Why study animal behavior?

People have always followed the habits of animals with which they interacted in one way or another. Knowing how the mammoth would behave when it was attacked by hunters, and under what conditions a bear would pounce in the forest, helped to stay alive and get food. By identifying the similarities and differences in the behavior of animals, a person begins to understand himself better, and at the same time learns to use the natural resources available to him more efficiently and safer, develops pharmacology and medicine.

.. Behavioral sciences One of the main sciences of animal behavior is ethology . It seeks to answer the question of why humans and animals need innate behaviors – instincts you as they occur and how to change as evolution. There is also zoopsychology , which studies the ability of animals to learn, learning mechanisms and elementary rational activity – simply put, the rudiments of the mind. There is evolutionary psychology , the subject of which is the psyche of humans and animals, its change and complication. A related social ethology investigates the dependence of the behavior of an individual on its congeners.

Not by observation alone The easiest way to study an animal is to observe how it behaves from behind the shelter and draw conclusions based on this. Indeed, they learn a lot of interesting things this way, but there are snags. Individuals of the same species often behave differently, and in this case, the information obtained by observing them will be contradictory. We also cannot always explain the actions performed by animals. For example, we have arms and legs, but no fins, wings, or tail. Do “gestures” performed with these body parts mean the same as ours? Or are they random and mean nothing? It also happens that you want to follow a certain specific action, but the beast does not want to perform it. Inconvenient. At some point, it became clear: in order to study a certain behavioral act or property of the psyche (yes, not only humans have it), it is necessary to create conditions for the animal in which they will almost certainly manifest themselves.

This is how controlled experiments emerged in behavioral science . Observer Errors: Clever Hans A little more than a hundred years ago, the German mathematics teacher Wilhelm von Austin decided to test the ability to count not only in his students, but also in his own horse named Hans. He read an arithmetic example to Hans, and he tapped out the answer with his hoof – and was soon awarded the title of Clever Hans . Von Austin began to give performances with his participation, and the horse very often answered correctly to questions from the audience, even asked in writing. Watching him, both the audience and the author of the show were absolutely sure that the animal really understands human speech, reads and counts. Clever Hans and his owner were more than once tried to convict of fraud. But only psychologist Oskar Pfungst succeeded in this , who conducted those very controlled experiments. In some of them, Clever Hans could not see the person asking the question. In others, the experimenter himself did not know the exact answer.

In all these cases, Hans’ results deteriorated by an order of magnitude. If earlier he was wrong in 10% of cases, then in the changed conditions – in 94%. So Pfungst understood that Clever Hans reacts to the movements of the questioner, imperceptible to outsiders, and is guided by them how many times to hit his hoof. When the horse did not observe such movements (the experimenter was not visible, or he could not show the correct answer, since he did not know it himself), Hans immediately got lost. In other words, elaborate experiments helped uncover delusion. Anxious rodents Each type of animal has characteristic features of behavior that change under the influence of external circumstances. By recording these changes, it is possible to test drugs for nervous and mental diseases before testing them in human volunteers and releasing them on the market.

For example, many rodents avoid open, illuminated spaces because it is easy to fall into the clutches of a predator there. This fact is the basis of the popular behavioral test for assessing anxiety – “Open Field” . The “field” is a large lighted arena with a lined floor, where the animal is launched. The markings on the floor allow you to determine in which areas a rodent, which has never seen a playpen before, spends the most time. All movements and movements of the rodent are recorded by a video camera and then analyzed by a special computer program. A special program analyzes the video filming data, building the route of the rodent in the sectors of the “Open Field”. One intersected sector is taken as a unit of movement, the position of the animal is fixed at the points of the nose and tailbone. This is how it calculates how many percent of the time the animal spends in the central zone, and how much around the walls. Of course, laboratory mice and rats have never met with predators, but still in open space they prefer to stay closer to the walls of the arena, only occasionally running out to the middle. If the animal does not move away from the walls at all, its anxiety is considered high. And if, on the contrary, he sits calmly in the center, this may mean that the tested sedative has worked.

