Fruits of Ethology

Fruits of Ethology

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Previous guest speakers of the 'Fruits of Ethology' lecture series

Speaker: Caroline Fitzpatrick, professor at Université de Sherbrooke (Canada) 
Date: 7th July 2022.

Title: Digital media use by children and adolescents: a comprehensive approach to promote wellbeing

From work to leisure, screens have become omnipresent in our daily lives. This trend is not without concern as most children and youth exceed daily recommended time limits put worth by the World Health Organisation and Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. What are the consequences of screen time for children and youth? Do violent contents and video games present additional concerns? How does the family environment influence the consequences of screen time?  This presentation will address these questions with a focus on the cognitive, social, and health consequences and benefits of screen use across the lifespan. Strategies to support healthy media by children and families will also be discussed.

Speaker: Yuri Kawaguchi (Messerli Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science)
Date: 21th October 2021. 

Title: Recognition of infant faces in non-human primates

Giving adequate care to infants is critical for their survival in all mammals. Infant visual cues affect parents’ decisions for their investment. Specifically, humans recognize infant faces a unique way; for example, infant faces are easily distinguished from adult faces, attract visual attention, and are preferred. Previous studies suggest that these recognitions are related to humans’ high sensitivity to infant face shape features called “baby schema,” which is presumed to be shared across taxa. To understand the evolutionary pathway of human cognition, it is important to compare humans and non-human primates from a comparative cognitive perspective. Infants of many primate species have a conspicuous coat or skin color different from adults called “infantile coloration.” However, psychological effects (e.g., attract attention) of either baby schema or infantile coloration in non-human primates remains unclear. Thus, I studied how non-human primates recognize infant faces by comparative cognitive approaches and investigated how these infantile face features affect their responses in order to know the evolutionary pathway of humans’ recognition of infant faces and test universality and uniqueness of a primary infant face cue in primates. I conducted touch panel experiment and eye tracking experiments with capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees, and bonobos.
The main finding of my studies is that each species has species-specific visual characteristics of infants and the way of responding to them. The infant appearance and adults’ sensitivity to it in each species may be at least partially determined by ethological factors of the species, such as the existence of infanticide or the extent of alloparenting.

Speaker: Tamas David-Barrett (evolutionary behavioural scientist, Oxford, Trinity College)
Date: 14th September 2021.

Title: How To Think Scientifically?

The human is an odd ape. We are a community-loving primate that, as if in a science fiction movie, somehow ended up with giant neurone computers on top of our necks. Even more bizarrely, we regularly pass on patterns from one head to the next using pressure waves in our planet’s atmosphere. Wow. And often, these patterns are represented in a book or on a screen, so that they can be passed on between long-dead people too. No whale, bee, or chimp can do this. There is no other being that comes near.
Our amazingness does not end there. As far as we know, and let’s stop here for a second and admire that we can know this, we are the only beings in the universe that think that there is such a thing as the universe. We even have a shared map of it. Your universe and my universe are likely to be shockingly similar to each other. How is this possible? Is it a miracle?
This talk tells the natural history of thinking about the world, the evolutionary story of knowing something about what is out there. In the ultimate navel-gazing exercise, we will tell what science knows about scientific thinking, not as a philosophical abstraction, but rather a behavioural phenomenon. Glorified group-think in lab coats, but it works.

Speaker: Mariann Molnár (Animal Welfare Program of the University of British Columbia and acts as a consulting expert of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations)
Date: 6th May 2021.

Title: Does the welfare of farm animals (really) matter? Insights into dilemmas associated with the EU farm animal welfare reform-effort

Commercial farming faces increasing scrutiny and is therefore an area of much scientific investigation. The presentation will aim to give a broad overview of farm animal welfare problems in different production systems and present a range of tools used in the European Union to mitigate these challenges. By introducing a case study on Hungarian pig farming, empirical data will be presented on the day-to-day realities of animal agriculture and the perspectives of conventional (confinement) and alternative farmers on external, and internal factors that influence on-farm conditions. This study challenges mainstream views on animal ethics, socio-economic factors, and legislation, and therefore will challenge the audience to think whether the welfare of farm animals really does matter.

