Plants and Animals

Science can Get Tripped up by Animal Traits, but There is a Fix

Science can Get Tripped up by Animal Traits, but There is a Fix

Christian Rutz began to question whether he was giving his crows enough respect a number of years ago. Rutz, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and his group were catching wild New Caledonian crows and testing them with natural materials riddles before releasing them once more. In one experiment, birds had to extract food from a hole-drilled log that was concealed inside by using a plant stem as a hook. The researchers deleted a bird from the dataset if it failed to attempt within 90 minutes.

Rutz claims that he quickly came to the realization that he was not, in fact, researching the abilities of New Caledonian ravens. Only a small portion of New Caledonian crows approached a strange log they had never seen before, perhaps because they were particularly courageous or reckless. He was observing their abilities.

The group modified their procedure. They started giving the more cautious birds an additional day or two to adjust before attempting the puzzle once more. In fact, a lot of these retested birds “suddenly start engaging,” according to Rutz. “They only required a little more time,”

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Science can Get Tripped up by Animal Traits, but There is a Fix

Scientists are becoming more and more aware that individuals exist in both humans and animals. They each have unique tendencies, routines, and life events that could influence how they respond to a test. As a result, many written studies on animal behavior may be biased, according to some researchers.

Studies that claim to demonstrate something about a species as a whole — like how far green sea turtles migrate or how chaffinches react to a rival’s song — may actually reveal more about specific individuals that were caught, housed, or that have a particular genetic trait. This presents a challenge for scientists who want to comprehend how creatures perceive their surroundings, learn new things, and go about living their lives.

Rutz claims that “the samples we draw are quite frequently badly biased. “The society has been discussing this for a considerable amount of time,”.

Rutz and Michael Webster, both from the University of St. Andrews, suggested solutions to this issue in 2020. It was dubbed ODD.

Personalities aren’t just for people: Why is “STRANGE”? In 2010, an article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences suggested that the people studied in much of published psychology literature are WEIRD — drawn from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies — and are “among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans.” Researchers may make generalizations about the human mind when, in reality, they have only looked at the thoughts of, say, University of Minnesota undergraduate students.

Ten years later, Rutz and Webster wrote a paper titled “How STRANGE are your study animals?” in the magazine Nature, taking inspiration from WEIRD.

They suggested that behavioral scientists take into account a number of characteristics about the study animals, which they referred to as Social background, Trappability and self-selection, Rearing history, Acclimation and habituation, Natural changes in responsiveness, Genetic makeup, and Experience.

We were using mesh minnow traps to gather fish for studies when I first started to consider these biases, according to Webster. He hypothesized that more active sticklebacks were more likely to swim into these traps, which he later verified in the lab. Webster claims that in order to catch a wider variety of fish, “we now attempt to use nets instead.

Trappability is that. In addition to activity level, an animal may be easier to capture than its peers if it has a bold personality, lacks experience, or is simply more hungry for bait.

Other studies have demonstrated that pheasants housed in groups of five outperformed those housed in groups of only three on a learning task (determining which hole held food). This is known as social background. Compared to wild spiders, jumping spiders reared in captivity were less interested in prey, and honeybees learned best in the morning. (Natural changes in responsiveness). so forth.

According to Rutz, it might be impossible to eliminate all biases from a collection of research animals. He and Webster, however, want to inspire other scientists to consider STRANGE variables before conducting each experiment and to be open about how those factors may have influenced their findings.

“We used to assume that we could do an experiment the same way we do chemistry—by controlling a variable and not changing anything else,” says Holly Root-Gutteridge, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom who studies dog behavior. However, research has been revealing unique behavioral patterns in all types of animals, from hermit crabs to monkeys—what is sometimes referred to as personality. Animals still possess personality and distinctiveness, according to Root-Gutteridge, even if we haven’t previously acknowledged it. In a paper on animal welfare problems from 2022, Root-Gutteridge and coauthors observed that this lack of human imagination or empathy marries some classic experiments. For instance, in studies conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow in the 1950s, baby rhesus macaques and wire-made impersonation mothers were used.