Theoretical aspects of physiological ethology involves modeling the mutual influences of stress and the brain, particularly basal ganglia, in controlling behavior. The multiple expressions of specific stress axis hormones provide a rich reservoir of potential adaptations that can be incorporated into an animal's life history. The temporal and spatial dynamics of these multiple interacting systems affect reconfigurations of energy allocations under stress that can involve changes in motivation, affect, and even cognition. Stress and basal ganglia may also be profoundly integrated into aberrations of behavior such as extreme creativity and deficits of reality-testing such as those in schizophrenia.
THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF SOCIAL STRESS
My principal area of empirical research is in physiological ethology -- the science that is concerned with the ways that internal and external information interact to control behavior. In particular, I am interested in the physiological causes and consequences of social behavior. A species I utilize intensively is the green Anolis lizard, Anolis carolinensis, but other research in recent years has included swine and lowland gorillas.
Methods employed in my lab extend from modern adaptations of classical observational and correlative ethological techniques through experimental procedures such as neurotoxic lesioning of the brain and pharmacological inhibition or supplementation of psychoactive hormones.
To study the neuroendocrine dimension of social behavior we utilize classic neural and neuroendocrine techniques including radioimmunoassay to help clarify the interactions of stress, reproductive endocrinology, and behavior (Greenberg and Crews 1982; Greenberg et al. 1984).
THE ETHOLOGY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING
An emerging interest in recent years is in the ethology of behavioral patterns associated with the transmission of knowledge in humans and other species. There is a vast literature on the biology of learning which has productively fostered a deeper understanding of its constraints, possibilities, and means by which it is most effectively accomplished in varying contexts. Here I wish to present a framework for the understanding of the complementary phenomenon, a biology of teaching.
It is my belief that understood as a behavioral pattern incorporating multiple biological and cultural influences, the motivational, affective, and cognitive dimensions of teaching can be investigated in productive ways that will enable more effective training and implementation. As a first approach to this framework I will employ the classical ethological methods of defining the formal structure of units of behavior seen in teaching as well as the relationships between these units within teaching and between teachers and students.
At the center of this endeavor is an ethological model representing the interaction of the internal and external forces that interact in causing specific behavioral patterns. In my model, both the teacher and student share some but not all of the elements of the environment with each other as well as constituting an element of each other's environment. But even shared environmental stimuli affect different individuals differently because of variables such as level of physical development, experience (surface or deep memory) and the presence of psychoactive hormones (sex steroids, stress-sensitive hormones) that facilitate or inhibit specific neural structures that influence behavior (affective state, activity tone or reactivity, arousal, attention). In this figure, each arrow really represents a large array of possible influences, each of varying significance depending on context.
Much of the theory in education research has emphasized the highest forms of teaching and learning of which humans are capable (and which, therefore, may indeed confound efforts to demonstrate animal correspondences), but it is my premise that such "high-level" teaching and learning is predicated on, indeed emerges out of, more basic forms which can be illuminated by correspondences with comparable phenomena in other species.
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (COMPREHENSIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY --with links where possible)
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Faculty, Graduate Programs in Ethology/Ecology
865/974-3599, F241 Walters Life Science