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Behavioral Research Blog

Anxiety is ancient – how crayfish resemble vertebrates

Oct 28, 2014 2:54:51 PM

Fear and anxiety

Fear is something we all know. It changes our behavior: we freeze, try to escape, or respond with aggression. Fear can also cause anxiety, which is a more complex phenomenon. While fear disappears when the source is absent, anxiety stays when there is no threat anymore. Rodents, for example, avoid the open arms of an Elevated Plus Maze when they previously were subjected to stress [1,2].

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Inhibitory avoidance learning in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Oct 24, 2014 3:04:23 PM

By Remy Manuel, Marnix Gorissen and Ruud van den Bos
(email: r.manuel@science.ru.nl, m.gorissen@science.ru.nl & r.vandenbos@science.ru.nl)

The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is increasingly being used as model in behavioural, neurobiological and genetic research. Underlying reasons are high genetic homology to humans and the many advantages over the use of rodents, such as low cost, easy handling, short reproduction cycle and high fecundity. Furthermore, its genome, transcriptome and proteome are well described, making the species a model of choice for behavioural research linked to genetics.

An emerging field addresses learning and memory related to anxiety and fear behaviour, which has been studied through inhibitory avoidance paradigms [1,2]. Assessment of inhibitory avoidance learning in zebrafish is based on the conflict between entering a dark area to avoid a brightly lit area (innate response; innate anxiety) and avoiding this dark area, as it has been associated with an electric shock as negative stimulus (conditioned fear avoidance). Higher latencies of entering the dark area following training are indicative of increased inhibitory avoidance learning.

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Topics: EthoVision XT, Video tracking, zebrafish, learning and memory, avoidance learning

What does the Moment of Truth mean to your business?

Oct 14, 2014 4:32:00 PM

By Jason Rogers, Ph.D.

Recently, I was leaving the University of Kentucky, about to head back to my home in Cincinnati a mere 90 miles away. It was in the mid-afternoon and I had been on campus all day. Having been with the researchers in the Rodent Behavioral Core, I had no time to eat and water was not allowed in the facility. A complicating matter was the fact that I needed to get home as soon as possible to pick up the little one from school and get her to soccer practice. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a hurry and I was ravenously hungry. I didn’t want to sit down to eat, I just wanted something on the go. We’ve all been there: close to the freeway on-ramp were several choices of the usual variety. I quickly made my decision (“Oh, new grilled chicken sandwich”, I said predictably), rolled through the drive thru, picked an item from the pictures provided, and hit the freeway with my food in hand. Only when I unwrapped my package, what stared back at me was a sad excuse for the chicken sandwich I had ordered. On the menu, it was plump, juicy, full of ripe red tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and a hearty bun. What I held in my hand was a squashed bun, grease limply holding what used to be a chicken breast and some soggy lettuce. It had a dash of mayo and a puny tomato. Not exactly gourmet. It tasted the same as it looked. I was hungry, already in route, and out my sunk cost of lunch. But fool me once, shame on you.

To this day, I refuse to return. Fool me twice, shame on me. The moment at which I consumed my sandwich directly influenced my decisions of what to purchase in the future. I’m not alone in this example. It was sadly parodied in Michael Douglas-staring film, Falling Down, and recently demonstrated by CNN. It is in these moments, however, where we can understand consumer choice and its influence upon buying behavior.

You want people to choose your product. The world requires many choices and you want to win. Every time. Fast food, grocery store, internet providers, etc. But how do you win them over? Understanding that choice point is the first key to winning their business. But is that all there is to it? Of course not. Once you have them, you want to ensure to keep them coming back for more. This is the second key to ensuring a long term customer. But how do these two keys interact to unlock the consumers’ hearts (and wallets)? The goal of the present article is to highlight some of the ways Noldus Consulting can help win at the three “Moments of Truth” (MOTs). First, I will present some existing findings into MOT research, then demonstrate how Noldus solutions, and our collaborators, can help you achieve new insights into customer behavior.

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Topics: emotion recognition, facial expression analysis, consumer behavior, emotions, moments of truth, shopping behavior, market insights

Hold Your Horses! Understanding horse behavior

Sep 30, 2014 2:06:40 PM

What a horse likes to eat: how to test dietary preferences

When humans are given a choice of food, we usually go for the best-tasting option. Animals also have a preference in which food they eat, although theirs is not based on taste necessarily, but on nutritional value. This choice feeding can be used to learn more about an animal’s nutritional needs and dietary preferences. However, in animals such as horses, there is a long gut transit time, which means that the horse may have difficulty making the connection between which chosen food has which nutritional consequence. So what can be done about this? Redgate and colleagues looked into the addition of a monadic phase (a phase in which only one food was offered at a time instead of all of the options) to choice testing. For this study, researchers wanted to see how a monadic training phase would impact the horse’s choice of food and if voluntary intake and feeding behavior would be influenced if the energy content was constant, but the macronutrient diet was different. Read more...

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Topics: horses

Measuring experiential, behavioral, and physiological outputs

Sep 26, 2014 11:21:15 AM

In a romantic relationship, it is undoubtedly important to show support when one’s partner shares his or her accomplishments and positive life events. Retelling and reliving such events can evoke certain emotions, but the listener’s response often impacts the storyteller’s attitude as well. To simulate this process, researchers Samuel Monfort and colleagues created a structured social interaction task with couples: 1) positive event of one partner, 2) disclosure of the event to the other partner, and 3) clear communication of a capitalization response that ranged from actively destructive to enthusiastic, supportive and constructive.

