Following Barbara Webb's talk last week, which introduced the broader field of bio-robotics, I am going to cover a specific example that has been the subject of my PhD study.
On the basis of laboratory studies into the stimulus-response characteristics of different sensorimotor pathways it might be concluded that the insect brain is organised as a collection of parallel reflexes. However, when the effect of combining such reflexes is modelled under free behaviour the result is not necessarily that which was hoped for; the outputs of different pathways can conflict, either directly or via feedback loops through the environment. Two such reflexes seen in crickets are orientation to calling song (phonotaxis) and optomotor following, which acts to minimise horizontal optical flow and hence rotations of the body. Whilst both of these behaviours are very reliable when tested independently with artificial stimuli, it is apparent that during free locomotion the optomotor reflex would tend to oppose intentional turns to sound.
This type of conflict is one that occurs in other animals as well as insects, between multiple different sensory modalities. The way the cricket overcomes the apparent paradox should therefore tell us something about the organisation of behaviour in general. In this talk I will discuss my attempts at understanding this problem through a combination of behavioural experiments and modelling, my conclusions about the cricket, and the implications this has for insect brain organisation, including a possible role for the brain structures known as the mushroom bodies.
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