Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Imperfect Pitch: How Birds Stu-tu-tu-tter Too

Birds stumble over their words too, or so a new study suggests.
Warbling songbirds each have their own subtle signature tune which they develop at a young age and use throughout life to identify themselves. But, rather like humans who struggle to hold their voices with others singing around them, birds need to be able to hear each note they are producing to keep in perfect pitch. And if they are interrupted by the sound of their own song being repeated back to them, they can completely lose their way reverting to a stammering babble. A rather cute New Scientist recording of a finch interrupted by the sound of its own song being repeated back to it reveals what happens.
One of the authors of the study compares the effect of his experiment with one of us losing our thread when we hear our voice echoed down a transatlantic telephone line. “We think that the dependence on auditory feedback is similar in humans and songbirds,” says Jon Sakata of the University of California in San Francisco, whose results are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.(Reference: DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.2027-06.2006) Sakata thinks his study supports the theory that human stuttering is caused by the abnormal processing of this kind of feedback.

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