Dopamine-Releasing Brain Cells Reflect Song Bird Intentions During Courtship

Dopamine-Releasing Brain Cells Reflect Song Bird Intentions During Courtship

Researchers at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute have discovered that the behavior of specific brain cells in male zebra finches changes when they are in the presence of a female. The findings, published in the journal Nature, shed light on how our brains prioritize and shift gears in response to different opportunities.

Previous studies conducted by the researchers focused on male zebra finches practicing songs they sing to attract females. It was observed that when a bird made mistakes while rehearsing, dopamine levels would decrease. Conversely, when the bird performed the song correctly, dopamine production increased, acting as a reward signal.

In the new research, the scientists measured dopamine variations in situations where the birds had to choose between practicing their song, finding water, or courting a female. They found that when courtship was involved, the dopamine-based error signals related to seeking water or rehearsing songs were suppressed. Simultaneously, the reward signal for performing a song well enough to elicit a response from a female intensified.

This study is the first to demonstrate a socially driven shift of dopaminergic error signals. The findings suggest that the brain’s self-evaluation system, which is used during practice, may be dialed down or switched off when performing, and the dopamine system becomes primed to receive social feedback.

These findings have implications beyond the behavior of zebra finches and may be relevant to understanding how learning various behaviors, such as speaking, singing, or playing an instrument, relies on internal self-evaluations and social feedback.

Further research is needed to explore the broader implications of this circuitry and its role in learning different kinds of behaviors.

Source: [Columbia University](

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