Neuroethology of Defense

  • Holger Ursin
Part of the NATO Advanced Science Institutes Series book series (NSSA, volume 56)


The term defense is sometimes used to cover all types of threat-induced behavior, regardless of whether the behavior has an offensive or a defensive character, or whether it represents fear. The term is also used for reflexes connected with the orienting response to particularly strong stimuli, and for pain reflexes, as well as for cognitive and perceptual strategies used by humans against threatening stimuli and ideas. In the present paper the term will be used in a rather strict etholocial sense, it then refers to the particular behavior shown by intruders when faced with the territory owner (Adams, 1979; Ursin, 1981). This behavior may also be elicited in pain or shock induced fighting situations in rats (Blanchard et al., 1978). The behavior is clearly aggressive and threatening to the opponent, and has been referred to as “deimatic” (I threaten) (Edmunds, 1974). The particular pattern selected will increase in probability if it has the desired instrumental effect, that is, if it has the reducing effect on the threat. If it has, we will also expect it to have a reducing effect on the activation response, and, therefore, on the somatic state of the organism. This particular effect of instrumental behavior has been referred to as coping (Levine et al., 1978). It has been shown that rats that are given the opportunity to fight as a response to shock will show a reduction in their corticosterone response as compared with rats that receive the same amount of shocks, but without this “coping” possibility (Conner et al., 1971). In social structures, there are numerous examples of a lower activation level (higher coping level) in the dominating subjects as compared with the submissive ones. However, the establishment of the social structure seems to represent a coping response for the whole group (Myhre et al., 1981).


Emotional Behavior Defense Behavior Threatening Stimulus Instrumental Effect Magnocellular Basal Nucleus 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Holger Ursin
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Physiological PsychologyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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