Human and songbird infants naturally learn how to speak or sing through a process that involves constant social feedback from their adult tutors. But to what extent this social reward affects vocal learning remains unclear. In her Ph.D. thesis, Constantina tested this hypothesis using the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), a vocal learning songbird commonly used as a model for human spoken-language development. To do so, she and her colleagues developed a rapid vocal learning behavioral paradigm that attempted to dissociate social reward from vocal learning. Her preliminary results, described in her thesis here, show that pitch learning can be gated by social reward.
Constantina also tested a possible neurobiological mechanism connecting social motivation and vocal learning, through manipulating the zebra finches’ oxytocin system. You can find her article explaining how the oxytocin system might be acting on the vocal learning pathway in her published article in Proceedings of Royal Society B, as well as in Frontiers in Neuroscience. In her thesis, you can find her preliminary results after she administered intranasally an oxytocin antagonist to male zebra finches. These treated males had a significant drop in the number of introductory notes in their directed love song, more similar to the levels found in undirected song without a female.