Speaker: Beata Oborny (Dept. Plant Taxonomy, Ecology and Theoretical Biology, Loránd Eötvös University)
Date: 20th February 2020.

Title: The plant in the labyrinth: foraging strategies in plants

Plants can solve amazingly difficult tasks while adjusting their growth to the environment. Many kinds of natural habitats are labyrinth-like on the spatial scale of individuals, providing only partial information about the places of resources, and thus, about the promising directions of growth from each point. In spite of this limited access to information and the limited set of responses, experiments have demonstrated that some species are very efficient in exploring and exploiting resources. One of the keys to understanding the foraging behavior of plants is their modular construction. I review some experiments which show how the the production, functional specialization, and death of modules enable the plant to adjust its growth to the environment. This adjustment is strongly influenced by the flow of information and resources among the modules. I present some characteristic “plant dilemmas”, and the corresponding main strategies. We studied the performance of these strategies in various environments by means of spatially explicit, dynamic models. The results show that cooperation between the modules is not a necessary condition for successful foraging; in some habitats, the lack of cooperation is more advantageous. This suggest an explanation for the frequent occurrence of clonality in plants.

Speaker: Dr. Gemma Bale (Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory, Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering University College London)
Date: 13rd January 2020.

Title: Illuminating the brains of humans…and dogs?

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is an optical brain monitoring technique that is gaining traction in both human neuroscience and intensive care medicine, as an alternative to traditional brain imaging such as fMRI. This seminar will highlight the science and technology behind NIRS, which monitors brain oxygenation and metabolism non-invasively and in-vivo, and seminar will cover its current applications, including in neonatal brain injury and developmental neuroscience. Finally, the challenges and potential of using fNIRS to monitor functional brain activity in awake, freely-moving canines will be discussed.

Speaker: Istvan Karsai (East Tennessee State University, Department of Biological Sciences, USA)
Date: 28th November 2019.

Title: Organization of work in insect societies

Insect societies can be conceived as superorganisms in which inter-individual conflict for reproductive privilege is largely reduced and the worker caste is selected to maximize colony efficiency. Division of non-reproductive tasks among workers is a key adaptation promoting the ecological and evolutionary success of insect societies. Studies on division of labor are often concerned with the integration of individual worker behavior into colony level task organization and with the question of how regulation of division of labor may contribute to colony efficiency.
Integral feedback has been found to be important for homeostatic control on both the cellular and molecular levels of biological organization and in engineered systems. Analyzing the task allocation mechanisms of three insect societies, we identified a model of integral control residing at colony level. We characterized a general functional core mechanism, called the “common stomach,” where a crucial shared substance for colony function self-regulates its own quantity via reallocating the colony’s workforce, which collects and uses this substance. The core regulation system is highly scalable, and due to its buffer function, it can filter noise and find a new equilibrium quickly after perturbations. The common stomach regulation system is an example of convergent evolution among the three different societies, and we predict that similar integral control regulation mechanisms have evolved frequently within natural complex systems.

Speaker: Robyn Hudson (Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
Date: 10th October 2019.

Title: The development of animal personality: a psychobiological approach

There is increasing interest in the study of animal personality among behavioral biologists. Once considered the exclusive domain of human psychology, this now attracts the attention of comparative psychologists, behavioral ecologist and theoretical and evolutionary biologists. Information is scarce, however, on the ontogeny of animal personality, particularly in mammals. It is difficult to study mammalian young in a naturalistic manner without disturbing the mother-young relationship, and tools suitable for testing young animals across development, and indeed across the life span, are limited. Taking a comparative approach, we have been studying the development of personality in various mammalian species and with a particular focus on the role of siblings in shaping individual differences in morphology, physiology and behavior. Our study species include wild and domestic European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), free-ranging domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus), wild-type house mice (Mus musculus) and laboratory rats (Rattus norvegicus), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and the Australian dingo (Canis dingo), as well as children and adolescents. We give particular emphasis to developing biologically relevant tests based on the animals’ natural, evolved behavior and the challenges faced by them in everyday life. Increasingly, we have also been investigating differences in the physiological and neural processes associated with individual differences in behavior.

