BIOLOGICAL BASES OF BEHAVIOR
Learning outcomes of the course unit
1. A good understanding of genetic, epigenetic, hormonal and neurochemical basis of behavior in an evolutionary perspective as well as of their implications for clinical and psychological practice.
2. Capability to integrate the different levels of causal and functional analysis of behavior and to apply a scientific observational method to behavioural analysis.
3.. The ability to fully understand and criticize scientific and technical literature in the field of behavioral biology and to develop critical reasoning of behavioural data and their interpretations.
4. To develop their ability to present scientific work in a clear and concise manner and to effectively communicate scientific
advances in the field of behavioural analysis to a non-specialist or to a professional audience as well as their ethical and social implications.
Basic notions of biology, genetics and neurosciences
Course contents summary
The course of biological basis of behavior is part of an integrated course and follows the first two modules of Classic and Cognitive Ethology. Students will thus already be familiar with concepts and methods of ethology.
This course provides an advanced introduction to research and perspectives on the relations between biology and behavior, evolution and development. As such, it will examine how genes, hormonal, or neurochemical activity affect behavior in non human species as well as in humans, to understand how biological activity operates over the course of evolution and development to produce diversity.
The first part of the course begins with a systematic overview of how organisms develop and of contributions of genes and environment in this process. Recent progress made on this issue in developmental psychobiology and epigenetic forced a reassessment of the traditional concepts of nature and nurture and a reconsideration of how these forces operate together to produce adaptations. Having discussed the central concepts of gene-environment interactions, we will examine how neurotrasmitters and hormones regulate behavioral responses, with a particular attention to the development, expression and functions of sex differences in behavior.
The second topic is a comparative analysis of social systems by examining how the neuroendocrine mechanisms regulating different social and reproductive behaviors, and parental cares vary in response to different ecological pressures. Next we will return to the central concepts introduced at the beginning regarding developmental processes. With specific examples taken from the animal literature a detailed analysis is offered of the relations between maternal cares, epigenetic effects in specific brain areas and neuro-behavioral development . In this novel perspective we will reassess the concepts of imprinting and the theory of attachment.
The third part of the course examine the benefits and limitations of studying animal behavior to understand human behavior and its disorders and the implications of ethological and evolutionary approach to psychological studies.
1. Evolution, genes and environment: “Nature via Nurture”.
2. Genetic and epigenetic factors in behavioral development..
3. Hormones, neurotrasmitters and behavior regulation.
4. Sex differences in behavior: expression, development and adaptive significance.
5. Social systems, ecology and neuroendocrine basis: “The social brain” hypothesis.
5. Parental Investment, sexual selection and parental care. Cooperation and conflict.
6. Maternal functions and offspring psychosocial development. Epigenetic effects of maternal cares.
7. Imprinting and attachment.
8. Psychobiology of stress: An evolutionary approach to neuro-psychiatric disorders: Darwinian psychiatry.
- Alcock. Ethology: An evolutionary approach.
- Scientific papers to be found on the course website
-- Ridley M. Nature via Nurture. The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture. Harper Perennial.
Hrdy S. Mother Nature. Ballantine books
During the lectures the I will illustrate and discuss the state of the art, concepts and experiments in the research field of behavioural biology by stressing out the specifics of ethological approach and methods. The lectures will be in an interactive format and students are strongly encouraged to ask questions and insert comments. We will watch and analyse videos on animal behaviour (including humans) to practice behavioral analysis methods. A visit is programmed at the laboratory of Biology of Behaviour .
Assessment methods and criteria
During the course scientific papers will be suggested to read and discuss in class to verify understanding of experimental hypothesis, methodological techniques and data interpretation. At the end of the course each student has assigned a scientific paper to present to the class. Understanding of the research issues, methods, perspectives and implications of the findings, as well as clarity, synthesis and use of scientific language will be evaluated. (50% of final grade).
A final comprehensive exam for all the integrated course will be written and oral (50% of final grade)
An i-pad 4 is available in class for practice of individual or small groups of students