By Nasif Nahle
© March 2006

Ethology is the study of animals’ behavior in their natural habitat, particularly, those that refer to Ecology and Evolution.

The Behavioral Biology in humans has been investigated with greater intensity since the invention of the Computerized Axial Tomography, the electroencephalogram and the Magnetic Resonance.

The cases are studied in persons that have suffered cerebral infarct (strokes) or thromboembolism with irreversible upshots by lesions of some portions of the brain.

Any changes in the behavior or any defects in the perception of the environs by the affected person constitute a guide to inspect the areas of the brain that control emotions or the affected person’s receptiveness to perceptible expressions of emotions by other individuals.

The empathy toward other individuals is generated by a neural system of processes that are stimulated by the perception and by a discrete or notorious interpretation of the signals exhibited through facial expressions on other individuals or through sounds or "calls" emitted by other individuals.

The function related to the perception of emotional signs produced by other individuals is carried out by the Prefrontal Cortex and by inner folds of the temporal lobes of the cerebrum known as Amygdala.

The Behavioral Biology understands the investigation of the next factors:

Development (when): The changes during the development can modify the conduct with age. The ethology investigates the early experiences that promote the expression of a determined conduct.

Purpose (what's for): A specific conduct can provide certain compensation for an animal to survive and reproduce by itself.

Causality (what did it): All kinds of animal conducts obey to a primary stimulus. In ethology, the researcher should discover each cause that impels a specific behavior. We should take into account that a new learning can modify a conduct.

Evolutionary Record (how): Comparison of conducts that are similar in related species and that could arise through Evolution. 



In animal societies (including human societies) the function of recognition of emotions is extremely important, therefore it permits the interpretation of audible (sonorous), visual, olfactory and tactile signs emitted by each member of the society that stimulate the affective links (affective empathy) with the member that wants to obtain the maximum hierarchical level of protecting and controlling the group. The signals can be emotional and/or referential. The last can be general or specific signals.

The emotional signals are those that manifest the emotional state of the individual that emits them; for example, anger, sadness, happiness, fear, alerts, antipathy, etc.

The referential calls are those that the individual expresses when an event that involves to other members of the society occurs. These can be general or specific signals.

General Referential calls are those that only refer to an integral discovery; for example, food, enemy, predators, females, etc. Most animals use general referential signals.

The specific referential calls are those that refer to a class of event or object located; for example, bananas, nuts, fowl, snake, carnivorous, female that is on heat, etc. Few species employ specific referential signals. Some animals that use them are humans, prairie dogs, some squirrels, crows, etc.

Humans and other animals use the three types of signals; however, in the species Homo sapiens the individual that emits the signals can discern if other members of his own species, or of other species, grasped and attended their calls, while in other animal species the individual that emits the calls cannot discern if others member of their species, or of other species, grasped and attended their calls. Chimpanzees, and some times dogs, are able to know if other individuals perceived their calls or not.

For example, if I discover a poisonous snake, I immediately emit alarm calls for my companions know about the danger. I will know if my companions listened and attended my signals or of if they did not listen and/or attended it. On the other hand, most animals will emit their calls without being able if the other individuals of its group listened and attended the signals or if they did not. In some animals, especially primates, the calls may also serve to establish hierarchies within their groups.

An “alpha-Male” is a male that benefits from the maximum level of hierarchy on all members of the group (in baboons, which live in societies dominated by females, the female of maximum rank is called “alpha-Female”). The individual alpha acquires absolute control on the social group.

In human societies, the same thing happens. The difference is that that concerns, generally, to the means by which the alpha individual acquires its hierarchical level; while in bonobos, chimpanzees and baboons the category “alpha” is acquired through fights (many times bloody and deadly struggles), in human beings, alpha-male or alpha female is chosen by means of persuasive campaigns, followed by an election expressed through visible signals on paper sheets or electronically. The last methods are recent. In previous centuries, the maximum hierarchy was obtained through a lineage or through fights and wars that frequently ended up in genocides, extermination of families, murders or exiles, as of the contender as of the sympathizers of the defeated candidate.  (Nasif Nahle, 2005).



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