates. A third model combines instruction, in the memorization phase, with selection during song production. An overproduced repertoire of plastic songs previously memorized by instruction is winnowed by selection imposed during social interactions at the time of adult song crystallization. Selection during production is well established as a factor in the song development of several species, in the form of action-based learning. The possible role of selective processes in song memorization merits further neurobiological investigation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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