Science of Behavior

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What is Behavioral Husbandry?

Behavioral husbandry is the component of daily animal care focused on how animals interact with their physical and social environment.  Goals of behavioral husbandry include voluntary participation in their care and opportunities to express species typical behaviors.  We cultivate these goals through an understanding of natural and individual history and an application of behavioral science.  We continually evaluate the success of our efforts by measuring behavior change.

What is Behavior Analysis?

The science that studies the relationship between the environment (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) and an individual’s behavior is called behavior analysis.  Using what we know about the relationship between the environment and an individual’s behavior to change behavior that is significant for that individual is called applied behavior analysis.

From the Association for Behavior Analysis International:

Behavior analysis is a natural science that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals. Behavior analysts study how biological, pharmacological, and experiential factors influence the behavior of humans and nonhuman animals. Recognizing that behavior is something that individuals do, behavior analysts place special emphasis on studying factors that reliably influence the behavior of individuals, an emphasis that works well when the goal is to acquire adaptive behavior or ameliorate problem behavior. The science of behavior analysis has made discoveries that have proven useful in addressing socially important behavior such as drug taking, healthy eating, workplace safety, education, the treatment of pervasive developmental disabilities (e.g., autism), and the management of animals in human care.

To learn more about behavior analysis, check out these links:

Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

B.F. Skinner Foundation

Integration of Behavior Analysis and Behavioral Husbandry

Our behavioral husbandry program is rooted in the science of behavior.  This means we strive to integrate science-based practices into our program at all levels, including training, enrichment evaluation, animal training consultation and coaching, behavioral assessment, and animal care problem-solving.  Behavior analysts bring a background in basic (laboratory) and applied (practical) operant learning, expertise in translating scientific principles of behavior to practical applications, and ongoing contact with advances in the field of behavior analysis.  Behavioral husbandry professionals bring a background in hands-on animal training and enrichment with a variety of species, expertise in coaching and collaborating with animal care staff, and ongoing contact with advances in the field of animal care. Having a behavior analyst on our team allows us to blend this area of expertise with the strengths of our behavioral husbandry professionals in various ways.

The science-to-practice connection, evident in the application of behavior analysis to other areas of practice (e.g., education, workplace safety, etc.), provides a model for evidence-based practice.  In these areas, practitioners continually use recent research findings to develop new ways of changing behavior, and then evaluate the success of those efforts using similar methods to those used in research.  In order for this collaborative process to be effective, scientists and practitioners need to be connected to each other in ways that facilitate frequent and fruitful exchanges of current findings.

Science is ever-changing.  The scientific literature, consisting of peer-reviewed journal articles and books, builds upon itself over time as new discoveries and advances are made, questions are answered, and new questions arise.  Maintaining a connection with science can allow practitioners to incorporate these advances into their practical strategies.  We hope to foster state-of-the-art behavioral husbandry practices by maintaining a close connection with advances in behavioral science.

Learn More:  The Science of Behavioral Husbandry Series.