Like human speech, vocal behavior in songbirds depends critically on auditory feedback. In both humans and songbirds, vocal skills are acquired by a process of imitation whereby current vocal production is compared to an acoustic target. Similarly, performance in adulthood relies strongly on auditory feedback, and online manipulations of auditory signals can dramatically alter acoustic production even after vocalizations have been well learned. Artificially delaying auditory feedback can disrupt both speech and birdsong, and internal delays in auditory feedback have been hypothesized as a cause of vocal dysfluency in persons who stutter. Furthermore, in both song and speech online shifts of the pitch (fundamental frequency) of auditory feedback lead to compensatory changes in vocal pitch for small perturbations, but larger pitch shifts produce smaller changes in vocal output. Intriguingly, large pitch shifts can partially restore normal speech in some dysfluent speakers, suggesting that the effects of auditory feedback delays might be ameliorated by online pitch manipulations. While birdsong provides a promising model system for understanding speech production, the interaction between sensory feedback delays and pitch shifts have not yet been assessed in songbirds. To investigate this, we asked whether the addition of a pitch shift modulates delay-induced changes in Bengalese finch song, hypothesizing that pitch shifts would reduce the effects of feedback delays. Compared the effects of delays alone, combined delays and pitch shifts resulted in a significant reduction in behavioral changes in one type of sequencing (branch points) but not another (distribution of repeated syllables).
Significance Statement: Vocal behavior depends critically on an organism’s ability to monitor the sound of its own voice (“auditory feedback”). Studies of both humans and songbirds have demonstrated that successful vocal performance depends critically on the quality and timing of such feedback, however the interaction between vocal acoustics and the timing of auditory feedback is unclear. Here we used songbirds to examine this interaction by measuring vocal performance during delays and distortions (pitch shifts) of auditory feedback.
Authors report no conflict of interest.
National Institutes of Health R01 NS084844 (S.J.S), National Science Foundation Grant 1456912 (S.J.S), Woodruff Foundation (M.W.).