Speaker: Emma Casanave (Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences of the South – INBIOSUR-CONICET-UNS)
Date: 27th June 2019.

Title: Wild mammals in Argentina

Her research group (Group of Mammal Behavioral Ecology, GECM) is one of the most important teams dedicated to the study of wild mammals (especially armadillos and carnivores) in Argentina.

Speaker: Gopikrishna Deshpande (Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and heads neuroimaging activities at the AU MRI Research Center in Auburn University, and also an affiliated faculty at the Department of Psychology at Auburn University, USA.)
Date: 25th April 2019.

Title: Dog‐Human Social Attachment: Representation of Human Facial Familiarity and Emotions in the Dog Brain

The current study was developed to investigate the behavioral and neural indices of the dog-human social bond. Specifically, we were most interested in behavioral and neural metrics mediated by a dog’s history and relationship with a particular human being. Such behavioral and neural metrics are particularly relevant to working dogs studied here, as their human handlers serve as both a companion and an instructor. We hypothesized that detecting the familiarity and emotions in human faces must support such inter‐species social attachment, which is unique in the mammalian world. First, we behaviorally characterized the dog‐human social bond using the unsolvable task. We then set out to find the neural basis of familiarity and emotion processing of human faces in the dog brain and their correlation with bio‐behavioral indices of attachment. This was accomplished by imaging dogs using fMRI while they were awake, unrestrained and exposed to familiar and unfamiliar human faces, which had positive, neutral, and negative emotional expressions using videos (which may be more salient to dogs) and still images. We found that regions such as the caudate, hippocampus and amygdala, implicated in reward, familiarity judgments and emotion processing, respectively, in humans, were activated in dogs. Further, the magnitude of activation in these regions correlated with the duration for which the dogs looked at the familiar (as opposed to unfamiliar) person in the out‐of‐scanner unsolvable task. We believe that these findings provide a neural basis for the dog‐human social bond in terms of the ability of the dog brain to process familiarity and emotions in human faces. They also suggest a phylogenetically based face processing system shared between dogs and humans and validate a biobehavioral assessment of individual dog preference for familiarity.

Speaker: Tamás Székely (University of Bath, Department of Biology & Biochemistry (UK) & University of Debrecen, Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human Biology (Hungary))
Date: 4th April 2019.

Title: Why study non-model organisms?

Model-organism focused research is increasingly common in evolutionary biology, ecology and ethology. Here I take a different approach, and argue we can gain novel insights by investigating non-conventional organisms. By overviewing some of the research my team has carried out in the last 30 years, I hope to illustrate that natural history is an excellent starting point for exploring animal behaviour. Early notions on parental care and breeding dispersal of plovers lead to discoveries in sex role behaviour, sex ratios, speciation and biodiversity conservation. I argue there is a Goldilocks principle of identifying study organisms: species that are not too complex and not too simple: just right.

Speaker: Ilona Kovács (MTA-PPKE Adolescent Development Research Group)
Date: 14th March 2019.

Title: Nature/nurture, or a little bit of both?

Are there multiple sensitive periods when the brain is particularly susceptible to environmental stimulation, and neuronal plasticity is augmented? If yes, how can those be characterized?  I will talk about the extreme stimulus-driven development of the human visual brain right after birth, raising interesting questions with respect to the assumed critical periods in other species. Currently, we are also involved in a large-scale project that we call BETA (Biological and Experience-based Trajectories in Adolescent brain development, This project aims to dissociate biological and chronological age for the first time, and to investigate their role independently in adolescent cognitive functioning and in the development of large-scale functional cortical networks. Based on the results of our infant and adolescent studies we suggest a novel model of ontogenetic development addressing the age-old debate from a different perspective.

Speaker:  Máté Nagy (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Collective Behaviour & Department of Biology, Konstanz University, Konstanz, Germany; MTA-ELTE Statistical and Biological Physics Research Group)
Date: 20st December 2018.

