PerspectiveNeuroscience

Learning birdsong by imitation

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Science  04 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6461, pp. 33-34
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz1552

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Summary

Imitating an expert is seemingly a straightforward type of learning, one at the root of language, music, and other culturally transmitted behaviors. But learning to copy an action requires the nervous system to perform some rather unusual transformations. The expert's action must first be perceived and represented as a sensory pattern. This sensory pattern must then be transformed into a set of motor patterns sufficient to reproduce the desired goal. Birdsong provides a model for this sort of “inverse” learning: Over a span of ∼2 months, a young zebra finch listens to the song of an adult tutor and gradually learns to reproduce it. On page 83 of this issue, Zhao et al. (1) dissect the neural circuitry involved in the sensorimotor transformation underlying this process of imitation.

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