Many complex behaviors exhibited by social species are first learned by imitating the behavior of other more experienced individuals. Speech and language are the most widely appreciated behaviors learned in this way. Vocal imitation in songbirds is perhaps the best studied socially transmitted behavior, and research over the past few years has begun to crack the circuit mechanisms for how songbirds learn from vocal models. Studies in zebra finches are revealing an unexpected and essential role for premotor cortical circuits in forming the behavioral-goal memories used to guide song imitation, challenging the view that song memories used for imitation are stored in auditory circuits. Here, we provide a summary of this recent progress focusing on the What, Where, and How of tutor song memory, and propose a circuit hypothesis for song learning based on these recent findings.
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