At a meeting in New York last week [edit: many months ago by the time I got around to posting this], we were discussing the recent push in neuroscience for more naturalistic behaviors. One of the problems, someone pointed out, is that they are difficult to analyze. But surely there must be whole fields devoted to understanding natural behaviors? Why do we, as neuroscientists, not interact with them?
When I started this blog I named it neuroecology for exactly that reason: there was this whole field of ecology that has thought about natural behaviors very deeply for a long, long time and going over those papers on a blog seemed like a great way to understand them. What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was using the wrong word; it wasn’t ecology that I was looking for it was ethology. Ecology is more generally about broad interactions between animals and environments. Ethology is the specific study of animal behavior.
So: ethologists. The studiers of natural animal behavior. What can neuroscientists learn from these mythical beings? I tried to collect as many syllabi as I could find (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, with thanks to Bence Ölveczky for sending me theirs in personal communication) to find papers that neuroscientists will find relevant for understanding how to analyze natural behaviors (with a few that I think are relevant thrown into the mix).
Consider this post a “living document” that I will update over time. Mostly it is a big list of papers that I have separated into sub-topics that drastically need to be cleaned up. If I’m missing something, let me know!
“Historically, different approaches to animal behavior were considered in Europe and the USA. Whereas European scientists, such as the winners of the 1972 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology, Lorenz, Tinbergen, and von Frisch, generally were concerned with the study of the behavior of animals in their natural environment. Indeed, the term ethology can be defined as the study of animals in their natural environment. By contrast, American scientists working with animal behavior generally performed experiments in controlled environments (e.g. a laboratory). This field of research is termed comparative psychology. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages: The controlled experiments carried out within comparative psychology allow more rigour than the observational activities of ethologists, but the behaviors considered in such experiments may, on the other hand, differ strongly from the behaviors exhibited by animals in their natural environment.”
Some good (visual) examples in Approaches To Studying Animal Behavior (pdf)
Releasing Stimuli and Instinctive Behaviors
Tinbergen, N. On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift f¨ur Tierpsychologie 20, 410-433 (1963).
Skinner, B. F. The experimental analysis of operant behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 291, 374-385 (1977).
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Chiel, H. J. & Beer, R. D. The brain has a body: adaptive behavior emerges from interactions of nervous system, body and environment. Trends Neurosci 20, 553-557 (1997).
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- Optional: Kanwisher, McDermott, Chun. The fusiform face area: a module in extrastriate cortex specialized for face perception. J. Neuroscience, 1997
Tinbergen, N. (1963). “On aims and methods of Ethology.” Zeitschrift fur tierpsychologie 20: 410-433.
At least one of the following 4 papers ::: DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
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Alcock, J. and P. Sherman (1994). “The Utility of the Proximate-Ultimate Dichotomy in Ethology.” Ethology 96(1): 58-62.
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Dewsbury, D. A. (1999). “The proximate and the ultimate: past, present, and future.” Behavioural Processes 46(3): 189-199.
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Hosey, G. R. (1997). “Behavioural research in zoos: Academic perspectives.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 51(3-4): 199-207.
Blumstein, D. and E. Fernandez-Juicic (2010). A Primer of Conservation Behavior, Sinaur. Chapter 1.
von Holst, E and U. St. Paul. 1960. On the functional
organization of drives
Models of behavior
Hydrodynamic, hierarchical, what else? Fixed action patterns.
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Heiligenberg, W. Random processes describing the occurrence of behavioural patterns in a cichlid fish. Animal Behaviour 21, 169-182 (1973). – Stephens, G. J. et al. Emergence of long timescales and stereotyped behaviors in Caenorhabditis elegans. PNAS. 108, 7286-7289 (2011)
“The two models concerned are Lorenz’s ‘Hydraulic reservoir’4 and Tinbergen’s ‘Hierarchical system of centres ‘.5 Lorenz postulates for each instinctive act, a particular ‘reaction specific energy’ which he pictures as accumulating in a reservoir with a spring-valve at its base. In an appropriate stimulus situation, the spring-valve is released partly by the hydrostatic pressure of the reservoir’s contents and partly by the action of the external stimulus, which is pictureda weight on a scale pan pulling against the spring. Tinbergen, considering the total behaviour of the animal, uses a basically similar analogy when he speaks of’motivational impulses’ accumulating in ‘nervous centres’ where they are held in check by a ‘block’ which can be removed by an ‘innate releasing mechanism’ responsive to
particular external stimuli. The’ centres ‘ are supposed to be arranged in hierarchical systems each of which constitutes an ‘ instinct ‘. Lorenz’s model has been successful in accounting for many features of instinctive behaviour. For instance many instinctive responses are less easily evoked just after they have been performed-this is pictured by the emptying of the reservoir and the consequent reduction in hydrostatic pressure on the valve, so that a stronger external stimulus (weight on the scale pan) is necessary to release it again. Similarly the gradual increase in responsiveness with time since the previous performance is pictured as the gradual refilling of the reservoir. Tinbergen’s scheme provides in addition an opportunity for comprehending the organisation of large sections of the animal’s behaviour, and indicates the relations between the causal factors which govern it. These two models have thus played a fundamental r61e in the important recent advances in the study of animal behaviour for which Lorenz and Tinbergen have been mainly responsible.”
Stephens, G. J. et al. Dimensionality and dynamics in the behavior of C. elegans. PLoS Comput Biol 4,
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(Organization of behavior?)
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Put in C. elegans stuff for sure
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Stress and the suppression of subordinate reproduction in cooperatively breeding meerkats
Electric Fish Paper I: Detecting Object Distance
Electric Fish Paper II: Prey Capture
Von der Emde 1999
Von der Emde et al. 1998
Nelson & McIver 1999
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