About this Research Topic
Behavioral sciences have recently shifted from mainly functional studies, characteristic of behavioral ecology, back to mechanistic approaches to individual variation.
Studies of inter-individual differences in animals, although descriptive and functional in the beginning, start once again to address the four fundamental questions of Ethology, proposed by Tinbergen, and to focus on developmental and mechanistic aspects. Recent articles also work to integrate both, inter and intra-individual variations in a more general framework of research.
Given this renewed interest in understanding whether or not changes in individual behavioral decisions are occurring, it is more important than ever to elucidate how plasticity (developmental, contextual, etc.) combines with non-plastic inter-individual’s variation, and how norms of individual reaction are essential to elicit the diverse individuals’ behaviors in different contexts.
Social interactions play a crucial role in social animals' fitness and social behavior, constituting a significant part of the individual's experience. As such, these interactions are both, immediate contextual factors and selective pressures, on the expression of adapted behavioral responses.
Behavioral decisions are included in what can be considered a social umwelt, which is both part of the perceptual environment as well as a way of perceiving the environment, allowing individuals to act upon a diversity of cues and signals.
This potential richness in contextual variation has certainly shaped the individual behavior of social species, having consequences on decision mechanisms, such as the cognitive mechanisms associated with social life.
Recent studies have shown how social context and experience can change behavioral decisions of a variety of social species, from invertebrates, such as ants and fruit flies, to vertebrates, such as fish, primates and humans. Ultimately, the social environment can even create a stress so acute that both human and non-human animals have difficulties showing sufficient plasticity or adaptive responses, a current and relevant problem in a period of accelerated ecological changes.
This new focus on how plasticity and inter-individual differences influence social behavior makes it timely to join different perspectives and aggregate new findings of various fields. Experimental evidence of the context-dependent plasticity from diverse organisms can lead to the elaboration of a common research framework, bringing back comparative psychology and ethology in the understanding of social behavior, its expression, development, ecology and evolution in an overt fashion.
Our call for manuscripts covers all type of articles (e.g., original research, methods, reviews, etc.) addressing the influence of experience (social or not) on the behavior of social species. Our intention is to incorporate different views, including studies of vertebrates and invertebrates, from species with parental care to eusocial ones, focusing on the four questions of Tinbergen.
Of particular interest are the mechanisms behind inter and intra-individual variation and/or consistency in behavioral expression. Our goal is to explore how experience affects all levels of behavioral complexity (from molecular to population approaches) in the hope to present a comprehensive picture of this research area.
The Guest Editors would like to acknowledge and thank Veridiana Jardim (USP, Brazil) for her contribution to the elaboration of this Research Topic in relation with her doctorate studies.
Keywords: Personality, Reaction Norm, Sociality, Development, Learning
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