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Investigating behaviour

Behaviour can be investigated in the ‘field’ or in the laboratory.

It can be observed and measured, and experiments can be designed to test how it works.

Human behaviour is affected by many variables. It can be more difficult to study than the behaviour of other animals.

Investigations in the field

‘Fieldwork’ does not always mean you have to work in a field. It means investigations that take place outside the laboratory.

Some scientists spend many hours watching and studying the behaviour of animals. They may be interested in how the animals live alone, group into families or form large groups such as herds.

Scientists can tag sharks to study their behaviour.

Animals can signal to each other. For example, they may call to each other to warn of danger. Some scientists are interested in such signals. They record and study them to try to work out what the signals mean.


Some animals migrate over large distances to find food or nesting sites.

Animals can be ‘tagged’ by attaching tracking devices to them. Tagging lets scientists follow the journeys the animals make.

Investigations in the laboratory

The work of Lorentz and Pavlov has been mentioned in this Revision Bite. These scientists studied animal behaviour under controlled conditions.

The behaviour of woodlice is often studied in schools. Several woodlice are put into a choice chamber with four different conditions:

  • light and dry

  • light and damp

  • dark and dry

  • dark and damp

A choice chamber, represented by a circle divided into quarters. One quarter is kept light and dry, another is dark and dry, another is dark and damp, and the final quarter is light and damp

The woodlice are left on their own for a while, and then the number of animals in each quarter is counted. Woodlice prefer dark and damp conditions. The quarter of the choice chamber with these conditions contains most or all of the woodlice.



Behaviour activity

Is it instinct or conditioning that makes you study science?



Join Questionaut's quest to find his friend's hat.

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