Birdsongs Elicit “Emotional” Response From Birds

Credit: Brandon Keim/Wired

Birds listening to birdsong may feel emotions similar to humans listening to music. Credit: Brandon Keim/Wired

Scientists indicate that birds listening to birdsong may be experiencing an emotional response akin to when humans listen to music. The study tracked the neural activity in sparrows.

The neuroscientists from Emory University published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience¹. The scientists compared the effects of music on the human brain with the activity of birdsong on the brain of a bird. They discovered that the birds were experiencing distaste and pleasure as a reaction to the sounds.

“We found that the same neural reward system is activated in female birds in the breeding state that are listening to male birdsong, and in people listening to music that they like,” said Sarah Earp, who led the study at Emory University.

Male sparrows listening to the singing of another male showed a response comparable to humans hearing what could be described as a cacophony. The results were the most pronounced during the breeding season, when male songs are used to woo female sparrows and to challenge other males. This implies that emotional reactions to song could be altered by different scenarios and biochemistry.

“The neural response to birdsong appears to depend on social context, which can be the case with humans as well,” said Earp. “Both birdsong and music elicit responses not only in brain regions associated directly with reward, but also in interconnected regions that are thought to regulate emotion. That suggests that they both may activate evolutionarily ancient mechanisms that are necessary for reproduction and survival.”

References: “Birdsong: is it music to their ears?” by Sarah E. Earp and Donna L. Maney, 28 November 2012, Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.3389/fnevo.2012.00014

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