From Science Daily:

Learning a first language is somewhat effortless. We start learning from our parents before we can even remember and the words and sounds are imprinted in our memory at an early age. Learning a new language as an adult is much more difficult, involves a lot of hard work, and you may never have the same fluency as with your first language. The same is true of songbirds. Zebra finches learn their song when they are young by listening to their father’s or tutor’s song.

Recently, Prof. Yoko Yazaki-Sugiyama and Dr. Shin Yanagihara from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have, for the first time, identified the neurons in the brain that are associated with the auditory memory of the father’s song in zebra finches, which could lead to insight into human speech development. They have recently published their findings in Nature Communications.

“For young animals, the early sensory experiences are very important and strongly affect brain development,” Yanagihara, staff scientist in OIST’s Neuronal Mechanism for Critical Period Unit said. “This stage is called the ‘critical period’ where the brain circuits are very flexible and can be easily changed and modified. We wanted to know how the early sensory experiences during the critical period shape brain circuits and lead to appropriate behaviours.”

In zebra finches, only males learn and sing songs, as this is the way they attract a mate. Therefore, learning a complex song to attract the lady zebra finches is crucial for reproduction. The juvenile…

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