Bird brains follow the beat
By training birds to ‘get rhythm’, scientists uncover evidence that our capacity to move in time with music may be connected with our ability to learn speech
Even though typical dance-floor activity might suggest otherwise, humans generally demonstrate a remarkable capacity to synchronize their body movements in response to auditory stimuli. But is this ability to move in time to musical rhythm a uniquely human trait?
Some animals are capable of vocal learning, changing the sounds they make in response to those they hear from other members of their species. Scientists have hypothesized that such behavior may be associated with the capacity for so-called ‘rhythmic synchronization’. “Motor control of vocal organs is naturally important in vocal learning,” says Yoshimasa Seki of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Wako. “Once auditory–motor coordination in the vocal control system has been established, a similar auditory–motor transformation system for other body parts might be derived from that.”
Studies in vocal-learning species have largely focused on case studies of individual animals, but Seki and colleagues conducted larger-scale experiments and found that budgerigars (Fig. 1) may have an inherent capacity for rhythmic synchronization1. The researchers tested their hypothesis by training eight budgerigars to peck a button in response to the rhythm of an external metronome, which could be adjusted to present the birds with audio–visual stimuli at varying intervals.
In all 46 experiments, the birds were able to consistently respond to rhythmic beats within a certain time-frame, demonstrating successful entrainment. However, the accuracy of their timing was dependent on the tempo. Only one out of seven birds was successfully able to match the onset of each beat when the stimuli were generated at 450 millisecond intervals, while all animals achieved this feat when that interval was lengthened to 1,500 or 1,800 milliseconds.
To confirm that actual synchronization was taking place, the researchers used computer simulations of other bird behavior scenarios, such as random pecking or responding directly to individual stimuli rather than the rhythm itself. However, none of these alternative models was sufficient to explain the observed activity. “Our results showed that budgerigars can show rhythmic movements synchronized with external stimuli, which means they potentially have this capability of auditory–motor entrainment as a species,” says Seki.
As such, this species may offer a useful model for future investigations of the neurological mechanisms that potentially connect vocal learning with rhythmic synchronization in both birds and humans. “Such studies should contribute to discussions of specific characteristics of the human speech system and its similarity to the vocal learning systems found in other animal species,” explains Seki.
The corresponding author for this highlight is based at the Emotional Information Joint Research Laboratory, RIKEN Brain Science Institute
gro-pr | Research asia research news
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...