Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia
REVIEW

Zebra Finches and cognition

Susan D. Healy A D , Olivia Haggis B and Nicola S. Clayton C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Schools of Biology and Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Mary’s Quad, South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9JP, UK.

B Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh, EH9 3JT, UK.

C Department of Experimental Psychology University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EB, UK.

D Corresponding author. Email: susan.healy@st-andrews.ac.uk

Emu 110(3) 242-250 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU10004
Submitted: 21 January 2010  Accepted: 13 July 2010   Published: 18 August 2010

Abstract

In spite of attracting significant attention as a model for song learning, sexual imprinting and mate-choice, there has been surprisingly little research on the general cognitive abilities of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata), from spatial memory and social learning to more complex tests of social cognition such as Theory of Mind. This is perhaps surprising given the logistical benefits of the species: they are fairly cheap to house and easy to maintain in the laboratory, and they can be readily bought or bred on demand and consequently large sample sizes are readily achievable. The explanation probably lies with the model market for cognition already being fully occupied by rats and pigeons, with decades of research into learning and memory in these species, whereas tests of more complex cognition have traditionally been conducted on primates and more recently extended to corvids, pigs and dogs. Although it is not clear whether Zebra Finches are going to be useful for examining the role of cognition in mate-choice, this species does seem to be a good choice for some tests of cognitive abilities, particularly given the existing neurobiological tools for examining the neural correlates of song learning and sexual imprinting in this species, and that much is already known about the neuroanatomy and connectivity of the Zebra Finch brain.


Acknowledgements

We thank Kate Buchanan, Simon Griffiths and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript and the Wellcome Trust for funding (OH).


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