ETHOM: Event-Recording Computer Software for the Study of Animal Behavior
* Please cite ETHOM as:
Shih, H.-T. & H.-K. Mok, 2000. ETHOM: event-recording computer software for the study of animal behavior. Acta Zoologica Taiwanica 11(1): 47-61. PDF
* papers which used ETHOM for behavioral studies
Accuracy of data capturing is important for the study of animal behavior. ETHOM is a software package which makes the acquisition of the exact behavioral sequence and timing easy. In addition, a useful data analysis subroutine is also included. In the ¡§Recording Data¡¨ function, the user can record behavior directly in the field by setting the time interval through the audio alarm function for time sampling of behavioral data. If the behavior is recorded on videotape, this program can also match its timing with the timing recorded on the videotape or the VCR counter, and the user can correct data directly or press a special key to perform editing functions corresponding to the VCR, including pause for timing, different playback speeds, and modifying previous records. Users can also continue recording data from previously saved data in the ¡§Loading Data¡¨ function. Two methods of recording are provided, by pressing one key to input (GET-KEY method) or typing a string of keystrokes representing a behavior pattern as desired then pressing the ENTER key (KEY-IN method). The ¡§Analyzing Data¡¨ function shows the duration and frequency of each behavior pattern, and the output file of the frequency contingency table. All saved files are in ASCII format and can be read by most commercial word processors and statistics programs. The ¡§Information Analysis and Data Combination¡¨ function provides the values of parameters in information theory and allows file combination with ¡§Contingency Table Output File¡¨, ¡§Result Output File¡¨ or ¡§Observational Data File¡¨. The program can be executed on any IBM-compatible computer.
Many types of behavioral studies related to ethology, ecology, pharmacology, toxicology, psychology, and psychiatry, etc. need information of the behavior sequence and the duration of the behavior exhibited (Noldus et al., 1989). Many designs have been developed to obtain these data represented in alphabetical and numerical ways taken from the field or from videotapes. The most popular methods are check sheet, pen recorder, verbal description, and computer event recorder. Among them, the computer event recorder can provide the most sophisticated operational functions because it can be modified according to the needs of the user. In the past, a computer event recorder had to exactly match the hardware, and it could provide only limited functions. The users also had to spend much time to facilitate the operation (Dawkin, 1971; White, 1971; Noldus, 1989). Nowadays users only need to devote themselves to writing software, and they can ignore the compatibility issue of hardware because of improvements in computers. Even a beginner can become acquainted with the operation without special training. By this means, the study of animal behavior has become more convenient and efficient.
Compared to the inconvenience and lack of precision of traditional recording methods, e.g., timing by stop watch and recording data on a check sheet by hand, the adoption of a computerized event recorder program provides many advantages, e.g., the recording duration is more accurate, rapid behavior can be easily captured, and categories can be extended as needed. In addition, possible mistakes occurring during the transfer of original data from check sheets to numeric type will be much decreased (The time needed to correct these errors may be more than the time used to collect the data originally.) (Martin & Bateson, 1993). Unwin & Martin (1987) published a simple BASICA program for event recording for behavioral studies. Based on this program, one can write more suitable programs by oneself. However, this kind of software is not readily available from commercial dealers (except Noldus et al., 1989. Base Package for DOS; Support Packages for Hand-Held Computers for use in conjunction with the Base Package; Observational research Kits including Base Package, Support Package and Psion Organizer LZ64 or Atari Portfolio or Tidalware PS-1000 hand-held computer; Video Interfacing Module ¡§The Observer/CAMERA¡¨. Noldus Information Technology b. v., Costerweg 5, NL-6702 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands; Phone 31-(0)8370-97677; Fax: 31-(0)8370-24496; e-mail: email@example.com.).
The procedures of behavioral study are shown in Fig. 1. The first step is to define the behavioral categories, and the following steps are to determine the sampling rule and recording rule. The sampling rule is used to determine when to observe which individual. It consists of ad libitum, focal, scan, and behavior samplings (Martin & Bateson, 1993). Among these, the focal and scan samplings are frequently used. The recording rule is used to determine how to record behavior; it consists of continuous recording and time sampling. The latter can be divided into instantaneous, one-zero, predominant activity, and whole interval samplings (Tyler, 1979), and the former two are frequently used. The recording program provided by this report is for the recording rule. It is necessary for the user to define the behavior categories, and determine the sampling and recording rule before using this program.
In this report, a software package is provided for common conditions that one would encounter while recording behavioral events. It provides two recording methods that a user can select as needed, by either instantly pressing a key (GET-KEY method) or by entering a string of keystrokes of a behavior name (KEY-IN method). In addition, if recording is from a videotape, a user can select different playback speeds at which to record. This feature can allow users to detect very rapid events easily. It also provides a simple information theory program and a combination program for many data sets. This program is available through the internet (http://web.nchu.edu.tw/~htshih/ethom/intro_e.htm) as freeware or by a request to the senior author.
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