In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animal Behavior

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Anthologies
  • Historical Background
  • Methods and Techniques
  • Communication
  • Learning and Cognitive Processes
  • Proximate Mechanisms
  • Feeding, Foraging, and Antipredator Behavior
  • Migration and the Ecology of Spatial Distribution
  • Evolution of Social Behavior
  • Social Organization and Group Living
  • Taxonomic Group Studies
  • Animal Behavior and Conservation

Psychology Animal Behavior
Suzanne Baker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0005


This field encompasses the scientific study of the behavior of nonhuman animals. Niko Tinbergen, who won the Nobel Prize in 1973 (along with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz) for his work in animal behavior, conceptualized the scientific study of animal behavior as encompassing four interrelated questions or levels of analysis. These include questions of proximate cause or mechanism; questions of behavioral development or ontogeny; questions of function or adaptive significance; and questions concerned with the evolution of behavior. This conceptualization of the field remains important in the contemporary study of animal behavior. The field of animal behavior has its roots in the disciplines of psychology, where it was historically conceptualized as comparative psychology, and biology, where it emerged as the subdiscipline of ethology. The contemporary study of animal behavior stretches across several theoretical and applied disciplines, including behavioral ecology, comparative psychology, biological anthropology, wildlife management, veterinary medicine, and others. Researchers in animal behavior investigate a wide range of behaviors, including communication and sensory processes; feeding, foraging, and antipredator behavior; reproductive behavior; social behavior; and the relationship of behavior to the environment. As new technologies have been developed, enabling increasingly detailed data to be collected on behavior, genetics, movement patterns, and populations, our understanding of animal behavior has expanded. The early 21st century has seen an increasing focus on applied topics, including the role of animal behavior in conservation, domestic animal behavior, the behavior of animals in zoo settings, and human–animal interaction.

Reference Works

The works listed here provide background information on basic biology, behavior, and natural history of many species. The Animal Diversity Web is a convenient starting point for students as well as nonscientists seeking basic natural history data on a given species. Species accounts in this continuously updated resource are written by undergraduate students. Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia (Hutchins 2003), also taxonomically organized, provides a wealth of information on natural history as well as behavior. Introductory sections for each major group provide background information at a level suitable for students and for nonscientists seeking animal behavior related information. Unlike the other sources listed here, Breed and Moore 2010, a three-volume encyclopedia, is focused specifically on animal behavior. This work is an extremely useful resource for students as well as scientists interested in up-to-date summaries of research in particular areas. Entries are written by established researchers and are organized thematically. For images and video, the Arkive site is an excellent source. Its primary focus is threatened and endangered species.

  • Animal Diversity Web.

    Online database containing species accounts for a broad range of animals. A unique feature of this site is that these accounts have been written by undergraduates. Species accounts include information about geographic range and habitat, as well as behavioral data on reproduction, feeding, and communication. An excellent general source.

  • Arkive: Images of Life on Earth.

    Online collection of video and photographs of a diverse array of species. Primary focus is on threatened and endangered species, but many nonthreatened species are included as well. An excellent resource for video and pictures.

  • Breed, Michael D., and Janice Moore, eds. 2010. Encyclopedia of animal behavior. 3 vols. London: Elsevier.

    This extensive three-volume work consists of over 300 entries written by distinguished scientists in the field. Topical entries are organized into broader subject classifications on such subjects as antipredator behavior and social learning. An essential reference volume for libraries and an excellent source of information for students as well as professionals.

  • Hutchins, Michael, ed. 2003. Grzimek’s animal life encyclopedia. 17 vols. 2d ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

    This seventeen-volume, lavishly illustrated, well-researched encyclopedia contains a wealth of information. Specialist editors have provided introductory material for each major taxon. Introductory sections include information on many aspects of animal behavior for each major group.

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