Brain pathways for behavioral variation and selection in a vocallearning songbird

Document Type

Conference Presentation



Conference Title

Annual Meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis


Association for Behavior Analysis


Chicago, IL

Conference Dates

May 23-27, 2008

Date of Presentation



Male zebra finches learn a vocal pattern during juvenile life in a manner that bears a striking behavioral resemblance to human vocal learning. Following an early tutoring phase where the song of an adult male is heard, juvenile male zebra finches begin a sensory-motor learning phase where auditory feedback is used to shape initially variable vocal sounds into the sequence of distinct note types heard earlier in life. The neural circuit that controls this learning is composed of two neural pathways that converge on a common vocal/motor output. Here, I will present the view that the interaction between these two pathways is one of ontogenetic variation and selection. Interestingly, the neural pathway responsible for generating vocal variation includes the basal ganglia, a brain region highly conserved in architecture and neurochemistry across birds and mammals. Thus, our findings in songbirds suggest a broader model, where basal ganglia function contributes to the pre-existing behavioral variation necessary for operant learning to occur.

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