I am doing a course with Karolina Westlund Friman on animal training, a generic course for all animal trainers. https://illis.se/en/
In one module we learned how important it is to know the species you work with. This brought me to revisit a blog I did a while ago about Fixed Action Patterns and share one by Mary Hunter on how this can be used in training.
From my Positive Horsemanship blog – first published in 2014.
Kondrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for their work in developing an interpretive framework that crystallised the data they collected on animal behaviour in the field (ethology) and in the laboratory (neuroethology).
They observed what animals do and how and where the individual animals spent their time. They recognised that the behaviour of animals seemed to be constructed of elementary motor and sensory units. (Reference Animal Physiology – Eckert 4th edition 1997).
Motors units were called Fixed Actions Patterns – now called Modal Action Patterns as they aren’t as fixed as first thought.
The six properties of fixed/modal action patterns:
1. they are complex motor acts, each consisting of a specific temporal sequence of components – they are not simple reflexes.
2. they are typically elicited by specific key stimuli rather than general stimuli.
3. fixed action patterns are normally elicited by an environmental stimulus: but if the experimenter removes the stimulus after the behaviour has begun, the behaviour will usually continue to completion. This all or none property distinguishes them from simple reflexes.
4. the stimulus threshold for fixed action patterns varies with the state of the animal, and the variation can be quite large.
5. when they are presented with the appropriate stimulus, all members of the species (perhaps that are the same age, sex or both) will perform a given fixed action pattern nearly identical.
6. fixed action patterns are typically performed in a recognisable form even by animals that have had no prior experience with the key stimulus. That is these patterns are inherited genetically, although in many species the patterns can change with experience.
The last property has provoked the debate about nature versus nurture and recently epigenetic studies.
Useful blog about using this knowledge in training.