Friday, December 21, 2012

How Songbirds Learn to Correct Mistakes and Stay On Key

Just like humans, baby birds learn to vocalize by listening to adults. Days after hatching, Bengalese finches start imitating the sounds of adults. "At first, their song is extremely variable and disorganized," Sober says. "It's baby talk, basically." The young finches keep practicing, listening to their own sounds and fixing any mistakes that occur, until eventually they can sing like their elders. Young birds, and young humans, make a lot of big mistakes as they learn to vocalize. As birds and humans get older, the variability of mistakes shrinks...The link between variability and learning may explain why youngsters tend to learn faster and why adults are more resistant to change. "Whether you are an opera singer or a bird, there is always variability in your sounds," Sober says. "When the brain receives an error in pitch, it seems to use this very simple and elegant strategy of evaluating the probability of whether the error was just extraneous 'noise,' a problem reading the signal, or an actual mistake in the vocalization." more

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