A novel paradigm for auditory discrimination training with social reinforcement in songbirds

Zebra finches are a highly social, gregarious, species and eagerly engage in vocal communication. We have developed a training apparatus that allows training zebra finches to discriminate socially reinforced and aversive vocal stimuli. In our experiments, juvenile male zebra finches were trained to discriminate a song that was followed by a brief air puff (aversive) and a song that allowed them to stay in visual contact with another bird, ‘audience’ (social song). During training, the birds learned quickly to avoid air puffs by escaping the aversive song within 2 sec. They escaped significantly more aversive songs than socially reinforced ones, and this effect grew stronger with the number of training sessions. Therefore, we propose this training procedure as an effective method to teach zebra finches to discriminate between different auditory stimuli, which may also be used as a broader paradigm for addressing social reinforcement learning. The apparatus can be built from commercially available parts, and we are sharing the software on our website.

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