About the Research
Social learning is learning that is facilitated by observation of, or interaction with, another individual or its products (Hoppit & Laland, 2013). Many different species exhibit social learning: octopi, rodents, non-human primates, humans, and birds. It is a shared common feature from humans to invertebrates, and it can occur across a variety of goals and relationships between the observer and demonstrator. Examples of social learning include Caledonian crows learning to make tools from each other, and songbirds learning songs from their tutors.
For my senior honors thesis, I researched if Zebra Finches could socially learn a complex procedural task from watching another Zebra Finch. Zebra finches are songbirds, only capable of learning song during a critical period while they are still juveniles, and only having one crystallized song when they reach adulthood. These birds are socially learning their one song from a male tutor during their development.
Are Zebra Finches able to learn a complex procedural task in their adulthood, after their critical period? We asked this question by using a paradigm involving a two part set up: they must learn to peck a key, and which then triggers one of two songs. One song will give them a reward if they listen to it, and another will not give them a reward if they listen to it (so, they would like to interrupt it by pecking again, in order to get a song that will reward them). So, these birds must learn to (1) peck the button and (2) attend to the songs and learn to accurately discriminate between them (which one to interrupt, and which one to listen to). Half of the birds watched a naïve/inexperienced bird, who did not understand how to do the task, while the other half of the birds watched an trained/experienced bird, who was a master at the task. We then measured between the two groups, which subjects were performing the task better, and which subjects were pecking more.
Our results supported the hypothesis that zebra finches are able to learn how to perform a rewarded procedural song discrimination task from a trained demonstrator. Zebra finches who observed a trained demonstrator gained more access to food by increasing their pecking rate than subjects who observed a naïve demonstrator. However, both groups of subjects discriminated between the two song stimuli equally well. Finally, the motivation of the observers to trigger the key was correlated with how often they saw the trained demonstrator activating the key.
For a PDF of the full thesis, please contact me at email@example.com.
About the Poster
This research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Frederic Theunissen, Dr. Julie E. Elie, at University of California, Berkeley, from December 2012 until June 2014.
This poster was presented with preliminary data for the Society of Neuroscience (“SfN”) Conference (November 2013), Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute Conference (October 2013), Mechanisms for Communication Satellite Conference (November 2013), Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience poster session (November 2013), California Cognitive Science Conference (May 2014), and Berkeley Interdisciplinary Research Conference (May 2014).
This research was awarded a grant for undergraduate achievement in the field from the Grass Foundation, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (November 2013).