162 Best Animal Research Topics To Nail Your Paper In 2023

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The world is filled with living things. There are some animals that we know about, some that we will discover, and there are many that we might never know about. All our knowledge about animals is mostly dependant on researchers. Well, we are rooting for you to be the next great researcher. Be it zoology, veterinary, or live wild stock, your study needs a research topic. If you’re looking for the best animal research topics to nail this year, we’re here with your help.

Table of Contents

Best Animal Research Topics

We have 162 Animal Research Topics that will help you get the best grades this year.

Physiology of Animals Research Topics

physiology of animals research topics

  • Description of the knowledge required to work in animal physiology
  • Study of animal species with different specialties in the sciences of nature and life
  • Life sciences and socioeconomic impacts
  • Neurulation appendages birds
  • Exercises on gastrulation and neurulation
  • Gastrulation amphibians birds
  • Fertilization segmentation in the sea species
  • Gametogenesis: A Detailed Introduction
  • Study of Delimitation: bird appendages
  • Particularities of the developmental biology of certain species
  • Technical-commercial animal physiology
  • Terrestrial and marine ecosystems
  • Animal biology and forensic science: Is there a connection?
  • Animal Biology Biotechnology and molecules of interest regarding food and industry
  • The interest in biology in the diagnosis of animal and plant diseases
  • Toxicology and environmental health concerns in animal physiology
  • Animal and plant production
  • Fundamentals of animal physiology research and analysis
  • Behavior and evolution Genetics of behavior in animals
  • Adaptation and evolution of behavior
  • Comparative studies of general ecology, zoology, and animal physiology
  • Study of animals about the conditions prevailing in their immediate environment
  • Endocrine and neuroendocrine systems in animals
  • Studying the nervous systems in birds
  • Genitals and reproductive physiology of birds
  • Understanding of the anatomical and functional particularities of invertebrates
  • Biology and physiology of invertebrates
  • Reconstruction of phylogenetic trees
  • Morpho-anatomical arguments and the importance of fossils
  • Argued classification of animals
  • Study of the evolution of living organisms by making updates on recent advances in Animalia
  • Phylogeny and animal evolution
  • Principles of echolocation in the bats
  • Possible evolution of the increase in complexity of the primitive nervous system
  • The nervous system of the insect
  • Circulation in animal physiology
  • Animals without a differentiated circulatory system
  • Water and mineral balance in animals
  • Thermoregulation in animals
  • Musculoskeletal system in animals
  • Study of animal blood
  • Biological rhythms of animals
  • Skin and teguments of mammals
  • Animal nutrition and metabolism
  • Hormones and endocrine system of animals
  • Emerging organic pollutants
  • Mechanisms of toxicity in animals
  • Animal physiology in animals from temperate regions
  • Genetic correlations between animal species
  • Animal communities, forest ecology, and forest birds
  • Wildlife-habitat modeling

Looking for research topics in general? Read 402  General Research Paper Topics

Animal Research Topics For Student

animal research topics for student

  • Impact of the agricultural raw materials crisis on the marketing of livestock feed
  • Analysis of the competitiveness of poultry produced in the USA
  • Animal cruelty in USA and European countries
  • Seroprevalence of neosporosis in cattle herds
  • The peri-urban dairy sector
  • Effect of the liberalization of the veterinary profession on the vaccination coverage of livestock
  • Why do people kill animals? The psyche behind animal cruelty
  • Evaluation of the growth performance of three sheep breeds
  • Study on the protection of terrestrial ecosystems
  • Ecology of African dung beetles
  • Effects of road infrastructure on wildlife in developing countries
  • Analysis of the consequences of climate change related to pastoral livestock
  • Strategies for management in the animal feed sector
  • The feeding behavior of mosquitoes
  • Bee learning and memory
  • Immediate response to the animal cruelty
  • Study of mass migration of land birds over the ocean
  • A study of crocodile evolution
  • The cockroach escape system
  • The resistance of cockroaches against radiation: Myth or fact?
  • Temperature regulation in the honey bee swarm
  • Irresponsible dog breeding can often lead to an excess of stray dogs and animal cruelty
  • Reliable communication signals in birds

Also see:  How to Write an 8 Page Research Paper ?

Animal Research Topics For University

anima research topics for university

  • Color patterns of moths and moths
  • Mimicry in the sexual signals of fireflies
  • Ecophysiology of the garter snake
  • Memory, dreams regarding cat neurology
  • Spatiotemporal variation in the composition of animal communities
  • Detection of prey in the sand scorpion
  • Internal rhythms in bird migration
  • Genealogy: Giant Panda
  • Animal dissection: Severe type of animal cruelty and a huge blow to animal rights
  • Cuckoo coevolution and patterns
  • Use of plant extracts from Amazonian plants for the design of integrated pest management
  • Research on flying field bug
  • The usefulness of mosquitoes in biological control serves to isolate viruses
  • Habitat use by the Mediterranean Ant
  • Genetic structure of the  African golden wolf  based on its habitat
  • Birds body odor on their interaction with mosquitoes and parasites
  • The role of ecology in the evolution of coloration in owls
  • The invasion of the red swamp crayfish
  • Molecular taxonomy and biogeography of caprellids
  • Bats of Mexico and United States
  • What can animal rights NGOs do in case of animal cruelty during animal testing initiatives?

Or you can try 297 High School Research Paper Topics to Top The Class

Controversial Animal Research Topics

controversial animal research topics

  • Is it okay to adopt an animal for experimentation?
  • The authorization procedures on animals for scientific experiments
  • The objective of total elimination of animal testing
  • Are there concrete examples of successful scientific advances resulting from animal experimentation?
  • Animal rights for exotic animals: Protection of forests and wildlife
  • How can animal rights help the endangered animals
  • Animal experimentations are a type of animal cruelty: A detailed analysis
  • Animal testing: encouraging the use of alternative methods
  • Use of animals for the evaluation of chemical substances
  • Holding seminars on the protection of animals
  • Measures to take against animal cruelty
  • Scientific research on marine life
  • Scientific experiments on animals for medical research
  • Experimentation on great apes
  • Toxicological tests and other safety studies on chemical substances
  • Why isn’t research done directly on humans rather than animals?
  • Are animals necessary to approve new drugs and new medical technologies?
  • Are the results of animal experiments transferable to humans?
  • Humans are not animals, which is why animal research is not effective
  • What medical advances have been made possible by animal testing?
  • Animals never leave laboratories alive
  • Scientific interest does not motivate the use of animal research
  • Animal research is torture 
  • How can a layperson work against the animal testing?

Every crime is a controversy too, right? Here are some juicy  Criminal Justice Research Paper Topics  as well.

Animal Research Topics: Animal Rights

animal research topics animal rights

  • Growing awareness of the animal suffering generated by these experiments
  • What are the alternatives to animal testing?
  • Who takes care of animal welfare?
  • Major global organizations working for animal rights
  • Animal rights in developing countries
  • International animal rights standards to work against animal cruelty
  • Animal cruelty in developing countries
  • What can a layperson do when seeing animal cruelty
  • Role of society in the prevention of animal cruelty
  • Animal welfare and animal rights: measures taken against animal cruelty in developing countries
  • Animal cruelty in the name of science
  • How can we raise a better, empathetic and warm-hearted children to put a stop to animal cruelty
  • Ethical animal testing methods with safety
  • Are efforts being made to reduce the number of animals used?
  • The welfare of donkeys and their socioeconomic roles in the subcontinent
  • Animal cruelty and superstitious conceptions of dogs, cats, and donkeys in subcontinent
  • Efforts made by international organizations against the tragedy of animal cruelty
  • International organizations working for animal welfare
  • Animal abuse: What are the immediate measures to take when we see animal cruelty
  • Efforts to stop animal abuse in South Asian Countries
  • Animal abuse in the name of biomedical research

Talking about social causes, let’s have a look at social work topics too: 206  Social Work Research Topics

Interesting Animal Research Topics

interesting animal research topics

  • The urbanization process and its effect on the dispersal of birds:
  • Patterns of diversification in Neotropical amphibians
  • Interactions between non-native parrot species
  • Impact of landscape anthropization dynamics and wild birds’ health
  • Habitat-driven diversification in small mammals
  • Seasonal fluctuations and life cycles of amphipods
  • Animal cruelty in African countries
  • Evolution of the environmental niche of amphibians
  • Biological studies on Louisiana crawfish
  • Biological studies on Pink bollworm
  • Biological studies on snails
  • Biological studies on Bush Crickets
  • Biological studies on Mountain Gorillas
  • Biological studies on piranha
  • Consequences of mosquito feeding
  • Birds as bioindicators of environmental health
  • Biological studies on victoria crowned pigeon
  • Biological studies on black rhinoceros
  • Biological studies on European spider
  • Biological studies on dumbo octopus
  • Biological studies on markhor
  • Study of genetic and demographic variation in amphibian populations
  • Ecology and population dynamics of the blackberry turtle
  • Small-scale population differentiation in ecological and evolutionary mechanisms
  • Challenges in vulture conservation

Also interesting: 232  Chemistry Research Topics  To Make Your Neurochemicals Dance

Submarine Animals Research Topics

submarine animals research topics

  • The physiology behind the luminous fish
  • A study of Fish population dynamics
  • Study of insects on the surface of the water
  • Structure and function of schools of fish
  • Physiological ecology of whales and dolphins
  • Form and function in fish locomotion
  • Why do whales and dolphins jump?
  • Impact of Noise on Early Development and Hearing in Zebrafish
  • Animal cruelty against marine life on the hand of fishermen

Read More:  Accounting Research Topics

Animal Biology Research Topics

animal biology research topics

  • Systematic and zoogeographical study of the ocellated lizards
  • Morphological study of neuro histogenesis in the diencephalon of the chick embryo
  • Anatomical study of three species of Nudibranch
  • The adaptive strategy of two species of lagomorphs
  • The Black vulture: population, general biology, and interactions with other birds
  • Ocellated lizards: their phylogeny and taxonomy
  • Studies on the behavior of ocellated lizards in captivity
  • Comparative studies of the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards
  • The taxonomic and phylogenetic implications of ocellated lizards
  • Research on the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards in their natural environment
  • Comparative studies of the egg-laying and egg-hatching methods of ocellated lizards in different countries
  • Studies on the ecology and behavior of ocellated lizards in their natural environment in the light of evolutionary and ecological insights

Animal research topics are not hard to find for you anymore. As you have already read a load of them. You can use any of them and ace your research paper, and you don’t even need to ask permission. If you are looking for a research paper writing service , be it animal research, medical research, or any sort of research, you can contact us 24/7.

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Open Access


The Perspective section provides experts with a forum to comment on topical or controversial issues of broad interest.

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Behavioral ecology: New technology enables a more holistic view of complex animal behavior

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California, United States of America

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  • Gail L. Patricelli


Published: August 24, 2023

  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3002264
  • Reader Comments

As any animal observer will tell you, behavior is complex. A more holistic view of this complexity is emerging as technological advances enable the study of spatiotemporal variability and expand the focus from single components to behavioral systems.

Citation: Patricelli GL (2023) Behavioral ecology: New technology enables a more holistic view of complex animal behavior. PLoS Biol 21(8): e3002264. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3002264

Copyright: © 2023 Gail L. Patricelli. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The author received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

This article is part of the PLOS Biology 20th Anniversary Collection.

Behavior is more than just a suite of traits; it is the crux where the inside of the organism meets and interacts with the external environment. On the inside of the organism, behavior emerges through an interaction of genetic, physiological, cognitive, and developmental processes, which can be affected, in turn, by that organism’s behavior and experience. Behavior is also how organisms respond to—and influence—the biotic and physical environment, which includes potential mates, rivals, offspring, group members, predators, prey, and pathogens—all with their own behaviors—interacting amidst changing seasons and climates. And behaviors may manifest at multiple scales, from individuals to swarms. For the past 20 years and going forward, many of the exciting frontiers in the study of animal behavior involve grappling with this complexity in a more holistic way, examining the causes and functions of variability in behavior over space and time, and scaling up from components to systems, examining interaction networks that function as a whole.

Many breakthroughs on key aspects of animal behavior (social behavior, mate choice, communication, predator–prey dynamics, foraging ecology, and migration) have been enabled by advances in technology that allow us to collect detailed and simultaneous data from many components of complex systems ( Box 1 ). These tools are made possible by increased computing power, rapid advances in machine learning, and the development of smaller, cheaper, and more powerful hardware. Such tools are pushing the study of behavior, like other fields of science, into the “big data” era.

Box 1. Technology allowing a more holistic view of animal behavior.

Advances in both hardware for collecting data and machine learning software to analyze those data are expanding the detail and the scale at which we can study behavior.

  • Animal-borne telemetry tags, which collect or transmit data about movements and other measures, can be miniaturized to much less than a gram and provide precise locations with onboard GPS or data from sensors (e.g., accelerometers, physiological monitors, microphones, or light-level monitors). Tags may store or transmit data to other tags, land-based receiver arrays, or satellites (e.g., ICARUS or MOTUS). These tags reveal aspects of animal lives that were previously unobservable, helping to identify critical resources and habitats for protection (e.g., migration corridors and refueling sites), exposure and response to stressors (e.g., human activity, noise and light pollution), and cryptic behaviors (e.g., nocturnal movements, quiet communication, and visits to potential mates).
  • Other key hardware includes synchronized microphone arrays to triangulate animal positions from the arrival time of their vocalizations [ 1 ], drones with imaging tools, terrestrial laser scanning (ground-based LiDAR) for detailed habitat measures, and Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags).

Machine learning

  • Supervised machine learning, trained on human-annotated data sets, is automating tedious tasks and making detailed analysis of large datasets more feasible.
  • Unsupervised machine learning can identify new patterns in movement tracks and other behavioral data, providing insights less limited by human biases and reducing (not eliminating) subjective decisions about which characteristics to measure.
  • On videos, freely available software [ 2 ] uses machine learning to track position and orientation on multiple individuals, enabling the study of social networks and swarm dynamics. Machine learning can also be used for pose estimation by tracking the relative position of multiple body parts for biomechanical studies of behaviors (e.g., DEEPLabCut [ 3 ]).
  • On audio recordings, machine learning is automating detection and identification of sounds from birds, bats, and other vocal animals, enabling acoustic monitoring over time, in remote locations, and at night [ 4 ] and increasing the feasibility of using synchronized microphone arrays to study vocal behavior and movements [ 1 ].

Spatiotemporal variability is a ubiquitous feature of animal behavior. By necessity, behaviors are often measured by choosing a few key characteristics that can be scored accurately and repeatably, often averaging multiple measures from consistent conditions. This allows behaviorists to examine, for example, the relationship between courtship rate and mating success, or dominance hierarchies in social groups. While important, there is increasing awareness that fascinating biology is being averaged away, such as differences among individuals in the ability to execute behaviors consistently or adapt to changing social and environmental situations, or variation among groups in the stability of social networks [ 5 – 7 ]. The past few decades have seen frameworks for understanding aspects of this behavioral variation, such as consistent individual differences (CIDs) and personality, behavioral reaction norms, and dynamic social network analyses, but the difficulty of collecting data has limited the scope of empirical work.

To capture and analyze variability itself, we need enough snapshots to make a movie, multiple measures of behaviors within and among individuals or groups, across time and context, so the patterns of change can be examined. New hardware and machine learning algorithms for tracking movements and recognizing patterns are opening exciting new opportunities for collecting such data [ 2 , 4 , 8 ].

For example, using GPS telemetry tags in the wild or overhead video in captive enclosures, it is increasingly feasible to study the causes and consequences of CIDs in behavior, such as activity level or aggressiveness, by tracking multiple individuals throughout development or among contexts. Patterns of behavioral variation can then be examined relative to genotype, epigenetics, experience, adult behavior (of the focal animal, their parents, and their offspring), and social group dynamics. In fish, for example, tracking has revealed that CIDs in behavior among clonal mollies raised in identical conditions are present from birth and strengthen over time [ 9 ] and that CIDs among sticklebacks in sociability and boldness can affect the movement and foraging performance of entire shoals [ 10 ].

