A new UC San Francisco study conducted in songbirds supports the second interpretation, showing that what at first appear to be genetic constraints on birds' song learning abilities could be largely eliminated by tailoring instruction to better match the birds' inborn predispositions.
Education researchers have long advocated for tailoring classroom instruction to the specific learning styles of different students. However, carefully controlled studies showing the benefits of this approach have been inconclusive.
Influences - Genes - Experience - Achievement - Humans
"Untangling the influences of genes and experience on educational achievement in humans is extremely challenging," said Michael Brainard, PhD, a professor of physiology and psychiatry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in the UCSF Center for Integrative Neuroscience. "The advantage of studying this kind of learning in songbirds is that in our experiments we can carefully control both the genetic background of individual birds and the instruction that they receive."
Male Bengalese finches learn to sing early in life by mimicking their fathers' songs. This results in unique family variants of the species' song being passed down generation-to-generation from fathers to sons. For example, some bird families tend to be slower-than-average crooners while others prefer jauntier up-tempo melodies. Brainard and other researchers have long studied this apparent "cultural learning" as a model of how human children learn language and other complex behaviors from their parents.
David - Mets - PhD - Brainard - Lab
When David Mets, PhD, joined Brainard's lab after completing a doctorate in genetics, he wanted to ask a different kind of question: How do genetic predispositions and early life experiences combine to generate an individual's behavior?
In a 2018 study, Mets and Brainard had shown that differences in song tempo between Bengalese finch nests is at least partly genetic: young birds tend to sing at the same tempo as their fathers, even if they have never heard their fathers' song. In their new study, published September 10, 2019...
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