Review Article | Published:

What songbirds teach us about learning

Nature volume 417, pages 351358 (16 May 2002) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Bird fanciers have known for centuries that songbirds learn their songs. This learning has striking parallels to speech acquisition: like humans, birds must hear the sounds of adults during a sensitive period, and must hear their own voice while learning to vocalize. With the discovery and investigation of discrete brain structures required for singing, songbirds are now providing insights into neural mechanisms of learning. Aided by a wealth of behavioural observations and species diversity, studies in songbirds are addressing such basic issues in neuroscience as perceptual and sensorimotor learning, developmental regulation of plasticity, and the control and function of adult neurogenesis.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to M. Kao for thoughtful comments on the manuscript and help with figures. Work in the authors' laboratories is supported by the NIH, the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, NARSAD and the Grable Foundation, and the Kirsch Foundation.

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  1. W. M. Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience and Departments of Physiology and Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143, USA

    • Michael S. Brainard
    •  & Allison J. Doupe

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Correspondence to Michael S. Brainard.

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