Similar machine learning algorithms can track the position of body parts for pose estimation, automating frame-by frame analysis of biomechanics during courting, fighting, prey capture, locomotion, and other behaviors [ 3 , 8 ]. This can save time, expand the number of traits measured on focal or interacting individuals, and reduce subjectivity in analyses ( Box 1 ). These opportunities for high-resolution data collection will (I hope) inspire further development of theory in neglected areas, such as optimal tactics during courtship and other dynamic behavioral interactions [ 5 ].

New tracking tools are also helping us to scale up from spatiotemporal analyses of behavioral components to a systems-level view of the whole. The systems approach focuses on structure–function relationships, moving from cause-and-effect thinking to synergistic thinking, by emphasizing interactions, linkages, and integrated phenotypes [ 5 , 11 ].

For example, a hot topic of research for more than 20 years has been why sexual selection frequently favors complex courtship displays with components in different sensory modalities, combining songs, dances, colors, scents, and vibrations [ 5 , 6 , 11 ]. A recent comparative analysis of the famously complex and spectacular displays of 40 species of birds-of-paradise utilized video and audio recordings, as well as color patterns from museum skins, finding positive relationships instead of trade-offs between complexity in the acoustic, color, and behavioral display components [ 12 ]. The authors argued that integrated suites of traits evolve as a courtship phenotype, with functional overlap and interdependency providing robustness and promoting diversification. Further research is needed to determine whether similar patterns emerge in the complex courtship displays of other clades of birds, as well as clades of reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, and spiders. With machine learning tools for automated data collection, such broad comparative analyses are becoming possible with growing online databases, such as libraries of audio and video recordings and 3D scans of museum specimens. Ultimately, to understand the evolution of complex courtship phenotypes, as in birds-of-paradise, we must also understand how male display components interact to stimulate the females’ sensory, cognitive, and motivational systems to influence their mate choice. In other words, a holistic approach is also required to understand the aesthetic experiences and complex preferences of the females these courtship displays evolved to impress. This interface between behavioral ecology and neuroethology promises exciting discoveries about the evolution of some of nature’s most beautiful spectacles.

Systems-level analyses of multicomponent social groups have been similarly insightful. Tracking of large groups of birds is revealing surprisingly complex, multilevel social systems, from families, to cohesive groups of unrelated individuals, to fission–fusion dynamics among groups, to structured flocks of interacting species [ 13 ]. Tracking is also allowing the detailed examination of collective behaviors [ 10 , 14 ], exploring how behavioral rules followed by individuals scale into emergent properties of groups, such as swarming behavior of locusts. For example, by modelling how group size and spacing affect individuals’ views through the crowd, researchers are learning how geometry affects swarm dynamics and collective decisions.

Along with benefits of new technology, come challenges. To name a few, minimizing the impacts of our technology on animal bearers, finding meaningful biology in the output of black box algorithms, and not letting data volume and high statistical power substitute for thoughtful experimental design and biologically relevant effect sizes. Downloading data from satellites is no substitute for time in the field or lab learning about natural history and carefully observing behaviors, which is essential to inspire creativity and anchor us to the real world. At its best, new technology complements existing methods and helps to reveal hidden dimensions of behavior. Moving into the big data era, animal behavior, like other fields, can minimize pitfalls by increasing transparency, standardization, and sharing of data, algorithms, and statistical code.

As the pace of urbanization, habitat loss, climate change, and other human impacts increase, behavior will often be the first response, either allowing animals to adjust to change, or not. Behavioral changes are often the first signs scientists can measure as evidence of human impacts. Behavior is also what often inspires public fascination and concern about wildlife. Therefore, in addition to addressing basic questions about behavioral evolution, new technology and a more holistic view of animal behavior is key to understanding, predicting, and mitigating human impacts on wildlife. For example, behaviorists are revealing how noise and light pollution impact social behaviors, improving methods for population monitoring and restoration, and reducing human–wildlife conflict. The next 20 years will bring increased opportunity and increased necessity for animal behaviorists to engage actively with conservationists, policy makers, stakeholders, and the public to find solutions to these complex problems.


The author apologizes to the hundreds of authors and ideas in the field of animal behavior that there was insufficient space to credit here.

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Articles on Animal behavior

Displaying 1 - 20 of 98 articles.

animal behavior research paper ideas

Playing with the kids is important work for chimpanzee mothers

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Animal behavior research is getting better at keeping observer bias from sneaking in – but there’s still room to improve

Todd M. Freeberg , University of Tennessee

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During the 2024 eclipse, biologists like us want to find out how birds will respond to darkness in the middle of the day

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Training an animal? An ethicist explains how and why your dog − but not your frog − can be punished

Jon Garthoff , University of Tennessee

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Why monkeys attack people – a primate expert explains

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The surprising reason why insects circle lights at night: They lose track of the sky

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Do dog ‘talking buttons’ actually work? Does my dog understand me? Here’s what the science says

Susan Hazel , University of Adelaide and Eduardo J Fernandez , Florida Institute of Technology

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Rats are more human than you think – and they certainly like being around us

Tobias Linné , Lund University

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Climate change is altering animal brains and behavior − a neuroscientist explains how

Sean O'Donnell , Drexel University

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Wild animals that survive limb loss are astonishing – and a sign of the havoc humans are wreaking on nature

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Female animals teach each other to choose unusual males – new research

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Playful whales can use seaweed as a hat – or exfoliant. This “kelping” behaviour is more common than we realised

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G20 summit’s plan to scare off monkeys by mimicking their ‘natural enemies’ may work – but not for the reasons it’s supposed to

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Why not all urban foxes deserve their ‘ bin-raiding ’ reputation

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Sun bears appear so human-like they are mistaken for people in suits – experts explain

Chris Newman , University of Oxford ; Christina Buesching , University of British Columbia , and Dingzhen Liu , Beijing Normal University

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How some fish learned to hide behind others to hunt – new research

Sam Matchette , University of Cambridge

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Cats first finagled their way into human hearts and homes thousands of years ago – here’s how

Jonathan Losos , Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis

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How swarming animals can help humans and AI make better decisions

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244 Awesome Animal Topics for Research Papers

animal topics for research papers

So, did your professor just asked you to write an exceptional animals research paper? You may think that it is an easy assignment, but it may not be. Don’t wait until the last possible moment to write this essay because you may not be able to do a good job on it. Even though you know how to write the paper, there is another problem you need to take into consideration: finding a great topic.

Truth be told, finding excellent animal topics for research papers is a lot more difficult than you think. Yes, you can find many such topics on the Internet, but you won’t be able to find an original one. Unfortunately, your classmates are using the same websites to look for ideas. This means that you could pick a topic that one or more of your classmates have already selected. Your teacher will definitely not appreciate it, and this will reflect on your final grade.

Looking for Awesome Animal Topics for Research Papers?

All students looking for research paper on animals should visit this page periodically. Our topics are the best and they are all 100% original. Also, many of them are relatively easy to use. Keep in mind that a good topic is one that has plenty of information about it on the Internet. Why spend days doing the research when you can start writing the paper right away?

But why would you choose our animal research topics? There are surely other good topics on the Internet. Well, there really aren’t that many good ideas on other websites. Here are just some of the reasons to take a look at our ideas and pick the best topics for your next research paper:

All our ideas are original at the time this article was written. These topics have been created by our experienced ENL writers. We are working hard to add new topics periodically. Also, we are removing topics that are not of interest anymore. You can use any of our topics without having to pay anything. Yes, this list of topics really is 100 percent free. You do not have to give credit to our website when you use a topic you find on this page. You are free to reword our topics as you see fit. You can always get in touch with our experienced writers and editors if you need more topics. We can compile a brand new list just for you in no time.

Choose One of Our 244 Research Topics About Animals

You can find everything from animal rights to veterinary doctor topics in our latest list of 244 animal topics for a research paper. Enjoy:

Easy Animal Topics to Write About

If you are looking for some easy animal topics to write about, we have the best ideas. Check out the ideas below and pick the best one for your next research paper:

  • Discuss a well-known Asiatic horse breed
  • Dog vs. cat as a pet
  • How to train a pony quickly
  • Polar bears at the South Pole?
  • Saving the last remaining orangutans
  • The weirdest 3 animals on Earth
  • Poaching and its negative effects
  • Best ways to train a dog
  • Negative effects of veal on humans
  • Best ways to train a cat
  • Discuss the classification of migratory birds
  • Why are penguins flightless birds?
  • Africa and its wildlife: an in-depth analysis
  • Can you have a pet spider?
  • Can Grizzly bears sense fear?
  • Methods to prevent poaching in wildlife preserves
  • Negative effects of pork meat on humans
  • The disastrous effects of palm oil

Interesting Animal Research Topics

If you are looking for some of the most interesting animal research topics on the Internet, you have arrived at the right place. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Are mosquitos useless insects?
  • Lion prides in African wildlife preserves
  • Talk about the anatomy of the hyena
  • An in-depth look at the Tardigrade
  • Discuss the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  • Best wildlife parks in the United States
  • Animal adaptations to survive the desert
  • Endangered animal species in the UK
  • Analyze a butterfly’s life cycle
  • Are dolphins really as intelligent as they are portrayed?
  • Is medical testing on animals justified?
  • Pros and cons of zoos
  • Giant Panda and related conservation efforts
  • Benefits of poisonous animals
  • Should you spay or neuter your pet?
  • How do monkeys climb trees so quickly?
  • Largest whales in the world
  • Animal adaptations to survive the cold
  • What is a porpoise?
  • Ethical problems with animal testing

Research Questions About Animals

Take a look at our research questions about animals and pick the one you like. All of these questions should work great for 2023:

  • Should we test antibiotics on animals?
  • Why did the dinosaurs go extinct?
  • How do you care for an exotic pet?
  • Which is a better pet, a cat or a dog?
  • Which is the largest predator in the United States?
  • Are zoos inhumane prisons for animals?
  • Are dolphins friendly?
  • Do we have the right to kill animals?
  • Should we ban hunting for sport?
  • Should we give animals more rights?
  • Should we stop euthanizing stray animals?
  • How can we protect endangered species?
  • Which is the largest land mammal in Europe?
  • Should you buy a dog or adopt one?
  • Do you really need a pet?
  • Should exotic pets be banned in the UK?
  • Can we improve the life of zoo animals?
  • Should punishments for animal cruelty be more severe?
  • Can a fox be a good pet?
  • Is medical testing on animals justifiable?

Animal Rights Topics for Research Paper

Are you looking for awesome animal rights topics for research paper? No problem, we have a list of the most interesting topics right here:

  • Talk about animal rights in the US
  • Giving more rights to animals in the US
  • Discuss animal rights in China
  • Do feral dogs have any rights?
  • Analyze animal rights in Europe
  • Do invasive species have rights too?
  • Discuss animal rights in the United Kingdom
  • Fishing practices and animal rights
  • Analyze animal rights in North Korea
  • Discuss animal rights in zoos
  • Destroying predator animals without breaking the law
  • Discuss animal rights in India
  • Do feral cats have rights too?
  • Analyze the ethics behind pet euthanasia
  • Factory farming and animal rights
  • Discuss cow rights in India
  • Animal rights violations in the whaling industry
  • Cosmetics testing on animals
  • Analyze the decline of ivory trade worldwide
  • Cockfighting in the United States

Simple Animal Rescue Topics

We know you probably don’t want to spend too much time working on your research paper. Check out the following list of simple animal rescue topics and choose one:

  • Why should we rescue animals in need?
  • Effects of Australian bushfires
  • Poor social skills of rescue animals
  • What does animal rescue do?
  • Negative effects of wildfires on animals in the US
  • Should zoos be forced to rescue animals?
  • Euthanizing rescued animals
  • Exotic animals in the United States
  • Resource guarding problems with rescue dogs
  • Lack of veterinary care for rescued animals
  • Inadequate screening procedures for adoption
  • Anxiety problems in rescue dogs
  • Destructive behavior in rescue cats
  • The dangers of animal rescue operations
  • Where do rescued animals end up?
  • Are all rescued animals traumatized?

Veterinary Topics for Research Paper

Interested in writing about veterinary topics? Our experienced writers and editors have compiled a list of great veterinary topics for research paper:

  • What does being a veterinarian mean?
  • Challenges of the veterinary profession
  • What is Brucellosis?
  • Most common cat diseases in the United Kingdom
  • Discuss biomedical research conducted on animals
  • Talk about poor veterinary care in rural areas of Europe
  • Discuss natural animal feeds
  • Breakthroughs in veterinary technology
  • Best way to fight a Tapeworm infection
  • Diseases humans can get from pets
  • Most popular exotic animals as pets in 2023
  • Using punishments effectively for training purposes
  • Why it’s good to microchip your pets
  • Causes of mycotoxicoses
  • Ways to treat a Hookworm infection
  • Is there an effective cure for Rabies?
  • Most common dog diseases in the US
  • Can Campylobacteriosis infections cause death?

Animal Abuse Topics

If you want to write about animal abuse and other related subjects, we have a list of animal abuse topics that should get you a top grade on your next research paper:

  • Talk about animal abuse issues in the United States
  • Animal abuse issues in the United Kingdom
  • Animal cruelty versus animal abuse
  • Discuss animal abuse issues in China
  • Effects of animal hoarding behaviors
  • Staging animal fights is abuse
  • Animal abuse issues in Eastern Europe
  • Cruelty to animals leading to violence against people
  • Animal abuse issues in India
  • Is animal testing animal abuse?
  • Can neglect be considered animal abuse?
  • Animal abuse: rural versus urban cases
  • Shooting is an animal abuse
  • Animal abuse laws in the US
  • Animal abuse laws in the UK

Animal Topics for High School

Looking for some of the best animal topics for high school? Take a look at the list below and pick the most interesting idea:

  • Why is veterinary care so expensive?
  • Differences between dromedaries and camels
  • Should pets be allowed in school?
  • Compare and contrast lions and cheetahs
  • Wild animals as pets in the UK
  • The worst pet on Earth
  • Adopting an animal from the local animal shelter
  • Can elephants swim?
  • An in-depth look at the camel
  • Compare and contrast cats and dogs
  • Discuss irresponsible dog breeding in your city
  • Analyze the habitat loss of orangutans
  • How do killer whales hunt?
  • Animal rights issues in Asia
  • Discuss disastrous fishing practices
  • Animal welfare issues in adoption centers

Animal Testing Research Topics

Talking about animal testing research topics shouldn’t worry you, as long as you remain objective and impartial. Here are some relatively simple topics on this:

  • Is it ethical to test cosmetics on animals?
  • Animals used for chemical warfare testing
  • Lab mice and their awful fate
  • Testing vaccines on animals
  • Finding a cure for Covid-19 using animals
  • Stem cell research using animals
  • Worst medical tests done on animals
  • Banning animal experimentation in the UK

Animal Cruelty Topics

Looking for the best and most interesting animal cruelty topics you can find? We have a list of ideas right here for high school and college students:

  • Animal cruelty punishments in the US
  • What constitutes animal cruelty?
  • Puppy mills in the United States
  • Animal cruelty punishments in the UK
  • Exotic animals as pets: a form of cruelty
  • Dog fighting
  • Pet overpopulation in large cities
  • Factory farming
  • Animal abuse vs. animal cruelty

Persuasive Topics About Animals

Writing about animals in a persuasive manner shouldn’t be too difficult. If you have access to some good persuasive topics about animals to write about, things will get even easier:

  • Stop deforestation before it is too late
  • Avoid eating animal foods
  • The effects of global warming on wildlife
  • Stop using animals in circuses
  • Avoid eating pork
  • Get your pet a microchip
  • Is pet insurance worth the money?
  • Foxes are not meant to be pets
  • Adopt your pet instead (as opposed to buying it)
  • Negative consequences of pollution on animals
  • Banning factory farming practices

Endangered Animals Topics

Do you want to raise awareness about endangered species of animals? No problem, we have some of the greatest endangered animals topics right here:

  • Can we save the whooping crane?
  • Saving the bonobo monkey
  • Can we save the peregrine falcon?
  • The endangered Galapagos penguin
  • Can we save the black-footed ferret?
  • Save the South Asian river dolphin
  • Can we save the whale shark?
  • The dwindling population of Loggerhead sea turtles
  • Can we save the Monarch butterfly?

