BIOLOGICAL BASIS OF BEHAVIOUR
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 concepts of biology, genetics and neuroscience.
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.
INTRODUCTION: Gense Hormones and neurotrasmitters are the factors regulating behavior. Genetic and epigenetics effects on behavioural development and expression.
Alcock. EVolution of Animal behavior. Ch.
M. Ridley. Nature via Nurture
Champagne FA. Epigenetic influence of social experiences across the lifespan. Dev Psychobiol. 2010 May;52(4):299-311. doi: 10.1002/dev.20436.
- Lecture 2
-- Sex differences of behavior: development and consequences.
- McCarthy MM, Ball GF. The neuroendocrine control of sex specific behavior in vertebrates: lessons from mammals and birds. Curr Top Dev Biol. 2008;83:213-48. doi: 10.1016/S0070-2153(08)00407-9.
.- McCarthy MM, Nugent BM. Epigenetic contributions to hormonally-mediated sexual differentiation of the brain. J Neuroendocrinol. 2013 Nov;25(11):1133-40. doi: 10.1111/jne.12072.
- Goel N.and Bale T. L.. Examining the Intersection of Sex and Stress in Modelling. Neuropsychiatric Disorders. J. Neuroscience
Sexual selection, parental investment and mating systems
Alcock . Evolution of Animal behavio ch. 10, 11, 12
-M. Ridley. The red queen
Proximate causes of monogamy or polyginy : neuropeptides and pair behavior. Oxytocin as the social hormone.
-Alcock, ch 1 e 11
-Insel & Young (2001) The neurobiology of attachment. Nat Rev Neurosci 2(2):129-36.
-Young (2004) The neurobiology of pair bonding. Nature Rev 7(10):1048-54.
-M.M. Lim, L J. Young. 2006. Neuropeptidergic regulation of affiliative behavior and social bonding in animals. Hormones and Behavior 50 506–517
-Z R. Donaldson and L. J. Young. 2008 Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and the Neurogenetics of Sociality. Science 322: 900-904.
Social Behavior and organizations: costs and benefits of sociality. Aggression and cooperation. Social rank and hierarchy. Altruism and kin selection.
Alcock ch. 13
Sapolsky RM. 2005. The Influence of Social Hierarchy on Primate Health.
- Lecture 6.
Parental Cares. Parental Investment and maternal behavior. Parent-offspring conflict.
-Alcock cap 12.
- S. Hrdy. Mother Nature. Sperling & Krupfer
-Lecture 7. Maternal cares and neurobehavioral development of the ofspring. Imprinting and attachment theory. Epigenetic effects of maternal cares.
M. Ridley. Nature via nurture.
- S. Hrdy. Mother nature.
- Weaver (2004) Epigenetic programming by maternal behaviour. Nat Neurosci 7(8):847-54
- Champagne FA. Epigenetic influence of social experiences across the lifespan Dev Psychobiol. 2010 May;52(4):299-311. doi: 10.1002/dev.20436
-Lecture 8 (and lecture 1 of Psicobiology of sex )
Biology oh human behavior: Film Mon Oncle D’Amerique by A. Resnais with Henri Laborit. And Discussion.
Alcock. Ethology: An evolutionary approach.
- Scientific papers to be found on the course website
- Lectures’s slides in pdf
-- Ridley M. Nature via Nurture. The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture. Harper Perennial.
-- M. Ridley. The Red Queen
-Hrdy S. Mother Nature. Ballantine books
During 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. (30% of final grade).
A final comprehensive exam for all the integrated course will be a written test (70% of final grade)