Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #123
CE Offered: BACB
Why Animals Fight? Using Principles From Behavioral Ecology to Understand Aggression
Sunday, May 28, 2023
8:00 AM–8:50 AM
Convention Center Four Seasons Ballroom 2/3
Area: AAB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Erica N. Feuerbacher (Virginia Tech)
CE Instructor: Gareth Arnott, Ph.D.
Presenting Author: GARETH ARNOTT (Queen’s University Belfast)

Contest behaviour is a feature throughout the animal kingdom. Animals compete for access to resources including food, territories and mates. These resources impact fitness in terms of survival and reproduction. As such, contests are important drivers of natural selection. Given the fundamental role of animal contests, behavioural ecologists are interested in the factors that drive and shape these aggressive encounters. Game theory has provided a useful framework to model these interactions and develop predictions and theory to explain them. This presentation will explore the dynamics of animal contest behaviour including the information gathering and decision making strategies used to resolve aggressive encounters. It will examine the assessment strategies used by animals in contests, including recent research detailing how this is linked to cognitive ability and affective state. It will also discuss the role of early life factors in shaping the development of aggression, including the role of play behaviour. Finally, it will illustrate how this understanding can be used in an applied animal welfare context to address issues of aggression in managed animals.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Target Audience:


Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) Gain an understanding of the reasons why animals engage in contests; (2) Develop knowledge and understanding of contest theory; (3) Gain knowledge of how contest theory can be used to understand aggression from an animal welfare perspective.
GARETH ARNOTT (Queen’s University Belfast)

Dr Gareth Arnott is a Reader (Associate Professor) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare within the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. He is a behavioural biologist, with research interests spanning a number of topics in a range of animal species. He has a research track record studying animal contest behaviour and the strategies animals use to resolve aggressive encounters. He has studied contest behaviour from a fundamental behavioural ecology perspective, while also translating these principles to applied settings to address animal welfare issues related to aggression. In addition, he conducts animal welfare research in both farmed and companion animals. Gareth is also passionate about science communication and has previously written a feature article on animal contests for Scientific American magazine. He currently serves as an editor for Animal Behaviour and is the academic lead of the Animal Welfare Research Network ( Gareth is also the Director of Postgraduate Research for his school and joint Programme Director for an MSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare.  




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