Measuring Behaviour: The Next Generation

Written by: Melissa Bateson


The first three editions of Measuring Behaviour were co-authored by Patrick Bateson, known as Pat to his family and friends, and his former graduate student Paul Martin. I had a very special relationship with Pat. Not only was he my father, but I have followed him into the same academic discipline, becoming the second Professor of Ethology in the Bateson family in 2012. I am now immensely proud to replace Pat as co-author of the fourth edition of Measuring Behaviour, continuing the Bateson involvement in this now classic text.

Pat was undoubtedly responsible for nurturing a curiosity about the biology of behaviour in me. He encouraged my interest in natural history as a child and exposed me to scientific ideas from an early age. The many litters of kittens that shared our family home during my childhood provided subjects for daily lessons in in behavioural development and the scientific method. I can remember week-old kittens being dropped upside down onto a duvet to demonstrate the early expression of the cat’s famed ability to land on its feet (readers should be assured that no kittens were harmed during these observations). As I grew up and built a scientific career of my own, I realised what a privilege it was to be able to discuss my work with my father. While I know that some people found him intellectually intimidating, he was always just my dad, and as such I didn’t hesitate to engage in some fairly robust arguments when I disagreed with him. His death in 2017 was therefore a huge loss for me. He was simultaneously my inspiration, my harshest critic and my most loyal advocate. I have spent my life trying to live up to the example he set me.

After my father’s death, I wanted to do something to remember his academic contributions to the field of behavioural development. I had started to discuss plans for a special edition of the journal Animal Behaviour dedicated to his ideas. Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by Paul Martin with the offer of joining him to co-author a fourth edition of Measuring Behaviour. Cambridge University Press wanted a new edition, and Paul did not want to take this on without a co-author who was currently engaged in behavioural research (Paul himself having moved into a different line of work many years previously). I immediately jumped at the opportunity – what better way to remember my father and everything that he had taught me? It was a perfect idea; much more useful and meaningful than editing a special issue of a journal. I had also had an early involvement in the first two editions of Measuring Behaviour, designing the covers when I was still at school studying art. Despite my enthusiasm I was also somewhat intimidated: I had never written a book before and I had no personal experience in the type of field ethology that the original editions of Measuring Behaviour had grown out of. I did however have a lot of complementary experience, having spent most of my career in psychology departments and thus having greater exposure to research on human behaviour than my father. I was convinced that I could help Paul update the book and also bring something new to it by extending its relevance to the measurement of human behaviour. The deal was rapidly struck and Paul and I started work in earnest in 2019.

On planning the new edition, it quickly became apparent that a major rewrite was required. A huge amount had changed in behavioural science since the publication of the third edition in 2007. The replication crisis had hit, the ethics of using human and animal subjects in research were receiving much greater scrutiny, the widespread availability of smartphones and wearable sensors had fundamentally changed what could be measured and developments in artificial intelligence were permitting automated behavioural coding on a scale previously unimaginable, bringing Big Data to behavioural research.  Furthermore, statistical analysis had been transformed by the availability of computer packages capable of implementing sophisticated modelling techniques useful for many behavioural datasets and traditional models of publication had been overturned by innovations such as preregistration and preprints. Paul and I agreed that all of this needed to be covered, while at the same time retaining the concise and readable style that the first three editions were justifiably valued for.

The new content in the book reflects both what I learned from my father and also other developmental inputs that I have received over the course of my career. Alex Kacelnik is responsible for introducing me to starlings in the course of my doctoral research with him in Oxford and they have remained a constant in my research ever since; their behaviour appears in several examples in the book. While in Oxford, my statistical education was heavily influenced by Alan Grafen who threw me in at the deep end by employing me to demonstrate his wonderfully elegant undergraduate course on the general linear model; what I learned is evident in the chapter on statistical analysis. In Newcastle, Paul Flecknell introduced me to the field of laboratory animal welfare and his influence is responsible for the many examples related to the measurement of pain and anxiety in rodents. Over the last 15 years, my academic horizons have been dramatically expanded by my brilliant husband, Daniel Nettle, from whom I have learned so much about the study of human behaviour and on whom I have leaned heavily for my continuing education in statistics. I fear Daniel has been driven to despair by my constant refrain over the past two years of, “Can I ask you a question….?”. As an accomplished author himself, Daniel was also able to give me the advice and support necessary to write this book. I owe him more than I can express. 

Paul Martin has been a perfect co-author: wise and above all fun to work with. Our initial planning revolved around nice lunches in London, but sadly those quickly gave way to Zoom as a result of the pandemic. Following preliminary discussions, I drafted the new material and Paul then subjected this to his expert editing, curbing my nerdy tendencies, ruthlessly cutting unnecessary detail and generally improving my writing. I have tried to cram in all the advice that I would like to impart to my own students, and very much hope that the book will be helpful to anyone interested in behavioural research. A couple of my current students read the whole text and their comments gave me confidence that we are on the right tracks. I would welcome any feedback on the new material, positive or negative; I’m already collecting a file of ideas for the next edition.

Finishing this fourth edition of Measuring Behaviour ranks as one of the proudest achievements of my life so far (definitely on a par with graduating with the top first in my year at Oxford and running my first sub four-hour marathon last year). It is also a relief to realise that the handful of citations that I have erroneously received for Measuring Behaviour over the years will now become almost accurate! It is a strange business following in the footsteps of a great man, especially when he is your father. First and foremost, I hope that the book will allow Pat Bateson’s legacy as a teacher and researcher in behavioural biology to endure well into the 21st century.

The fourth edition of Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide, by Melissa Bateson and Paul Martin, is now available.

Click here to find out more.

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About the Author: Melissa Bateson

Professor Melissa Bateson studied at the University of Oxford, graduating with an MA in zoology with biological anthropology and a DPhil in animal behaviour. She held a Wellcome Trust fellowship in the Department of Zoology at Oxford and the Department of Psychology at Duke University, USA, followed by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship...

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