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For These Bird Brains, a Familiar Song

Scientists study how starlings learn to recognize songs

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

FRIDAY, Aug. 8, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A bunch of birds' brains are teaching University of Chicago scientists some valuable lessons.

The researchers are studying European starlings to find out how the birds recognize songs and how the brain learns, distinguishes and remembers sounds at the cellular level.

In a study that appears in the Aug. 7 issue of Nature, the scientists found that songs the birds learned to recognize triggered responses both in individual neurons and in populations of neurons in the birds' brains.

"We found that cells in a part of the brain are altered dramatically by the learning process," study co-author Daniel Margoliash, professor of organismal biology and anatomy and of psychology, says in a news statement.

"As birds learn to recognize certain songs, the cells in this area become sensitive to particular sound patterns or auditory objects that occur in learned songs, while cells never show such sensitivity to patterns in unfamiliar songs. Specific cells in the brain become 'tuned' to what the bird is learning," Margoliash says.

In this study, the starlings were taught to press different buttons on a small metal panel depending on the song they heard. The birds received a reward of food when they made a correct selection.

This research with starlings may provide further insight into the human brain.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the brain and nervous system.

SOURCE: University of Chicago Medical Center, news release, Aug. 7, 2003
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