Captive: Stereotypical and Natural

In this post, I will be discussing a part of an article titled “Stereotypies: a critical review” by Georgia J. Mason, more specifically, the first section ” Stereotypies as abnormal behavior”.

What counts as stereotypical?

Mason discusses two possible meanings of stereotypical behavior. Firstly, the behavior is not normal. Normal could mean either that it stands out from an observed population or that it serves no purpose or harms the animal. The selection of the observed population would also affect what is normal. For example, comparing a behavior of an animal to a captive population would be different from comparing it with a wild population. It has also been argued that as stereotypical behavior did not result from natural selection, it would have a negative effect on the animal. However, Mason feels that just because a behavior seems strange does not mean it serves no observable purpose.

Stereotypical and normal behavior

Stereotypical behavior shares similarities with normal behavior. They resist change, can become independent of the original stimulus and both in some cases may serve no obvious purpose. Behavior comes about in response to factors in the environment. If these factors remain unchanged for a long time and/or the behavior is repeated many times, the behavior is reinforced. After a specific behavior is developed, it can be carried out even when the original stimulus is absent or under different environmental factors to which it might appear to serve no purpose. This also applies to normal behavior as in the example given in the paper, some animals still display foraging behavior even when abundant food is provided.

From this, I gather that normal behavior can be considered stereotypical in a sense. The only difference is that stereotypical behavior is undesirable by animal lovers. But it appears that stereotypical behavior is not all that defined. If an animal naturally acquires a behavior in an artificial environment, is it still considered a stereotypical behavior? After all, the animal is merely adjusting to its new environment. Of course, seeing an animal pace back and forth all day in behind metal bars or glass is not pretty. With animals in artificial environments, it is unlikely that we will see totally normal behavior as seen in the wild. Looks like more discussion is needed in defining stereotypical behavior and deciding which of these behaviors are okay to have.

Mason, G. J. (1991). Stereotypies: a critical review. Animal behaviour, 41(6), 1015-1037.


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