1. Knowledge and understanding. Students will need to achieve a good understanding of the ethological approach to the study of animal behavior in an evolutionary perspective acquiring expertise on fundamental concepts such as instinct and learning, behavior control, motivation and decision-making systems.
2. Ability to apply knowledge and understanding. Students should be able to apply the scientific method to the observational analysis of animal behavior and to integrate the different levels of causal factors and functional explanations of animal behaviour.
3. Making judgments. Students will develop critical skills and independent judgment with respect to the description and interpretation of behavioral data.
4. Communication skills. Students should be able to communicate the results of analysis of animal behavior both to the description of the behavior and to its functional explanations.
5. Learning ability. Students should be able to learn the meaning, techniques and methods applied to the study of the animal behaviour
Course contents summary
The course aims to trace the history of ethology illustrating the work and the research approach of two of the founders of this discipline: Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen. We then illustrate the fundamentals classical ethology (ethogram, reflexes and innate behavior, stimuli and fixed action patterns, stereotyped behaviors, conflict, and displacement activities) framed in the Darwinian scheme of the 4 questions of Tinbergen. The parallel development of ethology and comparative psychology will be traced according to their theoretical and practical approaches to the study of animal behavior: a more ecological approach based on the observation of animals in their natural environments and focused on phylogenetic and functional aspects of behavior; and the other more cognitive tradition where crucial is the control of the individual variables in laboratory settings, with greater interest in the study of the structural and ontogenetic aspects of behaviors.
History, methods and fundaments of ethology. 4 questions of Tinbergen.
The ethogram, the comparative method and methods of observation.
Behavior control: refelxes and innate behavior, stimuli and fixed action patterns (FAP), stereotyped behaviors, conflict, and displacement activities.
Motivation and decision making processes.
Individual and social learning. Imprinting.
Genetics and Evolution of behavior.
Sovrano, Zucca e Regolin: Il Comportamento degli animali. Carrocci Editore 2009
Lectures are held illustrating the general concepts of ethology and trying to stimulate the development of critical thinking skills of the student and encouraging the discussion by reading and commenting on some classic studies of animal behavior. Lectures will take place with the aid of PowerPoint presentations that are made available to students on the university web site .
Assessment methods and criteria
this module is part of an integrated course thus rules of final examination were agreed among the teachers and includes the analysis of scientific papers and a written examination with open questions.