A mobility gradient in the organization of vertebrate movement: The perception of movement through symbolic language

Ilan Golani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Ordinary language can prevent us from seeing the organization of whole-animal movement. This may be why the search for behavioral homologies has not been as fruitful as the founders of ethology had hoped. The Eshkol-Wachman (EW) movement notational system can reveal shared movement patterns that are undetectable in the kinds of informal verbal descriptions of the same behaviors that are in current use. Rules of organization that are common to locomotor development, agonistic and exploratory behavior, scent marking, play, and dopaminergic drug-induced stereotypies in a variety of vertebrates suggest that behavior progresses along a "mobility gradient" from immobility to increasing complexity and unpredictability. A progression in the opposite direction, with decreasing spatial complexity and increased stereotypy, occurs under the influence of the nonselective dopaminergic drugs apomorphine and amphetamine and partly also the selective dopamine agonist quinpirole. The behaviors associated with the mobility gradient appear to be mediated by a family of basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits and their descending output stations. Because the small number of rules underlying the mobility gradient account for a large variety of behaviors, they may be related to the specific functional demands on these neurological systems. The EW system and the mobility gradient model should prove useful to ethologists and neurobiologists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-308
Number of pages60
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1992


  • Amphetamine
  • Apomorphine
  • Drug-induced stereotypies
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Gestalt perception
  • Language
  • Motor development
  • Movement notation
  • Play
  • Quinpirole
  • Ritualized fighting


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