The laboratory at Madingley is now over fifity 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 from 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
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
The Sub-Department has been directed successively by W. H.
Thorpe, H. Lissmann, P. Bateson and (currently) E. B. Keverne.
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 2004) is: 8 senior workers, 5 post-doctoral
workers, 5 students, 6 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.