IEC and a nasty case of Bristol Envy

31 08 2013

Early August saw me, Jamie, Becky & Carole all travelling to Newcastle for the International Ethological Conference, held in a giant glass Norman Foster slug called the Sage. With over 800 participants, and dozens of friends and colleagues there, the meeting was enormous fun (at times verging on overwhelming). Highlights for me were seeing Mike Mendl, Liz Paul, Melissa Bateson (who was organising the meeting), Suzanne Held and Hanno Wuerbel – friends for over 20 years now; meeting people I’ve long heard about and read, but never met before (Louise Barrett, Sergio Pellis and Kate Lessells); having my talk go well, in the “death” session organised by Dan Weary & Joanna Makowska & Huw Golledge (and being introduced by Dan, the chair, as “the Queen of Experimental Design” – may have to get that as a tattoo); hearing from UFAW‘s Robert Hubrecht that yes, me and Mike (Walker) did get a $5000 grant for our mixed strain experiment (phew); seeing Jamie chair a session with aplomb, and him and Becky both give good talks on their play and enrichment research; catching up with my former supervisor, Pat Bateson, and my intellectual heroine Marian Dawkins (and learning from her that chicks really, really like orange…); seeing Andy Sih and his lovely partner Kate; and hearing all the new work that’s emerging on the neurobiology and the evolutionary functions of emotions and moods (this gave me a severe case of Bristol envy, as that place is such a hub of cool fundamental work relevant to welfare).

Frustrations were that everyone is still sidestepping the feelings component of emotion (but maybe that all’s the better for me and Walter); that the one poster I sought out (of the 400 or so: it was insane) did not show what it claimed (that pets cats recognise their names: the experiment was too badly designed to say anything much); and that with this vast venue and multiple parallel sessions, there were some people I really like who I barely saw, save to wave at them as I went up an up escalator while they went down a down one…





Guelph phonography

31 08 2013

Cool photos taken on phones; they make Guelph look stuck in the 1940’s and strangely buccolic, but that’s part of their charm:

http://guelphonography.ca/2012-winners/

Screen shot 2013-08-31 at 6.34.03 PM





Meerkat research

25 08 2013





Dissertation Boot Camp

25 08 2013

Maria disappeared for a week at the end of July to participate in the one of our library’s regular “dissertation boot camps“. Would she re-emerge wiry, newly-muscled and with strange tattoos, we wondered? Disappointingly not, but it did make her knuckle down and blitz Chapter 1. Her verdict (once she’d recovered)? “EXCELLENT! I wish it’d go on for at least one more week… or a month! I don’t think I’ve ever had so many positive things to say in a final evaluation form”.





Hilarious search terms

25 08 2013

A while ago I commented on the bizarre routes that accidentally bring people to this blog, and I thought you might enjoy seeing the top 30 or so search terms. It’s a funny old world.

Hilarious search terms





Calling about consciousness

25 08 2013

In June, Walter sent detailed requests for information to the eight key researchers who’ve studied the use of interoceptive states as discriminative stimuli (DS). We’ve been using their papers to assess whether this use of internal states to guide the selection of learnt responses can occur without reportable feelings (in a “blindsight”-like way), or instead whether subjects can only do this if they are consciously aware of how they feel. Our motive is to assess whether such actions are potentially markers of conscious awareness. Pigs and rats can use an anxiety-inducing drug as a DS for example (learning to use it versus a saline injection to guide which of two operants to perform for food), and will generalise from it to apparently-frightening situations like being beaten up by rivals (as revealed by them picking the “anxious-drug lever” after such experiences; here is a similar example). Do such studies demonstrate conscious emotions in animals? We cannot tell for sure, but we can get close by looking at human studies that involve not just similar DS tasks, but also questionnaires that assess subjects’ reported sensations.

These studies are technically challenging & tough to understand though, and so Walter needed some last methodological details not mentioned in the published papers to really judge which to use and which not. He was also hoping to get some raw data from the researchers. I had been worried that some would not reply, and insisted we sent them real old-fashioned letters on fancy paper as well as emails. Turns out I was wrong – all eight replied within a week, and with enormous helpfulness and warmth. In the following few weeks we also had phonecalls with three of them: Kenzie Preston, Dora Duka, and Craig Rush. These were fun and extremely useful; also inspiring, even though at least one was convinced we won’t find what we are seeking ….





A old favourite from the Onion

25 08 2013

Years old but even after many watchings this still makes me laugh.