PhD & Post-doc Projects

zebravinkNeural correlates of vocal learning in songbirds and humans

Phd: Anne van der Kant
Supervisors: Niels O. Schiller, Claartje Levelt, A.M.Van der Linden (University of Antwerp)

Animal models, songbirds particularly, are increasingly used to study the human capacity for speech and language. In the light of understanding both language evolution and individual language acquisition these models are highly valuable, provided that they are studied within a valid comparative framework. In the past few decades, non-invasive methods such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Near-InfraRed Spectroscopy (NIRS) have become available for human as well as animal brain research. In the studies discussed in this thesis, fMRI is employed to unravel the neural correlates of vocal learning in the human and songbird brain. Specifically, fMRI in both songbirds and humans is used to study the neural mechanisms underlying birdsong learning and human artificial grammar learning. In a series of fMRI studies investigating these neural mechanisms in adult and juvenile zebra finches and human adults, this thesis compares the neural substrates of song learning in birds with those of language learning in humans. Studies in both species show correlations between behavioral learning of song or speech and neural activity. These results contribute to the songbird model for human vocal learning.