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What we can learn from songbirds

 

Narrator:            This is Science Today. Understanding how the brain changes while learning may ultimately lead to enabling rehabilitation in cases where learning has gone awry due to damage or disease. Michael Brainard, an associate professor in the department of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, studies songbirds to learn more about brain regions involved in what's called "reinforcement learning."

Brainard:            One of the things that we've been able to discover in studying songbirds is the basal ganglia appear to play a very important and dedicated role in this form of learning. The learning benefits from extremely rapid feedback.

Narrator:            Researchers in Brainaird's lab used an automated computer program to provide feedback as songbirds sang, which led to their quickly learning to change their tune.

Brainard:            In cases of rehabilitation or in the cases of behaviors like speech, we think that it may be particularly useful to adopt some of the sorts of techniques that we've developed here to monitor very precisely the behavior as someone is speaking and to provide very rapid feedback about their success or failure in producing appropriate sounds.

Narrator:            For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.