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Looking to natural chemical processes in the brain


Narrator:       This is Science Today. A songbird's desire to impress a mate could lead to new therapies for learning disorders. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that male zebra finches sang more precisely when in the presence of a female, leading them to believe that social cues can elicit powerful chemical reactions that improve performance. 

Doupe:           Here's a situation where a learning animal changes its behavior enormously in response to a social cue. So then we can go in and look and go, what's different when the social cue is there and when it's not. And how is it able to change the brain?

Narrator:       Neuroscientist Allison Doupe suspects that the presence of the female bird triggers a surge of dopamine, a pleasure-regulating chemical, in the male bird's brain.

Doupe:          We're very excited about the possibility that the link between the female and the change in behavior in the male is through dopamine.

Narrator:      Doupe says more studies are needed in order to confirm that link, but her findings do suggest that our natural chemical processes could one day be harnessed to engage learning and improve performance. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.