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Mechanisms of Behavior

Human Ethology In comparison with other sub disciplines of Zoology, human ethology is a very young science. Ethology is the study of animal behavior, with an emphasis on the adaptive significance of animal behavior in a natural setting. The ethological approach to animal behavior was originally developed in Europe, as naturalists and zoologists like Konrad Lorenz began to ask whether behavior, like morphology and physiology, might be shaped by natural selection. Originally ethologists were especially fascinated by instinctive types of behavior, because they saw these as the behavioral equivalents of morphological traits, and hence most subject to evolution. For example, early ethologists were much concerned about the evolution of communicative signals in animal groups, and developed phylogenetic schemes based on similarities between the communicative behaviors of related species. While ethology was growing in Europe, another method of studying animal behavior was developing in the United States. American psychologists were interested in understanding human behavior, but were unable to do many types of experiments on humans. Hence, they turned to animals, originally in the hopes of finding suitable animal models for human behavior. Since so much of human behavior is learned, psychologists concentrated on studying learning processes in animals. And since they were concerned with careful tests of alternate hypotheses, the psychologists did much of their work in the laboratory, where they could do experiments under controlled conditions. The interests and approaches of ethologists and psychologists have recently come together in the study of human ethology. Originally ethologists tended to ignore humans, since they were interested in animals in their own right (not as models for humans). But eventually some ethologists began to turn their eyes toward other humans, including their own children. By teaming up with psychologists, they were able to design controlled experiments on communicative and other behaviors in humans. As might be expected from the name, human ethology is the study of instinctive types of behavior in humans. One of the problems in doing experiments with humans is that they have the capacity to verbalize, and also the capacity to lie. Consequently, there is some danger in merely asking people to explain what they are sensing or feeling. To get around this problem, human ethologists do not rely on verbal reports from their subjects. Instead they use nonvoluntary responses from their subjects. These can be movements or physiological responses of which the subjects are normally unconscious. Examples are eyebrow flashes, pupillary response, blood pressure, heart rate or electrical properties of the skin (as in lie detectors). Today you will use several of these methods to investigate human responses to visual, auditory, and social stimuli. Heart Rate and Auditory Stimuli It has been said, “music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” In physiological terms this means that some types of music stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. In this experiment you will investigate the effects of various types of music and other sounds on the human heart rate. For this experiment it is best if the room is somewhat darkened, so the subjects can more easily relax,

One student will be the subject. each lasting 15 seconds. the second student of the pair will take the pulse of the subject. Take two control pulses (15 seconds each) and record these. Data Analysis a. including man. three students of the same sex should test each other. Record these. Students should work in pairs. This is true of a variety of vertebrates. and then wait for a minute. After the last sound.. Convert all other heart rates to pulses per minute. Procedure There are two easy ways to spoil this experiment. Heart rate will be measured by recording the subject’s pulse. Compare the pulse rates after sound to the control rates. Prior to the beginning of the tape.. The first is for students to peek at the cards before it’s . The experiment sounds will run about 45 second each. quiet slow ballads). 3. Enter this average on Data Sheet #1. The Effect of Visual Stimuli on Pupil Diameter Most people are aware that pupil diameter is related to light intensity. Your instructor will play a tape recording with a series of sounds. Less appreciated is the fact that pupil diameter can vary according to arousal or emotional state. 4. Take the pulse for 15 seconds after each experimental sound. pencil tapping) to a minimum.g. others are designed to create a different response (e. In this experiment one student will have to gaze deeply into another’s eyes to assess changes in pupil diameter.g. think relaxing thoughts). In order to minimize the emotion of embarrassment. Enter on the data sheet which sounds gave higher pulse rates than the controls (+) and which gave lower rates than the controls (-).. 2. It is important that distractions be minimal during this experiment. Calculate the average heart rate for all four control periods (two periods before the sounds. in terms of pulses/minute. c.and so they can more easily concentrate on the sounds. so keep talking and other sounds (e. 5. ideally both members of the pair should be of the same sex. Procedure 1. take the pulse for 15 seconds. The subject should relax and think peaceful thoughts as the partner takes the subject’s pulse. Record these two control heart rates in terms of pulses per minute. Some of these sounds are meant to be soothing (e. this provides another nonverbal method of studying human behavior. dance music).g. Since most people are unaware of their own pupillary changes. two periods after the sounds). b. There should be total silence during this minute (again. you should do two control runs.

4 feet away from the subject. and just one look can spoil results because of anticipatory effects. The picture holder should first shuffle the deck of cards. + = dilation. He/she should stand in front of the wall. 3. b. talk. since anticipation can change pupil diameter. Hence. Enough space so that the picture holder is 4 feet away from the subject (to minimize changes in pupil diameter due to light reflected from the pictures). 1. so don’t spoil the experiment by telling others the details of this experiment. If the second and third students have taken this precaution. so as not to distract the subject. The observer should stand close enough to the subject to clearly see his/her pupils. 6. . He/she should call the card number. blink. students may switch roles and repeat the experiment. one (the picture holder) will present the cards. scramble the deck again. c. Also. you can switch roles and test another student. if the observer and cardholder have followed instructions and not looked at the cards. he/she must watch very closely as pupil changes often last less than a second. and the third (the observer) will note changes in pupil diameter and record the card number and the response. . without looking at them. Humans have excellent memories. Tilt the card slightly downwards so that overhead light does not reflect off the photograph. present the card (without looking at the picture) to the subject for 3-5 seconds. 5. For much the same reasons. The observer should assign values to the pupil diameters as follows: 0 = no change..= contraction. a wall) in front of which the picture holder will stand (so that the subject is not distracted by movements behind the picture holder). indirect lighting so that no light is directly falling on the subject’s face. When one student has seen all the cards. Each group of three should find a place that meets the following requirements: a. The observer should record the card number and the response before the picture holder presents the next card.their turn to look at them. The observer must keep eyes wide open and must not change facial expression.g. or move in any way. 4. Then. A solid background (e. For each experiment one student will be the subject. 2. we must insist that under no circumstances should anyone other than the subject look at any of the cards! This will make it impossible for the second and third students to sit as subject in turn. this is one lab that you should not tell your friends about before they take it. Even.

could some of these responses be learned? 2. 1970.Questions 1.” How do these responses compare to those seen in this lab? How reliable is pupil diameter as an indication of emotion? References Argyle. Eibl-Eibespeldt.” “sexy. New York. Hold. Ethology. 1972. Non Verbal Communication. (editor). These experiments have established that some types of stimuli can cause “involuntary” responses in humans.” “friendly. the Biology Behavior. I. M.” The same picture with retouched large pupils is rated “warm. R. Nonverbal communication in human social interaction.” or “cold. A recent study indicates that when shown pictures of a woman with small pupils most men rate her as “unfriendly. Rinehart and Winston.A. . Cambridge University Press. Have they proven that such responses are instinctive? If not. In Hinde. New York.