Sunday, 10 June 2018

SF Behaviour

Really disliked this module, especially when exam time neared. I'd been excited to study it but there ended up being a ton of psychology which it turns out I don't like, and I couldn't really see the point to the whole thing. Like sure we can find this stuff out but why does it matter? I'm sure it matters to some people but personally I couldn't see the appeal with a lot of the course. It was fun during the actual lectures usually as the lecturer is very good, but the actual material did seem kinda pointless when I was studying it, though I did like the Conservation stuff. We were told Behaviour is like Evolution II but it seemed nowhere near as logical and cool. Learning about learning was also weirdly meta. The exam was also VERY MEAN DAMN DUDES.

Section 1: Psychology

  • the 'three kings' of ethology (Niko Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, Karl von Frisch)
  • learning
  • memory
  • cultural transmission - animals sharing information e.g. which foods are dangerous, which animals are scary, where to find food
  • imitation and what can be mistaken for it - this was a good example of what frustrated me about the course; we had to learn all the things that can be mistaken for imitation like emulation, stimulus enhancement, social facilitation, instrumental learning, and contagion, and honestly I was like so what if they're mistaken for it? It seemed like a bit of a distinction without a difference.
  • theory of mind & levels of intentionality - trying to figure out whether animals have theory of mind 
  • animal personalities and strategies
  • play - how we define it and how it happens - this lecture was actually tortuous because it turns out learning about play while being bored is awful. It was a long list of possible reasons play evolved and I mean long. It just felt weird to be academically studying play, though of course it is important to understand it for, say, teachers.
  • navigation - how animals get around, including simple rules to stay in environment, dead reckoning, compasses, maps, 'true navigation'

I disliked what seemed like an obsession with 'trueness' in animal behaviour, like 'true imitation' (not being one of the 5 things that can be mistaken for it) and 'true navigation' (knowing where you are without knowing how you got there, which admittedly is cool). 
obsession with trueness. It seemed like a lot of researchers arguing over whether an animal's behaviour is 'authentic' enough and yeah I guess I just didn't really care.

I joked about there being a slide on memes to my friends in physics but really I didn't like it, it felt a bit pointless. Interesting to discuss, sure, but weird in an actual module I guess. Glad I didn't do Arts!

Section 2: Special Lectures

These were an unusual addition to the course, and I appreciated the idea even if I didn't love all the guest lectures.

  • Neurobiology of behaviour
    • maybe my main issue is with how this is examined -- why do I need to know the number of neurons in Aplysia californica (it's 20,000 if I recall correctly)? Having to memorize that sort of fact was a hallmark of the Behaviour course that I didn't like at all. 
  • Parasitology 
    • quite interesting but some very gross examples
  • Hormones and behaviour 
    • I missed this one and unfortunately the slides didn't have much information but it seemed a bit weird, from defining what a hormone was to just giving random examples of hormones and behaviour so like 'corticosterone decreases amplexus [mating] in frogs whereas vasotocin increases it'. I think this lecture also had the Rhythms section about circadian, lunar, monthly and yearly rhythms, which came up as a full question on the exam and was exceedingly difficult to answer as it would say 'which type of rhythm would X animal doing Y activity have?' and there were like 10 animals and I didn't even know what kind of animal some of them were
  • Collective Behaviour
    • this was actually great, I loved it. It was about computer modelling of collective patterns like those of starlings flying, using rules about width of orientation zone, repulsion zone and attraction zone and getting a swarm, torus or directed shoal depending on width of orientation zone. Also stuff about how increasing your zone of repulsion gets you to the back of the group and how larger groups need a smaller proportion of leaders to set direction. In general it was about how you can get complex collective behaviours from small-scale local interactions and self-organisation rather than overall leadership.

Section 3: Conservation

  • Behaviour in Conservation 
    • how ethologists are useful in conservation e.g. finding accurate ways to count populations, dealing with the Allee effect on small populations, and trying to bring species back from the brink (like the kakapo, for which ethologists and biochemists worked together to synthesise the active ingredient from the rimu fruit, which made the kakapo want to breed but only fruited every few years, and to keep them strong while making sure they gave birth to females using evolutionary theory (they'd give birth to boys while well fed)).
  • Zoos and Conservation
    • problems captive animals face such as incorrect imprinting, stress, boredom and stereotypies, not learning to hunt or fear predators or move around correctly in the environment (apparently a load of monkeys or lemurs or something were released from captivity into the wild and then died because due to their steady structures in the zoo, they hadn't learned how to balance in trees and fell out), and zoos potentially favouring certain personalities.
  • Behaviour and Climate Change
    • climate change can throw everything out of sync; insects may be born before bud burst and starve, or at the wrong time for bird chicks to eat them, or birds may have trouble timing their migration so there'll be food at stopover points because different parts of the world are changing at different rates. 


  • zoo practical - had to go to zoo and observe various animal signals
  • collective behaviour - we all had to go to the gym and walk around in a crowd while being directed by the lecturer, then he showed us the video of it to illustrate points
  • David Attenborough videos - four videos on behaviour with quizzes (such long quizzes, like 40 questions each! I think)


I am glad the exam was all short questions as I had enough extra reading to do without having to do it for this course too, but wow the questions were mean. One this year, in the parasitology question, was 'Which African country had the highest [basic reproductive rate] of ebola in the recent outbreak?' which was at the bottom of a random slide. I don't see how that tests understanding of the material, which should surely be the point. Another was about climate change and conservation - we'd done an example in class of how increasing carbon dioxide leads to nitrogen starvation in leaves and the insects on those leaves actually cause more damage because they need to eat more to survive, and one of the questions was about specifically what type of bug it was, which doesn't seem much to do with understanding the principle and seems a lot to do with remembering the exact word on the slide. Would've been fine to ask 'what happens if you do this' or 'what do you think might happen if x changed' but this seemed a bit pointless. 

The exam was also stressful because a lot of it was 'pick the letter that goes with this number' and even though I checked a lot I'm scared I just put in the wrong letter even though I knew the answer and got everything wrong.

I'm also salty because I forgot to do a part of the CA, I just didn't realise that assignment existed, and did poorly in CA :( But I think my points still stand. There were definitely some interesting parts, but there was too much memorization, I didn't like the exam's method of assessment, and psychology is not my thing.

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