Sarah Earp, an undergraduate at Emory University at the time, led a study on the brains of white-throated sparrows listening to birdsong. The results showed that the birds’ brains responded similarly to the way the human brain responds to music.
“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,” Earp said in a press release.
Male birds in the breeding state didn’t find the male birdsong so appealing. When they listened to it, their brains responded like humans listening to horror movie music.
This was the first study to use the listeners’ brain imaging to compare birdsong with human music.
“Most attempts to compare the two have focused on the qualities of the sound themselves, such as melody and rhythm,” Earp explained.
Earp said one problem with trying to compare birds’ brains with humans’ is that they are very different. Some parts of the human brain that respond to music don’t really exist in birds.
However, they are similar enough for the researchers to see that they respond to song in much the same way.
“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,” Earp said.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience on Nov. 28.
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