Psychologists solve mystery of songbird learning | Cornell Chronicle
Learning to sing is a complex task for a juvenile zebra finch, right. They must learn the song of their father, center, and a new study demonstrates that they also need to pay attention to the responses their immature singing elicits from females, left, in order to learn a high-quality song.
In “Female Social Feedback Reveals Non-Imitative Mechanisms of Vocal Learning in Zebra Finches,” published Jan. 31 in Current Biology, co-authors Michael Goldstein, associate professor of psychology, and doctoral candidate Samantha Carouso-Peck solve the mystery of why juvenile male zebra finches learn to sing better when females are around, even though the females don’t sing.
The researchers found that the adult females guide juveniles’ song development through specific interactions, similar to how human babies learn to talk. This study brings the number of species known to engage in socially guided vocal learning to four: zebra finches, humans, marmosets and cowbirds.