The Yorzinski Lab at Texas A&M University in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology is focused on understanding animal behavior, with an emphasis on sensory ecology, animal communication, and conservation. We adopt an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the mechanisms that shape the form and function of diverse signals.
Visual Attention in Birds and Primates
Animals are continuously bombarded with visual information from their environment. Due to neural processing limitations, animals must selectively filter this information by directing their attention to relevant information while ignoring the rest. We study how animals employ visual attention in complex sensory environments to make decisions that influence their survival and reproduction.
Acoustic Communication in Birds
Animals can encode detailed information in their vocalizations. These vocalizations can inform conspecifics about the identity, age, and sex of callers. They can also communicate the presence and danger level of predators. We study how animals use vocalizations to communicate with each other about their internal and external environments.
Anthropogenic Disturbances and Behavior
Humans are increasingly impacting the natural world and these impacts can have dramatic effects on the behavior of animals. Light and noise pollution, for example, can alter the sensory world of animals and influence how they respond to predators and mates. We study the ways in which anthropogenic disturbances influence animal behavior.
A Songbird Inhibits Blinking Behaviour in Flight
Visual attention plays a fundamental role in avian flight but attention is likely limited whenever birds blink. Because blinks are necessary to maintaining proper vision, we tested the hypothesis that birds strategically inhibit their blinks in flight. The blinks of captive great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) were recorded before, during and after they flew a short distance in an open environment. The grackles spent the least amount of time blinking in flight (take-off, during flight and landing) and the most amount of time blinking at impact. Their blinking behaviour was similar before and after flight. These results suggest that grackles strategically inhibit their blinking behaviour in flight, potentially because blinks impose costs to avian flight.
Mate-choice Copying in Humans
Mate-choice copying occurs when animals rely on the mating choices of others to inform their own mating decisions but the proximate mechanisms underlying mate choice copying remain unknown. To address this question, we tracked the gaze of men and women as they viewed a series of photographs in which a potential mate was pictured beside an opposite-sex partner; the participants then indicated their willingness to engage in a long-term relationship with each potential mate. We found that both men and women expressed more interest in engaging in a relationship with a potential mate if that mate was paired with an attractive partner. Men and women’s attention to partners varied with partner attractiveness and this gaze attraction influenced their subsequent mate choices. These results highlight the prevalence of non-independent mate choice in humans and implicate social attention and reward circuitry in these decisions.