When we think of animal behavior, what typically comes to mind are actions – running, eating, swimming, grooming, flying, singing, resting. Behavior, however, is more than the catalogue of motions that an organism can perform. Animals organize their repertoire of actions into sequences and patterns whose underlying dynamics last much longer than any particular behavior. How an organism modulates these dynamics affects its success at accessing food, reproducing, and myriad other tasks essential for survival. Animals regulate these patterns of behavior via many interacting internal states (hunger, reproductive cycle, age, etc.) that we cannot directly measure. Studying these hidden states’ dynamics, accordingly, has proven challenging due to a lack of measurement techniques and theoretical understanding. In this talk, I will outline our efforts to uncover the latent dynamics that underlie long timescale structure in animal behavior. Looking across a variety of organisms, we use a novel methodology to measure animals’ full behavioral repertoires to find the existence of a non-trivial form of long timescale dynamics that cannot be explained using standard mathematical frameworks. I will present how temporal coarse-graining can be used to understand how these dynamics are generated and how the found course-grained states can be related to the internal states governing behavior through a combination of machine learning techniques and dynamical systems modeling. Inferring these hidden dynamics presents a new opportunity to generate insights into the neural and physiological mechanisms that animals use to select actions and live in the world.
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