Date

2017

Department or Program

Biological Sciences

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Sharon Gobes

Abstract

In humans, the left-hemisphere is dominant for language production and perception in monolinguals. However it is unclear how learning more than one language affects the hemispheric dominance in language-related brain regions. Songbirds, such as zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), have often been used as a model system to study speech acquisition. Similarly to humans, zebra finches that have been exposed to one song tutor during development show activity in the left hemisphere in response to tutor song. When zebra finches are first exposed to one tutor early in development and a second tutor later on in development, they are able to imitate this second song just like humans are able to learn a second language. For these birds, greater retention of first tutor song is correlated with increased right-dominance, whilst a greater retention of second tutor song is characterized by more left-dominance. This indicates that the left hemisphere is more flexible in its ability to acquire new song memories. The current study investigates whether individual variability in neurogenesis can explain variability in learning outcomes for first and second tutor song acquisition.

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