Auditory responses in avian vocal motor neurons: a motor theory for song perception in birds

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Science  19 Jul 1985:
Vol. 229, Issue 4710, pp. 279-282
DOI: 10.1126/science.4012321


The hypoglossal motor neurons that innervate the vocal organ (syrinx) of the male zebra finch show a selective, long-latency (50-millisecond) response to sound. This response is eliminated by lesions to forebrain song-control nuclei. Different song syllables elicit a response from different syringeal motor neurons. Conspecific vocalizations may therefore be perceived as members of a set of vocal gestures and thus distinct from other environmental sounds. This hypothesis is an avian parallel to the motor theory of speech perception in humans.

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