The Loh Down On Science

Babbling Birds

Researchers identify the part of the brain that controls babbling.

The RIGHT brain is for creativity, left, for logic, but WHAT part controls babbling?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Humans, monkeys, bats, birds--we all babble as babies, as a warm-up to the complex communication of adulthood. But how does this seemingly random vocal phenomenon actually work?

To find out, Michale Fee from MIT gave both adult and newborn zebra finches a drug cocktail that blocked the song neurons in the forebrain. Then he recorded the birds communicating.

Did the drugged up adults fall silent? Surprisingly, NO. But their songs completely lost their structure--the birds were babbling like Ozzy Osbourne backstage. Once the drugs wore off, complex tunes returned.

On chicks, the treatment had NO effect.

This proves birdie babble is under different neuronal control than bird SONG. Babbling has its own brain region!

Fee says that humans probably also develop distinct infant and adult communication circuitry. The early one may be for basic communication, while the other prepares for real conversation.

So, Aunt Maude, gurgle at that baby all you want. You're not communicating anything! Guess that's a newsflash there, huh?


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