Ten questions to guide behavioral experiments

Ten questions to guide behavioral experiments

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Congratulations to Whitney Laboratory Professor of Biology Dr. James Liao and colleagues for their recent article, "Fantastic beasts and how to study them: rethinking experimental animal behavior" in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


Humans have been trying to understand animal behavior at least since recorded history. Recent rapid development of new technologies has allowed us to make significant progress in understanding the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying behavior, a key goal of neuroethology. However, there is a tradeoff when studying animal behavior and its underlying biological mechanisms: common behavior protocols in the laboratory are designed to be replicable and controlled, but they often fail to encompass the variability and breadth of natural behavior. This Commentary proposes a framework of 10 key questions that aim to guide researchers in incorporating a rich natural context into their experimental design or in choosing a new animal study system. The 10 questions cover overarching experimental considerations that can provide a template for interspecies comparisons, enable us to develop studies in new model organisms and unlock new experiments in our quest to understand behavior.

Fantastic beasts and how to study them: rethinking experimental animal behavior

Covered in Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology of Behavior - Caesar

The 10-step “guideline”, entertainingly written and published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, encourages researchers to (re-)engage with their animals’ ecology and lifestyle. Ultimately appreciating an animal holistically will bring us closer to our goal: Understanding animal behavior and how it is controlled by the nervous system.

Ten questions to guide behavioral experiments

The Authors

  • Monika Scholz, MPINB
  • S. Serena Ding, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Konstanz
  • Jessica L. Fox, Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
  • Andrew Gordus, Department of Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
  • Abhilasha Joshi, Department of Physiology and Psychiatry, University of California
  • James C. Liao, Department of Biology, The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, University of Florida

Image: Julia Schlee, MPINB