Advanced Topics About Animals

If you want to impress your professor, why not write your research papers on some advanced topics about animals? Here are a couple of interesting ideas for students:

  • The life cycle of an alligator
  • Most dangerous exotic pets
  • Deep sea fish adaptations
  • Discuss bioluminescence

Informative Animal Topics for an Essay

Writing an informative essay is definitely not a complicated thing to do. However, the grade you get on your paper depends on the quality of the informative animal topics for an essay:

  • Describe the rabbit
  • Discuss the red panda
  • Describe the horse
  • What is a Saola?
  • Talk about the Thylacine
  • An in-depth look at the Asian elephant
  • Talk about the Dodo bird
  • Wolfs on the edge of extinction
  • What is a Kakapo bird?
  • Are polar bears in danger?
  • The life of the green sea turtle

Complex Veterinarian Research Paper Topics

If you want to try your hand at some complicated research papers, we have some quite complex veterinarian research paper topics right here:

  • How do dog vaccines work?
  • Why are lab mice perfect for experiments?
  • Animals in extreme cold conditions
  • Animals at extreme depths: adaptations

Most Engaging Animal Topics

We know, you want to engage your audience and impress everyone in the class. Here are some of our most engaging animal topics. Pick one and start writing now:

  • Buying your child a pet
  • Animal fight games in the UK
  • Should you vaccinate your cat?
  • Zoo animals psychological issues

Topics About Your Favorite Animal

Everyone has a favorite animal, including your teacher. So, why not write something about it? Here are some topics about your favorite animal that should work great:

  • What is your favorite animal and why?
  • The funniest animals in existence
  • Why do dogs make such good pets?
  • Should you own an exotic pet?
  • What do you appreciate about your favorite animal?
  • The best animal in the world
  • The traits of your favorite animal
  • Can an animal be loyal?

Animal Topics for College

College students should not pick easy topics because professors tend to penalize them. Check out these animal topics for college students and select one of them:

  • The best pet for a college student
  • How do Tardigrades survive in space?
  • Using snake venom to make anticancer drugs

Controversial Animals Topics

Why would you be afraid to write about controversial topics? Check out our list controversial animals topics and pick the best one for your needs right now:

  • Chemical testing on animals
  • Weapon testing on animals
  • Testing cosmetic products on animals
  • Testing new drugs on animals
  • Animals used in scientific experiments
  • Saving laboratory mice from their fate
  • Poaching in Africa
  • Stopping the trade of ivory
  • Hunting animals for their fur

Topics on the Conservation of Animal Species

There are so many endangered species of animals in the world that it’s difficult to pick one to write about. Here are some of our most interesting topics on the conservation of animal species:

  • An in-depth look at the conservation of wild orangutans
  • Analyze conservation efforts of the lion population
  • Saving the blue whales from extinction
  • An in-depth look at the conservation of wild cheetahs
  • An in-depth look at the conservation of wild tigers
  • Is the California condor an endangered species?
  • Saving the snow leopards from extinction
  • Analyze conservation efforts of the giant panda population
  • An in-depth look at the conservation of wild Javan rhinoceros

Argumentative Essay Topics About Animals

Finding some exceptional argumentative essay topics about animals can be difficult, especially if you want your paper to stand out from the rest. Here are some great ideas for you:

  • Cats make the best pets
  • Animals should not be held in captivity
  • Exotic pet ownership must be banned
  • Palm oil should be banned
  • Zoos should be more tightly regulated
  • Never feed wildlife no matter what
  • We need more elephant sanctuaries
  • Stopping Maasai from hunting lions
  • Dogs make the best service animals
  • Hyenas are becoming an endangered species
  • The importance of flies

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  • Critic at Large

Addressing the Problematic Past of Animal Behavior Research

Some of the foundational studies in the field were neither ethical by today’s standards nor replicable. but we can do better..

Scientists or veterinary workers doing experiments in lab with experimental animals biological genetic engineering research

Holly Root-Gutteridge, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Lincoln, where she studies sound and scent perception in animals.

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Anna Korzeniowska

Anna Korzeniowska is pursuing a PhD at the University of Sussex, studying multimodal perception and cognition in domestic dogs. She also works as Project Officer at the University of Surrey,...

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T he goal of animal behavior research is to observe animals as they respond to stimuli (whether naturally occurring or experimentally provided) and draw conclusions based on their actions. These actions can be conscious choices or automatic responses, as in the famous studies by foundational Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. As interest in animal behavior has grown, the cheerful tale of Pavlov’s dogs drooling upon hearing a bell has become one of the best known anecdotes about the field, featuring in thousands of  jokes ,  cartoons , and  memes .

animal behavior research paper ideas

Unfortunately for both the field and the dogs themselves, the truth is considerably darker. To measure the output of the dogs’ salivary glands, Pavlov surgically exposed these glands and fixed saliva-collecting tubes to the dogs’ cheeks. The oft-quoted “bell” used as a conditioned stimulus was a sanitized version of reality, too. While Pavlov did use auditory stimuli in his experiments, including a buzzer, electric shocks were also in his repertoire. Yet these grim details are relatively unknown, even to experts in animal behavior or psychology. The shocking images of what happened to the dogs in the service of science are far from the public imagination, and Pavlov is frequently given plaudits for his scientific achievements while the ethical shortcomings of his work are rarely discussed.

He was not alone in undertaking experiments that would be refused approval by most ethics boards today. Some of the greatest figures of psychology or animal behavior often used methods that by modern standards were unethical. For example, as we describe in a recent paper , well known and often cited works by Harry Harlow on attachment and Martin Seligman on learned helplessness are rarely interrogated, and many scholars citing their work do not even realize that these scientists’ investigations involved animal suffering. For example, to reach the conclusion that infant rhesus macaques chose to cling to a soft terry-cloth-covered model as a surrogate mother and safe haven, rather than to a bare wire “mother” that gave milk, Harlow and colleagues subjected infant monkeys to social isolation from birth and repeatedly exposed them to fear-inducing stimuli such as mechanical wind-up toys. Seligman and colleagues devised experiments in which dogs were subjected to painful, inescapable electric shocks delivered to their feet. They found that the experience of not being able to escape such a stimulus resulted in an animal that was helpless and subsequently failed to move away from unpleasant stimuli, even if free to do so. 

We now know that compromised welfare leads to compromised scientific results, as it can change animals’ responses or reduce their ability to learn.

The concern is not limited to whether subjecting animals to suffering in the name of science is morally acceptable. We now know that compromised welfare leads to compromised scientific results, as it can change animals’ responses or reduce their ability to learn. Thus, findings from experiments where animals suffered suboptimal welfare may have been compromised by stress—a dog that is in pain will respond differently than a healthy, relaxed animal, for example, while a normally social monkey raised in isolation will not show the same behavioral responses as one reared as part of a group.

These facts leave modern researchers with a conundrum: If these works are both seminal and ethically unsound, should they be cited at all? Many of the findings arrived at through animal suffering underpin different areas of research and perhaps should not be discarded. Would it be fair to expect past researchers to have abided by current ethical standards, even though they didn’t have access to current knowledge of the effects of pain and stress on behavior? And if such works are cited, how should their flaws be handled and shortcomings acknowledged while still allowing researchers to give credit to past scientists? 

In our paper, we discuss a number of options and offer a solution to this problem. We propose that researchers use the term “problematic” when citing seminal but compromised work. We chose this term because it covers a multitude of welfare and ethical problems that may have arisen during experimentation and can be further refined to include the issue itself as an acronym, whether ethical validity concerns (EVC), welfare validity concerns (WVC), or simply data deficiency (DD), where the methods were not sufficiently described to be replicable.

We do not stop there, but suggest that going forward, researchers should be proactive in avoiding the issues arising from a lack of consideration for the animal as a sentient individual, and thus avoid subsequently being flagged in their own work.  

First, we propose that researchers can enhance their scientific rigor by moving beyond the basic requirements of ethics committees, which can vary wildly by both region and taxa , toward the use of a gold standard approach to animal welfare. A gold standard would mean creating the best conditions we can provide given our current knowledge and resources. This would avoid the issue of disparities between different countries’ ethical standards, making it impossible to replicate methodologies where standards for treatment differ. It is also to the benefit of the animals themselves, which is given increasing value as our understanding of their cognition and behavior improves.

Second, we argue that authors should consider and report as thoroughly and systematically as possible not only their main experimental techniques but a host of other details. Using this approach from the start of research planning would prompt researchers to consider aspects of their own study beyond experimental design or minimum welfare standards, making the work robust to future discoveries, such as the role of sex or age in a participating animal’s response. By being fully transparent about all aspects of methodology, this approach also makes it more likely that other researchers attempting to replicate the study in the future can do so successfully. To this end, we developed a table to help with reporting of information such as basic demographic details (e.g., animals’ sex and age), inclusion criteria, enrichment provided, and the exit point from the study for the animals. 

This combined approach of careful ethical planning and detailed reporting is rooted in consideration for the animals themselves and positions them at the center of all scientific investigation into their behavior. By considering not only the animals’ personal experience of the experimental conditions, but also the overall impact on their lives—for instance, how the new experience interacts with the effects of similar experiments in the past—we can improve our own science. 

The best welfare leads to the best science. Importantly, it also ensures that the animals used in research have the most positive experience possible. As researchers, we have the privilege of working closely with our study species, learning to view the world in new ways. Perhaps it’s time to move away from treating animals as objects that we use in our scientific enquiry and recognize their individual contributions to science. After all, without them, we could not do any of it. 

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Top 10 Animal behavior research blogs

Top 10 Animal behavior research blogs

Happy new year everybody! Yes, time goes by so fast. The new year is already two weeks old, can you believe it? We closed off 2018 with some of our personal highlights in regards to behavioral research and company developments. Now its’s time to look back one more time. Plenty of new articles were published on the Behavioral Research Blog last year. Let's see what the most popular blog posts on animal behavior research of 2018 were.

Our top 10 animal behavior blog posts from 2018

Let's take a look at what you read most on animal behavioral research on our Behavioral Research Blog last year, and keep reading to find out which post is at number one!

10. How to characterize complete behavioral phenotypes in a behavioral analysis facility

Introducing the Behavioral Analysis Facility. Researchers evaluate the behavioral and functional activities of new pharmacological drugs using diverse functional tests. Read on to see their recent projects, or watch their user story and learn more about recent research at this lab such as research into the relationship between food intake and mood disorders.

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Researchers at this lab evaluate the behavioral and functional activities of new pharmacological drugs using diverse functional tests such as: anxiety, fear, food and drink consumption, metabolism, development (neonatal development and maternal behavior), learning and memory, pain, motor behavior, neurotoxicity and stroke.

9. Towards automated homecage monitoring of group housed rats

Rodent social behavior is important in research on neuropsychiatric disorders, but major limitations hamper progress. Suzanne Peters, PhD, defended her thesis named "The importance of rat social behavior for translational research. An ethological approach" in 2018. This guest blog post  is one of two posts in this Top 10. 

8. Into the lab: how to monitor rat social behavior

The second blog post by Suzanne Peters, PhD, follows her post at number 9. During her PhD research, she developed an automated analysis that allows for the monitoring of socially interacting rats. 

7. How the normalization of blood sugar reduces the enhanced rewarding effect of smoking

Type 2 diabetes and smoking clearly both cause serious health issues on a global scale. But did you know that they are also linked? In fact, nicotine use increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also increases insulin resistance, which can make diabetes worse. Learn more in this blog post.

6. Alzheimer research and the Morris water maze task

First developed in 1981 by Richard Morris, the Morris water maze task is still one of the most popular tests for memory and learning in rodents. It was also popular amongst our Behavioral Research Blog readers.

animal behavior research paper ideas

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5. A new rat model for neonatal white matter injury

Preterm birth is a major problem in neonatal healthcare. Erik van Tilborg (PhD student in the research group of Cora Nijboer at the laboratory for Neuroimmunology and Developmental Origins of Disease (NIDOD), UMC Utrecht, NL) developed a new animal model to closely mimic this clinical situation, an important step in finding new treatment options.

4. Using gait analysis to analyze clinically relevant symptoms of Parkinson’s in rat model

Contrary to common methods, gait analysis can detect clinically relevant symptoms early on, researchers say. They used CatWalk XT gait analysis to develop two rat models of PD to investigate a number of gait parameters in hopes to find resemblance to human PD symptoms, and to specifically find them early on.

3. Exercise vs anabolic steroids: a rat study

Entering our top three of last year's most read blog posts on animal behavior research! A recent study shows that the use of anabolic steroids diminishes the positive effects of exercise in rats.

animal behavior research paper ideas

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2. Knockout of Down syndrome gene in zebrafish leads to autistic-like behaviors

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not a clear-cut disease, but rather a genetically heterogeneous group of neurodevelopmental disorders. This makes it hard to point to one specific cause, for example, one gene linked to autism. However, recent studies suggest that abnormal functioning of the DYRK1A gene might play a causal role in autism. 

1. Freeze! A recent study on PTSD and the immune system

It is pretty well-known that stress and anxiety have an effect on the immune system. This can be a real problem, especially in psychiatric disorders. Researchers are now identifying critical neurological factors in the physical and mental consequences of this disease. And you of course, were very interested as this was the most read blog post of 2018! 

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New animal behavior research posts to come in 2019

Now that we are done looking back at 2018, let’s look ahead to the future! Me and my fellow bloggers and guest bloggers for Noldus are looking forward to another exciting year of blogging. You can expect more blog posts about the latest developments in animal behavioral research!

You probably have some great ideas too, I bet, so let’s hear them! Let us know about interesting studies that deserve some spotlight, so that we can make great posts together!

Which ones did you enjoy reading most? 

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  • Frontiers in Robotics and AI
  • Bio-Inspired Robotics
  • Research Topics

Robotics to Understand Animal Behaviour

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About this Research Topic

For centuries, designers and engineers have turned to biological systems to seek inspiration for constructing functional, flexible, and efficient robots. Over the years biologically inspired robotics has matured into a significant branch of robotics. Recently, biologists and interdisciplinary teams are

For centuries, designers and engineers have turned to biological systems to seek inspiration for constructing functional, flexible, and efficient robots. Over the years biologically inspired robotics has matured into a significant branch of robotics. Recently, biologists and interdisciplinary teams are using robots as viable testbeds to help explore and evaluate hypotheses in animal behaviour. This strategy offers a suitable alternative to traditional biological methods, which have severe limitations including the feasibility to minimize confounding influences and isolate effects, the effects of the experiment and the experimenter on the study animal, and other limitations imposed by the behaviour of the animals, etc.. For example, a fish-like robot can greatly help biologists collect in-situ data on fish schooling behaviour with limited interferences from human or other factors, explore potential mechanisms of hydrodynamic benefits among individuals, and test hypotheses in collective motion by including the robot in the loop of collective animal behaviour. 

This Research Topic aims to expand the application of bio-inspired robots and to provide new ideas for studies in animal behaviour from animal locomotion to collective behaviour. Current studies on bio-inspired robots mainly focus on how to construct and control these platforms for artificial missions. Limited studies consider the applications of bio-inspired robots as a tool to better understand biological phenomena. Taking advantage of bio-mimics in both morphology and control, bio-inspired robots can be a great platform to study animal behaviour, such as animal locomotion, individual movement, and group behaviour. In general, the goal of the Research Topic is to collect those interdisciplinary studies that reverse the idea of bio-inspired robots by applying engineering methods (theory, simulation, or experiment) to study animal behaviour in biological systems. 

To achieve this goal, this Research Topic will showcase recent developments in using bio-inspired robots to understand animal behaviour. Interdisciplinary studies which cover both engineering and biological sciences are ideal but not necessary. Studies without biological data are also acceptable, as long as they follow the spirit of using robots to either explore or test hypotheses in animal behaviour.

