Date: January 31, 2019
Source: Cornell University
Scientists rely on animal models to gain insight into how humans learn language, but it turns out that one of their favorite models, the zebra finch, has been entirely misunderstood.
New research reveals that these birds don't simply learn their songs by imitating adults: They learn by watching their mothers' reactions to their immature songs.
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.