What is displacement activity in animals? When an animal is in a stressful state, it would sometimes display a behavior that is totally out of context or irrelevant to the situation it finds itself in. This type of behavior is regarded as displacement activity. For instance, it can be observed that two birds that are engaged in a fighting spree may suddenly preen themselves, or even peck at the ground or get into a roosting position. Another example of this kind if behavior can be seen on a male stickleback which may suddenly change into a vertical position with its head pointing downwards and then begin to dig the sand.
The above described displacement activities may be as a result of two opposing forces—fighting and escape. It may sometimes serve the purpose of averting or diminishing open conflict. This sort of displacement activity can also be observed in humans. For instance, when we are tensed up, we may begin to walk up and down, stroke the forehead, bite the nails, scratch the ear or even stamp the feet.
Displacement activity on the surface may seem to be an unimportant side effect of behavior. On the contrary, some zoologists agree that displacement activity is the basis for normal behavioral patterns. Most courtship behavior may be attributed to displacement activities arising from frustrations. As the male sexual motivation builds up but cannot be released or satisfied unless reciprocated by an appropriate response signal from the female, some of these sexual motivation may be channeled into other forms of behavior that constitute courtship. This therefore means that displacement activity triggers very important releasers that elicit appropriate responses in other individuals.
Vacuum Activity on the other hand is a behavior exhibited by an animal when no sign stimulus is provided to release the appropriate behavior after its motivation builds up. This can be seen in a cock deprived of a mate where it displays to an inanimate object or a bird going through motions of nest building even when there are no nest building materials available. This phenomenon too can be observed in man!
In 1940 Tinbergen and Kortlandt independently drew attention to a behavioural phenomenon which is known as displacement activity. It refers to behavior patterns which seem out of context with the behaviour which closely precedes or follows them, either in the sense that they don’t seem functionally integrated with the preceding or following behaviour or that causal factors usually responsible for them appear to be absent or weak compared with those determining the behavioural envelope.
Motivational Action as a Displacement Activity
Displacement activity is behavior that is displayed out of context and may appear incongruent with the situation at hand. It is often a response to conflict or frustration, such as when a dog can’t greet a person or is prevented from attacking another animal. These behaviors are usually comfort movements, such as grooming, sniffing, licking, and drinking or eating. They also may include other conditioned responses, such as baring the teeth or making vocalizations. The goal of displacement behavior is to relieve tension. The theory is that these activities are a way to disperse energy that would otherwise be invested in aggressive acts. In addition, these behaviors can be a way to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
Displacement behavior is a common phenomenon in animals. For example, many mammals display displacement behaviors when they are caught in approach-avoidance conflict. These behaviors may be a result of a desire to approach the object and a fear of it. They are also likely to be an attempt to distract attention away from the object. Alternatively, they can be an expression of stress or anxiety. For example, when a shy human is attracted to someone at a party, they will sometimes rub their face or hair with their hands.
Regardless of the motivation behind a displacement behavior, it is important to recognize it. It can help trainers determine what an animal is trying to achieve. It can also be an effective tool for training purposes, as it can indicate if the animal is feeling stressed or anxious.
A typical displacement behavior includes comfort movements, such as grooming, scratching, drinking, or eating. In some cases, it can even involve a physical touch or attack. Generally, it is performed when an animal is torn between two conflicting drives, such as fear and aggression. For example, a dog may be afraid of its owner, but it will also want to greet the person. The conflict can cause the dog to perform a displacement behavior, such as yawning.
Although this type of behavior is normal, it can be dangerous for the pet. It is important to understand how displacement behaviors are triggered and how to prevent them from affecting your training. For example, if your dog is displaying displacement behavior, such as excessive yawning when people arrive at the door, you should teach it a positively reinforced alternative behavior.
Conflict Action as a Displacement Activity
If an animal performs a behavior that seems to have nothing to do with the conflict it’s experiencing, it is likely performing displacement activity. Displacement behaviors have several names, including ritualized conflict behavior, vacuum behavior, irrelevant behavior, and incongruous behavior. They are usually normal behaviors that appear out of context in the situation. They are usually related to conflict or frustration. Most of the time, they are performed as an outlet for highly-motivated behavior that cannot be expressed due to internal or external factors.
For example, male threespine sticklebacks are known to engage in displacement fanning behavior when they feel overwhelmed by their desire to mate and their need to defend their territory. Similarly, some courtship behavior may be considered displacement behavior when a female is ignored by a male and he feels frustrated.
Displacement activities are also often performed to divert attention away from a potentially aggressive behavior. For instance, a dog that is watching two other dogs fight might start grooming itself or scratching its neck or sitting up and beg for food. This is an attempt to divert attention from the conflict and relieve stress.
Conflict resolution is a very important part of the social life of animals. When conflict resolution fails, the animal can become fearful or aggressive. It is important to understand conflict in order to prevent and treat it.
Generally, an animal that participates in a dispute is likely to reconcile with its opponent soon after the conflict ends. The victors are typically the ones who initiate the reconciliation, but the loser is also likely to try to make amends. This pattern is true in chimpanzees and bonobos as well as goats and sheep.
In one study, Morris-Drake et al. manipulated the sounds of natural foraging displacements and played them to groups of mongooses. The result was that the animals spent more time vigilant after hearing the recording than in matched control conditions. Moreover, the vigilance was greater when the recordings included vocalizations from groupmates who had recently been involved in a conflict than when they did not include these calls.
Frustration of Consummatory Acts
Frustration is a behavioral state that occurs when an animal is motivated to engage in a sequence of behaviors but is prevented from attaining those actions due to physical or psychological obstacles. These obstacles may be the result of environmental cues (e.g., a dog that wants to chase a squirrel but is unable to do so because it is on a leash), or they may be the result of internal arousal (e.g., a dog wanting to attack a family pet but is unable to do so because it fears being punished). Frustration often leads to the display of displacement behavior.
Displacement activity is a term used by ethologists to describe behaviors that appear out of context for the situation at hand. These behaviors are usually normal, but they occur at an inappropriate time and appear disconnected from the behavior that precedes them or follows them. In general, they are activities that appear to reduce conflict or prevent frustration by redirected attention from the goal of an action to a less important activity. Examples of displacement behaviors include grooming, scratching, drinking and self-grooming.
These behaviors appear to be a normal part of the stress response and are often referred to as behavioral stereotypies. They are often used by animals to control their anxiety levels in stressful situations, such as in a fight for territory or in the presence of a dominant male. These behaviors can also reduce physiological measures of stress, such as the activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary – adrenal axis, and promote endorphin production.
However, these behaviors can be difficult to distinguish from normal behavior, and it is often impossible to determine how much of a behavioral shift has occurred. Moreover, the fact that displacement activities merge into original behavior makes it challenging to determine the point at which a displacement behavior starts and ends.
Although the study of displacement behaviors has gained much interest since 1940 when Tinbergen and Kortlandt independently drew attention to the phenomenon, there are still no cogent theories about their origin. It is also difficult to explain why certain behaviors are more likely to be displacement behaviors than others. Several ethological, physiological and pharmacological studies suggest that displacement behaviors are a valid measure of the stress response.
Physical Thwarting of Performance
One way of thwarting the performance of an animal is by causing it to engage in a behavior that is totally irrelevant to its behavioral context. This type of behavior is called displacement activity. For example, an animal caught in the conflict between approaching and avoiding another animal may groom itself. Many, perhaps most animals exhibit this type of displacement behavior under stress. It is often observed in social hierarchies where lower ranking animals groom more frequently than higher ranking ones. It is believed that this behavior dissipates the energy associated with the conflict.
A number of other behaviors have also been interpreted as signs of anxiety, such as tongue flicks, grooming, yawning and scratching. In 1940 Tinbergen and Kortlandt independently drew attention to the phenomenon of displacement activities which have since received a considerable amount of attention. There are no binding rules by which these behaviors can be recognized, but the term is usually applied to patterns of behavior that appear out of context with the behavior that closely precedes or follows them or in situations in which causal factors normally responsible for them seem to be absent or at least weak compared with those determining the behavioral envelope.
Examples of displacement behavior can be seen in wild olive baboons under threat from dominant animals, whose presence caused them to increase their self directed behavior by 40 %. They were more likely to groom themselves, rub their heads and tails, lick themselves, shake their bodies or lie down than when they were not in the presence of a dominant animal.
These behavioral responses indicate that the animal feels that it cannot do what it wants to do because doing so would thwart its survival needs. For example, a dog may want to jump on the kids or run out the door to escape from them, but instead displaces this behavior by yawning and licking himself.
While these displacement activities may be useful in assessing stress levels, it is important to recognize that they are only indirect measures of the animal’s physiological state. Direct observation and quantitative recording of the animal’s behavior require a considerable investment of time, effort and resources compared to psychometric assessment. Nonetheless, the ethological, physiological and pharmacological data reviewed here suggest that displacement activity measurements can be a valuable complement to the more standard physiological and psychometric approaches to stress measurement.