Title: Group coordination, decision-making and collective sensing

Recent technological developments allow studying group behaviour in unprecedented details and on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. New analytical methods are needed to understand the huge datasets produced by these measurements. During the talk, I would like to guide the audience through my past and current research providing insight into different quantitative tools and the fascinating results related to group coordination, decision-making and collective sensing in groups of pigeons, rats, dogs, storks and humans. Recently, I was working on the development of a high-throughput animal tracking facility at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, that provides real-time three-dimensional positional and posture tracking for full collectives up to around 100 individuals in a relatively large arena (15m x 7m x 4m). By showing this facility, I would like to promote possible future collaborations.

Speaker: Josep Call (Professor in Evolutionary Origins of Mind, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews)
Date: 11st October 2018.

Title: On tools, traps, and tubes: How apes solve problems

My research focuses on technical and social problem solving in animals with a special emphasis on the great apes.  Some of the topics that I am currently investigating include causal and inferential reasoning, tool-use, problem solving, functional fixedness, innovation, long-term memory and planning, gestural communication and mindreading.  Ultimately, my goal is to contribute to elucidate how cognition evolves.

Speaker: Kauê M. Costa (Institute of Neurophysiology, Goethe University Frankfurt)
Date: 28th June 2018.

Title: An alternative splicing event in dopamine neurons that selectively controls learning from disappointment

Learning from events that violate previously constructed expectations is a crucial ability for most animals. Midbrain dopamine neurons have been shown to represent errors between expected and experienced rewarding events: when an animal receives a better than expected reward, they burst, and when an animal receives a worse than expected rewards (i.e. is confronted with a negative prediction error), these neurons pause their activity. There is evidence that the duration of these pauses can be influenced by cell-autonomous properties, one of which is the A-type potassium current, which in certain dopamine neurons regulates the rebound of activity after inhibition.
In the present study, we aimed to elucidate if the modulation of dopamine neuron A-type currents by a particular regulatory channel subunit variant could, by its presumed effects on pausing, change learning from disappointment. In order to investigate this, we generated a transgenic mouse model in which we selectively removed from midbrain dopamine neurons an alternative splice variant of an A-type channel subunit named KChIP4a. We then trained these mice in an appetitive reinforcement learning task, which showed that selective KChIP4a removal from dopamine neurons strongly accelerated learning from reward omission (extinction learning), but did not impact learning from reward presentation (acquisition learning). Further analysis of the animals’ response dynamics revealed that this effect was due to a decrease in the probability of initiating goal directed actions, with no effect on action termination. Computational fitting of the behavioral data ratified that this phenotype could be attributed to a specific increase in the learning rate from negative prediction errors. In a subsequent behavioral phenotyping battery, we found no impact of KChIP4a removal on spontaneous behaviors and baseline cognitive properties, including locomotor activity, novel object preference, anxiety levels and working memory. In summary, we have identified a dopamine cell-type specific alternative splicing event that results in a specific acceleration of learning from disappointing events.

Speaker: Ronald H.H. Kröger, PhD, (Professor Lund University, Department of Biology (
Date: 10th of May 2018.

Title: The infrared sense of dogs

The coldness of the nasal plane of dogs led to the hypothesis that it may be sensitive to radiating body heat. By now, we know that dogs (and other carnivorans) indeed have an infrared sense and that sensitivity is sufficiently high to detect prey over considerable distances. With the infrared sense of dogs in mind, a number of behaviors appear in a new light. It is furthermore likely that prey species have evolved counter measures to evade infrared sensing predators.

Speakers: Csaba Kerepesi and Balázs Szalkai (PIT Bioinformatics Group, Eötvös University)
Date: 26th of April 2018.

Title: Data mining of brain graphs

Human Connectome Project, a recent US project to study the healthy human brain,  published MRI images of 1200 healthy adults. We  downloaded the data and constructed graphs from them. The constructed brain graphs consist of 1015 brain areas and a lot of links among the areas. Here, we will talk about our explorations on the constructed brain graph data, and the correlations between brain graphs and behavioral data.

Speaker: Tamas David-Barrett  (Universidad del Desarrollo, Santiago de Chile; University of Oxford, United Kingdo; Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Germany; Population Research Institute, Helsinki, Finland)
Date: 15th of February 2018.

