OCR Animal behaviour

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  • Created by: Rebecca
  • Created on: 10-05-10 16:08

16 Animal behaviour

The study of animal behaviour is concerned, with everything that an animal does – sleeping, being aggressive, standing still, and making sounds and so on. Although people have been interested in animal behaviour for thousands of years, its beginnings as an area of scientific investigation can probably be said to have occurred in the early years of the 20th century. These early studies grew partly out of Darwin’s ideas on evolution by natural selection – some people began to look for the ways in which particular patterns of behaviour might adapt living organisms to their environment. This type of study became known as ethology. Ethologists tended to study the natural behaviour of animals in their natural environment. They were interested in the evolutionary basis of behaviour and they started by focusing on simple, inherited behaviour patterns. At the same time, other investigations were taking a very different approach. They carried out their experiments in laboratories, under controlled conditions. They were especially interested in how animals learned new patterns of behaviour. This type of study became known as psychology and it often focused on differences between the behaviour patterns of different species, when it was known as comparative psychology. Some psychologists concentrated on studying behavioural events involving stimuli and responses, and how rewards and punishments could affect these responses. These studies were known as behaviouralism. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, these two different approaches to studying animal behaviour – those of ethologists and of psychologists and behaviourists – gave rise to the so called ‘nature-nurture’ debate. Humans of course, are animals and the nature-nurture debate in relation to human behaviour raged quite fiercely for a while. Are aspects of our behaviour largely determined by our genes – and therefore not ‘our fault’? Or are they largely determined by our environment. To what extent does choice – free will allow us to override any innate tendencies to particular behaviour patterns? Today there is no sharp divide between these two approaches to studying and interpreting animal behaviour. We understand that both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ probably contribute to most behavioural patterns. Other ways of studying animal behaviour has also emerged. These include the physiological approach, in which the roles of receptors, neurones, effectors and neurotransmitters that contribute to behaviour are investigated. More recently, as more and more is learned about the human genome, we have been able to look at how particular alleles of genes appear to be linked with particular types of human behaviour. The study of animal (including human) behaviour is now a very diverse and extensive branch of science

Innate behaviour

As we watch the behaviour of animals, we often find ourselves amazed at how they seem to know what to do. For example, a dragonfly nymph crawls out of the pond in which it has spend the first few years of its life, and drags itself up a plant stem until it is well above the water surface. It attaches its feet


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