Winter 2010 - Behavioral Genetics-Psych/Bio 458

Instructor: Sean O'Donnell

Professor of Psychology (Animal Behavior)

 Office: 325 Guthrie

Tel. 543-2315

Email: sodonnel "at"

Course web page:

Meetings: MoWe 10:30-12:20 Seig Hall room 230

Format. 4 Credits, Graded (4 point scale). Two weekly meetings will include a combination of formal lecture and open discussion. First, an introductory series of lectures will define the subject matter and introduce some of the most important methods in behavioral genetics. Next, we will focus in detail on studies that illustrate the basic concepts and insightful approaches to the study of behavioral genetics.

Course materials. My teaching web page (URL above) will be an important resource for the course. I will regularly post outlines of my lecture notes there, as well as announcements.

I will provide a set of primary papers in electronic format (PDF). A subset of the papers will be selected for further discussion in class. Some class meetings will be devoted to seminar-like consideration of the selected papers.

Grading. Grades will be based on one midterm exam and a non-cumulative final exam, and three written summaries of papers that have been selected for discussion. Each of the exams and the average of the three writing grades will be weighted equally.

Exams will be short essay and problem-solving in format. Exams will be given in-class and you will be given the full period to complete each exam. The exam questions will be designed to encourage novel application of methods and concepts learned to the design and analysis of behavioral genetics research.

Paper summaries will require you to answer several questions about the assigned article. The goal of these short writing assignments is to help hone your skills in reading, interpreting, and critically evaluating the primary literature. Each summary will be about 3-4 double-spaced typed pages long.


Topics to be covered:

Principles of behavioral genetics

History of the field, Mendelian effects, Selection experiments, Strain differences, Genes in development, Heritability and Nature/Nurture,

Behavioral ecology and genetics

Techniques and methodologies

Pedigrees, Mutant screening, Linkage analysis, Genetic Transformation, Quantitative genetics, Artificial selection, Developmental genetics, Fate mapping,

Knockouts, Gene expression, Genotypic markers

Special topics: Genetics of cognition and learning

Decision rules, Stages of cognition, Human IQ, PER learning in insects, Spatial memory, Drosophila learning mutants

Special topics: Kin recognition

Social cohesion, Intraspecific competition, Inbreeding avoidance, Parent/offspring recognition

Special topics: Genetics of migration

Function/definition of migration, Insect wing polymorphisms as a model system, Phenotypic plasticity

Special topics: Human behavioral genetics

Statistical techniques, Adoption and twin studies, Pedigree analysis