Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ethology Conference - The Causes and Mechanisms of Behavior

Day Two of the conference all about the Mechanisms of Behavior.

The plenary speaker of the day was Dr. Carmen Sandi whose talk was titled Stress and the fate of memories. First, I was excited to see a female plenary or keynote speaker. In science it is still relatively uncommon to have female keynote speakers. It’s not because there aren’t very many female scientists, and that certainly isn’t the case in the field of behavior. However, there are still relatively fewer women, compared to men who reach the high levels of recognition in order to receive an invitation to be a keynote speaker at a major international conference. There are researchers and science bloggers who study and address these topics directly, e.g. Fairer Science, and can list a variety of reasons why this may or may not be the case. However, it is always a joy to see a plenary talk from a seasoned researcher who represents a different demographic typical of what we think most scientists look like.

Her talk detailed the important role stress has in making memories and learning and how behavior is influenced. How does stress do that?

Well, stress can be internal (like emotional) or external (like meeting a deadline). The stress surrounding the situation can strengthen the memory and shape how we respond to futire encounters of the stress. Your memory can be key to your survival, for awild animal it would be important to remember:
- what food to eat or prey to hunt or avoid
-what is a dangerous habitat or where the predators live, look like, smell like, etc
You need to be able to recall these things in an emergency and react appropriately

Dr. Sandi's presentation included examples of rodent ‘learning mazes’ that were very similar to the testing equipment I used in my studies. The rest of the conference day, including my symposium on Animal Personality and Day Three of the Conference all about Applied Animal Behavior (with domestic and captive wild animals) was Deja vu.

Dramatic, I know. But these tests are being used for a wide variety of animal species: rodents - wild and domesiticated; farm animals - sheep, goats,and pigs; fish;birds..and many, many more species.

Animal personality is one a-MAZE-ing (open)FIELD of study.

The positive: there is a huge body of literature and knowldge about how these behavior tests work to help us leanr about animal behavior and personality.

The negative: we can't seem to agree as what these test actually tells us about animal behavior -of animal kind of animal - large or small, fish or fowl, wild or domesticated.

Science is by no means an exact science. Knoweldge is being constantly updated and modified. Which, by the way is the purpose of me sharing with you what happens at professional science meetings. This doesn't mean that we don't know what we are doing or what we are talking about. Oh contrare - but it does mean that we are cautious about telling you, the public, that we have found the answer, the one absolute answer. You see, most any scientist is always thinking considering things. We try hard not to be judgmental, there is always room to learn. We don't know everything so we always leave the door open to learn more. That's one of the lessons of being scientific literacy you might hear people talking about sometimes.

Pictures of people at the conference, many of them are professors whose papers I have read and cited in my Bibliography of my dissertation.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Being an MBA from human resources, I liked reading your article as I also deal in understanding human behaviors and psychology.. :-)

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