cod. 1007505

Academic year 2019/20
2° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Biologia applicata (BIO/13)
A scelta dello studente
Type of training activity
Student's choice
24 hours
of face-to-face activities
3 credits
hub: PARMA
course unit

Learning objectives

. A good understanding of the ethological approach to behavioral studies and of genetic, epigenetic, hormonal and neurochemical basis of behavior in an evolutionary perspective as well as of their implications for clinical and psychological practice.
2. Capability to integrate the different levels of causal and functional analysis of behavior and to apply a scientific observational method to behavioural analysis.
3.. The ability to fully understand and criticize scientific and technical literature in the field of behavioral biology and to develop critical reasoning of behavioural data and their interpretations.
4. To develop their ability to present scientific work in a clear and concise manner and to effectively communicate scientific
advances in the field of behavioural analysis to a non-specialist or to a professional audience as well as their ethical and social


Basic knowledge of Biology, genetics, Ethology and neurosciences

Course unit content

Behavior is a complex phenotype; we will examine which factors determine behavior. More specifically we will examine the role of genes and environment and of their interactions during development. We will discuss (A) how genes, hormone and neurotrasmitters organize the expression of behavior in response to environmental and social challenge and (B) how social, reproductive behavior and parental behavior are regulated by examining both the proximal (neuroendocrine mechanisms) and ultimate causations (selective pressures).

Full programme

Behavioral Biology
1. Evolution, genes and environment: “Nature via Nurture”. The useless instinct-learning debate: Genetic and epigenetic factors in behavioral development. Epigenetic effects of maternal cares in animal models and their implications for the the theory of Attachment and developmental neuropsychiatric disorders.
4. Sex differences in behavior: expression, development and adaptive significance. Parental Investment, sexual selection and mating systems: ecological pressures and neuroendocrine mechanisms.
5. Social systems, ecology and neuroendocrine basis: “The social brain” hypothesis and the role of oxytocin. Aggression, social hierarchy and social stress. Cooperation, altruism and eusociality.


Scientific papers as suggested by the teacher and posted on the course website (Elly)
Additional Readings (optional):
-- Ridley M. Nature via Nurture. The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture. Harper Perennial.
- Ridley M. The red queen. Harper
- Hrdy S. Mother Nature. Ballantine books

Teaching methods

During lectures the state of the art, concepts and experiments in the research field of Ethology and Psychobiology, by stressing out the specifics of ethological approach and methods. The lectures will be in an interactive format and students are strongly encouraged to ask questions and insert comments. We will watch and analyse videos on animal behaviour (including humans) to practice behavioral analysis methods. Group discussion of scientific papers and specific issues.

Assessment methods and criteria

Written and oral exam

Other information

For detailed and updated information: