A computational formulation of the behavior systems account of the temporal organization of motivated behavior

Federico Sanabria, Carter W. Daniels, Tanya Gupta, Cristina Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The behavior systems framework suggests that motivated behavior—e.g., seeking food and mates, avoiding predators—consists of sequences of actions organized within nested behavioral states. This framework has bridged behavioral ecology and experimental psychology, providing key insights into critical behavioral processes. In particular, the behavior systems framework entails a particular organization of behavior over time. The present paper examines whether such organization emerges from a generic Markov process, where the current behavioral state determines the probability distribution of subsequent behavioral states. This proposition is developed as a systematic examination of increasingly complex Markov models, seeking a computational formulation that balances adherence to the behavior systems approach, parsimony, and conformity to data. As a result of this exercise, a nonstationary partially hidden Markov model is selected as a computational formulation of the predatory subsystem. It is noted that the temporal distribution of discrete responses may further unveil the structure and parameters of the model but, without proper mathematical modeling, these discrete responses may be misleading. Opportunities for further elaboration of the proposed computational formulation are identified, including developments in its architecture, extensions to defensive and reproductive subsystems, and methodological refinements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103952
JournalBehavioural processes
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Algorithm
  • Behavior system
  • Bout
  • Markov model
  • Reinforcement
  • Temporal organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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