Stick Together, Your Brains Work Better | Wren Research Points to the Importance of Cooperation
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Stick Together, Your Brains Work Better

The song of some little birds could include a clue to human survival.

Plain-tailed wren, Bellavista, Pichincha, Ecuador Plain-tailed wren, Bellavista, Pichincha, Ecuador (courtesy of Browerk, CC-BY-SA 3.0)On Oct. 31, the world population reached seven billion people. Medical advances—namely prolonging life and ensuring newborns are given the chance to live—have allowed our species to flourish.

Half of all the people on Earth were added in the last 40 years, creating a surge the planet has never seen before.

According to the United Nations, about half of all people alive live in urban areas—a number that has doubled in the last sixty years. The Earth’s population is on schedule to reach 9.3 billion in 2050, and about 70 percent are estimated to be living in cities and other urban areas by then.

If those predictions are true, there is going to be a whole lot of people living in about the same amount of space we’ve had for a long time. (That is, of course, unless the volcanoes of Hawaii really kick it up a notch and make some new land mass.)

So that leaves us with a whole bunch of people living in tight quarters, which as you know if you lived in the dorms in college, can create some pretty hairy circumstances. It's also clear that there's going to be a whole bunch of people to feed, shelter, clothe, and educate.

Well, we may get some solutions to these impending challenged if we apply recent research stemming from the plain-tailed wren, a not so colorful, but very boisterous bird from the forests of Ecuador.

A John’s Hopkins University study published in Science found that these birds’ song patterns mimicked an “ABCD pattern.” Like an old-fashioned love song, the male starts, the lady follows, and the two alternate in the pattern.

The guts of the study found that the neurons in the bird’s brains reacted more strongly when the birds sang in duet compared to when they sang solo.

“It looked like the brains of wrens are wired to cooperate,” Eric Fortune, a neuroscientist involved in the study, said in a press release.

While some cute songbirds in the middle of a jungle might not seem relevant to the world’s population, it is. All vertebrate animals—from little wrens to Andre the Giant—share similar neurotransmitters, or chemicals that help the brain cells communicate with each other.

So, if a small bird’s brain works best when he’s singing the same song as his lady friend, and humans brains work in a similar way, I think it’s safe to assume that there’s a simple lesson we can learn here: work together and better things will come of it.

The main problem facing humans is discovering the same song to all sing to. I think we should start with Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Supposedly those birds on Marley’s doorstep were singing:

Don’t worry about a thing,

‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right. 

It’s a crazy idea, but I think we should give it a shot. I'm no fortune teller, but if we listen to the advice of the birds, we'll all be in better places come 2050. 

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Tags: Latest Studies & Research

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Brian Krans is an Assistant Editor and writer at