Fish in stress The position and movement of the animal in a confined space also determine the general level of stress. For example, zebrafish, once in a new aquarium, prefer to stay at the bottom or walls – much like mice in the Open Field test, corrected for the third dimension. But if you add an anti-anxiety drug to the water, the fish will feel calmer – and will swim closer to the surface. Russian roulette vice versa The Barnes test is also based on the fear of open space – in addition to mice and rats, South American degu rodents participate in it. Unlike the Open Field, this experimental setup has no walls, but along the edges there are several dozen round holes of the same size. And it stands not on the floor, but on a high stand, so the rodent is afraid to approach the edge, and therefore to the holes. But this fear is not as strong as the desire to leave the brightly lit open space. Under one of the holes there is a dark box-refuge commensurate with the animal . Under some others there are small depressions – false shelters , into which only the head or some limb can be shoved. The animal’s task is to find the hole under which a real shelter is hidden, using visual cues on the walls of the room. A rodent that passes the test for the first time walks around the holes at random. Each animal is launched several times.

Gradually, it remembers where the shelter is and immediately runs to it. The faster an individual starts using the shortest path, the better its spatial memory is . And memory is also a component of behavior. Repeat after me It seems that spying on the correct actions of relatives is an occupation that does not require special intelligence. In fact, this is not the case. Only monkeys and some other highly developed animals and birds are capable of imitation learning, in particular crows, dolphins and killer whales, rhesus monkeys. But there is also an exception. A year ago, scientists from Queen Mary University of London taught bumblebees to drive a ball into a hole. It turned out that these insects understand the essence of the task faster if, before performing it, they observed a model of a bumblebee pushing the ball in the right direction. Who is smarter than everyone else It is not easy to compare the intelligence of different species. But a few decades ago, the Soviet ethologist Leonid Krushinsky found a solution to the problem – a universal test for intelligence.

The case helped. Once, while hunting, Krushinsky shot a small animal. It disappeared behind the bushes – the scientist gave the command to the dog to pursue the game. This was not easy to do, because the beast had already disappeared from sight. However, the dog correctly continued in his mind – extrapolated – the trajectory of the victim hiding behind the bushes and very soon caught it. Krushinsky noted that not all animals are capable of this, and suggested comparing their intelligence by their ability to extrapolate. For this, he built a special installation. Behind the screen, on improvised rails, there are two feeders: one empty, the other with a treat. There is a hole in the screen through which the feeders are clearly visible, but you cannot reach them. At some point, the feeders move along the rails in different directions from the hole so that they are completely covered by a screen. In about a minute they drive out – one to the right, the other to the left of the screen.

The animal’s task is to determine where the treat has arrived. It sounds simple, but not everyone can handle it. Cats get to food the fastest, they need about 14 seconds. Dogs and crows are less agile for a couple of seconds. Rodents do it even worse, and chickens, pigeons and turtles generally go wherever they want or just stay in place, even if they are very hungry. It turns out that cats and dogs are smarter than rodents, and they are superior in intelligence to chickens and turtles. The installation was very popular with ethologists. And Krushinsky’s daughter, who worked with marine mammals, modified the unit so that it became suitable for experiments with seals and dolphins. We have discussed just a few experimental methods for studying behavior. There are others, but they are usually more violent: the test subjects have to swim against their will or run from electric shocks. Moreover, in some cases it is possible to replace them with more humane research methods.

For example, a rat is shocked, prompting it to move from a more pleasant dark compartment of a box to a brightly lit one. The essence of this experiment is approximately the same as in the “Open Field” test, which means that you can refuse it. And here is the Porsolt testWhen an animal has to swim in a transparent cylinder without the ability to get out, there is nothing to replace it: it is needed to find out how quickly the animal stops trying to escape. This is how antidepressants are tested: in rats that have been injected with an effective drug, despair comes later. But we will talk about this next time.

by Abdullah Sam
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