Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 192, Issue 6, pp 561-572

First online:

Walter Heiligenberg: the jamming avoidance response and beyond

  • G. K. H. ZupancAffiliated withSchool of Engineering and Science, International University BremenDepartment of Neurosciences, University of California at San Diego Email author 
  • , T. H. BullockAffiliated withDepartment of Neurosciences, University of California at San Diego

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Walter Heiligenberg (1938–1994) was an exceptionally gifted behavioral physiologist who made enormous contributions to the analysis of behavior and to our understanding of how the brain initiates and controls species-typical behavioral patterns. He was distinguished by his rigorous analytical approach used in both behavioral studies and neuroethological investigations. Among his most significant contributions to neuroethology are a detailed analysis of the computational rules governing the jamming avoidance response in weakly electric fish and the elucidation of the principal neural pathway involved in neural control of this behavior. Based on his work, the jamming avoidance response is perhaps the best-understood vertebrate behavior pattern in terms of the underlying neural substrate. In addition to this pioneering work, Heiligenberg stimulated research in a significant number of other areas of ethology and neuroethology, including: the quantitative assessment of aggressivity in cichlid fish; the ethological analysis of the stimulus–response relationship in the chirping behavior of crickets; the exploration of the neural and endocrine basis of communicatory behavior in weakly electric fish; the study of cellular mechanisms of neuronal plasticity in the adult fish brain; and the phylogenetic analysis of electric fishes using a combination of morphology, electrophysiology, and mitochondrial sequence data.


Cichlid fish Astatotilapia (Haplochromis) burtoni Law of heterogenous summation Electric fish Eigenmannia sp. Electrolocation Parallel processing