This Research Topic will explore themes including, but not limited to:

• Aerodynamics in flying robots and animals

• Sensing and locomotion control in flying robots and animals

• Hydrodynamics in swimming robots and animals

• Sensing and locomotion control in swimming robots and animals

• Forging behaviour in robots and animals

• Obstacle/predator avoidance behaviour in robot and animals 

• Formation control in groups of robots and animals

• Collective behaviour in groups of robots and animals

Keywords : Bio-Inspired Robots, Animal Behavior, Robotics, Animal Movement, Sensing and Locomotion Control, Collective Behavior

Important Note : All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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With their unique mixes of varied contributions from Original Research to Review Articles, Research Topics unify the most influential researchers, the latest key findings and historical advances in a hot research area! Find out more on how to host your own Frontiers Research Topic or contribute to one as an author.

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Animal behavior research is getting better at keeping observer bias from sneaking in – but there’s still room to improve

Animal behavior research relies on careful observation of animals. Researchers might spend months in a jungle habitat watching tropical birds mate and raise their young. They might track the rates of physical contact in cattle herds of different densities. Or they could record the sounds whales make as they migrate through the ocean.

Animal behavior research can provide fundamental insights into the natural processes that affect ecosystems around the globe, as well as into our own human minds and behavior.

I study animal behavior – and also the research reported by scientists in my field. One of the challenges of this kind of science is making sure our own assumptions don’t influence what we think we see in animal subjects. Like all people, how scientists see the world is shaped by biases and expectations, which can affect how data is recorded and reported. For instance, scientists who live in a society with strict gender roles for women and men might interpret things they see animals doing as reflecting those same divisions .

The scientific process corrects for such mistakes over time, but scientists have quicker methods at their disposal to minimize potential observer bias. Animal behavior scientists haven’t always used these methods – but that’s changing. A new study confirms that, over the past decade, studies increasingly adhere to the rigorous best practices that can minimize potential biases in animal behavior research.

Biases and self-fulfilling prophecies

A German horse named Clever Hans is widely known in the history of animal behavior as a classic example of unconscious bias leading to a false result.

Around the turn of the 20th century , Clever Hans was purported to be able to do math. For example, in response to his owner’s prompt “3 + 5,” Clever Hans would tap his hoof eight times. His owner would then reward him with his favorite vegetables. Initial observers reported that the horse’s abilities were legitimate and that his owner was not being deceptive.

However, careful analysis by a young scientist named Oskar Pfungst revealed that if the horse could not see his owner, he couldn’t answer correctly. So while Clever Hans was not good at math, he was incredibly good at observing his owner’s subtle and unconscious cues that gave the math answers away.

In the 1960s, researchers asked human study participants to code the learning ability of rats. Participants were told their rats had been artificially selected over many generations to be either “bright” or “dull” learners. Over several weeks, the participants ran their rats through eight different learning experiments.

In seven out of the eight experiments , the human participants ranked the “bright” rats as being better learners than the “dull” rats when, in reality, the researchers had randomly picked rats from their breeding colony. Bias led the human participants to see what they thought they should see.

Eliminating bias

Given the clear potential for human biases to skew scientific results, textbooks on animal behavior research methods from the 1980s onward have implored researchers to verify their work using at least one of two commonsense methods.

One is making sure the researcher observing the behavior does not know if the subject comes from one study group or the other. For example, a researcher would measure a cricket’s behavior without knowing if it came from the experimental or control group.

The other best practice is utilizing a second researcher, who has fresh eyes and no knowledge of the data, to observe the behavior and code the data. For example, while analyzing a video file, I count chickadees taking seeds from a feeder 15 times. Later, a second independent observer counts the same number.

Yet these methods to minimize possible biases are often not employed by researchers in animal behavior, perhaps because these best practices take more time and effort.

In 2012, my colleagues and I reviewed nearly 1,000 articles published in five leading animal behavior journals between 1970 and 2010 to see how many reported these methods to minimize potential bias. Less than 10% did so. By contrast, the journal Infancy, which focuses on human infant behavior, was far more rigorous: Over 80% of its articles reported using methods to avoid bias.

It’s a problem not just confined to my field. A 2015 review of published articles in the life sciences found that blind protocols are uncommon . It also found that studies using blind methods detected smaller differences between the key groups being observed compared to studies that didn’t use blind methods, suggesting potential biases led to more notable results.

In the years after we published our article, it was cited regularly and we wondered if there had been any improvement in the field. So, we recently reviewed 40 articles from each of the same five journals for the year 2020.

We found the rate of papers that reported controlling for bias improved in all five journals , from under 10% in our 2012 article to just over 50% in our new review. These rates of reporting still lag behind the journal Infancy, however, which was 95% in 2020.

All in all, things are looking up, but the animal behavior field can still do better. Practically, with increasingly more portable and affordable audio and video recording technology, it’s getting easier to carry out methods that minimize potential biases. The more the field of animal behavior sticks with these best practices, the stronger the foundation of knowledge and public trust in this science will become.

This article is republished from The Conversation , a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and analysis to help you make sense of our complex world.

It was written by: Todd M. Freeberg , University of Tennessee .

Changing wild animals’ behavior could help save them – but is it ethical?

Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches flocking together benefit from a diversity bonus – so do other animals, including humans

Todd M. Freeberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the domestic chicken

Lori marino.

The Someone Project, The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, 4100 Kanab Canyon Road, Kanab, UT 84741 USA

Domestic chickens are members of an order, Aves, which has been the focus of a revolution in our understanding of neuroanatomical, cognitive, and social complexity. At least some birds are now known to be on par with many mammals in terms of their level of intelligence, emotional sophistication, and social interaction. Yet, views of chickens have largely remained unrevised by this new evidence. In this paper, I examine the peer-reviewed scientific data on the leading edge of cognition, emotions, personality, and sociality in chickens, exploring such areas as self-awareness, cognitive bias, social learning and self-control, and comparing their abilities in these areas with other birds and other vertebrates, particularly mammals. My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas, and that there is a need for further noninvasive comparative behavioral research with chickens as well as a re-framing of current views about their intelligence.


When asked to think of an example of a bird, most people do not think of chickens ( Gallus gallus domesticus ) (Malt and Smith 1984 ). And when people see photographs of domestic chickens behaving like other birds (e.g., roosting in tree tops), it is often cause for surprise and amusement. Why? With over 19 billion worldwide, chickens are the most abundant of all domesticated animals (UN Food and Agricultural Organisation 2011 ), so this perception of chickens is not due to unfamiliarity with them per se. Rather, the answer may lie with the context in which we usually encounter them and how their use interacts with perceptions of their intelligence.

Unlike many other birds, chickens are categorized as a commodity, devoid of authenticity as a real animal with an evolutionary history and phylogenetic context. Thus, arguably, perceptions of chickens shape their use as commodities which, in turn, then reinforces those original perceptions. Animals are typically classified according to the kinds of attributes they possess (Mervis and Rosch 1981 ), and the contexts in which we usually encounter animals shape our views of how representative we think they are of a more general category (Malt and Smith 1984 ). When asked to rate the typicality of chickens as a member of the more general category of birds, raters usually give chickens a low score indicating that they are not considered typical birds (Malt and Smith 1984 ). Therefore, even considerations of birds in general may not apply very well to chickens.

And while many factors are involved in determining attitudes toward other animals, a number of studies have shown that belief in sentience or “mind” is a strong predictor of attitudes toward different types of animal use (Hills 1995 ; Knight and Barnett 2008 ; Knight et al. 2004 ; Phillips and McCulloch 2005 ). Chickens are misperceived as lacking most of the psychological characteristics we recognize in other intelligent animals and are typically thought of as possessing a low level of intelligence compared with other animals (Eddy et al. 1993 ; Nakajima et al. 2002 ; Phillips and McCulloch 2005 ).

Indeed, the very idea of chicken psychology is strange to most people. A recent study showed that when college students were given the opportunity to learn about and personally train chickens (using positive reinforcement), their attitudes shifted in a more informed and positive direction. Student perceptions of chicken intelligence were assessed pre- and post-training. Relative to their initial perceptions of chickens as slow learners, the students’ attitudes shifted to viewing them as intelligent and emotional animals with individual personalities. Interestingly, even pre-training, most students agreed that chickens could feel hunger, pain, and fear, but were less likely to believe chickens could feel more complex emotions, such as boredom, frustration, and happiness. However, boredom, frustration, and happiness were the emotional states with the greatest shifts in student attitudes post-training (Hazel et al. 2015 ).

The scientific literature on chicken cognition and behavior is relatively sparse in many areas, and dominated by applied themes, artificial settings, and methodologies relating to their “management” as a food source. In other studies, their welfare is ultimately related to productivity. Far less numerous are studies of chickens on their own terms—as birds, within an evolutionary and comparative framework. But even basic comparative studies of birds have been limited by concentrating almost exclusively on associative learning, discrimination, and adaptive specializations (such as seed caching), while interest in the evolution of complex intelligence has been focused mostly on primates, dolphins, elephants, and only certain birds, such as corvids (crows) and psittacines (parrots) (Emery 2006 ). Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore why this might be, arguably even the scientific community has been influenced by public perceptions of chickens as cognitively simple. Cognitive differences among species do indeed exist, but the fact that studies of very basic associative processes tend to focus on pigeons ( Columba livia ) and chickens (two species who are considered quite atypical as birds and not extremely favored), while studies of more complex cognitive processes, including language-like capacities and tool use, involve corvids and parrots, may have so far precluded chickens from demonstrating more complex cognition. As will be demonstrated in this paper, chicken intelligence appears to have been underestimated and overshadowed by other avian groups. This asymmetry in the literature is likely a reflection of, as well as a contributor to, the disconnect scientists and the public have between chickens as commodities and who they actually are as individuals.

But chickens have much in common with other avian species. Now, more than ever, this simple realization has a special relevance because of the recent transformation in our scientific knowledge of birds in general. In the past few years, numerous studies have shown that there is no “bright line” between “avian” and “mammalian” intelligence and complexity; complex intelligence is found in both birds, mammals, and also fish (Brown 2015 ; Butler 2008 ; Emery 2006 ). Likewise, the brains of birds have historically been viewed as simpler and more primitive than those of mammals. However, that assumption about avian brains has now been overturned by more recent studies showing that there are many functional similarities in the brains of birds and mammals, allowing for similar cognitive abilities. In particular, the avian forebrain (the part of the brain involved in problem-solving and other higher-order cognitive capacities) is actually derived from the same neuroanatomical substrate as the mammalian forebrain, providing more potential evidence for similar cognitive capacities in the two groups (Jarvis et al. 2005 ).

In this paper, I review the evidence from peer-reviewed applied and basic comparative studies of chicken cognition, emotion, and sociality. I place a special focus on more complex capacities which appear to be at the leading edge of intelligence in birds and other animals and only review some of the more fundamental perceptual and cognitive abilities in order to understand the mechanisms underlying these more complex capacities. A recent book on the behavioral biology of chickens by Nicol ( 2015 ) is recommended for a much more comprehensive and wide-ranging description of studies of chicken cognition and behavior.

The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to gain a better understanding of the minds of chickens from the best scientific literature, separating fact from fiction; two, to identify compelling areas for future noninvasive research. Moreover, as with any taxonomic group, species-specific factors, such as evolutionary history and sensory abilities, need to be taken into account in order to interpret findings on cognition, emotion, sociality, and other characteristics and to make better informed comparisons across taxa. Therefore, what follows is a brief description of evolution, phylogeny, and domestication, as well as sensory systems, in chickens.

Evolution, phylogeny, and domestication

Domestic chickens descended from red jungle fowl ( Gallus gallus ). They are considered a subspecies of their wild counterparts, who inhabit field edges, groves, and scrubland in India and southeast Asia (Al-Nasser et al. 2007 ). The domestication of the red jungle fowl was well established by 8000 years ago (West and Zhou 1988 ), but molecular studies suggest it could have begun as early as 58,000 years ago (Sawai et al. 2010 ).

Despite their long history of domestication, domestic chickens remain similar to their wild counterparts despite the recent very intense breeding and genetic manipulation directed toward production traits such as egg laying and growth (Rauw et al. 1998 ; Appleby et al. 2004 ). There is no evidence, for instance, that the cognitive or perceptual abilities of domestic chickens have been substantially altered by domestication. It is interesting to note that most animals domesticated for food, such as pigs and chickens, are behaviorally and cognitively quite similar to their ancestors and wild counterparts as they are mainly selected on physical characteristics like rate of growth, fecundity, percentage of body fat, etc. (Held et al. 2009 ). This stands in contrast to the case of dogs and wolves, who, of course, share a number of characteristics with each other but, because dogs were selected as companions, are also distinctly different on several key cognitive and behavioral dimensions (Udell et al. 2010 ). The implications for differential welfare for dogs versus chickens (and other farmed animals) in a “domesticated” setting are evident.

Social groups of jungle fowl and wild or free-ranging domestic chickens usually consist of one dominant male and one dominant female, subordinates of both sexes, and chicks, all occupying a home range during the breeding season (Appleby et al. 2004 ). Within their home range, they have regular roosting sites, including high up in the branches of trees (Appleby et al. 2004 ). Diet is highly varied and ranges from berries and seeds to insects and small vertebrates (Savory et al. 1978 ). Interestingly, despite the fact that domestication tends to make most animals less aggressive toward potential predators, some breeds of domestic chickens are more aggressive than jungle fowl (Väisänen et al. 2005 ).

Sensory abilities

Chickens are sensitive to touch, and their skin contains numerous kinds of receptors for temperature, pressure, and pain. The beak of the chicken, as in all birds, is a complex sensory organ with numerous nerve endings. The beak not only serves to grasp and manipulate food items, but is also used to manipulate non-food objects in nesting and exploration, drinking, and preening. It is also used as a weapon in defensive and aggressive encounters. At the end of the beak is a specialized cluster of highly sensitive mechanoreceptors, called the bill tip organ, which allows chickens to make fine tactile discriminations (Gentle and Breward 1986 ). Needless to say, damage to the beak is intensely painful, as partially debeaked chickens show a significant increase in guarding behavior, i.e., tucking the bill under the wing, and diminished use of the bill for pecking and preening after the procedure. These pain-related behaviors may continue for months (Duncan et al. 1989 ; Gentle et al. 1990 , 1991 ).

Chickens, like most birds, depend highly on well-developed visual abilities which allow them to focus close-up and far away at the same time in different parts of their visual field (Dawkins 1995 ; Dawkins and Woodington 1997 ), and see a broader range of colors than humans (Ham and Osorio 2007 ). Chickens can detect both low- and high-frequency sound at a variety of pressure levels. Their adeptness with low-frequency sound may include a capacity to detect sounds that humans cannot hear (infra-sound below 20 Hz) (Gleich and Langermann 2011 ). Chickens also possess well-developed senses of smell and taste (Jones and Roper 1997 ). Finally, like some other birds, chickens (though not all breeds) possess the ability to detect and orient to magnetic fields (Freire et al. 2008 ). All of these capacities come into play when assessing their cognitive capacities.

Research methods

This paper presents a summary of cognitive, emotional, personality, and social characteristics of domestic chickens, built from a comprehensive review of the scientific literature. I first conducted a search on the Web of Science Core Collection using terms relevant to intelligence, cognition, and behavior and followed up with online Google-based direct searches through all of the major peer-reviewed journals (Table  1 ) using similar terms as well as key terms from existing papers (e.g., intelligence, cognition, behavior, learning, memory, sociality, self-awareness, etc.). I also used more specific search terms in Web of Science, e.g., time perception, perspective-taking, etc., within these broader categories when necessary. Additionally, I used these terms to search on ScienceDaily for relevant news items and the peer-reviewed papers they described. I also conducted a complete search of the Web sites of the major authors in these fields for all of their relevant projects. Finally, I searched the reference section of each paper to find additional papers in additional miscellaneous journals (not listed in Table  1 ) and ensured that the overall search was comprehensive. I included books, book chapters, and dissertation theses, as well as both empirical and review papers (which provided further description and interpretation of the empirical data). Both the basic comparative psychology literature and the applied literature were included. No time restrictions were placed on articles for inclusion, but priority was given to more recent papers when appropriate. The reference section of the present paper shows the full breadth of the sources consulted.

