cod. 1007088

Academic year 2023/24
1° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Biologia applicata (BIO/13)
Attività formative affini o integrative
Type of training activity
35 hours
of face-to-face activities
5 credits
course unit

Integrated course unit module: 277759

Learning objectives

1. 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 implications.


Basic knowledge of Biology, genetics and neurosciences

Course unit content

Behavior is a complex phenotype; we will examine which factors determine behavior. In particular 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 respone to environmental and socal challenege and B. how social, reproductive behavior and parental behvior are regulated by examining bothe proximal (neuroendocrine mechanisms) and ultimate causations (selective pressures).

Full programme

A. Behavioral Biology
1. Evolution, genes and environment: “Nature via Nurture”. Introduction: Human Evolution, genes, Hormones, neurotrasmitters. History and scope of ethology; Tinbergen's 4 questions. Ethograms and the comparative approach; methods of behavioral observation, fixed action patterns and releasers. Individual and social learning. Genetics of behavior. Konrad Lorenz and the Imprinting Theory.
2. 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 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. Parental cares and Parent-offspring conflict.
6. An evolutionary approach to neuro-psychiatric disorders: Darwinian psychiatry. Animal models of psychiatric disorders.


Text book
-Alcock. Ethology: un Evolutionary approach.
- Palanza e Parmigiani. Appunti di Biologia del Comportamento e psicobiologia della sessualita'. Libreria Santa Croce
- 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.
- Ridely 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

A final comprehensive exam for all the integrated course will be written with 32 multiple choice or short questions (0,5 for each correct answer) and 4 open questions (scored 0-4; 0= no answer; 1= very partial answer answer; 2= partial answer; 3= correct answer with inaccuracies; 4 correct answer with appropriate language).

In case of the persistence of the health emergency, the exams will be conducted remotely, as
structured written test by Teams and Elly.

Other information

For detailed and updated information: