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Experimental Analysis of Animal Behaviour
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APBI 313
Graduate Section: AANB 550
Instructor: Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Protopopova
Office: MCML 193
Office Hours: contact via email
Class Schedule: Tues & Thurs 9:30-11:00am
Classroom: TBD
Important Course Pages

Course Syllabus

Course Description

In this course, we will cover the proximate mechanisms behind animal behaviour, with a focus on motivation and learning. Using case studies, we will cover complex concepts within Pavlovian and operant control of behaviour of individual animals as well as the ways in which various behavioural principles interact to create complexity in behaviour (i.e., animal cognition) and contribute to our understanding of animal welfare. You will become acquainted with the individual-subject research methods used in the scientific study of proximate causes of behaviour and the basic theories and principles of how and why animals do what they do. The key activities in the course are (1) learning complex principles of animal learning and motivation, (2) communicating an understanding of these principles through discussion, in-class probes, written case studies, and online quizzes.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, the student will be able to:

1.     Develop an appreciation of the interesting ways in which basic learning principles result in complex animal behaviour as evidenced by class participation in discussion, in-class probes, case studies, and online quizzes;

2.     Effectively integrate ideas from the lecture material, book chapters, and assigned journal articles to compose an evaluation of the determinants of animal behaviour case studies;

3.     Compose a research proposal on a topic of your choosing integrating your research interests and animal learning using a single-subject experimental design (Graduate Section).

Course Format

Probes- undergraduate: 20%; graduate: 12.5%

There will be 15 probes conducted during class, each worth 2 points. Part of the purpose of these probes is to provide credit for class attendance; therefore, which classes they will be given on will not be announced in advance. You will typically receive the first point for turning in any attempt at answering the probe question, and the next point for a correct response. Probes will range from requiring one word to a few sentences to complete, and will cover the assigned readings for and/or the material presented during the class on which they are administered.

Online Quizzes- undergraduate: 30%; graduate: 18.75%

There will be 10 online quizzes, each worth 5 points. The best 6 out of 10 will be used for the final mark. An online quiz will be due on that day, before class begins. The online quiz will include multiple-choice questions on the material that will be needed when discussing and answering questions about the case studies. The online quizzes are intended to help you identify the information that you need to review.

Exam Case Studies- undergraduate: 40%; graduate: 25%

Each class will begin with discussion of a specific case study. At four times during the semester, instead of an exam, the instructor will pick one of the discussed case studies and construct additional questions on the same case study. These questions will form the exams. There will be four such written case studies throughout the semester, each worth 15 points. The case studies will consist of short and long answer questions, in which the students will utilize their knowledge of behaviour principles to provide an analysis of the situation.

Each case study will focus primarily on the information covered since the previous case study; however, as the subject matter covered by the class is cumulative, doing well on later case studies will require mastery of the key concepts presented since the beginning of the semester.

Participation- undergraduate: 10%; graduate 6.25%

Class participation will be marked throughout the term thorugh in-class discussion. Student are expected to come to class having read all required readings and prepared to discuss the topic. Only respectful and constructive discussion will be tolerated

Graduate Section

Research Proposal- graduate 37.5%

There will be one final written project consisting of a research proposal. You will select a topic of your choosing in animal behaviour and synthesize your knowledge gained from the course to develop a research proposal. The proposal will consist of a short literature review to identify a gap in research as well as a single-subject design methodology to address this gap. Students will be encouraged to identify a granting agency and submit the proposal at the end of the semester, if approved by their supervisor. Students will submit a 1) literature review, 2) methodology, 3) a first draft, and 4) a final draft for 15 points (25% of the research proposal grade) each at specific times throughout the term. The total of the 60 available points will be added to the points accumulated from the probes, quizzes, case studies, and participation for the final mark.

Course Schedule

GS= Graduate Section

Week Case Study Lecture Topic Reading
1 Feces-throwing in a captive chimpanzee Introduction; levels of selection and functional analysis of behaviour Ch.1

2 Cont. Single-subject research designs Ch. 2


3 Accidental morphine overdose in laboratory rats Reflex relations; Pavlovian conditioning Ch. 3


4 Coyote control and taste aversion More on Pavlovian conditioning; Biological context of conditioning Ch. 14


5 Social cognition (perspective taking) in dogs Operant behaviour; positive reinforcement Ch. 4


6 Unexplained aggression: Orca drowns its trainer Schedules of reinforcement; extinction Ch. 5


7 Dog leash reactivity Negative reinforcement; aversive control Ch. 6


8 Pessimism/ optimism in animals Stimulus relations Ch. 8


9 Cat predation Motivating operations No textbook


10 Capuchin token economy Conditioned reinforcement Ch. 10


11 African Grey parrot counting Complex stimulus control; Pavlovian-operant interactions Ch. 7


12 Husbandry animal training Choice and preference; quantitative law of effect Ch. 9


13 Impulsive pigeons Delay discounting; behavioural economics Ch. 9