Singing a Happy Tune

Singing a Happy Tune

Julie Leibach
Published: 07/10/2007

A recent study appearing in the June 19th edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that songbirds have a pronounced right-brain response to the sound of songs. Okay, great!...and this means what, exactly? Well, for the three million+ Americans who stutter, this could be a big deal: Basically, the finding suggests that scientists can use songbirds to study human speech disorders, like stuttering, in order to develop therapeutic remedies.

As it turns out, there are many similarities between birdsong and human speech, and zebra finches are a well-studied animal model of vocal learning. In this particular study, researchers from the Methodist Neurological Instiute (NI) in Houston and Weill Cornell Medical College observed brain patterns in 16 adult zebra finches during the playback of the birds' own song, their tutor's song, an unfamiliar zebra finch's song, and an artificial sound. The sound of the birds' own song caused a stronger response in the auditory areas of the brain, particularly on the right side.

"If we can link what we find in birds to what we already know about human brains, then we could better understand the causes of speech disorders and, in the long-run, be able to provide treatments to patients," said Santosh A. Helekar, lead author of the paper, in a press release.

Now, the next question I'd like to see addressed is: Do birds stutter?

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