Title: Falling Fertility Creates Trust Gap: Changing Social Network Structure in Demographic Transition

Traditional human societies use two of biology’s solutions to reduce free-riding: by collaborating with relatives, they rely on kin-selection mechanism, and by forming highly clustered social kin-networks, they can efficiently depend on reputation dynamics. However, both of these solutions assume the presence of relatives. This model shows how social networks change during demographic transition. With falling fertility, there are fewer children that could be relatives to each other. As the missing kin is replaced by non-kin friends, local clustering in the social network drops. This effect is compounded by increasing population size, characteristic of demographic transition. At the same time, with falling fertility the average graph distance deceases, ballooning the set of indirect social contacts two-steps away. A second model shows that the speed at which reputation spreads in the network slows down due to both falling fertility and increasing group size. Thus the demographic transition weakens both mechanisms of free-rider reduction: there are fewer relatives around, and reputation spreads slowly. This new link between falling fertility and the altered structure of the social network offers novel interpretations to the origins of legal institutions, the Small World phenomenon, the social impact of urbanisation, and the birds-of-a-feather friendship choice heuristic.

Speaker: Dezső Németh (Institute of Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University ( 
Date: 30th of November 2017.

Title: Weaker frontal lobe functions can lead to better procedural learning

Learning and memory depend on multiple cognitive systems related to dissociable brain structures. These systems interact not only in cooperative but sometimes competitive ways in optimizing performance. Previous studies showed that manipulations reducing the engagement of frontal lobe-mediated attentional-demanding processes can lead to improved performance in striatum-related procedural learning. Here we present four studies in which we investigated the competitive relationship between statistical learning and frontal lobe-mediated executive functions.  Our result shed light not only on the competitive nature of brain systems in cognitive processes but also could have important implications for developing new methods to boost learning and memory.

Speaker: Charlotte Duranton (Université Aix-Marseille – Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive)
Date: 19th of October 2017.

Title: Dog-human behavioral synchronization: description and effect of affiliation

Non-conscious behavioral synchronization is evolutionary adaptive. It participates in fostering social cohesion; affiliation between interacting partners is associated with a high level of behavioral synchronization in many species, including humans. Conversely, humans also show increased affiliation towards people who synchronized with them. Surprisingly, until recently, little was known about these phenomena at interspecific level. Investigating the existence of similar behaviors and psychological processes in two different species is essential to better understand the respective roles of evolution and ontogeny in the skills.
We therefore chose to investigate behavioral synchronization between two species that are closely associated and among which the effect of affiliation can be investigated. After presenting why dog-human dyads are a relevant biological model to study this field of social cognition, I will review the recent findings about dog-human behavioral synchronization.
We evidenced that behavioral synchronization of dogs towards humans is present between highly affiliated partners (i.e. pet dogs and their owners) in various situations. Pet dogs indeed synchronize their movement with their owners’ when freely walking inside or in open outside area, and when the owner adjusts differently to an unknown object or person.
We also investigated the effect of affiliation by testing lower affiliated partners (i.e. shelter dogs and their caregiver). It has been found that shelter dogs synchronize their behavior with their caregiver’s at lower rates than pet dogs with their owners when freely walking outside. More surprising, when encountering an unfamiliar person, shelter dogs do not synchronize their behavioral reaction with that of their caregiver contrarily to pet dogs relative to their owners. As between humans, affiliation thus modulates the degree of synchronization of dogs upon humans. This was the first time that the effect of affiliation on behavioral synchronization has been evidenced at interspecific level.
More astonishing, we have found that pet dogs present increased affiliation towards humans who synchronized their behavior with them. It is the third species in which such an ability is evidenced, after humans and capuchins; and thus the first time it is found in canids.
We conclude that, as in humans, behavioral synchronization acts as a social-glue between dogs and humans. It is the first time that such a human-like ability is evidenced at interspecific level, i.e. between humans and dogs.

Speaker: Larry J Young (Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition / Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA)
Date: 18th of September 2017.

