The Billboard Charts: Canary Style – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The Billboard Charts: Canary Style

A Research in Behavioral Science class recently led three students to a unique year-long music project and an invitation to present at the American Psychological Sciences convention in Chicago. The course is taught by Professor of Psychology Jeffrey Greenspon. His students, seniors Alyssa McDermott, Mark Abroms and Ashley Schnakenberg examined the relationship between male canary song, used to delineate territory and to attract mates, and Copulation Solicitation Display in females. A bird-song popularity contest with important implications to both behavioral and social psychology, the research determined whether or not certain songs of certain male birds were more attractive to females than others. The team conducted 14 trials in which they presented the songs of male canaries to females and measured how attractive each song was to the females. In lieu of viewer voting or billboard charts, they determined the song’s success by recording movements like back arching and spreading of feathers, both of which signify arousal. Contrary to their initial hypothesis, the group found that the original song to which the females were exposed was more attractive than a novel male song, which resulted in decreased arousal. In essence, the students discovered that the female canaries were actually learning the song through its repeated exposure and the repetition is what made the song more attractive to the females. Schnakenberg compares this finding to human behavior. “This is like hearing a song on the radio once and not knowing exactly why you like the song or the tune. After hearing it more than once, you learn the song and it becomes clearer and more attractive.” “The accomplishment of these three students is significant and is a direct reflection of their remarkable abilities. I look forward to presenting this study with them in Chicago this May,” says Greenspon, who is the faculty adviser for this research. The psychology department regularly involves students in research through participation in Honors, independent studies, courses and, more recently, The Summer Science Program. The group is excited at the prospect of presenting their research at the convention. “We’ve put a lot of work into this, and it’s really a privileged role we have to present to an educated audience,” Abroms explains. McDermott and Schnakenberg agree and add, “It’s going to be interesting to see if other psychologists who have studied this topic offer any suggestions that we haven’t thought of.” Funding for the convention, which starts on May 22, was provided by the President’s Office and the Dean’s Office.