“What we learned is that when it comes to the brain and cooperation, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts,” says Eric Fortune, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part.”
“In both males and females, we found that neurons reacted more strongly to the duet song—with both the male and female birds singing—over singing their own parts alone. In fact, the brain’s responses to duet songs were stronger than were responses to any other sound,” he said. “It looked like the brains of wrens are wired to cooperate.”
So it’s clear that nature has equipped the brains of plain-tailed wrens in the Andes of Ecuador to work cooperatively and to prefer “team” activities to solo ones. But what does that have to do with people?
“Brains among vertebrate animals—frogs, cats, fish, bears, and even humans—are more similar than most people realize,” Fortune says. “The neurotransmitter systems that control brain activity at the molecular level are nearly identical among all vertebrates and the layout of the brain structures is the same.
“Thus, the kinds of phenomena that we have described in these wrens are very relevant to the brains of most, if not all, vertebrate species, including us humans.”