Title: Oxytocin and the Neurobiology of Social Bonding: Origins of Behavioral Diversity

Selected recent publications:
Amadei EA, Johnson ZV, Jun Kwon Y, Shpiner AC, Saravanan V, Mays WD, Ryan SJ, Walum H, Rainnie DG, Young LJ, Liu RC. Dynamic corticostriatal activity biases social bonding in monogamous female prairie voles. Nature 546(7657):297-301. 2017. link
Johnson ZV, Walum H, Xiao Y, Riefkohl PC, Young LJ. (2017) Oxytocin receptors modulate a social salience neural network in male prairie voles. Horm Behav.87:16-24.
King LB, Walum H, Inoue K, Eyrich NW, Young LJ. (2016) Variation in the Oxytocin Receptor Gene Predicts Brain Region-Specific Expression and Social Attachment. Biol Psychiatry. 80(2):160-169.
Burkett JP, Andari E, Johnson ZV, Curry DC, de Waal FB, Young LJ. (2016) Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents. Science.351(6271):375-8.
Walum H, Waldman ID, Young LJ. (2016) Statistical and Methodological Considerations for the Interpretation of Intranasal Oxytocin Studies. Biol Psychiatry. 79(3):251-7.
Rilling JK, Young LJ. (2014) The biology of mammalian parenting and its effect on offspring social development. Science. 345(6198):771-6.

Speaker: Dr Pavel Němec (Department of Zoology, Charles University, Praha)
Date: 25th of May 2017.

Title: Small brains, great minds: cellular scaling rules for bird brains

Birds are remarkably intelligent, although their brains are small. Corvids and some parrots are capable of cognitive feats comparable to those of great apes. How do birds achieve impressive cognitive prowess with walnut-sized brains? We investigated the cellular composition of the brains of 28 avian species, uncovering a straightforward solution to the puzzle: brains of songbirds and parrots contain very large numbers of neurons, at neuronal densities considerably exceeding those found in mammals. Because these “extra” neurons are predominantly located in the forebrain, large parrots and corvids have the same or greater forebrain neuron counts as monkeys with much larger brains. Avian brains thus have the potential to provide much higher “cognitive power” per unit mass than do mammalian brains.

Speaker: Prof. Dr. Konstanze Krüger (Nuertingen-Geislingen University, Faculty Agriculture, Economics and Management, Department Equine Economics, Nürtingen and University of Regensburg, Zoology / Evolutionary Biology, Regensburg, Germany)
Date: 27th of April 2017.

Title: Behaviour and cognition in horses

The talk will present an overview on the state of the art in horse behavior and cognition research. The horse’s social system and its cognitive capacities have been underestimated for decades. Especially, studies on horses-human interactions were off the table ever since “Clever Hans “ was convicted not to be a mathematical genius. However, in the last two decades, scientists proved the social system of the horse to be complex. In addition, the horse’s environment is actually dominated by humans and changes fast. Along this line, it may not wonder that horses show cognitive capacities which enable them to adapt to the social system and the changes in the environment.  Studies on the horse’s interaction with humans, individual recognition, bond formation, memory, learning, categorization, and perspective taking will be presented, as well as recent advances in social learning and innovation studies.

Speaker: Prof. Dr. Sándor György Fekete, DVM, Dsc.(University of Veterinary Medicine, Department Animal Breeding, Nutrition and Laboratory Animal Science and Department of Laboratory Animal Science)
Date: 30th of March 2017.

Title: Zoomusicology or Mozart and the Rodents?

Zoomusicology is the study of the musical aspects of sound or communication produced and received by animals. It may be distinguished from ethnomusicology, the study of human music. Its subject is how music can affect animal behaviour and psychology. In our recent work we tested the short and long term effect of music, noise and noise-music on the behaviour, open-field activity and learning, spatial intelligence and memory performance of mice, rats and chicks.

Speaker: Prof. Niclas Kolm (evolutionary biologist from Stockholm University)
Date: 9th of February 2017.

Title: The costs and benefits of evolving a larger brain – results from an artificial selection experiment.

Brain size is enormously variable across all taxonomic levels and a suite of hypotheses, mostly targeting the cognitive advantages and energetic costs of evolving larger brains, exist over how this variation has evolved. I will present results from multiple assays testing these hypotheses in recently developed guppy (Poecilia reticulata) artificial selection lines with >10 % difference in relative brain size. Specifically, I will go through the hypotheses that are supported and refuted in these selection lines concerning both how brain size evolves and how variation in brain size can be an important mechanism behind variation in behavior. I will show how (artificial) brain size evolution affected a large plethora of fitness-related traits from immunocompetence and life history through personality and cognition to sexual signaling and even mate choice – often in a sex-specific way. I will also outline some suggestions for future avenues of research in this area and describe briefly some preliminary analyses on new guppy selection lines where we have selected on social behavior to test how brain morphology and other behaviours change under selection on social behavior.

