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Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

Humans and birds have music in common

New research suggests that many of the neural dynamics that control human reaction to song may be shared by another emitter of dulcet tones: birds.

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Goo-goo over Gaga? Rhapsodic over Rachmaninoff? As most will attest, music has a powerful way of pushing emotional buttons. And now, new research suggests that many of the neural dynamics that control human reaction to song may be shared by another emitter of dulcet tones: birds.

According to a study recently published in Frontiers of Evolutionary Science, when male white-throated sparrows offer up their telltale "birdsong" to their breeding female counterparts, the female experiences the same kind of neurologically driven "reward" that humans do when hearing a favourite tune.

"Scientists since the time of Darwin have wondered whether birdsong and music may serve similar purposes, or have the same evolutionary precursors," Sarah Earp, a former undergraduate at Emory University, explained in a school news release. "But most attempts to compare the two have focused on the qualities of the sound themselves, such as melody and rhythm."

"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," she said.

How the study was done

Earp's investigation began by reviewing previous research that used brain-imaging technology to map the human neural dynamic that unfolds when listening to music.

Emory lab work had focused on tracking activation of a biochemical marker known as "Egr-1," a key indicator of stimulus response.

Neurological mapping comparisons revealed that, when looking at reward pathways that exist in both humans and birds, the neural response to music observed in humans also kicks into similar gear among breeding female sparrows exposed to a male birdsong.

But timing, as they say, is everything, with non-breeding female birds showing no heightened response to a male's song, while male birds hearing another male "sing" experienced a response akin to that of a person forced to listen to music they hate.

"The neural response to birdsong appears to depend on social context, which can be the case with humans as well," Earp said. "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."

The caveat: Bird brains are not human brains, and many neural reward pathways are not shared between species. But Earp, now a Stravinsky-loving medial student at Cleveland Clinic, looks forward to digging deeper on the same subject.

"Perhaps techniques will someday be developed," she suggested, "(that) image neural responses in baleen whales, whose songs are both musical and learned, and whose brain anatomy is more easily compared with humans.


(Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)

 

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Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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