Animal Behavior Laboratory at Princeton University
Professor: James L. Gould
Enrollment: approximately 50 students in 3 sections
A major goal of this course is to teach students how to do science: collect initial observations, formulate testable hypotheses, perform tests, refine or overhaul the original hypothesis, devise a new test, and so on. Each lab is two weeks long, with the equipment and animals available for the entire time. All of the materials that students could plausibly need are stored on shelves for easy and immediate access. In the first hour, we discuss the lab and possible hypotheses, and look over the materials at hand. Each group then formulates an initial plan, obtains approval for their plan, and conducts the experiment.
The most flexible labs utilize computer-controlled stimuli. In one lab, students are asked to determine to what features of prey a toad responds. Although they begin with live crickets and worms, they are encouraged to use a computer library of "virtual" crickets and toads. Students are given instructions for making new prey models, or modifying existing ones, to test the toad's response to different features. The library includes variations of shape, motion, color, three-dimensionality, size, and so on, plus a variety of cricket chirps and other calls. In general, students quickly discover that virtual crickets work almost as well as real ones-better in that they provide more data since the toad never fills up! A simple statistical program on the computers helps minimize the drudgery of data analysis, enabling the students to concentrate on experimental design and results rather than tedious computations.
A number of other labs in the course make use of computer-generated and modified stimuli. Labs using this strategy deal with mate recognition in crickets and fish, competitor recognition in fish, predator recognition in chicks and fish, imprinting in ducklings, color change in lizards, and hemispheric dominance in humans.