Behavioral Research Blog

Looking back at the i3B Annual Symposium

Posted by Jacqueline Martinali & Annelies Verkerk on Dec 8, 2016

On Thursday November 25, I3B - a network of high-tech companies and knowledge institutes aimed at joint research & development and commercialization of innovative ICT solutions -  held its 5th annual symposium.

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Topics: mobile observation, EEG, healthcare, measuring behavior, 2016

Unobtrusive observations

Posted by Annelies Verkerk on May 16, 2014

Where and how to observe test participants in order to collect reliable data? An observation lab is designed to allow you to observe your test participants unobtrusively, in an environment similar to your test participant’s natural surroundings. However, for some groups of participants, for example elderly people living in a nursing home, transfer to a stationary lab can be stressful or even impossible. In such a case, a portable lab would be ideal. Would you like to learn more about how to build an observation lab? Check out this ‘how to’ guide! Read tips & tricks to learn more!

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Topics: video observation, parent-child interaction, parent-infant dyads, mobile observation, Portable lab

Why wolves cry out for their friends

Posted by G. Smit on Apr 3, 2014

Why do wolves howl? From research, movies, and even television series, we learn that wolves cry out to each other to facilitate the reassembling of a pack when members have strayed. These calls are a functional way of long-distance communication, not only for wolves but also other species such as birds and mammals. So the functional importance of this behavior seems evident. But what actually makes a wolf cry? Is it because it misses its friends? Or is it simply something its body tells it to do?

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Topics: The Observer XT, social behavior research, mobile observation, Pocket Observer, social hierarchy, wolves, vocalizations

Insect damage on leaves changes the reproductive strategy of plants

Posted by Olga Krips on Mar 6, 2014

Optimizing pollination

We all know that the majority of plant species depends on pollinators, like bees and syrphid flies, for reproduction. What most of us do not know is that this process is far more complex than it looks at first sight. Think about it: pollinators do not visit flowers to transfer pollen, but to collect nectar. If the amount of nectar in the flowers is too large, the pollinators will not visit other flowers to collect more, so no pollen is transferred to other plants. Conversely, if the amount of nectar is too small, it will not pay for the pollinators to visit those flowers. So plants have to fine-tune the nectar production in their flowers to optimize pollination. And did you know that some plant species even add toxins to their nectar, which stimulates pollinators to move to other plants, bringing the pollen with them [1]?

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Topics: The Observer XT, insect behavior, mobile observation, Pocket Observer, insect

Reproduce before it is too late – caterpillars speed up seed production in plants

Posted by Olga Krips on Aug 12, 2013

Plants are sophisticated
Did you know that plants are not as passive as they appear to be at first sight? Although plants cannot run away when they are attacked by plant eating insects, they have several sophisticated ways to defend themselves. They can produce nasty substances upon attack. Or they can produce smells that attract natural enemies of their attackers [1]. Now it also shown that the threat of being eaten can speed up seed production in plants and affect the behavior of pollinators.

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Topics: insect behavior, mobile observation, Pocket Observer

Combining physiology and behavior to create a stress scale for horses

Posted by Annelies Verkerk on Jul 2, 2013

We all are familiar with stress, and how it can have an impact not only on our behavior, but on our bodies and physiology as well. Many people get stress headaches or start to feel sick if they reach high levels of stress. However, most studies use scales which focus on behavioral scores for animals and don’t account for the physiological responses to stress. Young et al.’s goal was to create a scale that could rapidly and reliably measure stress in domestic stable horses while integrating both behavioral and physiological measures.


Mixed results in previous studies
One thing to note is that there have been mixed results in studies which have tried to correlate physiological measures with behavioral measures. Some studies have had success and found links between the two, where others have found no link or correlation between the behavioral and physiological measures they were studying.

