by Robert Hinde
The laboratory at Madingley is now over fifty years old. From very small beginnings, it has acquired a considerable international reputation in the field of Animal Behaviour, and more recently in the neural mechanisms underlying the development of behaviour.
The progress and changes over the years show how a very modest start can have important consequences beyond those initially imagined. Its foundation was due to the foresight and initiative of an entomologist, W.H. Thorpe. Interestingly, the way he formulated his reasons for doing so could now have little appeal. Thorpe felt that the "key problem" was the relation between 'instinctive' and 'learned' behaviour, and that birds, with their stereotyped movement patterns and marked learning abilities, would provide the ideal material. Thorpe's views were stimulated by his own work on olfactory conditioning in insects and by the theoretical work of Konrad Lorenz. It is perhaps ironic that in its first decade his work and that of colleagues at Madingley made major contributions to exposing the sterility both of the instinct vs learning distinction and of Lorenz's theoretical model.
Thorpe's goals became possible in the late 1940's when the University acquired the Madingley estate. In 1950 a four acre area was surrounded by fox and rat proof wire, and 45 (later 60) 6' cube aviaries were constructed. The only building on site was a Home Guard nissen hut, bought for £1. A disused blacksmith's shop across the road served as an office. The initial staff consisted of a curator (Robert Hinde) and a technician. Thorpe managed to obtain some support for the "Ornithological Field Station" from the Zoology Research Fund, the University, the Nuffield Fund and the Josiah Macy Foundation of New York, but money was tight. The destination of every postage stamp had to be recorded, and the purchase of a camera was sufficiently noteworthy to figure in the annual report.
By 1956 the laboratory had six research students and two post-docs. The start of work on hamsters caused a change in name to "Field Station for the Study of Animal Behaviour", and in 1959-60 it received official University recognition as the "Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour" with Thorpe as Director.
The first permanent building was a monkey house built in 1959 with grants from the MRC and the Mental Health Research Fund. The laboratory buildings did not materialise until 1962, entirely equipped and funded by Nuffield and Rockefeller Foundations. Throughout this decade, behavioural studies expanded to include research on a wide variety of mammalian species, including primates, with studies in the natural environment complementing the laboratory studies. This led to the field studies by Jane Goodall on chimpanzees and Diane Fossey on gorilla and many other students venturing to all parts of the world to study animals in their natural environment. Under the leadership of Robert Hinde and Pat Bateson, Madingley scientists pioneered the study of behaviour on a number of differing levels. Over the years the main research projects have been (i) song learning; (ii) imprinting, which led to the study of neural and neurochemical mechanisms; (iii) avian neuroendocrinology; (iv) sensitive periods of development in cats (v) primate behaviour, which started by using monkeys as models to assess the effects of maternal separation when children went to hospital and led to an understanding of brain mechanisms for mother-infant bonding as well as (vi) social development of children, including their attachment relationships.
The philosophy behind the Madingley studies has always been the integration of problems that have been isolated for the purpose of experiments, into an understanding of the behaviour of the free living individual. Getting to grips with behaviour in this way requires the scientist to cross and re-cross the boundaries between different levels of complexity. This is further exemplified in the more recent studies of neural mechanisms in learning and memory in biologically relevant contexts (imprinting in chicks, olfactory recognition in mice, mother-infant recognition in sheep, social learning in fish and marmosets). The recent development in molecular genetics have also been integrated into our studies on brain evolution and behaviour, and inbreeding avoidance.
The Sub-Department has been directed successively by W. H. Thorpe, H. Lissmann, P. Bateson, E. B. Keverne and B. J. McCabe. The Medical Research Council supported the 'MRC Unit on the Development and Integration of Behaviour, with Robert Hinde as Director, from 1970 to 1989. Thorpe's aim was an upper limit of around twenty research workers, so that fertile discussion could take place. For most of the last fifty years there have been only two posts funded by the University. The present strength (at January 2015) is: 9 senior workers, 4 post-doctoral workers, 2 students, 5 technical staff.
Five FRS's have been awarded to individuals working in the Sub-Department. Two Fellows of the National Academy of Sciences worked at Madingley. Our records indicate that 97% of 115 students gained PhD's. The subsequent careers of 102 students we know with reasonable certainty. 62% went into academic work (at least post-doctoral), 19% are known to have become Professors, 14% went in conservation, 6% into secondary education, 9% into medicine or clinical psychology, and 5% into media/journalism.
During the last fifty years over 1400 papers, 25 books and 30 edited volumes have been published from the Department and during the last ten years, research grants amounting to over £5 milliion have been awarded to the Sub-Department.