Table 1

List of the major peer-reviewed journals searched

Visual cognition and spatial orientation

There is a deep literature on visual cognition and spatial orientation in chickens (including young chicks) that demonstrates they are capable of such visual feats as completion of visual occlusion, biological motion perception, and object and spatial (even geometric) representations. One of the cognitive capacities most extensively explored in this domain is object permanence, that is, the ability to understand that something exists even when out of sight. Object permanence unfolds in six developmental steps beginning, in Stage one, with a lack of understanding that hidden objects still exist and, in Stage two the ability to visually track the movement of an object. Stages three and four are reached when the subject actively retrieves a partially hidden and fully hidden object, respectively. Stages five and six are defined as the ability to track the location of a hidden object after several visible displacements and infer its location after several invisible displacements, respectively (Piaget 1953 ). Human babies typically achieve the last stage at about age 2 years (Piaget 1964 ).

Object permanence has been studied extensively in many nonhuman animals, who show a range of capacities within this paradigm. The literature on this phenomenon in other animals is too extensive to cite here but suffice to say that many animals, such as great apes, monkeys, cats, dogs, and birds, demonstrate various levels of sophistication in object permanence, with many achieving competence in the final of the six stages (see Gomez 2005 , for a review). I will turn to an examination of object permanence in chickens in the following sections on partly and completely occluded objects.

Recognizing partly occluded objects

A number of birds are capable of reaching for partly occluded objects (amodal completion), the equivalent of Stage 3 object permanence. To name a few, parrots ( Psittacus erithacus ), parakeets ( Melopsittacus undulates and Cyanoramphus auriceps ), macaws ( Ara maracana ) (Funk 1996 ; Pepperberg and Funk 1990 ), mynahs ( Gracula religiosa ) (Plowright et al. 1998 ), magpies ( Pica pica ) (Pollok et al. 2000 ), Eurasian jays ( Garrulus glandarius ) (Zucca et al. 2007 ),and carrion crows ( Corvus corone ) (Hoffman et al. 2011 ) pass these tests (as well as more advanced stages of object permanence, including, in some, Stage six competence) easily. Pigeons ( Columbia livia ), on the other hand, seem to lose interest in food when it is placed behind an opaque screen (Plowright et al. 1998 ).

Most studies of the ability to recognize partly hidden objects in chickens have employed a paradigm that involves imprinting just-hatched chicks onto a geometric shape, such as a red triangle, and testing them later to determine which of two versions (a partly occluded triangle or a triangle with a piece missing) they prefer (choose to be near). Chicks choose the partially occluded triangle (Regolin and Vallortigara 1995 ), just as humans do. The reasoning behind this finding is that the chicks, like humans and some other animals, are “filling in” the occluded part of the triangle and, therefore, perceiving it as the whole object upon which they are imprinted. Some studies, using different stimuli and protocols, have suggested the same general conclusion for both chicks (Lea et al. 1996 ) and adult hens (Forkman 1998 ). However, it isn’t clear that the numerous methods used to assess amodal completion in chicks and in adult hens are similar enough to reveal actual cognitive similarities between the two age groups (Nakamura et al. 2010 ). Indeed, even humans have difficulty with amodal completion under certain circumstances that pigeons and chickens do not (Nakamura et al. 2014 ). These findings caution that there is a great deal of heterogeneity within even one region of cognitive abilities, in this case, amodal completion, across and within species.

One of the ways the ability to represent partly hidden objects can be further tested is by determining whether an animal sees subjective or illusory contours, i.e., parts of a whole shape only “suggested” by occlusion. A number of mammalian species perceive subjective contours, e.g., cats (Bravo et al. 1988 ) and monkeys ( Macaca mulatta ) (Peterhans and von der Heydt 1989 ). Birds, e.g., barn owls ( Tuto alba ) (Nieder and Wagner 1999 ), fish, e.g., redtail splitfin ( Xenotoca eiseni ) (Sovrano and Bisazza 2009 ) and goldfish ( Carrassius auratus ) (Wyzisk and Neumeyer 2007 ) and even invertebrates, e.g., bees ( Apis mellifera ) (van Hateren et al. 1990 ; Nieder 2002 , for a review) perceive subjective or illusory contours. Two-week-old chicks also perceive subjective contours (Zanforlin 1981 ). Therefore, these perceptual abilities are rather pervasive, although not universal, in the animal kingdom. Interesting questions arise when considering the depth and abstractness of processing of such visual percepts across taxa.

Recognizing completely occluded objects

Tests of Stage 4 object permanence are similar to those of Stage 3 except objects are completely hidden. Chicks as young as two days old master some, but not all, aspects of Stage 4 object permanence (see Regolin et al. 1994 ; Vallortigara and Regolin 2002 ; see also Campbell 1988 , for similar evidence in adult hens). For instance, although chicks do have an object concept that maintains a representation of the object in the absence of direct sensory cues, it seems that they are not as easily able to predict the resting position of an imprinted ball from its direction of movement prior to occlusion (Freire and Nicol 1997 , 1999 ). However, chicks are able to choose the correct screen when the goal-object is a “social” partner (i.e., a red ball on which they had been imprinted) (Chiandetti and Vallortigara 2011 ). Moreover, chicks also appear to make use of the directional cue provided by the movement of the prey when they are tested in the presence of a cage-mate (Regolin et al. 1995 ). These studies point to the interesting fact that chickens, like other social animals, often perform better on tasks which tap into their social propensities. Consistent with this idea is the fact that chicks also have a preference for approaching a point-light stimulus moving in a more biologically natural way, i.e., like a walking hen, than the same lights randomly moving, as they align their bodies in the same direction of the apparent movement of the “hen” (Regolin et al. 2000 ).

In summary, the evidence for Stage 3 object permanence in chickens is fairly strong but more work needs to be done to elucidate the mechanisms behind completion of these tasks in very young chicks versus adult hens. Young chicks do show some capacities related to Stage 4 object permanence, but these abilities seem to be limited to tasks with stimuli that resemble natural social situations.

Numerical abilities

In the last few decades, there has been a growing scientific literature on the numerical competencies of nonhuman animals. While there is still much debate about what these abilities mean in nonhuman animals (and even young human children), they are arguably related to mental representation of some kind (Dehaene et al. 1999 ). At the most basic level is the ability to discriminate between two or more sets of objects that are different on the basis of number of objects in each set, e.g., “more than…” or “fewer than…”. Several species show preferences for the larger amount when deciding between two quantities, including chimpanzees ( Pan troglodytes ) (Boysen et al. 2001 ), orangutans ( Pongo pygmaeus ) (Call 2000 ), rhesus macaques ( Macaca mulatta ) (Hauser et al. 2000 ), bottlenose dolphins ( Tursiops truncatus ) (Jaakkola et al. 2005 ; Kilian et al. 2003 ), lions (McComb and Packer Cm Pusey 1994 ), elephants ( Elephas maximus ) (Irie-Sugimoto et al. 2009 ), and horses ( Equus caballus ) (Uller and Lewis 2009 ), among others.

A more sophisticated capacity closer to a real number concept is ordinality, the ability to place quantities in a series. Competence in ordinality is found in several species, including many of those above, e.g., chimpanzees (Boysen and Bernston 1990 ), rhesus macaques (Brannon and Terrace 2000 ), and also pigeons (Brannon et al. 2001 ), crows (Smirnova et al. 2000 ) and African grey parrots (Pepperberg 1994 , 2006 ).

Experiments with newly hatched domestic chicks (Rugani et al. 2008 , 2010 ; Vallortigara et al. 2010 ) show that they are capable of discriminating quantities and a simple form of ordinality. Chicks were reared with five identical objects (small balls) on which they imprinted. On days 3 or 4, chicks underwent free-choice tests in which two sets containing three and two balls disappeared (either simultaneously or one by one), each behind one of two opaque identical screens. Chicks spontaneously inspected the screen occluding the larger set. In the next experiment, after the initial disappearance of the two sets, some of the objects were visibly transferred, one by one, from one screen to the other. Thus, computation of a series of subsequent additions or subtractions of elements that appeared and disappeared, one by one, was needed in order to perform the task successfully. Chicks chose the screen hiding the larger number of elements at the end of the event, irrespective of the directional cues provided by the initial and final displacements. These experiments also showed that chicks have a sense of a “mental number line” indicative of ordinality (Rugani et al. 2007 ).

Rugani et al. ( 2009 ) demonstrated that five-day-old domestic chicks are able to perform arithmetic operations to a total of five objects (Rugani et al. 2009 ). When they were presented with two sets of objects of different quantities disappearing behind two screens, they were able to successfully track which screen hid the larger number by apparently performing simple addition and subtraction. Finally, in a compelling demonstration of shared cognitive propensities in chicks and humans, Rugani et al. ( 2015 ) showed that chicks always associate the smaller of two quantities with the left, rather than right, spatial location. The authors suggest that, due to similar neural architecture, the chicks, like many other species, have a shared predisposition to map numbers onto geometrical space in a similar way.

It is clear that chickens, as a species, share a number of sophisticated cognitive capacities with other animals. However, because these studies depend heavily upon imprinting paradigms they are weighted toward studies with very young animals. These early-emerging core abilities do not exclude learning, particularly in a social context, as an important driver of chicken cognition any more than it does in humans with similar precocial capacities. But there is a paucity of information about how these abilities play out developmentally into adulthood in chickens, and more information is urgently needed about this process to gain better insight into what these capacities mean for cognitive complexity in a comparative context.

Time perception/anticipation of future events

An area of longstanding interest in comparative cognition is time perception, i.e., the ability to detect the passage of time. In general, time perception has to do with the question of whether other animals live entirely in the present or can anticipate a future.

Basic time perception is considered by many scientists to be requisite for the more sophisticated process of mental time travel—the conscious ability to mentally represent the past and plan for the future. The ability to travel backwards in time and recollect specific past events is called episodic memory. It has been argued that episodic memory is tied to mental time travel (Dere et al. 2006 ). Arguably, therefore, when coupled with an episodic memory system, time perception becomes evidence for an autobiographical sense of self in the past, present, and future.

Perception of time intervals

Many animals have a sense of time duration, which helps them to know the time of day and predict when events will occur (Gallistel 1994 ; Richelle and Lejeune 1980 ). Domestic pigs ( Sus scrofa domesticus ) for instance, show a capacity for temporal response differentiation (Ferguson et al. 2009 ) and distinguishing between short versus long time intervals (Spinka et al. 1998 ). Furthermore, they are able to anticipate future negative or positive events (Imfeld-Mueller et al. 2011 ).

Chimpanzees ( Pan troglodytes ) and other great apes show sophisticated abilities in the time perception realm, as they are able to prepare themselves for future actions (e.g., tool use: Beran et al. 2004 ; Osvath and Osvath 2008 ) even as much as 14 h in advance (Mulcahy and Call 2006 ). They also demonstrate a capacity for episodic memory. They can remember highly specific contextual elements; that is, the what, where, and when of events when an hour or even two weeks have passed (Martin-Ordas et al. 2010 , 2013 ). Bottlenose dolphins also show robust evidence of episodic memory in complex tasks requiring them to directly access memories of behaviors they have performed previously (Mercado et al. 1998 ).

At the simplest level, studies of time perception in birds have shown that a number of avian species, e.g., pigeons (Roberts et al. 1989 ) and black-capped chickadees ( Parus atricapillus ) (Brodbeck et al. 1998 ), are able to estimate short time intervals of up to 60 s. This has been demonstrated using operant conditioning techniques in which the pattern of peck responses indicates the bird’s ability to anticipate an upcoming food reward. However, these and other bird species have shown temporal abilities that go beyond these findings when given the opportunity. For instance, one study with pigeons showed they were capable of judging intervals of up to 8 min (Zeiler and Powell 1994 ). Western scrub jays ( Aphelocoma californica ) make provisions in advance for a future need, both by preferentially caching food in a place where they have learned that they will be hungry the next morning, and by differentially storing particular food items in a place in which that type of food will not be available the next morning (Raby et al. 2007 ).

In the only study directly testing time perception in chickens, five thirty-week old hens were able to predict, approximately, a 6-min interval when given a reliable predictive visual signal (Taylor et al. 2002 ). The hens were required to peck a computer-controlled touch screen that delivered a food reward upon the first peck after 6 min. The hens showed they were capable of estimating the time interval by showing a pattern of increased pecking frequency around the 6-min mark. As good as the chicken’s performance was, it should be noted that they were able to achieve this performance within a highly artificial setting. Almost certainly, a more naturalistic setting would allow the chickens’ temporal abilities to be more easily demonstrated, as all animals, including birds, depend upon the appropriate environmental context for the full expression of their behavior.

In another study which tapped into time perception through an anticipatory emotional response, laying hens were taught to discriminate three sounds which signaled either a positive outcome (food reward), a negative outcome (a squirt from a water gun) or a neutral outcome (nothing) after a 15-s delay. The hens showed differential emotional responses to the different sounds suggesting that they were able to anticipate a future outcome (Zimmerman et al. 2011 ). More details about the birds’ emotional responses can be found in the section on Emotions below.

Episodic memory

Studies of episodic memory provide a window into the question of whether other animals remember personal experiences, i.e., possess episodic memory. Episodic memory, a component of declarative memory, is tied to whether an individual experiences life autobiographically (autonoetic consciousness). Tulving ( 2005 ) defined episodic memory in terms of its subjective experience. Moreover, the demonstration of episodic memory in other animals has been argued to be probative of autonoetic conscious experience, as it relies upon distinctive personal memories (Dere et al. 2006 ; Eichenbaum et al. 2005 ; Martin-Ordas et al. 2013 ).

In addition to many mammals, including great apes (Martin-Ordas et al. 2013 ; Schwartz et al. 2005 ), a number of bird species demonstrate evidence for memory described as “episodic-like” (Clayton and Dickinson 1998 ). In a visual discrimination task which allowed for control over confounding variables, Zentall et al. ( 2001 ) found some evidence for episodic memory in White Carneaux pigeons. In this study, the pigeons were essentially asked the question: “Did you just peck or not?” and they remembered specific details which allowed them to “answer” this question with key pecks. In other studies, pigeons have demonstrated meta-knowledge about the behavior they just emitted, that is, knowledge about their own knowledge (Shimp 1982 ).

But in other studies, the evidence for metacognition is inconclusive (Iwasaki et al. 2013 ). Western scrub jays ( Aphelocoma coerulescens ) show evidence of episodic memory, i.e., the what, where, and when of food-caching episodes. Jays can remember when and where they cached a variety of foods that differ in the rate at which they decay, and retrieve those stored foods later in the appropriate order. They can update their memory of the contents of a cache depending upon whether they have previously visited the site. Furthermore, they can also remember where other birds cache their food, showing that they encode rich mental representations of caching events (Clayton et al. 2001 , for a comprehensive review of these studies). Although there has been some debate about whether these findings represent episodic memory or other forms of associative learning (Suddendorf and Corballis 2007 ), these criticisms have been disputed (Raby et al. 2007 ). Clearly, some very interesting complex cognitive processes are coming into play in these food-caching behaviors.

In a more direct test of metacognition in scrub jays, the birds were required to allocate a proportion of time looking into two peepholes in order to see food being hidden in either of two compartments, one where observing the hiding location was necessary to later relocate the food, and another where food could easily be found without watching. The jays first separately experienced the consequences of possessing information in each compartment and subsequently, once given a choice, made more looks and spent more time looking into the compartment where information was necessary than into the compartment where it was unnecessary. Thus, the jays showed that they not only can differentiate sources of information according to their potential value but they can collect information needed to solve a future problem (Watanabe et al. 2013 ).

As mentioned above, the presence of episodic memory in chickens might be inferred from findings like the ones described above on time perception and anticipation, which probe capacities that are correlated with episodic memory. But there are other ways to more directly investigate the presence of episodic memory in chickens. Studies of memory using a matching-to-sample paradigm may reveal episodic-like memory components because they require the subject to “declare” the characteristics of a stimulus they have kept in memory. Hens can successfully complete these tasks, but the delays used are typically very short (on the order of seconds, see Foster et al. 1995 ). In studies of Stage 4 object permanence like those described above, episodic memory can be tested by imposing a delayed response procedure that requires maintaining a memory of a specific event over a longer period of time than just a few seconds. Chickens are able to remember the trajectory of a hidden ball for up to 180 s if they could see the ball moving and up to 1 min if the displacement of the ball was invisible to them (Vallortigara et al. 1998 ). In other words, they did as well as most primates (Wu et al. 1986 ) under similar conditions.

