Podcast: Researchers implanted false memories in birds to figure out how humans learn language

Zebra finches. Image: Michael Lawton/Flickr

Babies are constantly surrounded by human languagealways listening and processing. Eventually they put sounds together to produce a “daddy,” or a “mama.” But what is still elusive to neuroscientists is exactly how the brain works to put it all together.

To begin to figure it out, a team of researchers turned to a frequent stand-in for human infants when it comes to language learning: the song-learning zebra finch.

[Neuroscientist Todd] Roberts and his team had a hunch that the interface between sensory areas and motor areas in the brain was critical for this process, and they zeroed in on a group of brain cells called the NIf.

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“In order to really prove that we were on the right track, and that we could identify these circuits, we thought that maybe we could go in and see if we could implant a false memory.”

Soon enough, the birds began to practice the notes they had learned, even though they never really heard the sounds in the first place.

The researchers say this is the first time anybody has pinpointed a part of the brain necessary for generating the sorts of memories needed to mimic sounds.

Read full, original post: Implanting Memories in Birds Reveals How Learning Happens

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