Speaker: Pascal Belin (Professor of Neuroscience, Institute of Neurosciences of La Timone in Marseille, France)
Date: 17th of November 2016.

Title: A Vocal Brain: Cerebral Processing of Voice Information

The human voice carries speech but also a wealth of socially-relevant, speaker-related information. Listeners routinely perceive precious information on the speaker’s identity (gender, age),  affective state (happy, scared), as well as more subtle cues on perceived personality traits (attractiveness, dominance, etc.), strongly influencing social interactions. Using voice psychoacoustics and neuroimaging techniques, we examine the cerebral processing of person-related information in perceptual and neural voice representations. Results indicate a cerebral architecture of voice cognition sharing many similarities with the cerebral organization of face processing, with the main types of information in voices (identity, affect, speech) processed in interacting, but partly dissociable functional pathways.

Speaker: Árpád Dobolyi (MTA-ELTE NAP Laboratory of Molecular and Systems Neuroscience)
Date: 27th of October 2016.

Title: Neurobiology of maternal behavior

Adaptation of the brain to motherhood has recently become a leading research line as novel elements of the brain maternal network have been functionally identified. We hypothesized that molecular changes accompany the identified alterations of neuronal functions. These molecular adaptations were addressed using systems biological tools at the mRNA as well as the proteome level, which led to the identification of a number of maternally altered genes in different parts of the rat brain. The connections between some maternal brain centers were also addressed, which led to the identification of novel neuronal pathways involved in the control of maternal responsiveness.

Speaker: Nora Bunford (University of Illinois at Chicago, ELTE Ethology Department)
Date: 29th of September 2016.

Title: Findings from human neuroscience, psychophysiological, and socio-cognitive research: Adaptability and utility for comparative studies?

The domestic dog provides a socially relevant and unique model of human information processing. As pertinent comparative research is in its infancy, there may be utility in considering methods and findings of potentially relevant human studies with regard to the applicability thereof to future canine-human comparative work. To this end, a series of human neuroscience, psychophysiological, and socio-cognitive studies, conducted with children and adults with and without various psychiatric disorders, will be reviewed. These include research on (1) the association between fMRI-measured activation to a parametric Go/No-Go paradigm and conscientiousness, (2) the relation between fMRI-measured activation to an attentional control task and behavioral inhibition system sensitivity, (3) the degree to which differences in electrocortical reactivity to emotional faces differentiates children with anxiety disorders with regard to rule-breaking behaviors and social problems, (4) inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms mediating the association between neuropsychological and social impairment, (5) the correspondence between heart rate variability and emotion dysregulation in children with and without ADHD, and (6) 12-week test-retest reliability of fMRI-measured neural activation. Primary implications discussed will be related to ways in which this work is adaptable and useful to the design and execution of canine-human comparative studies.

Speakers: Laura V. Cuaya and Raúl Hernández-Pérez (Instituto de Neurobiología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
Date: 11th July, 2016.

Title:  Processing of faces in dogs through fMRI (Laura V. Cuaya)

Dogs are a unique model in the study of face recognition, because they not only have the capacity to discriminate between dog faces but they have also developed a remarkable capacity to extract valuable information from human faces. We have explored the cerebral correlates of face processing in seven dogs through fMRI. The stimuli were images of objects, human faces and dog faces. We found a posterior to anterior pattern of cerebral activity depending of the kind of visual stimuli: occipital cortex responds to all categories, while temporal cortex responds to all facial stimuli, regardless of species, and the frontal cortex responds preferentially to human faces. Our findings are consistent with the importance of temporal cortex in face processing in humans, non-human primates and sheep. And the activity in the frontal cortex related to human faces could be the brain correlate of the differential behavioral patterns that dogs show towards human faces.
Also because of the importance of human emotions for dogs we explored the cerebral correlates of one emotion in eight dogs: happiness in faces. We found brain activity related to happy human faces in several regions, including temporal cortex, frontal cortex and caudate. All the activity was found in the right hemisphere. We think that these studies can contribute to an integral understanding of the foundations of social cognition in dogs.