In other studies, five-day-old chicks were fed with two plates, each with a different kind of food. The food was devalued by pre-feeding with one of the food types, thus decreasing the novelty and incentive for that food type compared with the other. When tested later (on the order of a few minutes), the checks went to the location where they had previously found food (Cozzutti and Vallortigara, 2001 ). Similar results have been found for hens (Forkman 2000 ) showing that chicks and adult chickens are capable of remembering the “where” and “what” components of information about food.


Self-control can be broadly defined as the ability to resist immediate gratification for a later benefit. It may be associated with planning for the future because foreplanning requires not only mental time travel, but the ability to inhibit or delay a response until later. However, the relationship between self-control and planning for the future is still in need of clarification in many studies.

Self-control may also be associated with the development of self-awareness (Genty et al. 2004 ) and autonomy—the ability to think about and choose future outcomes. Self-control is typically not reliably demonstrated in human children until they are at least 4 years of age (Mischel et al. 1989 ). Self-control is generally assessed in humans and other animals by determining whether they can delay obtaining a small reward for a larger reward later. Thus, these tests are prospective timing tasks requiring prediction of an outcome in the future based on experience in the past. Many mammals show self-control under these circumstances, including rats ( Rattus norvegicus ) (e.g., Chelonis et al. 1998 ; Flaherty and Checke 1982 ), and primates, such as lemurs ( Eulemur fulvus and E. macaco ) (Genty et al. 2004 ), rhesus monkeys ( Macaca mulatta ) (Beran et al. 2004 ), chimpanzees and orangutans ( Pongo pygmaeus ) (Beran 2002 ; Osvath and Osvath 2008 ).

A number of avian species demonstrate self-control in experimental situations, including pigeons (e.g., Logue et al. 1985 ; Mazur 2000 ), black-capped chickadees (Feeney et al. 2009 , 2011 ), and, in a similar paradigm to that used with primates, the carrion crow ( Corvus corone ) and the common raven ( Corvus corax ) (Dufour et al. 2011 ).

Domestic chickens, too, show the capacity for self-control in an experimental setting. In a situation where they are given a choice between a 2-s delay followed by access to food for 3 s or a 6-s delay followed by access for 22 s (a veritable jackpot), hens held out for the larger reward, demonstrating rational discrimination between different future outcomes while employing self-control to optimize those outcomes (Abeyesinghe et al. 2005 ). Given the promising results of this study, more exploration of the cognitive basis of self-control in chickens is indicated.

Reasoning and logical inference

The ability to reason and apply logic is a hallmark of intelligence in humans and nonhumans alike. Perhaps the kind of logical reasoning most explored in animals other than humans is a form of syllogism called transitive inference. Transitive inference is a type of deductive reasoning that allows one to derive a relation between items that have not been explicitly compared before. In a general form, it is the ability to deduce that if Item B is larger than Item C and Item C is larger than Item D, then Item B must be larger than Item D (Lazareva 2012 ). This form of inference has been described as a cognitive developmental milestone unique to humans who are at least 7 years of age and in the concrete operational stage of development (Piaget 1928 ).

However, there is now evidence for transitive inference in a wide range of nonhuman animals, including chimpanzees, various species of monkeys, rats, and several avian species (see Vasconcelos 2008 , for a review of this literature). Chickens have also demonstrated this capacity (Hogue et al. 1996 ). When hens are placed together for the first time, they set up a dominance hierarchy—a pecking order. Dominant hens defeat subordinates by pecking at them, jumping on them, or clawing them. Subordinates show submission by crouching or trying to get away. In this study, hens were placed with others in dyads and triads to determine how hens use information about the relationships among others to assess their own position in the pecking order when confronting a new individual. In one condition, hens witnessed a familiar dominant individual being defeated by a stranger and then they were introduced to the stranger. In another condition, the hens observed a familiar dominant hen defeat a stranger. In a third condition, the subjects witnessed two strangers establishing a dominance relationship before being introduced to their prior dominant and to a stranger the former had just defeated.

Subjects in the first condition, after seeing a known dominant individual being defeated by the stranger, did not challenge the stranger when confronted. Their actions indicated they understood that if this stranger can defeat someone who can defeat them , then they are not going to defeat that stranger. In the second condition, the hens attacked the stranger half of the time, indicating that they understood they had some chance of defeating her. In the third condition, the proportion of times the hens first approached the stranger matched whether they saw the stranger being defeated by the dominant hen or not. These results, altogether, indicate that hens can gain useful information about their status in the dominance hierarchy before actually engaging another hen by observing how that hen interacts with a “known entity” (the prior dominant hen). The results of this study are consistent with the idea that the hens were making self-assessments based upon the logic of transitive inference. They also show that, while simple processes can sometimes be the basis of complex-looking behavioral phenomena, sophisticated logical reasoning may underlie what is perceived to be a rather simple behavior—the pecking order.

There is still some discussion in the literature about the fundamental nature of transitive inference in nonhuman animals (Vasconcelos 2008 ). Nevertheless, social animals, including chickens, seem capable of employing some level of logical reasoning in important adaptive domains. As discussed below, this ability supports the emergence of complex social relationships in many nonhuman animals.


Self-awareness is subjective awareness of one’s identity, one’s body, and one’s thoughts through time, distinguished from others. In other words: a sense of “I.” The question of self-awareness in other animals appears to be on the extreme cutting edge of our ability to assess who they are to themselves. Self-awareness has been associated with a variety of related concepts, including phenomenal consciousness, self-consciousness, metacognition, and autonoetic consciousness. All of these terms converge upon the fundamental capacity to be aware of one’s independent existence in the physical and/or psychological domain. Importantly, the concept of self-awareness is likely to be multidimensional and, given the developmental evidence, best thought of as a continuum of awareness (Marino 2010 ). There are two studies that bear on the question of self-awareness in chickens: self-control and self-assessment.

As discussed above, chickens show self-control in experimental situations (Abeyesinghe et al. 2005 ) which require them to forgo an immediate reward for a later larger reward. Some authors have argued that self-control is indicative of self-awareness (Genty et al. 2004 ), as it tends to emerge reliably in humans at around the age of four, when other cognitive capacities related to self-awareness (e.g., mirror self-recognition) have either developed or are developing (Mischel et al. 1989 ). Although self-control is not direct evidence of all forms of self-awareness, it may be an important indicator of a sense of self at some level (but see Ainslie 1974 ; Rachlin and Green 1972 , for other interpretations). It has been hypothesized that self-control depends upon the presence of episodic memory, and implying some capacity to mentally work through different scenarios for the future and choose the one providing the best option (e.g., the biggest reward) (Boyer 2008 ; Osvath and Osvath 2008 ). Thus, the presence of self-control over time in chickens may indicate a cognitive capacity on a continuum of complexity with foreplanning and mental time travel.

Moreover, self-control may be related to self-agency, the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional action in the world (Kaneko and Tomonaga 2011 ). However, no direct tests of self-agency in chickens have been conducted, and this concept remains essentially unexplored, making it an excellent option for further study.


Another component of a sense of self is the ability to compare oneself to others as a distinct entity. Among birds, Greylag geese and pinyon jays ( Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus ) can infer their own social status by observing unfamiliar individuals interacting with familiar birds (Weiß et al. 2010 ; Paz-y-Mino et al. 2004 ) Chickens can apply logical inference to social situations as well. As Hogue et al. ( 1996 ) showed in their study of transitive inference, chickens can observe the interactions of an individual of known status with an unknown individual and infer their own status in the social hierarchy relative to the unknown individual and respond appropriately (e.g., dominantly or submissively) in future interactions. These studies show that in socially complex birds, such as chickens, logical inference is likely important for navigating their social landscape.


Communication involves the transfer of information from one individual to another—a critical component of social complexity. The study of communication in animals involves characterizing its functionality, contexts, uses, structure, and complexity. There is still considerable debate in the animal communication literature about the nature of communication in other animals, including how it compares with human languages. Many theorists still have reservations about the depth and complexity of animal communication systems. These reservations are often based in the assumption that human language is entirely unique. Animal “signals,” in comparison, are said to be involuntary products of emotional states, lacking in intentionality, richness, and flexibility, without connection to cognition and thinking (e.g., Berwick et al. 2013 ; Lieberman 1994 ; Luria 1982 ; Premack 1975 ). Although just like humans, animals do sometimes communicate in nonlinguistic, involuntary affective displays; some animal communication is clearly cognitively complex, reflecting flexible mental representations. In fact, there is an abundance of evidence for complex, flexible, and rule-governed natural communication systems across a wide array of species (Slobodchikoff 2012 ).

Chicken communication consists of a large repertoire of at least 24 distinct vocalizations, as well as different visual displays (Collias 1987 ; Collias and Joos 1953 ). But the sophistication of chicken communication comes to the forefront when one examines how these vocalizations are used and the cognitive capacities they apparently rely upon.

Referential communication

Referential communication involves signals (calls, displays, whistles, etc.) which convey information, i.e., refer to specific elements of the environment. What makes referential communication so interesting and complex is that it implies that the animals using it attach meaning to each signal in a way not unlike the way humans use words for objects and other entities in our world. In other words, referential communication has semanticity. It is generally studied by observing and recording a signal’s usage and then using playback recordings in an experimental manipulation to determine the actual meaning and use of the signal to the receivers. If a very tight correlation between the specific eliciting event and the receivers’ responses is found, the signals can be said to be referential, i.e., function to convey information about the content or nature of the event and, often, the appropriate response.

Referential communication stands in contrast to long-held assumptions that animal signals are only reflexive “stimulus-bound” responses, or contain only very low level information about affective state (e.g., aggression) or physical attributes of the caller (e.g., size). Referential communication shows that there are important cognitive components to animal communication requiring intentionality and mental representation. That is, referential communication serves to evoke mental representations of the eliciting event in the minds of the receivers (Evans 1997 , 2002 ; Evans and Evans 2007 ).

Functionally referential communication has been identified in many mammal and bird species. Vervet monkeys were the first species found to have referential communication. They have acoustically distinct alarm calls corresponding to three different types of predators, each of which requires a different type of response on the part of the receivers (Cheney and Seyfarth 1990 ; Seyfarth et al. 1980 ; Struhsaker 1967 ). Referential communication is also found in ring-tailed lemurs ( Lemur catta ) (Macedonia 1990 ), chimpanzees (Slocombe and Zuberbühler 2005 ), Diana monkeys ( Cercopithecus diana ) (Zuberbühler 2000 ), bottlenose dolphins (Janik et al. 2006 ), black-tailed prairie dogs ( Cynomys ludovicianus) (Frederiksen and Slobodchikoff 2007 ), and domestic dogs (Gaunet and Deputte, 2011 ; Miklósi et al. 2000 ; Polari et al. 2000 ) to name a few mammal species. Several species of birds also engage in referential communication, including ravens (Bugnyar et al. 2001 ) and chickadees (Templeton et al. 2005 ), among others.

Chickens, too, demonstrate considerable complexity in their use of referential communication. When shown computer-generated animations of natural predators, roosters emit distinctive alarm calls. For example, when shown aerial predators (e.g., a raptor flying overhead), they give one alarm call, and when shown a terrestrial predator (e.g., raccoon), they give another distinct alarm call (Evans et al. 1993a , b ). The strongest alarm calls are made when a large, fast-moving hawk appears overhead (Evans et al. 1993a , b ). The differential responses show specificity in their alarm calls. Likewise, receivers of these calls react to them in specific and appropriate ways, showing that the calls have the same meaning for all of the individuals in the group.

To add to the complexity of this behavior, males often employ risk compensation tactics which shape their communicative behavior when a predator appears (Kokolakis et al. 2010 ). For instance, a male is more likely to make an aerial alarm call when a female is present, which increases the chances of his mate and offspring surviving (Wilson and Evans 2008 ). There is considerable flexibility—and strategy—in alarm calling as well. By varying the composition and duration of the call, the male can still alert his social group while also confusing the predator about his exact location (Wood et al. 2000 ; Bayly and Evans 2003 ). For instance, a male will more likely sound an alarm if a subordinate is nearby, thereby giving the predator more than one target to hone in on (Kokolakis et al. 2010 ). Moreover, males give longer duration alarm calls (which are easier for prey to locate than shorter ones) when under cover of a tree or bush, suggesting that the rooster may have some understanding of the visual perspective of the aerial predator (see Perspective-taking and social manipulation below). These and other studies show that chickens are sensitive to “audience effects,” that is, their communication behavior is mediated by who is available to receive the call. For instance, males call far more often when a familiar conspecific is present than if he is alone or with a member of another species (Karakashian et al. 1988 ). Taken together, audience effects are consistent with the suggestion that communication in chickens is volitional and shaped by cognition and social awareness. However, much more research is needed to clarify the cognitive basis for the behaviors described above.

In addition to alarm calls, males also make food calls when they find a delectable tidbit. They combine these calls with rhythmic movements involving picking up and dropping the food morsel repeatedly—a signal called the tidbitting display. This referential display is loud and individually distinctive, broadcasting the identity of the caller to the whole group. This display is enmeshed in the complex social relationships among individuals in each group, as hens use it to determine which males will provide food and, thus, with whom they want to mate (Evans and Evans 1999 ; Pizzari 2003 ). Moreover, the vigor of the display is correlated with the quality of the food and the chances that a female will approach (Marler et al. 1986 ).

The years of experimental work on chicken communication show that it is vastly more complex than originally thought, suggesting the existence of cognitive awareness, flexibility, and even more sophisticated capacities such as perspective-taking and intentional or tactical deception (see the section below). As with other areas, chickens’ communication skills provide evidence for similarity with other highly intelligent complex social species, including primates.

Social cognition and complexity

Social cognition is the use of cognitive skills (learning, memory, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, etc.) within the social domain, forming the basis for cognitive complexity and intelligence across a wide range of species. For many highly social animals, complex cognitive capacities are most clearly demonstrated when applied in a social setting, suggesting that many of these abilities evolved as adaptations to social living (Evans 2002 ). There is an abundance of empirical evidence showing a positive correlation between various high-level cognitive capacities and measures of social complexity in species as wide-ranging as domestic pigs (Marino and Colvin 2015 , for a review), dogs (Bensky et al. 2013 , for a review), primates (e.g., Dunbar 1998 ), dolphins and whales (Whitehead and Rendell 2015 ), and birds (Burish et al. 2004 ). These social cognitive capacities are important indicators of a flexible and dynamic intelligence and are intertwined with other dimensions of psychology, such as emotional responding and personality.

Chickens, like many other animals, demonstrate their cognitive complexity when placed in social situations requiring them to solve problems. Furthermore, chickens show even greater psychological complexity by flexibly, and often strategically, navigating a dynamic network of social relationships.

Discriminating among individuals

The ability to discriminate among individuals forms the basis for social relationships, hierarchies, and reactions to familiar versus unfamiliar individuals. Individual discrimination is a prerequisite to the more complex capacity of true individual recognition, defined as a mental representation of an individual’s identifying characteristics. Thus, individual discrimination is a logical beginning for investigating a species’ general social recognition abilities.

The range of social species that can discriminate individuals in their social group is wide. Among mammals, dogs (Molnar et al. 2009 ), pigs (de Souza et al. 2006 ; McLeman et al. 2005 ), elephants (McComb et al. 2000 ), vervet monkeys ( Chlorocebus pygerythrus ) (Cheney and Seyfarth 1980 ), dolphins (Sayigh et al. 1999 ), macaques ( Macaca mulatta ) (Parr et al. 2000 ), chimpanzees (Parr et al. 2000 ), and numerous others have been shown to have this ability. The literature on vocal recognition in songbirds is well known and voluminous.

Visual recognition of conspecifics has also been demonstrated by birds, e.g., rooks, Corvus frugilegus (Bird and Emery 2008 ), pigeons (Nakamura et al. 2003 ), white-throated sparrows , Zonotrichia albicollis (Whitfield 1987 ), and budgerigars, Melopsittacus undulatus (Brown and Dooling 1992 ), to name a few. Some birds can also discriminate conspecifics on the basis of odor, e.g., Antarctic prions ( Pachyptila desolata ) (Bonadonna et al. 2007 ).