Monfort and his team set out to capture a full range of emotional responses and therefore measured experiential (subjective feelings), behavioral (facial-motor activity), and physiological (skin conductance) outputs. Behavior and physiology are closely linked; as Patrick Zimmerman and his colleagues explain, more and more researchers now see the benefit of combining behavioral observations with other types of data such as heart rate, blood pressure or eye movements. By integrating multiple modalities, researchers achieve a more complete picture of the phenomena being studied.

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Topics: emotion recognition, video observation, FaceReader, facial expression analysis, physiology

A mathematical genius..? What parents can do

Sep 16, 2014 12:47:44 PM

In a recent study, Dr. Joanne Lee and colleagues from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada, investigated early mathematics learning during the first 3 years of life. Because numerous studies already provide evidence of the importance of gesture use, Lee and her team specially focused on examining specific types of gestures produced by parents in math-related talk.

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Topics: The Observer XT, on-site research, video observation, parent-child interaction

Walking the ladder: testing the cellular source of motor functioning in mice

Sep 11, 2014 2:00:00 PM

The cerebellum, our “little brain”, is all about motor control; more specifically, it’s about coordination, precision, and timing. So when the functioning of the cerebellum is compromised, incoordination of movement (ataxia) occurs. Ataxia is found in many neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and early onset Alzheimer’s.

Cerebellar cell types functioning

Purkinje cells, interneurons, and granule cells of the cerebellar cortex play an important role in reflexive types of motor learning, as we can tell from studies using the eye blink test and vestibulo-ocular testing. But since their role in more complex behaviors is not well understood, Maria Fernanda Vinueza Veloz and her colleagues decided to study the role of each one of these cell types in motor learning, locomotor adaptation, motivation and avoidance behavior using several knock-out mouse strains and testing them on the ErasmusLadder.

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Topics: mice, ataxia, locomotion, ErasmusLadder, reflexive motor learning, motor performance, cerebellum

Mixing sows: the aggression and stress of group housing on first-time sow mother

Sep 4, 2014 2:00:00 PM

Social order is an important part of many animal species’ lives. Social aggression helps determine hierarchy of the animals and which animals are pushed to the bottom of the pecking order. Pigs are mixed into new social groups throughout various stages of production. Therefore, their hierarchies have the opportunity to change numerous times during their lives. In this experiment, Ison and colleagues looked at the social interaction when a mixed group of primiparous and older, unfamiliar sows were placed in group housing together.

Why group housing?

Pig farmers can choose to use either independent or group housing for their pregnant sows, however in recent years, there has been a push towards group housing. This is due to the fact that in group housing, sows are able to perform more normal behavior than they are in individual stalls. In Europe, gestation stalls can only be used for up to four weeks after breeding. In group housing, sows are able to move around freely. In this experiment, the gilts, female pigs who had never given birth before, were kept with other gilts until the most recently bred pig had reached 39 days of gestation. Then half of each of the primiparous groups (first-time mothers) was selected and mixed with multiparous sows for a week. After this week, they went back to their home pens. A week later, they were mixed with other multiparous sows for a week, before moving back to their home pens once again. This experiment reflects how often switching can occur in the social group groups of pigs throughout production.

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Topics: The Observer XT, video observation, pigs, aggression, farm animals

5 examples of research on adolescence

Sep 2, 2014 11:30:00 AM

A couple of months ago, the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence attracted many researchers from all over the world, all interested in adolescent behavior. On this blog, we’ve dedicated a number of posts to recent projects (educational research, research on adolescence). Interested? Check out five examples below!

1) Adolescent Motherhood – observing mother-infant behavior

Current research from Prof. Cristina Riva Crugnola, University of Milano-Bicocca tells us that adolescent mothers as well as their babies (vs. adult mother and infant interactions) spent more time in negative engagement, meaning that the mothers showed more pushy behaviors towards the infant, even hostility. The infant also showed more negative behaviors, such as protesting with expressions of anger and crying. Riva Crugnola and colleagues state that it is important to train skills and competence in adolescent mother-infant interaction by setting up prevention programs. Young mothers should be supported in learning how to be a mother and regulating emotions (in particular, negative ones). Also, timing is everything - the researchers explain that it is also important to start preventive intervention in the first months of life.

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Topics: The Observer XT, video observation, classroom observation software, adolescent behavior

What a horse likes to eat: how to test dietary preferences

Aug 25, 2014 2:00:00 PM

When humans are given a choice of food, we usually go for the best-tasting option. Animals also have a preference in which food they eat, although theirs is not based on taste necessarily, but on nutritional value. This choice feeding can be used to learn more about an animal’s nutritional needs and dietary preferences. However, in animals such as horses, there is a long gut transit time, which means that the horse may have difficulty making the connection between which chosen food has which nutritional consequence. So what can be done about this? Redgate and colleagues looked into the addition of a monadic phase (a phase in which only one food was offered at a time instead of all of the options) to choice testing. For this study, researchers wanted to see how a monadic training phase would impact the horse’s choice of food and if voluntary intake and feeding behavior would be influenced if the energy content was constant, but the macronutrient diet was different.

The experiment

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Topics: The Observer XT, horses, feeding behavior,


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