When It Comes to Love and Mating, We Have a Lot in Common With Zebra Finches

What do humans and songbirds have in common? Both species can maintain monogamous relationships while at the same time being highly social. In new research with possible implications for human behavior, scientists studying the zebra finch, a type of songbird, found that the same brain molecule, dopamine, can simultaneously promote gregariousness among males and sexual selectivity among females.

Scientists from the Graduate Center, Hunter College, The City College of New York, and two other institutions — Weill Cornell Medicine and Houston Methodist Research Institute — conducted the study, which could lead to further understanding of how social interactions generally are regulated by brain reward systems. Much of the research took place at the Hunter College Laboratory of Vocal Learning, led by Professor Ofer Tchernichovski, who is one of the study’s authors.

In a paper published in eLife, the researchers reported that both male and female zebra finches, who in natural conditions live together in large numbers and in close proximity, responded to song (produced only by males), but in a sex-specific manner. In these experiments, it was found that the birds released the brain chemical dopamine in response to the songs in sex-specific ways as well, which could provide a mechanism of how different behaviors in each sex are reinforced. In males, dopamine supported the social function of the song. In females, dopamine activated sexual selectivity only for their mate’s song.

Postdoctoral associate Kyrill Tokarev, was the lead author of the study.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Sexual dimorphism in striatal dopaminergic responses promotes monogamy in social songbirds
eLife, 2017

Work By
Ofer Tchernichovski (Professor, Biology and Psychology) | Profile
Kyrill Tokarev (Postdoctoral Associate, Psychology)

Colleges & Schools
Hunter College
The City College of New York
The Graduate Center

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