Early auditory experience can leave a lasting imprint on brain and behavior. This lasting imprint is most notably manifested in culturally transmitted vocal behaviors, including speech and birdsong, where a vocal model heard early in postnatal life exerts a lifelong influence on the individual's vocal repertoire. Because auditory experience of the vocal model can precede accurate vocal imitation by months or even years, a longstanding idea is that a memory of the model is initially stored in auditory centers, and accessed by vocal motor circuits only later in development. This review considers recent evidence from studies in songbirds supporting the idea that vocal motor circuits also participate in the encoding of auditory experience of the vocal model. The encoding of auditory memories by vocal motor networks may represent an efficient strategy for vocal learning that generalizes to other vocal learning species, including humans.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled “Annual Reviews 2013”.Highlights
▸ Imitative vocal learning requires auditory experience of a vocal model. ▸ In songbirds, vocal motor circuits help encode this auditory experience. ▸ Vocal motor circuits may encode memories of the vocal model. ▸ This strategy for auditory learning may generalize to other vocal learners, including humans.