A recent study conducted by researchers from the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University and Cornell University has revealed intriguing details about the behavior of male birds during courtship. The study found that when male birds engage in courtship behaviors, brain cells prioritize this activity above all else, demonstrating a unique change in behavior and the re-prioritization of specific brain cells.

Previously, researchers had observed that male birds practice their courtship songs and noted that when birds made mistakes, the production of dopamine, a chemical signal in the brain, decreased. Conversely, when the birds sang correctly, dopamine production increased, acting as a reward signal for their good performance.

In this new research, scientists measured dopamine variations in situations where male birds had to choose between multiple goals, such as practicing their song, seeking water, or attracting a mate. They discovered that when courtship was involved and the male bird received external feedback from a female in response to its song, dopamine-based error signals related to water seeking or song practice were suppressed. At the same time, the reward signal for singing well to elicit a female response was intensified.

This study provides the first demonstration of a socially-driven shift in dopaminergic error signals, indicating that the brain’s self-evaluation system can decrease or turn off during performance and instead become more responsive to social feedback. The researchers believe that these findings could have broader implications for understanding other types of learning and behavior that rely on internal self-assessment, such as speech, music, and various learned behaviors.

Further research is needed to explore the extent to which these behavioral systems are present in different species and types of learning. Understanding the neural mechanisms behind these changes in behavior could provide valuable insights into human learning and performance.

Jesse Goldberg, Dopaminergic error signals retune to social feedback during courtship, Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06580-w
Citation: Dopamine-releasing brain cells reflect song bird intentions during courtship (2023, September 27) Retrieved on September 27, 2023, from https://phys.org/news/2023-09-dopamine-releasing-brain-cells-song-bird.html