Animals and humans have a remarkable capacity to learn complex skills, such as using tools or performing intricate vocalizations. Research in my lab focuses on identifying the strategies that evolved for the efficient leaning of skilled behaviors, focusing on learned vocalizations. One line of research studies song learning in zebra finches, an Australian songbird species. Young zebra finch males learn their courtship song by listening to their father’s singing, and gradually matching their own singing to resemble it (a developmental process that takes several weeks of vocal “practice”). We combine experimental methods for controlling and manipulating song learning with artificial stimuli, and computational tools for analyzing continuously recorded vocal output to tease apart the components of this process. A parallel line of research focuses on translating the insights and methodology from our birdsong studies to understand how humans acquire the pronunciation of a new language.
1. Lipkind D., Geambasu, A. & Levelt C.C. (2019). The development of structured vocalizations in songbirds and humans: a comparative analysis. Top Cogn Sci doi:10.1111/tops.12414.
2. Lipkind D., Zai A.T., Hanuschkin A., Marcus G.F., Tchernichovski O. & Hahnloser R.H.R. (2017). Songbirds work around computational complexity by learning song vocabulary independently of sequence. Nat Commun 8:1247.
3. Vallentin D., Kosche G., Lipkind D. & Long M.A. (2016). Inhibition protects acquired song segments during vocal learning in zebra finches. Science 351(6270):267-271.
4. Lipkind D., Marcus G.F., Bemis D., Sasahara K., Jacoby N., Takahashi M., Suzuki K., Feher O., Ravbar P., Okanoya K. & Tchernichovski O. (2013). Stepwise Acquisition of vocal combinatorial capacity in songbirds and human infants. Nature 498(7452):104-108.
5. Ravbar P., Lipkind D., Parra L.C. & Tchernichovski O. (2012). Vocal exploration is locally regulated during song learning. J Neurosci 32(10):3422-3432.
6. Lipkind D. & Tchernichovski O. (2011). Quantification of developmental birdsong learning from the subsyllabic scale to cultural evolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 108 Suppl 3:15572-15579.