Using husbandry routines for evaluating stress
For this study, a sample of 32 horses (a mixture of various breeds of mares and geldings) were used, and all of the horses were kept on similar exercise and management routines. The goal was to use behavioral and physiological measures to analyze stress levels in domestic horses during everyday husbandry routines. The four husbandry procedures used in this study were the sound of electric coat clippers, social isolation, grooming procedures, and the sound of fireworks played on a CD. Each husbandry procedure lasted 10 minutes, the amount of time researchers predicted that a stress response would occur in.

Recording behavior using The Observer XT
The behavior of the horses during the husbandry procedures was recorded on video and The Observer XT was used for 12 horses to analyze the first five minutes of the behavioral reaction to the husbandry procedure. (This used a pre-defined ethogram, which can be found in the paper.) A panel of 13 expert members was also compiled. These panel members gave behavioral scores of 1-10 on how stressed they thought the horse was. They were also asked to describe the horse’s behavior at this score and to note when they thought the onset of stress occurred.

Physiological measures
The physiological measures used in this experiment were heart rate and salivary cortisol, because these were able to be noted through non-invasive means. For both, a control group was also used to make sure the procedures used for measuring these didn’t affect the stress level of the horses. Heart rate was noted directly before the procedure and five minutes into it. Saliva was collected several times before and after the husbandry procedure. Principal component analysis, a mathematical procedure which reduces a complex data set to values that are simple and easier to understand, was used to look for links between behavioral and physiological changes.

Making a scale
The descriptive terms given by the panel members were combined for horses with the same behavioral scores. Based on the behavioral scores given, researchers determined three levels of stress – no stress, low stress, and medium stress (the high stress category was added later by researchers but was not observed). For no stress, the horse had to have a behavioral score of 1 or 2, for low stress, a score of 3 or 4, and medium stress was 5 and up. Principal component analysis did not include behavioral scores for a fourth level, but researchers also added a category for high stress, which were behavioral scores of 8-10.

A scale reflecting behavioral and physiological stress
This study was successful in creating a scale that used physiological measures to add to the behavioral measures used to determine stress in domestic stable horses. It was found that with the husbandry procedures of the sound of fireworks being played and grooming, the salivary cortisol levels were higher than when the clippers were on or the horse was socially isolated. This led Young et al. to determine that there was a correlation between salivary control and the same horse’s behavioral score during husbandry procedures. This confirmed that the final scale created reflected both behavioral and physiological stress, and can be used as a valuable cost-effective tool.

  • Young, T.; Creighton, E.; Smith, T.; Hosie, C. (2012). A novel scale of behavioural indicators of stress for use with domestic horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 140, 33-43.
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Topics: The Observer XT, horses, heart rate monitoring, mobile observation, behavioral research

7 Tips to set up a coding scheme

Posted by Annelies Verkerk on Nov 15, 2011

The coding scheme or ethogram determines what data you collect and is, thus, an essential part of your behavioral study. How to develop a coding scheme that will provide you with the information you need? You can set up your coding scheme on paper, but you can also use The Observer XT software, a tool which can assist you in the entire workflow of an observational research project.

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Topics: The Observer XT, animal behavior research, on-site research, video observation, Educational research, classroom observation software, coding schemes, Observation lab, human behavior research, consumer behavior, mobile observation, Portable lab

Four ways to study visitor behavior: on-site, in a living lab, ...

Posted by Annelies Verkerk on Oct 24, 2011

Museums, zoos, theme parks, and aquariums all observe the behavior of their visitors in order to find the best ways to entertain and educate. In Timing and Tracking: Unlocking Visitor Behavior, Steven Yalowitz and Kerry Bronnenkant review the history of timing and tracking in museums and provide a detailed description of methods used to record, analyze, and report timing and tracking data. They claim that in the past, researchers mostly recorded where the visitor went (and in some of the earliest studies, they even tracked wear patterns on the carpet!)

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Topics: The Observer XT, on-site research, video observation, consumer behavior, mobile observation, living labs, Portable lab

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