Title: Predicting dog’s perception: Multivariate pattern analysis as tool to study the process of emotions in faces (Raúl Hernández-Pérez)

Dogs use emotional cues from humans to guide their behavior. There is behavioral evidence that shows that dogs are capable of discriminate expression of emotions in human faces. We explored the brain correlates of perception of emotions in human faces in dogs using fMRI.
We used a block design with four emotions in humans: happiness, sadness, fear and anger. Four dogs participated in this experiment; for each dog we acquired ten runs. To analyze the data, we employed a new analysis technique: multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA). The traditional analysis method in fMRI matches a stimulus with a change in the activity of an individual voxel, so if the voxel increments its activity is then considered to be related to the stimulus being presented, this approach has pointed out regions that are related to specific cognitive states, however, the sensitivity of this method relies on the intensity of the response of a single voxel to a cognitive state. However, we know that a cognitive state is not only the sum of activity of single brain pieces, but in fact, emerges from the collective activity of several brain regions. MVPA takes this into account, this analysis uses the pattern of activity of several voxels at the same time. It considers not only the increase of activity, but small changes in multiple voxels that can inform about a cognitive state. The analysis uses machine learning techniques not only to assess the relationship between a stimulus and a brain region, but to predict the stimulus being presented to the participant.
We were capable to predicted above of chance (p < 0.05) from the pattern of activity of all brain the emotion that dogs was observed. Our findings show that at the cerebral level dogs can discriminate basic emotions in human faces, this maybe reflect an adaptations of dogs to anthropogenic niche. Beyond the importance of these results to understanding of emotional processing in dogs, we introduce the MVPA as a useful tool to explore the cerebral correlates of dog’s cognition.

Speaker: Tiffani Howell (La Trobe University, Australia)
Date: 20th June 2016.

Title: The La Trobe University Anthrozoology Research Group: An overview of current projects

The Anthrozoology Research Group at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, is led by A/Prof Pauleen Bennett. The group has recently taken on four new PhD students, in addition to a postdoctoral researcher, and has just built Australia’s first dedicated dog behaviour and cognition laboratory, the ARG Dog Lab. The aim of this presentation is to highlight the research that is currently underway in the ARG, with a view to collaborating with the Family Dog Project on these or other future research projects. Current research projects include attempts to understand sensory processing (visual, auditory, and olfactory) in dogs using behavioural and EEG measures. We are also looking at the effectiveness of clicker training in applied settings, and the extent to which dogs possess executive functions or even meta-cognition. Finally, we will be examining the neurobiology of the dog-owner relationship, using physiological measures such as heart rate to better understand whether dogs function as social supports for their owners similarly to the way that other humans can.

Speaker: Dr. László Varga (SZIE)
Date: 9th June 2016.

Title: Gene Hunting in the Dog Genome

Genetic mapping based on canine DNA markers started in the early 90s. The primary goal was to create and continuously improve genetic and various physical maps of the species. With these maps, the aim was - as it is today - to determine the chromosomal positions of the genes that determine the various genetic diseases, morphological characteristics (e.g. coat colour and quality), or even behavioural characteristics etc. of the dog, and then to use these to identify the mutations that are responsible. In targeted crosses and in pedigrees, this has led to the identification of the acting mutations of several traits, mainly following a simpler inheritance pathway. However, the big breakthrough came in the whole genome sequencing of humans and later dogs, among others, with the advent and spread of next-generation sequencing and SNP-chip techniques. These also provided a way to discover the haplotype structure of genomes. The evolution of the dog, its domestication, the development of breeds, and then vigorous artificial selection has resulted in a unique haplotype structure that is proving to be extremely powerful in the application of one of the latest genetic mapping approaches, GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Studies). Another, called Selection Sweep Mapping, can also be used to find the footprints of selection in the genome: the gene/sequence variants that underlie the phenotypes for which breeders have selected a particular breed.