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Timing and the transition between modes in the defensive behavior system


Antipredator defense is organized in a way that mirrors Timberlake's feeding behavior system because the goal of defense is to thwart predatory behavior. Each predatory mode has a corresponding antipredator mode. Like appetitive behavior systems, the defensive behavior system is organized around distinct modes along a spatiotemporal continuum we call the predatory imminence continuum. Behavior systems theory directs investigation toward the factors that lead to transitions between modes. In the feeding and sex systems the time between Conditional Stimulus (CS) and Unconditional Stimulus (US; e.g., CS-US interval or CS duration) is an important factor. Short CSs elicit conditional responses (CR) characteristic of more terminal modes and long CSs provoke CRs belonging to initial modes. Therefore, we asked if short CSs (10 s) would provoke CRs like the vigorous activity bursts and escape-like responses characteristic of the terminal mode of the predatory imminence continuum (Circa-Strike Behavior). Also, via analogy to appetitive systems, long CSs (3 min) were predicted to favor the intermediate mode, post-encounter behavior, which is characterized by freezing. Instead we found that both CSs produced freezing but not activity burst CRs and that freezing was actually greater with the short CS. We suggest that this difference between behavior systems flows from selection pressure that favors moving toward terminal modes in appetitive systems but away from terminal modes in the antipredator system. In addition, since appetitive reinforcers are more likely to be repeatedly experienced than predators, the learning of timing may be less relevant to defense. We also found that shock produced activity bursts and argue that when you are in the post-encounter mode (freezing) a sudden change in stimulation causes an immediate transition to circa-strike (terminal) behavior.

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