Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tuning In To A New Language On The Fly: Effects Of Context And Seasonality On Songbird Brain

Date:
August 9, 2008
Source:
Public Library of Science
Summary:
New research has shown that exposure to a changed acoustic and social environment can rewire the way the brain processes sounds. Study of the responses of individual brain cells has shown that they respond best to a particular frequency (pitch) of sound, less well to nearby frequencies, and poorly to distant sound frequencies.

Two Zebra finches on a rope having a chat. Researchers found that exposure to a changed acoustic and social environment can rewire the way the brain processes sounds.
Credit: iStockphoto/Andrew Corney

Research conducted at Rutgers University has shown that exposure to a changed acoustic and social environment can rewire the way the brain processes sounds. Beginning in the cochlea of the inner ear, nerve cells of the auditory system parse incoming sounds into their different components.

Related Articles


Study of the responses of individual brain cells has shown that they respond best to a particular frequency (pitch) of sound, less well to nearby frequencies, and poorly to distant sound frequencies. The range of effective frequencies can be measured as the "tuning width." Cells with similar tuning are found together, producing an orderly map of all the possible frequencies spread out across the auditory part of the brain.

These tuning properties were used to study the way experience can change the brain in two species of songbirds. Songbirds provide the best-developed animal system for studying vocal learning because juvenile birds learn to sing by hearing and imitating adults, much as human infants do. The songbird brain contains an area similar to the mammalian auditory cortex (the NCM) that is specialized to discriminate and remember the songs of other birds of the same species.

In this study, adult zebra finches (which normally live in a single-species colony) were moved to a canary colony, and adult canaries were moved to a zebra finch colony. These birds experienced a novel environment because canaries and zebra finches produce learned species-typical vocalizations that differ in their acoustic components. Other birds of each species remained in their home colony and still others were placed in individual isolation.

After nine days of altered experience, the tuning width was assessed in the brains of these animals and was found to be significantly different from birds that remained at home. In birds of both species that experienced life in a foreign colony, the tuning became narrower (i.e. more selective). In canaries, which can learn new song elements in adulthood, these effects were also influenced by season, and may reflect the role of vocal imitation in the seasonal breeding behavior of this species. Isolation had the opposite effect: the tuning became wider (i.e. less selective).

In other words, when a bird is exposed to a new acoustic and social environment, basic auditory properties in its brain change to become more finely tuned. In human terms, a possible analogy for this experiment is when a person travels to a foreign country where an unfamiliar language is spoken. The individual has to pay close attention and gradually begins to make out the words in the speech stream (and perhaps to recognize a few from the phrase book). This process of "tuning in" to the new sound and social environment may involve increased sensitivity to fine acoustic details and may produce measurable tuning changes such as those observed at the neural level in these songbirds.

In contrast, the songbirds' tuning coarsened in the impoverished, monotonous environment provided by being housed in isolation.

The researchers suggest that these songbird results provide a useful experimental model of sensory plasticity accessibility, which is worthy of further study. Consistent with observations in other sensory systems, the tuning map in the brain is not rigid, but adjusts dynamically to current experience.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Terleph TA, Lu K, Vicario DS. Response Properties of the Auditory Telencephalon in Songbirds Change with Recent Experience and Season. PLoS One, 3(8): e2854 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002854

Cite This Page:

Public Library of Science. "Tuning In To A New Language On The Fly: Effects Of Context And Seasonality On Songbird Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080805214404.htm>.
Public Library of Science. (2008, August 9). Tuning In To A New Language On The Fly: Effects Of Context And Seasonality On Songbird Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080805214404.htm
Public Library of Science. "Tuning In To A New Language On The Fly: Effects Of Context And Seasonality On Songbird Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080805214404.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins