Choosing an area of study

When choosing an area of study it is important to decide on a number of things, such as what species of animal you will observe, and what type of behaviours you would like to observe.  Are you interested in assessing all of the behaviours which an animal performs in a set time period?  This may be useful if you want to develop an ethogram (see the following section), or if you are just interested in seeing what an animal does with its time.  Alternatively do you want to focus on a particular area of behaviour, such as elimination or play behaviour? 

We must also consider what the aims of the observations are, for example do we want to find out how feeding regimes affect behaviour pre and post feeding, or whether a medical intervention has an effect on an animal’s behaviour?  From this we can decide whether we need to introduce any independent variables for the research.  An independent variable is something that we as the observer can change, such as the type of food offered to an animal (Pierce and Cheney, 2004) or the means by which the food is delivered as shown in the following video.

EXAMPLE: Food type and its delivery as examples of independent variables. Note that the type of food the cat is eating and the means by which it is delivered alter the types of feeding behaviours exhibited.


In summary, the key questions to ask when choosing an area of study are:
• what animal?
• what behaviours?
• what is the aim of measuring behaviour?
• will we be altering any variables which could affect behaviour?