The David S. Olton Behavioral Biology Program is an interdepartmental, interdivisional area major for those wishing to study the natural and social sciences in relation to human and animal behavior. The program focuses on the relationships among brain, behavior and evolution through an interdisciplinary program of study – an intersection of Psychology, Biology and Neuroscience.

An important concept for human health students to learn is that the interactions between behavior and biology are bidirectional. On the one hand, biology influences behavior. For example, psychopharmacology has demonstrated the importance of neurochemical substances in the brain, and sociobiology has emphasized the role of genetic factors in behavior. On the other hand, behavior also influences biology. An individual’s perception and reaction to life events can have substantial effects on hormonal, neural and physiological functions. In recognizing both of these interactions, behavioral biology seeks to establish a greater understanding of them through its interdisciplinary organization.

One goal of the  program is to teach students how to integrate scientific discoveries from a broad array of scientific fields of inquiry. For example, the Behavioral Biology program shares courses with the neuroscience program, however neural systems are examined within a broader evolutionary and functional context, and students are challenged to think both critically and synthetically. The program also has a flexible set of upper level course requirements so that students can tailor the degree to their interests: curricula can span diverse areas including psychology, neuroscience, biology, philosophy, earth and planetary science, and environmental engineering.

The interdisciplinary nature of the behavioral biology program provides excellent preparation for post-graduate work in biology or psychology related fields. For those interested in the health professions, behavioral biology can be integrated into a premedical or pre-veterinary curriculum and provides a strong biological foundation. Students interested in the fields of organismal or integrative biology should also consider behavioral biology as a major.

a venn diagram whereBehavioral Biology is made from biology, psychology and neuroscience

Learning Goals

By the completion of their course of study, behavioral biology majors are expected to:

  • Obtain an in depth understanding of animal behaviors
  • Obtain a basic understanding of neural systems that mediate behavior
  • Obtain a basic understanding of human behavior in the context of both the biological and social sciences
  • Develop basic competence in scientific communication, oral and written
  • Be able to understand and apply principles of data analysis using statistical methods
  • Explore and prepare for careers, including those in basic science and medical/veterinary fields