Research on Social Behavior

Many studies on the behavior of wild, zoo, farm, and companion animals include the investigation of social behavior. The Observer® XT allows you to code and analyze this behavior with great detail, while Theme™ analyzes your observational data and reveals meaningful information on patterns of behaviors. Combine both products for a powerful solution. 

Understanding social behavior is becoming increasingly important in farm animal husbandry as more animals are housed in groups rather than in individual stables or pens. Social behavior is an important indicator of welfare, and it is highly influenced by housing conditions. Of course, social behavior is studied in more contexts than just this, such as the investigation of problem behavior in dogs, or the implications of adding new group members to an established group of chimpanzees.

Powerful flexibility

The kind of set-up you need depends on your research aims and environment; you might choose to use a handheld for on-the-go scoring, or set up a stationary post. The same goes for the methods of observation. You can score live, offline from video files, or combine methods; you can use continuous and/or instantaneous scoring. The Observer XT is powerful, versatile, flexible,and adaptable to become your ideal coding tool.

An ethogram to suit you research needs

The coding scheme (ethogram) is your starting point for the collection of data that contains exactly the amount of detail you need. In social interaction studies, it is interesting to know which social behavior was directed towards which conspecific, or even to which body part of that conspecific. When investigating social interaction in chickens, the behavior ‘peck group member’ can be extended with the modifier ‘body part’ and modifier values ‘head’, ‘neck’, ‘tail’, and ‘body’.

Detailed analysis 

The Observer XT Advanced Analysis Module enables lag sequential analysis; the analysis of time and state lags between specific behaviors. You can investigate how long it takes for a certain behavior to be repeated, or how much time passes before one behavior is followed by another. For instance: “What is the average amount of time between an aggressive display and a biting event?" Or you can analyze associations between behaviors of different animals: "How does a dog respond when it is bitten? Does it bite back or run away? And which behaviors precede a biting incident?” The analysis of intra and inter individual time and event lags allows you to investigate hierarchies and social structures. Think of research questions related to group departure behavior in herds (such as sheep and geese), feeding order in a group of predator species, and more.

Patterns of behavior 

You can take data analysis to another level: data obtained with The Observer XT can be imported into Theme. This program finds patterns that are impossible to detect with basic statistical programs, giving you valuable information on the complexity of social interactions and dominance structures. Theme detects statistically significant patterns based on the timing of events relative to each other. If behaviors are linked by a certain time interval more often than expected by chance, Theme defines this as a T-pattern. This can reveal insight into grooming rituals, group pecking (chickens), feeding habits, play behavior between conspecifics, and so on.


Find out more about social behavior research in these blog posts.