Unsupervised Thinking
a podcast about neuroscience, artificial intelligence and science more broadly

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Episode 32: How Do We Study Behavior?

There is a tension when it comes to the study of behavior in neuroscience. On the one hand, we would love to understand animals as they behave in the wild---with the full complexity of the stimuli they take in and the actions they emit. On the other hand, such complexity is almost antithetical to the scientific endeavor, where control over inputs and precise measurement of outputs is required. Throw in the constraints that come when trying to record from and manipulate neurons and you've got a real mess. In this episode, we discuss these tensions and the modern attempts to resolve them.

First, we take the example of decision-making in rodents to showcase what behavior looks like in neuroscience experiments (and how strangely we use the term "decision-making"). In these studies, using more natural stimuli can help with training and lead to better neural responses. But does going natural make the analysis of the data more difficult? We then talk about how machine learning can be used to automate the analysis of behavior, and potentially remove harmful human biases. Throughout, we provide multiple definitions of "behavior", Grace relates animal training to parenting, and our special guest Adam Calhoun uses his encyclopedic knowledge of this area to provide many insightful examples!

We read:
Decision making behaviors: weighing ethology complexity and sensorimotor compatibility
Computational Analysis of Behavior - Annual Review of Neuroscience [$]

And mentioned:
Episode 18: Does Neuroscience Need More Behavior?
Mala Murthy (fly courtship work)
Low dimensionality of C. elegans (worm) behavior
How sensory neural responses are heavily influenced by behavior

For more, check out this list of behavioral papers Adam made on Twitter!

To listen to (or download) this episode, (right) click here.

As always, our jazzy theme music "Quirky Dog" is courtesy of Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) 

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