Scientists first studied the brain of birds while moving

Scientists in Germany have come up with a method to track the brain activity of birds while solving problems. This is the first experiment in this area.

Researchers at Ruhr University decided to understand how birds make decisions and which parts of the brain are especially active when solving problems. Previously, only passive studies were used for this, for example, functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In this case, the study of brain processes while performing active tasks was impossible. Now, cognitive neuroscientists have presented an experimental setup that allows you to conduct MRI studies of flying birds and study their cognitive processes in real-time.

The researchers presented the animals with tasks and continuously recorded MRI images to record the activity of brain regions that are active during task processing. Unlike MRI scans in humans, in which participants can respond to tasks by pressing buttons, pigeons respond by opening and closing their beak, which is recorded by a sensor under the beak.

The researchers checked the quality of the obtained fMRI images during the test study. The pigeons had to learn to distinguish between two colors. Animals learned to respond to the appearance of the correct color by opening their beak and were rewarded for correct answers.

“The data from the MRI test showed that even with such a simple task, a whole network of areas in the pigeon’s brain was active that could not have been investigated before,” said Onur Güntürkün, professor of biopsychology. “We can now conduct research with even more complex cognitive tasks. We will be able to determine the brain basis of the birds’ abilities. ”

In their method, slice images of the brain are generated using a strong magnet. It shows how well individual parts of the brain are supplied with oxygen. Very active areas of the brain have lower oxygen saturation than less active areas. Therefore, you can, for example, see which parts of the brain have special difficulties in solving a problem.