Munich Neuroscience Calendar


14.01.2021, 13:00 Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie
until 14:00
Event Type: Talk
Speaker: Lena Veit
Institute: University of Tübingen

Title: Songbirds can learn flexible contextual control of syllable sequencing

82319 Seewiesen

Host: Daniela Vallentin
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The flexible control of sequential behavior is a fundamental aspect of speech, enabling endless reordering of a limited set of learned vocal elements (i.e. syllables or words). Songbirds are phylogenetically distant from humans, but share the capacity for vocal learning as well as neural circuitry for vocal control that includes direct cortical-brainstem projections. Based on these similarities, we hypothesized that songbirds might likewise be able to learn flexible, moment-by-moment control over vocal production. Here, we demonstrate that Bengalese finches, which sing variable syllable sequences, can learn to rapidly modify the probability of specific sequences (e.g. ab-c versus ab-d) in response to arbitrary visual cues. Moreover, once learned, this modulation of sequencing occurs immediately following changes in contextual cues and persists in the absence of external reinforcement. Our findings reveal a capacity in songbirds for learned contextual control over syllable sequencing that parallels aspects of human cognitive control over speech.

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