Courtesy Dave Govoni (Va bene!)Is birdsong music? Does the tweeting and chirping of our feathered friends elicit the same emotional response in them as one of Chopin’s nocturnes does in us? Do they serve the same purpose? These are questions that have long been argued in scientific circles and elsewhere.
A new study published recently in Frontiers of Evolutionary Neuroscience shows some interesting results in how birds perceive birdsong.
Researcher Sarah Earp and neuroscientist Donna Maney, both of Emory University looked at brain imaging data gathered from studies of human neural responses to music and compared them with similar data from birdsong studies.
Some of the white-throated sparrows were given a boost of hormones (testosterone and estradiol) that made them all a-twitter and ready for love. When a male sparrow stepped up to the microphone and started serenading, the females showed a definite response.
“We found that the same neural reward system is activated in female birds in the breeding state that are listening to male birdsong, and in people listening to music that they like,” said Sarah Earp.
But what was music to the ears of the female sparrows was perceived by their male counterparts as discordant (and probably very annoying) noise from a rival suitor. An awkward third-wheel sort of deal, I suppose.
“Birdsong is a signal,” said Maney. “And the definition of a signal is that it elicits a response in the receiver. Previous studies hadn’t approached the question from that angle, and it’s an important one.”
The females in the sample group showed increased activity in the same region of their bird brains that humans display in their corresponding region when hearing a piece of music they enjoy. The response of the control group females - those not in a breeding state and without any hormonal boost - showed little response to song. Male sparrows treated with testosterone showed an amygdala response not unlike how the human brain responds to scary movie music.*
The brain’s mesolimbic reward pathway has counterparts in both humans and birds. In humans it lies beneath the cerebrum and is involved in emotions, memory, and olfaction. A neurotransmitter called dopamine is produced within the brain’s limbic system and spreads along the limbic pathways to help regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. The chemical messenger also governs movement and emotions.
The study shows that not only does birdsong and music produce similar responses in corresponding brain regions linked to reward but also in areas thought to regulate emotions. And the response also seems to connected to social context in both birds and humans.
“Both birdsong and music elicit responses not only in brain regions associated directly with reward, but also in interconnected regions that are thought to regulate emotion,” Earp said. “That suggests that they both may activate evolutionarily ancient mechanisms that are necessary for reproduction and survival.”
*Rather than scary, I find composer Bernard Herrmann’s musical score used in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO very compelling – not sure what that response means. But it’s interesting to note that Herrmann’s music in the movie was also a big influence on record producer George Martin’s string arrangement for the Beatles’ melancholy ballad ELEANOR RIGBY.
Courtesy David Ball The effect of Cupid's chemicals on my body some 40 years ago are unforgettable. I had so much energy I thought I would burst. I did about 50 pushups trying to relieve the pressure. I couldn't sleep. My pits were secreting overtime. Can you remember the feelings your first love (crush) produced?
dopamine (is) associated with states of euphoria, craving and addiction. High levels of dopamine are also associated with norepinephrine, which heightens attention, short-term memory, hyperactivity, sleeplessness and goal-oriented behavior. In other words, couples in this stage of love focus intently on the relationship and often on little else. How Stuff Works
"Oxytocin is released during child birth and also helps the breast express milk. Oxytocin is also released by both sexes during orgasm and it is thought that it promotes bonding when adults are intimate." oxytocin.org.
Endorphins, released during physical contact or sex, produce a general sense of well-being, including feeling soothed, peaceful and secure. Vasopressin and oxytocin, also released during sex, are believed to interfere with the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, which might explain why passionate love fades as attachment grows.
Scientists are discovering that the same chemical process that takes place with addiction takes place when we fall in love. Brain scans of those love crazed individuals in the experiment above showed activity in the same brain area as those using cocaine or nicotine. Similar to other addictive chemicals, the chemical effects of passionate love lose their strength over time, too. After two or three years the chemicals responsible for "that lovin' feeling" (adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine, etc.) dwindle. Hopefully by then oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins resulting from physical intimacy are sufficient to keep the relationship going.
Here is a link to more articles about how love works.