PhD Estación Biológica de Doñana

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PhD seminars – A little bit of “human” science

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Due to the closeness of the summer, the round table scheduled for July has been brought forward to this week. This time our invited researcher was Curro Braza, from the department of Ethology and Biodiversity Conservation at the EBD.

Curro has focused his carrier on the behavior of mammals in their natural environment. He started his carrier working with ungulates, he then moved to primates and for the last twenty years he has been working with humans. Being humans his study species, apparently, makes him a kind of rara avis at the EBD. Therefore, we wanted him to tell us about his research and the similarities and dissimilarities that the methodology he employs with humans has with the one that we employ with our study species and systems.

Ending up working with humans was for Curro the natural outcome of a carrier focused every time in more intelligent and alimentary efficient species. However, it also implied a qualitative change in the literature he reads, that now embraces areas of Psychology, Physiology, Neurophysiology and Anthropology.

The main objective of his research is to detect social behaviors in children of four-five (sometimes up to 11) years old that could be early signals of certain future risk behaviors (aggression, depression, anxiety) or syndromes (e.g.  autism). The underlying idea is that behaviors that are observed in children irrespectively of their origin, culture, education, etc. might have an adaptative meaning andthere might be mechanisms to minimize their deleterious effects. In that sense, he is currently involved in a study about bulling in schools, a worldwide extended behavior that shows and increasing trend.

To illustrate the similarities and dissimilarities in the methodology he employs, Curro presented us one of his latest papers: “Girls’ and boys’ choices of peer behavioral characteristics at age five” (this and his other publications are listed in As Curro told us, his work is not that different from ours and we could make some analogies with the Material and Methods section of our studies:

Study species = children of four-five years

Study site = schools’ playgrounds

Selection of study sites = meetings with directors, teachers and parents

Sampling data = films of children interacting, surveys and saliva samplings (for hormone tests)

Response variables = frequency of certain play and behavioral patterns

Independent variables = sex, social status, parental group, levels of certain hormones, etc.


Of course, during the round table many curiosities and questions about the results and conclusions of Curro’s investigations arose, but that would need another post…


by Ana Montero 


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