2. Performance: How does the brain switch between practice and performance modes?
How does the brain switch between a state optimized for variability and learning to a state optimized for stereotypy and performance?
Male zebra finches 'practice' their song alone with the ultimate goal of 'performing' to a female. Indeed, singing alone or undirected song is more variable, while female-directed song is more stereotyped. We showed that the dopaminertic error signal for song learning and maintenace, present while practicing alone, is attenuated or even gated off while performing to females, suggesting that the brain is less sensitive to self-generated errors during performance. How does the brain switch between these two states - a practice mode that harnesses variability in motor output in service of learning and a performance mode that is able to execute the most accurate and stereotyped version of the learned behavior? How and where in the brain is the dopaminergic error signal, a learning signal critical during practice, gated off during performance? While the brain may be less sensitive to self-generated errors during performance, is it perhaps more tuned to feedback from the female (the audience)? How might the brain integrate feedback provided by female songbirds to singing males?