Superiority and Inferiority: a Morphological Analysis of Free and Stimulus Bound Behaviour in Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) Interactions


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In analyzing motor behaviour, we use a method of gestalt perception that relies less on intuition and more on rational processes. The elementary building blocks of behaviour in this study are single movements — distinct changes of relation between two adjacent parts of the body. The single movements are performed in groups around specific axes: whole body rotations around the vertical absolute axis, whole body rotations around the longitudinal axis of the body, and whole body rotations around the side‐to‐side axis of the body. In their full blown form these rotations amount, respectively, to pivoting, rolling and tumbling. During “ritualized fighting”, these rotations are incorporated into the behaviour of the badger in a fixed sequence, yielding a fugue of rotations. “Ritualized fighting” is comprised in the badgers of five higher level (whole body) building blocks: the three whole body rotations, squatting, and forward walking. These building blocks are termed in the present study component‐variables. At a still higher level of analysis we reveal the effect of the environment (the moving partner), on the performance of these component‐variables. We record continuously the parts of the bodies of the two partners that touch or almost touch each other. In this way, we specify the tactile and visual input which impinges on each of the partners at any one time in the course of the interaction. Then, we examine the effect of the very same input, on the types of response performed by the badgers. This method allows us to assess the freedom of movement, i.e. the number of different responses available to each of the partners when confronted with the same stimulus situation. The five component‐variables generate four composite profiles of actual behaviour (the “inferior” female, the “inferior” male, the “superior” female, and the “superior” male). They form a common denominator in all the profiles, but vary systematically in amount, amplitude, and frequency from one profile to the next, yielding a gradient. Part of the gradient was also described in “ritualized fighting” in wolves, and in other species and situations. In wolves and badgers it involves a gradual transition from relative immobility in the most inferior, to extensive mobility in the most superior partner. We show, that the same stimulus situations elicit in the inferior the most fixed response sequences, and in the superior, the most variable ones. Inferiority consists of relative immobility and stimulus bound behaviour; superiority consists of extensive mobility and relatively free behaviour. The difference between fixed response sequences and “voluntary” behaviour is of degree, not of principle. 1987 Blackwell Verlag GmbH

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-116
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1987


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