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Comparative Fine Structure of Action: Rules of Form and Sequence in the Grooming Patterns of Six Rodent Species

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The phylogenetic constancy of a set of syntactic patterning rules for grooming was examined in six rodent species: guinea pig, Belding's ground squirrel, gerbil, hamster, rat, mouse. Species were chosen to allow comparisons of separate suborders of Rodentia (Hystricomorpha, Sciuromorpha, Myomorpha) and of separate families within suborders (Cricetidae and Muridae). Each species was examined for possession of the syntactic patterns of chaining, transition reciprocity, sequential stereotypy, and hierarchical clustering. These syntactic patterns were detected and quantified using videoanalysis, graphic notation, and a variety of computer-assisted action coding and analysis techniques. Each syntactic pattern or sequencing rule mentioned above was found to obtain in all six of the species tested. The wide applicability of these rules suggests that they reflect a fundamental feature of neurobehavioral organization, which was established relatively early in rodent evolution. Syntactic organization appears to be a basic property of action production by mammalian brains. The techniques used in this study also allowed a quantitative comparison to be made across species of syntactic pattern strength, form, stereotypy, and timing parameters. This comparison showed that many differences in behavioral patterns among species could be explained by one of two principles. The first explanatory principle was phylogenetic relationship: the behavioral traits of species from within a single family tended to be more similar than were traits of species from separate families, and species from a single suborder tended to be more similar than species from separate suborders. The second principle, which applied especially to temporal parameters, was programmed allometric control by physical size. The timing of patterns (for example, the cycle duration of certain highly stereotyped forepaw strokes performed on the face) was related to the average size of the species by an allometric power function. The nature of these syntactic patterns and of the rules that generate them, the nature of their neural substrates, and the origin of parameters differences between species, is discussed.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Psychology, Neuroscience Laboratory Building, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, U.S.A.


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