Michael S. Brainard
University of California, San Francisco
Leading student of learning at the level of behavior and neural circuits using birdsong as a model system. Birdsong is learned during development but then becomes 'crystallized' and refractory to modification. His work was the first to demonstrate rapid, directed learning in this adult behavior, driven by differential reinforcement of subtle variations in performance. He showed that natural adult variations in well-rehearsed skills are not merely uncontrolled noise, but rather constitute 'motor-exploration' that enables learning. His experiments elucidate general principles that govern the normal stability of adult behaviors and reveal how they can be adaptively modified.