Learning reflects the influence of experience on genetically determined circuitry, but little is known about how experience and genetics interact to determine learned phenotypes. Here, Mets and Brainard use vocal learning in songbirds to study genetic influences on learned behavior. They first show that the tempo of learned song is strongly influenced by genetics. However, increasing richness of the learning experience from weak (tutoring by computer) to strong (tutoring by a live bird) reduces this genetic influence in favor of experiential influence. The results demonstrate a strong, heritable contribution to individual variation in song learning but that the degree of heritability depends profoundly on the quality of instructive experience. Therefore, increasing the richness of instruction can overcome even strong genetic bias.

Mets DG and Brainard MS: Genetic variation interacts with experience to determine interindividual differences in learned song. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 115(2): 421-426 (2018).


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