Chickens, too, show notable abilities to recognize individuals in their social group, as well as the ability to keep track of the group’s social hierarchy and the individuals within it (as discussed previously). Not only do chickens recognize who is and is not a member of their social group, but they differentiate individuals within their own group. Under various experimental conditions, domestic chickens have demonstrated the capacity to visually discriminate and recognize a large number of conspecifics presented live (Bradshaw 1991 , 1992 ; D’Eath and Stone 1999 ) and in color slides (Bradshaw and Dawkins 1993 ; Ryan and Lea 1994 ).

Perspective-taking and social manipulation

The ability to take the perspective of another individual is a complex cognitive capacity that allows an individual not only to respond to conspecifics, but also manipulate them. The most basic form of visual perspective-taking requires taking a viewpoint other than one’s own, sometimes using that information to one’s advantage. This capacity is often referred to as Machiavellian Intelligence (Whiten and Byrne 1997 ), defined as a kind of sociopolitical maneuvering involving deceit and manipulation of others’ mental states. It is considered a driver of the evolution of intelligence in primates, including humans (Humphrey 1976 ; Whiten and Byrne 1997 ). Perspective-taking has been associated with a number of other cognitive capacities, including self-awareness, theory of mind, intentional deception, and empathy in primates (Bulloch et al. 2008 ; de Waal 2008 ; Towner 2010 , for a comprehensive review of these issues). A number of highly intelligent species have demonstrated well-developed capacities in the realm of conspecific perspective-taking, including chimpanzees (Krachun and Call 2009 ), dogs (Bräuer et al. 2013 ), pigs (Held et al. 2000 , 2002 ) and, in the avian domain, Western scrub jays (Clayton et al. 2007 ). Here, too, domestic chickens show compelling abilities.

Returning to the tidbitting display, because the vocal and behavioral components of the display are redundant, a receiver of either one of the components will get the message indicating the presence of food. This dual-component nature of the tidbitting display is used by subordinate males to their advantage. Dominant males who hear subordinate males giving the tidbitting display will often attack and then displace the subordinate male. To minimize this occurrence, subordinates tend to omit the more conspicuous vocal components and restrict themselves to the movements of the visual display. However, when dominant males are distracted by something else, the subordinate adds back in the vocal component, which serves to attract females who are eavesdropping. This behavior suggests that the subordinate male is taking the perspective of the dominant male and using information about his attentional state to personal advantage (Smith et al. 2011 ).

Deception is another example of possible Machiavellian Intelligence in chickens. Males will sometimes make a food call in the absence of any food. This serves to attract females who, once near them, can be engaged and defended against other males (Gyger and Marler 1988 ). Of course, females develop counter-strategies and eventually stop responding to males who call too often in the absence of food (Evans 2002 ). These kinds of social strategies—deception and counter-strategies—are striking similar to the same kinds of complex behaviors identified in mammals, including primates.

Social learning

One of the ways that social species take advantage of group living is through social (observational) learning—observing conspecifics’ behavior and its consequences in order to avoid time-consuming and sometimes hazardous “trial and error” learning. Social learning appears to be a form of deferred imitation (action learning) or emulation (results learning), serving as a mechanism for the transmission of learned behaviors over stretches of time, i.e., culture. But imitation and emulation are only two of a number of potential mechanisms for social learning (Zentall 2012 ), and careful experimentation is needed to differentiate among the many cognitive bases for social learning in other animals.

Many animals engage in social learning, including chimpanzees (e.g., Yamamoto et al. 2013 ), capuchin monkeys ( Cebus apella ) (Ottoni and Mannu 2001 ), and birds, such as ravens (Bugnyar and Kotrschal 2002 ) and quail (Koksal and Domjan 1998 ), to name a few. Chickens, too, engage in social learning to avoid the costs of direct learning (Nicol 2006 ). The use of syllogistic logic in determining the status of self and other in the social hierarchy is a strong example of observational learning in chickens (Hogue et al. 1996 ). Moreover, naïve hens who watched a trained hen perform a task were able to perform that task correctly more often than those who watched another naïve hen (Nicol and Pope 1992 , 1994 ). Among conspecifics, the identity and social status of the demonstrator is important, as chickens learn from dominant individuals more readily than subordinates (Nicol and Pope 1999 ). Moreover, this effect is not based upon the fact that dominant individuals perform the task better than subordinates (Nicol and Pope 1999 ). Rather, it seems to be based upon the fact that more attention is paid to dominant individuals than others in the group. Therefore, in chickens, as in other animals, social factors mediate learning factors in a complex way.

Emotions are comprised of behavioral, neurophysiological, cognitive, and conscious subjective processes (Mendl and Paul 2004 ; Paul et al. 2005 ). Cognition can modulate emotional responses and visa versa (Mendl et al. 2009 ; Paul et al. 2005 ). Many studies of emotions in other animals, including chickens, refer instead to “affective state” or “core affect” (Fraser et al. 1997 ). “Affect” typically is discussed as either a pleasurable or displeasurable state (otherwise known as valence), coupled with some degree of intensity or arousal (Barrett 2006 ). The relationship between affect and emotion is complex, containing a number of components still widely debated on a theoretical level (Barrett 2012 ). Emotions are considered more cognitively based than affect, but are shaped by affect. It may be argued that some authors use the term “affect” instead of “emotion” to be conservative about claiming other animals have complex psychological states. Nevertheless, there is a large body of literature demonstrating complex emotions in other animals, including chickens.

For a long time, the study of emotions in other animals, including chickens, was focused exclusively on negative emotions. But it is now widely accepted that other animals experience genuine positive emotions, not simply the absence of negative emotions (Balcombe 2007 ; Boissy et al. 2007 ). This realization is important for two reasons. First, it is critical to welfare efforts on behalf of other animals (Boissy et al. 2007 ). Second, it brings to light the richness and shared psychology between humans and other animals (Balcombe 2007 ).

Emotions are ubiquitous in birds, as elsewhere in the animal kingdom (Bekoff 2005 ; Panksepp 2004 ). For instance, studies of emotional reactions to conspecific songs in white-throated sparrows ( Zonotrichia albicollis ) (Earp and Maney 2012 ), mood shifts in European starlings ( Sturnus vulgaris ) (Bateson and Matheson 2007 ), and fear responses in quail ( Coturnix coturnix ), (Mills and Faure 1986 ) provide evidence of both negative and positive avian emotions.

A review of the literature makes it clear that much more information is needed to understand chicken (and other bird) emotions. There are, however, a number of compelling findings implying that not only chickens experience emotions but that those emotions can be quite complex, given that they are combined with cognition and sociality.

Fear responses

A host of studies provides convincing evidence of fear in chickens under a range of circumstances, including capture and restraint, open fields, and novelty. Chickens respond with a variety of complex behaviors adapted to each of the circumstances, e.g., tonic immobility upon restraint, and avoidance in some cases of the appearance of novel objects (Forkman et al. 2007 , for a review of this literature). Emotional responses in chickens are accompanied by physiological reactions, i.e., tachycardia and bodily fever (also known as “emotional fever”), which underscore the shared characteristics of these emotions in chickens with other animals and humans (Cabanac and Aizawa 2000 ).

Emotional response during anticipation

As discussed previously, one study of chickens tapped into time perception through an anticipatory emotional response. Laying hens were taught to discriminate three sounds which signaled either a positive (food reward), negative (a squirt from a water gun) or neutral (just waiting) outcome after a 15-s delay. The hens showed a range of emotional responses apparently in anticipation of the different future outcomes. For instance, in anticipation of the negative event, the birds showed more head movements and locomotion than in anticipation of both the neutral and positive event. The increased locomotion or stepping was consistent with pacing behavior, which is correlated with anxiety over an impending aversive encounter. In anticipation of the positive event, there was no increased stepping. Rather, the birds showed comfort behaviors (e.g., preening, wing flapping, feather ruffling, body scratching) consistent with relaxation (Zimmerman et al. 2011 ).

Emotions and decision making

It is now well understood that humans and other animals make complex decisions based on emotions more than on facts, computations, or analyses (Bechara and Damasio 2005 ; Stephens 2008 ). In the case of many animals, complex foraging decisions appear to be made based upon emotional responses to various factors in the environment. The relationship between an emotional response to an environment and the decision to avoid or approach that environment, are key elements of animal welfare (Barnard 2007 ). Not surprisingly, chickens consistently choose to be in environments which offer better welfare as measured by several physiological welfare indicators (Nicol et al. 2009 ; Nicol et al. 2011a , b ). In an investigation of the relationship between emotional response to three different environments and foraging decisions with risk trade-offs, Nicol et al. ( 2011a , b ) found that laying hens had lower corticosterone levels (a physiological measure of stress) when making a positive environmental choice. Higher head temperature (another physiological marker of arousal) was also associated with preferred environments. Overall, the authors concluded: “Finding a link between a subset of physiological stress responses and decision making in a foraging context leaves open the possibility that birds may make use of emotional state variables as a proximate method of choosing between complex environments.” (p. 262).

Emotions and cognitive bias

Cognitive bias is a deviation in judgment as a result of emotion-inducing experiences. It is tested (in humans and other animals) by exposing an individual to a positive or negative experience, and determining how those experiences shape perceptions of neutral or ambiguous stimuli (Mendl and Paul 2004 ). Depressed and anxious humans tend to interpret ambiguous situations more pessimistically than others (Mathews et al. 1995 ). Many nonhuman animals, including rats, dogs, primates, and starlings, show evidence of emotion-induced cognitive biases (Mendl et al. 2009 , for a review of this literature). For instance, Bateson and Matheson ( 2007 ) found that European starlings who had recently been deprived of environmental enrichment in their home pens, flipped open the lids of food pots of an ambiguous color less often than did control birds. These results provide evidence that the birds’ negative mood was the basis for responding more pessimistically to ambiguous cues than individuals in a relatively more positive mood.

Wichman et al. ( 2012 ) examined the evidence for cognitive bias in hens housed in either basic or enriched pens. When they measured emotional responses and various measures of performance on a cognitive task, they found no differences in emotional state across the two treatments. Instead, differences between individuals were stronger than group differences. Individual factors such as fear level, relationship to their conspecifics, and motivation to feed were correlated with the birds’ behavior in the anticipation and cognitive bias tests. These results do not provide evidence of cognitive bias in chickens, but hint at the possibility that different manipulations, i.e., those that are stronger than individual differences, may reveal an effect.

Emotional contagion and empathy

Emotions are often thought to be related to empathy. Empathy has been defined as having a similar emotional state to another as a result of the accurate perception of the other’s situation or predicament (Hatfield et al. 1993 ; Preston and de Waal 2002 ). Thus, there is both a cognitive and an emotional component to empathy. Emotions tend to influence more than one individual in a group, as they can be shared in a process known as emotional contagion. And, therefore, emotional contagion, an emotional response resulting in a similar emotion being aroused in an observer as a direct result of perceiving the same emotion in another, has been considered a simple form of empathy (De Waal 2003 , 2008 ; Preston and De Waal 2002 ; Singer 2006 ). De Waal ( 2008 ) suggests that emotional contagion forms the basis of sympathetic concern (which involves some perspective-taking), and these lead to empathy-based altruism.

Emotional contagion, like other proximate psychological mechanisms, serves the ultimate purpose of providing a way for social animals to take in social cues about important circumstances and respond accordingly. Thus, emotional contagion has been demonstrated in many socially complex species such as dogs ( Canis lupus familiaris ) (Joly-Mascheroni et al. 2008 ), wolves ( Canis lupus ) (Romero et al. 2014 ), great apes (Anderson et al. 2004 ; Palagi et al. 2014 ), and pigs (Reimert et al. 2014 ). Although birds have not been traditional subjects in this area, recent work suggests a more sophisticated capacity for emotional response to conspecifics than previously realized, e.g., in ravens ( Corvus corax ) (Fraser and Bugnyar 2010 ) and geese ( Anser anser) (Wascher et al. 2008 ).

In a study of how hens respond to their chicks’ distress, Edgar et al. ( 2011 ) found strong evidence for not only emotional contagion but also of empathy. Thirty-two hens experienced three conditions: a mildly aversive air puff into their cage (in order to provide experience with the aversive characteristics of an air puff), observation of an air puff into the cage where their chicks resided, or a control consisting of an air puff aimed outside of either cage. The hens were outfitted with heart rate monitors and were also monitored for eye and comb temperature with a thermal imaging camera. Hen behavior, vocalizations, and chick vocalizations were monitored continuously.

Importantly, the hens did not show any significant physiological or behavioral response to air puffs in their own cage. However, when they observed their chicks receiving the air puffs, there was a demonstrable response on the part of the mother hens, with physiological and behavioral changes indicating emotional distress. Their responses included increased heart rate and lower eye and comb temperatures (indicating vasoconstriction and increased body core temperature) as well as standing alert and maternal clucking. The hens’ responses were clearly reserved for when their chicks were experiencing the air puff, rather than a generalized negative response.

Interestingly, a later study showed that the hens’ responses were not simply due to increased vocalizations on the part of the chicks. The hens were responding to what they knew about the aversive nature of the air puff and the fact that it was being applied to their chicks. Their responses were mediated by a number of complex cues about whether the chicks were actually under threat, requiring them to integrate information coming in with their own knowledge of the stimulus in a potentially flexible and context-dependent way (Edgar et al. 2013 ). These findings not only provide evidence of emotional contagion in the hens but support the notion that hens are capable of a cognitively mediated empathic response. According to the authors: “We found that adult female birds possess at least one of the essential underpinning attributes of ‘empathy’; the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another” ( http://bristol.ac.uk/news/2011/7525.html ).

Follow-up studies examining the reactions of the chicks to the air puff show that the mother can act as a “social buffer” for the chicks, lessening their aversive reaction to the stimulus. However, there are individual differences across mother hens in their effectiveness as social buffers, with less emotional hens being better at buffering their chicks’ stress reaction (Edgar et al. 2015 ). These findings suggest that there are different “maternal styles” in mother hens which may be based upon differences in personality traits. Moreover, the social buffering observed in this study is not dissimilar to the phenomenon of “social referencing” in humans and other complex mammals, whereby the juvenile looks to the parent to determine how to respond emotionally to various situations. Chick reactions are less extreme when the hen’s responses are less extreme. Likewise, when a human child falls down, for instance, they immediately look to the mother to determine whether they should laugh or cry. The mother determines this by her own response, which is then modeled by the child. More relaxed parents tend to have more relaxed children over time (Walden and Ogan 1988 ). The similarity between social buffering and social referencing leaves open the possibility that they are connected through related cognitive-emotional-social capacities.


Personality refers to “those characteristics of individuals that describe and account for temporally stable patterns of affect, cognition, and behavior” (Gosling 2008 , p. 986). Or put another way, personality is a set of traits that differ across individuals and are consistent over time. The concept of personality is critically important for a complete understand of animals (including humans) as individuals. Instead of viewing other animals as one-dimensional, interchangeable units within a species, recognition of personality in other animals allows us to accurately see them as complex individuals with multi-dimensional characteristics. Furthermore, personality interacts with cognition and emotion, intimately shaping behavior and performance on a wide range of tasks.

Studies of personality in nonhuman animals have shown that personality traits are ubiquitous in the animal kingdom; a wide range of fish, birds, and mammals show persistent individual differences that can be organized along core personality dimensions, many of which overlap with those found in humans (Gosling 2008 ; Gosling and John 1999 ; Marino and Colvin 2015 ). Debate exists over the number and types of dimensions needed to characterize personality variation in most species of animals (Gosling 2008 ). In humans, there is broad agreement on a five-factor model of personality that includes the dimensions of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (McCrae and Costa 2008 ). Although some authors prefer to refer to behavioral syndromes or temperament in other animals (Reale et al. 2007 ), there is little distinction between these phenomena and personalities as observed and documented (Gosling 2008 ). With only slight variation of meaning, the different labels refer to the same category of phenomena. With that said, a number of avian species have demonstrated personality traits, e.g., zebra finches ( Taeniopygia guttata ) (David et al. 2011 ; Schuett et al. 2011 ), great tits ( Parus major ) (Groothuis Ton and Carere 2005 ), greylag geese (Kralj-Fiser et al. 2010 ) mountain chickadees ( Poecile gambeli ) (Fox et al. ( 2009 ), and Japanese quail, ( Coturnix japonica) (Miller 2003 ; Miller et al. 2006 ), to name just a few.

