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Structural analyses in the study of behavior: From rodents to non-human primates

  • Autori: Casarrubea, Maurizio; Leca, Jean-Baptiste; Gunst, Noëlle; Jonsson, Gudberg K; Portell, Mariona; Di Giovanni, Giuseppe; Aiello, Stefania; Crescimanno, Giuseppe
  • Anno di pubblicazione: 2022
  • Tipologia: Review essay (rassegna critica)
  • OA Link:


The term "structure" indicates a set of components that, in relation to each other, shape an organic complex. Such a complex takes on essential connotations of functionally unitary entity resulting from the mutual relationships of its constituent elements. In a broader sense, we can use the word "structure" to define the set of relationships among the elements of an emergent system that is not determined by the mere algebraic sum of these elements, but by the interdependence relationships of these components from which the function of the entire structure itself derives. The behavior of an integrated living being can be described in structural terms via an ethogram, defined as an itemized list of behavioral units. Akin to an architectural structure, a behavioral structure arises from the reciprocal relationships that the individual units of behavior establish. Like an architectural structure, the function of the resulting behaving complex emerges from the relationships of the parts. Hence, studying behavior in its wholeness necessitates not only the identification of its constitutive units in their autarchic individuality, but also, and importantly, some understanding of their relationships. This paper aimed to critically review different methods to study behavior in structural terms. First, we emphasized the utilization of T-pattern analysis, i.e., one of the most effective and reliable tools to provide structural information on behavior. Second, we discussed the application of other methodological approaches that are based on the analysis of transition matrices, such as hierarchical clustering, stochastic analyses, and adjusted residuals. Unlike T-pattern analysis, these methods allow researchers to explore behavioral structure beyond its temporal characteristics and through other relational constraints. After an overview of how these methods are used in the study of animal behavior, from rodents to non-human primates, we discussed the specificities, advantages and challenges of each approach. This paper could represent a useful background for all scientists who intend to study behavior both quantitatively and structurally, that is in terms of the reciprocal relationships that the various units of a given behavioral repertoire normally weave together.