Zebra finches reward themselves for singing well

Dopamine is an important hormone released from neurons involved in reward pathways. Researchers at Cornell University wanted to know if dopamine signaling was involved in how birds learn songs. Their findings, recently published in Science, present evidence that neurons in the brain of zebra finches do in fact decrease dopamine signals when the birds hear an error in their song in comparison to when they sing 'correctly'. The researchers also found that dopamine signaling was enhanced  when the birds corrected a mistake made during a prior attempt.  

Sources:

V. Gadagkar, P.A. Puzerey, R. Chen, E. Baird-Daniel, A.R. Farhang, J.H. Goldberg. Dopamine neurons encode performance error in singing birds. Science, 354:1278-82, 2016.

The Scientist

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That's a really neat finding. I was confused by the term "internally driven" learning, though. I'm a behavior analyst and not trained in bird behavior, especially certain instinctual repertoires - would the concept of an "internal template" be referring to the Finch's natural preferences to certain tones/melodies? Or is the correct note a conditioned stimuli for the availability of R+? The off-note would be the discriminative stimulus for it not-being available, and not getting a dopamine boost would make sense.

By Eli Rector (not verified) on 30 Mar 2017 #permalink