Simple interactions construct complex communication in songbirds and human infants

Thursday, January 28, 2021 - 12:30pm

Michael H. Golstein

Associate Professor, Director, Eleanor J. Gibson Laboratory of Developmental Psychology, Director, College Scholar Program, Department of Psychology, Cornell University

 Abstract

Despite the immense variety of sounds we associate with the animal world, the ability to learn a vocal repertoire is a rare phenomenon, emerging in only a handful of groups.  My lab investigates the development and evolution of vocal learning in songbirds and human infants.  A key parallel in the vocal development of birds and babies is the social function of immature vocalizations.  The responses of adults to the plastic song of birds and the babbling of babies create social feedback that guides the young towards mature vocalizations.  I will present experiments demonstrating how the immature sounds of young birds and babies regulate and are regulated by social interactions.  The form and timing of these interactions have strong influences on the development of mature birdsong and language.  The difficulty of measuring rapid social interchanges organized by immature vocalizing has led many to overlook their importance and assume that young songbirds and human infants learn by passive exposure followed by motor practice.  My data indicate that vocal learning is an active, socially-embedded process.  By creating feedback that is both inherently informative and socially relevant, structured social interaction boosts the salience of acoustic patterns in the input and facilitates learning of speech and song

Join this Zoom event at https://zoom.us/my/haskins