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Songbirds are a rich model for how one learns

 

Narrator:            This is Science Today. For years, understanding how songbirds learn to perfect and maintain their song has provided researchers with a rich model for how one learns. Michael Brainard, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, has been studying finches to gain insight into this process.

Brainard:            There is opportunity to be studying important and broad biological questions; in this case how the brain is shaped by learning across a really wide range of levels. So, to many people it sounds a bit odd to be studying a songbird, but for learning what we think are very basic and general principles, we are quite hopeful that a simple system that nevertheless has similarities in many respects to the sorts of things that people do may let us figure out some of the details that are really important for incorporating into rehabilitation efforts in humans. And so we hope that by some crosstalk between basic research and clinical research, we can really enhance the rehabilitation that's possible ultimately for patients and not just in understanding basic mechanisms of learning.

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