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Seeing voices: the role of multimodal cues in vocal learning

Humans and songbirds learn their vocalizations early in life by exposure to the vocalizations of adult conspecifics. Often, better learning outcomes are achieved with live, social, tutors than with audio-only exposure to vocalizations.

Varkevisser, J.
20 oktober 2022
Thesis in Leiden Repository

Many researchers argue that this is because social tutor-tutee interactions are important in the vocal learning process. It is unclear, however, whether and to what extent live tutoring also facilitates song learning because it results in multimodal exposure to a tutor, as tutees can both see and hear their tutor, while audio-only tutoring results in unimodal exposure. This thesis investigates whether multi- compared to unimodal exposure affects song learning in zebra finches, the primary experimental animal model for vocal learning studies, by revisiting the zebra finch song learning literature and describing three song tutoring experiments. In these experiments, young birds were provided with audio-only or audio-visual tutor exposure, using one-way mirrors, videos and robotic birds. The results suggest that multi- versus unimodal exposure to a live tutor can affect the timing of vocal development and possibly the amount of vocal learning. Multimodal exposure to artificial tutors made stimulus presentation more salient but did not affect the song learning outcomes assessed in this thesis.

This research is part of the 'Seeing Voices' project.

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