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Causation: the study of behavioural mechanisms

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image of Animal Biology

This paper describes current work on the causal analysis of behaviour systems. It is noted that while causal work investigating the neural, hormonal, and genetic bases of behaviour is flourishing, work being conducted at a strictly behavioural level of analysis has declined greatly over the past 40 years. Nonetheless, most recent research on animal cognition and applied ethology is still being carried out at a behavioural level of analysis and examples of both types of research are presented: memory mechanisms of food-storing birds and decisions of spider-eating jumping spiders, as well as feather pecking in fowl and animal welfare issues, are all briefly discussed. Finally, I discuss the similarities between neural network modelling and early ethological models of motivation, and then show how a modern version of Lorenz's model of motivation can account for current research findings on dustbathing in chickens and sleep in humans. I conclude that valuable information can still be obtained by research at a behavioural level of analysis.


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