Monday, April 14, 2014

What Songbirds Tell Us About How We Learn

When you throw a wild pitch or sing a flat note, it could be that your basal ganglia made you do it. This area in the middle of the brain is involved in motor control and learning. And one reason for that errant toss or off-key note may be that your brain prompted you to vary your behavior to help you learn, from trial-and-error, to perform better. But how does the brain do this, how does it cause you to vary your behavior?...In particular, songbirds memorize the song of their father or tutor, then practice that song until they can produce a similar song. "As adults, they continue to produce this learned song, but what's interesting is that they keep it just a little bit variable" says Woolley. "The variability isn't a default, it isn't that they can't produce a better version, they can -- in particular when they sing to a female. So when they sing alone and their song is variable it's because they are actively making it that way." more

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