Seminar: “The social psychology of songbirds: social context and Carolina chickadee behavior” by Prof. Todd M. Freeberg


“The social psychology of songbirds: social context and Carolina chickadee behavior”

by Prof. Todd M. Freeberg

 Date: 22 March 2021, Monday
Time: 16:30
Place: Zoom Meeting


From the earliest days of writing on behavior, we have known that an individual’s social context can powerfully influence that individual’s behavior. Behavior of individuals is often affected by the absence or presence of other individuals, and by the number, types, or composition of individuals if present. Like many ideas in organismal biology, this notion goes back to Darwin, with traces found in the writings of Lamarck. The notion remained important in both early ethology and early comparative psychology. However, the focus on social context in animal behavior research waned in the late 1900s and early 2000s as studies of personality and behavioral syndromes gained prominence. This presentation will emphasize the need for increased study of the roles of social context in animal behavior. I will discuss a series of recent observational and experimental studies on how variation in flocks of Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) influences individual chickadee behavior. These studies include tests of how flock size influences the complexity of calls individuals produce, how familiarity of individuals in flocks influences their calling behavior, and how variation in mixed-species flock size and diversity is associated with individual ability to solve a novel feeder task.

About the Speaker: Todd M. Freeberg is Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the Director of the College Scholars Honors Program of the College of Arts & Sciences, and is an adjunct faculty member of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Ecology, Ethology, & Evolution, at the University of Illinois and his PhD from the Department of Biology at Indiana University. Following postdoctoral work in Biology and in Audiology & Speech Sciences at Purdue University, he joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee. His focus of study is animal communication, and he aims to understand how variation in social groups influences individual behavior, often while listening to post-punk and dub music.