There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence for individual personalities in chickens from sanctuaries, small farmers, and people who keep backyard chickens. And as should be clear from the previous section, mother hens show a range of individual maternal personality traits which appear to affect the behavior of their chicks.

Additionally, in studies examining the relationship between dominance status and personality traits in male chickens, three personality traits emerge—boldness, activity/exploration, and vigilance. In these studies, males are assessed for personality in various settings, such as a novel arena, and then placed together to determine how these factors impact the establishment of social status. Overall, the results demonstrate that when combatants are evenly matched in size, personality plays a role in the outcome of the challenge. Variation in several independent personality traits can influence the ability of an individual to obtain higher status. All three personality traits are positively correlated with higher social status (Favati et al. 2014a , b ). Further work, at sanctuaries perhaps, focused on chicken personalities would clearly be of much interest to ethologists interested in chickens.


In this paper, I have identified a wide range of scientifically documented examples of complex cognitive, emotional, communicative, and social behavior in domestic chickens which should be the focus of further study. These capacities are, compellingly, similar to what we see in other animals regarded as highly intelligent. They include:

  • Chickens possess a number of visual and spatial capacities, arguably dependent upon mental representation, such as some aspects of Stage four object permanence and illusory contours, on a par with other birds and mammals.
  • Chickens possess some understanding of numerosity and share some very basic arithmetic capacities with other animals.
  • Chickens can demonstrate self-control and self-assessment, and these capacities may indicate self-awareness.
  • Chickens communicate in complex ways, including through referential communication, which may depend upon some level of self-awareness and the ability to take the perspective of another animal. This capacity, if present in chickens, would be shared with other highly intelligent and social species, including primates.
  • Chickens have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences. For example, chickens are capable of simple forms of transitive inference, a capability that humans develop at approximately the age of seven.
  • Chickens perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events.
  • Chickens are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions, and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.
  • Chickens have complex negative and positive emotions, as well as a shared psychology with humans and other ethologically complex animals. They exhibit emotional contagion and some evidence for empathy.
  • Chickens have distinct personalities, just like all animals who are cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally complex individuals.

This is not to imply that the cognitive mechanisms underlying all of these apparent similarities are equivalent across species. Nor does it imply that higher-level explanations are always able to provide a thorough explanation of cognitive mechanisms. In fact, higher-level cognition is, unarguably, intertwined with more basic capacities and it may be contended that they are inseparable in many ways. Shettleworth ( 2010 ) argues that there is always an interplay between more fundamental cognitive mechanisms, e.g., associative learning, and other higher-level capacities, e.g., abstract thought, and that many human abilities derive from very basic cognitive processes. But the present findings do tell us that chickens, like other birds, are similar, in many ways, to mammals in their ethological complexity and that there are a number of findings that speak to the possibility of more complex capacities in chickens than heretofore recognized. These capacities serve as a list of promising areas of study for the future, as each needs to be explored further.

These findings come with a clear recommendation to continue our exploration of chickens’ ethological complexity within noninvasive, non-harmful, and more naturalistic contexts. A shift in how we ask questions about chicken psychology and behavior will, undoubtedly, lead to even more accurate and richer data and a more authentic understanding of who they really are.


I wish to thank the following individuals for assisting with the collection of published papers: Christina M. Colvin, and Kristin Allen. I also wish to thank Bruce Friedrich and Matt Ball for helpful editorial comments.

This study was partially funded by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (no Grant number available).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest.

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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Delving into Human Behavior: the Art of Naturalistic Observation

This essay about the method of naturalistic observation in psychology, highlighting its unique ability to capture authentic human behavior in real-life settings. It discusses the importance of observing behavior in natural environments, where individuals interact spontaneously, offering insights into social dynamics and generating new research avenues. Despite challenges like observer bias and resource constraints, naturalistic observation remains a valuable tool for understanding the intricacies of human behavior and social interaction.

How it works

In the vast landscape of psychological research, one methodology stands out for its ability to capture the essence of human behavior in its most authentic form: naturalistic observation. Far from the sterile confines of a laboratory, naturalistic observation ventures into the heart of everyday life, unveiling the intricacies of human interaction and behavior within their natural habitat. It is a journey into the realm of genuine experience, where the complexities of social dynamics and individual quirks are laid bare for scrutiny and understanding.

At its core, naturalistic observation offers a unique perspective on human behavior by immersing researchers in the environments where it naturally unfolds. Whether it’s a bustling city street, a tranquil park, or a lively classroom, these natural settings serve as the stage for the drama of everyday life. Here, researchers become silent observers, blending into the background as they witness the ebb and flow of human interaction with an unobtrusive gaze. It is through this lens that the true essence of behavior is revealed, unencumbered by the constraints of artificial experimental setups.

One of the most compelling aspects of naturalistic observation is its ability to capture the nuances of social interaction in real-time. In these natural settings, individuals behave in ways that are spontaneous and unscripted, offering researchers a glimpse into the intricacies of human relationships and social dynamics. Whether it’s the subtle cues of nonverbal communication or the complex interplay of group dynamics, naturalistic observation allows researchers to peel back the layers of social behavior and uncover its underlying mechanisms.

Moreover, naturalistic observation holds immense potential for uncovering unexpected insights and generating new avenues of research. As researchers immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of everyday life, they may stumble upon intriguing patterns or phenomena that spark their curiosity. Perhaps it’s the way pedestrians navigate a crowded street or the dynamics of conversation in a bustling café. These seemingly mundane observations can serve as the seeds for further exploration, leading researchers down unexpected paths of inquiry and discovery.

However, naturalistic observation is not without its challenges and limitations. One of the most significant hurdles is the potential for observer bias, wherein the presence of the researcher may subtly influence the behavior of those being observed. To mitigate this risk, researchers employ a variety of strategies, such as blending into the environment or employing covert observation techniques. Additionally, naturalistic observation can be resource-intensive, requiring researchers to invest significant time and effort in data collection and analysis.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of naturalistic observation are undeniable. By providing a window into the complexities of human behavior in its natural habitat, this approach offers unparalleled insights into the intricacies of social interaction and individual behavior. It is a journey into the heart of what it means to be human, where the mundane becomes extraordinary and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In the hands of skilled researchers, naturalistic observation is not just a tool for understanding behavior; it is a gateway to a deeper understanding of the human experience itself.


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animal behavior research paper ideas

Animal behavior research is getting better at keeping observer bias from sneaking in – but there’s still room to improve

A nimal behavior research relies on careful observation of animals. Researchers might spend months in a jungle habitat watching tropical birds mate and raise their young. They might track the rates of physical contact in cattle herds of different densities. Or they could record the sounds whales make as they migrate through the ocean.

Animal behavior research can provide fundamental insights into the natural processes that affect ecosystems around the globe, as well as into our own human minds and behavior.

I study animal behavior – and also the research reported by scientists in my field. One of the challenges of this kind of science is making sure our own assumptions don’t influence what we think we see in animal subjects. Like all people, how scientists see the world is shaped by biases and expectations, which can affect how data is recorded and reported. For instance, scientists who live in a society with strict gender roles for women and men might interpret things they see animals doing as reflecting those same divisions .

The scientific process corrects for such mistakes over time, but scientists have quicker methods at their disposal to minimize potential observer bias. Animal behavior scientists haven’t always used these methods – but that’s changing. A new study confirms that, over the past decade, studies increasingly adhere to the rigorous best practices that can minimize potential biases in animal behavior research.

Biases and self-fulfilling prophecies

A German horse named Clever Hans is widely known in the history of animal behavior as a classic example of unconscious bias leading to a false result.

Around the turn of the 20th century , Clever Hans was purported to be able to do math. For example, in response to his owner’s prompt “3 + 5,” Clever Hans would tap his hoof eight times. His owner would then reward him with his favorite vegetables. Initial observers reported that the horse’s abilities were legitimate and that his owner was not being deceptive.

However, careful analysis by a young scientist named Oskar Pfungst revealed that if the horse could not see his owner, he couldn’t answer correctly. So while Clever Hans was not good at math, he was incredibly good at observing his owner’s subtle and unconscious cues that gave the math answers away.

In the 1960s, researchers asked human study participants to code the learning ability of rats. Participants were told their rats had been artificially selected over many generations to be either “bright” or “dull” learners. Over several weeks, the participants ran their rats through eight different learning experiments.

In seven out of the eight experiments , the human participants ranked the “bright” rats as being better learners than the “dull” rats when, in reality, the researchers had randomly picked rats from their breeding colony. Bias led the human participants to see what they thought they should see.

Eliminating bias

Given the clear potential for human biases to skew scientific results, textbooks on animal behavior research methods from the 1980s onward have implored researchers to verify their work using at least one of two commonsense methods.

One is making sure the researcher observing the behavior does not know if the subject comes from one study group or the other. For example, a researcher would measure a cricket’s behavior without knowing if it came from the experimental or control group.

The other best practice is utilizing a second researcher, who has fresh eyes and no knowledge of the data, to observe the behavior and code the data. For example, while analyzing a video file, I count chickadees taking seeds from a feeder 15 times. Later, a second independent observer counts the same number.

Yet these methods to minimize possible biases are often not employed by researchers in animal behavior, perhaps because these best practices take more time and effort.

In 2012, my colleagues and I reviewed nearly 1,000 articles published in five leading animal behavior journals between 1970 and 2010 to see how many reported these methods to minimize potential bias. Less than 10% did so. By contrast, the journal Infancy, which focuses on human infant behavior, was far more rigorous: Over 80% of its articles reported using methods to avoid bias.

It’s a problem not just confined to my field. A 2015 review of published articles in the life sciences found that blind protocols are uncommon . It also found that studies using blind methods detected smaller differences between the key groups being observed compared to studies that didn’t use blind methods, suggesting potential biases led to more notable results.

In the years after we published our article, it was cited regularly and we wondered if there had been any improvement in the field. So, we recently reviewed 40 articles from each of the same five journals for the year 2020.

We found the rate of papers that reported controlling for bias improved in all five journals , from under 10% in our 2012 article to just over 50% in our new review. These rates of reporting still lag behind the journal Infancy, however, which was 95% in 2020.

All in all, things are looking up, but the animal behavior field can still do better. Practically, with increasingly more portable and affordable audio and video recording technology, it’s getting easier to carry out methods that minimize potential biases. The more the field of animal behavior sticks with these best practices, the stronger the foundation of knowledge and public trust in this science will become.

  • Changing wild animals’ behavior could help save them – but is it ethical?
  • Chickadees, titmice and nuthatches flocking together benefit from a diversity bonus – so do other animals, including humans

Todd M. Freeberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

What you expect can influence what you think you see.


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    The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition ® publishes experimental and theoretical studies concerning all aspects of animal behavior processes. Studies of associative, nonassociative, cognitive, perceptual, and motivational processes are welcome. The journal emphasizes empirical reports but may include specialized reviews appropriate to the journal's content area.

  11. Animal Behaviour

    Guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioural research and teaching. ASAB Ethical Committee, ABS Animal Care Committee. Pages I-XI. View PDF. Previous vol/issue. Next vol/issue. Read the latest articles of Animal Behaviour at ScienceDirect.com, Elsevier's leading platform of peer-reviewed scholarly literature.

  12. Animal behavior News, Research and Analysis

    Climate change is altering animal brains and behavior − a neuroscientist explains how. Sean O'Donnell, Drexel University. Rapidly changing temperatures and sensory environments are challenging ...

  13. Clinical Animal Behaviour: Paradigms, Problems and Practice

    Clinical animal behaviour is the management of problem animal behaviour, and emerged as a specific scientific discipline about 50 years ago [ 1 ]. As an academic discipline with a strong practical element, it is of interest to many members of the public, researchers and clinicians; many of whom are prepared to offer an opinion on best practice.

  14. The scholar's best friend: research trends in dog cognitive and

    In "recent analysis", Animal Cognition and Journal of Veterinary Behavior-Clinical Applications and Research both showed an increase in the score, occupying the second and third place, respectively. It is noteworthy that PLoS One acquired a high score in dog cognitive and behavioral studies in "recent analysis".

  15. 244 Free Animal Topics for Research Papers

    Here are some of our most interesting topics on the conservation of animal species: An in-depth look at the conservation of wild orangutans. Analyze conservation efforts of the lion population. Saving the blue whales from extinction. An in-depth look at the conservation of wild cheetahs.

  16. Animals

    These topics can include welfare-relevant aspects of selection, animal health, animal management, and welfare assessment within the human-domestic species relationship, as well as methods for measuring the animal's welfare experience. Additional topics may include the use of behavioral/ethological methods for measuring welfare or interactions ...

  17. Addressing the Problematic Past of Animal Behavior Research

    The goal of animal behavior research is to observe animals as they respond to stimuli (whether naturally occurring or experimentally provided) and draw conclusions based on their actions. These actions can be conscious choices or automatic responses, as in the famous studies by foundational Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov.

  18. Experiment with Animal Behavior Science Projects

    Experiment with Animal Behavior Science Projects (14 results) Experiment with Animal Behavior Science Projects. (14 results) Investigate a question about animal ethology, their behavior. Discover what safely repels ants, how animals prefer to eat, what environments animals prefer, or how animals journey. Drawing Circles Around Ants. Add Favorite.

  19. (PDF) The study of animal behavior

    The scientific study of animal behavior is also called ethology, a term used. first by the nineteenth-century French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint Hilaire. but then used with its modern ...

  20. Strengthening the research-practice loop in applied animal behavior

    The history of the application of operant learning to socially significant animal behavior is long and has resulted in tremendously effective technologies benefiting both animals and humans in many different practical settings (Alligood et al., 2017; Edwards & Poling, 2011; Mahoney et al., 2012).Over the past several decades, there has been a weakening of some of the connections between ...

  21. Top 10 Animal behavior research blogs

    This guest blog post is one of two posts in this Top 10. 8. Into the lab: how to monitor rat social behavior. The second blog post by Suzanne Peters, PhD, follows her post at number 9. During her PhD research, she developed an automated analysis that allows for the monitoring of socially interacting rats. 7.

  22. Robotics to Understand Animal Behaviour

    Studies without biological data are also acceptable, as long as they follow the spirit of using robots to either explore or test hypotheses in animal behaviour. This Research Topic will explore themes including, but not limited to: • Aerodynamics in flying robots and animals. • Sensing and locomotion control in flying robots and animals.

  23. Animal behavior research is getting better at keeping observer bias

    We found the rate of papers that reported controlling for bias improved in all five journals, from under 10% in our 2012 article to just over 50% in our new review.These rates of reporting still ...

  24. Thinking chickens: a review of cognition, emotion, and behavior in the

    Research methods. This paper presents a summary of cognitive, emotional, personality, and social characteristics of domestic chickens, built from a comprehensive review of the scientific literature. ... Encyclopedia of animal behavior. Oxford: Academic Press; 2010. pp. 132-138.

  25. Delving into Human Behavior: the Art of Naturalistic Observation

    This essay about the method of naturalistic observation in psychology, highlighting its unique ability to capture authentic human behavior in real-life settings. It discusses the importance of observing behavior in natural environments, where individuals interact spontaneously, offering insights into social dynamics and generating new research ...

  26. Animal behavior research is getting better at keeping observer bias

    Animal behavior research relies on careful observation of animals. Researchers might spend months in a jungle habitat watching tropical birds mate and raise their young. They might track the rates ...

  27. Study of the Dynamic Recrystallization Behavior of Mg-Gd-Y-Zn-Zr Alloy

    A Feature Paper should be a substantial original Article that involves several techniques or approaches, provides an outlook for future research directions and describes possible research applications. Feature papers are submitted upon individual invitation or recommendation by the scientific editors and must receive positive feedback from the ...