Connecting European Neuroscience

Neural control of instinctive and innate behaviour

6-12 January 2019 - Obergurgl, Austria

Instinctive behaviors such as feeding, fighting or avoiding threats, are fundamental actions that have been selected through evolution to increase survival. Classical ethology studies have shown that these actions are often innate, and deployed in response to primitive motivational drives. However, they also support learning of new behavioural sequences to satisfy the same basic motivations, and are therefore the key building block for all natural behaviors. Reaching an understanding of instinctive behaviours at the neural level has traditionally been a challenge because they are best studied in naturalistic settings, and are therefore not easily amenable to rigorous experimental control. However, recent technical advances across systems neuroscience provide an unprecedented opportunity for understanding the neural basis of instinct. In this school we will cover instinctive behaviours across species, and build an overview of the current knowledge on neural control of instinctive behaviour, from historical field work to the most recent laboratory studies. We will discuss what components of instinctive behaviours are truly innate and how they can be implemented by nervous systems, and consider the intersection of neural circuits and mechanisms for innate behaviour with the classical systems that support learning. Great emphasis will be placed on new approaches for bringing naturalistic behaviours into the laboratory, allowing simultaneous high-resolution measurements of behaviour and neural activity, as well as theoretical modelling and causal interrogations of current hypotheses. We will aim to summarise the most exciting unknowns and challenges in this field, and debate how to best solve them throughout the school.

Scientific chairs

Dr. Tiago Branco,
Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour,
  Dr. Dayu Lin,
NYU Langone medical center,

Confirmed faculty members

Kristin Branson, Janelia Research Campus, HHMI, USA
Iain Couzin, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Collective Behaviour, University of Konstanz, Germany
Robert Datta, Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, USA
Florian Engert, Department of Molecular and Cellular biology, Harvard University, USA
Marcello Ienca, Department of Health Sciences and Technology, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Susana Lima, Champalimaud Research, Portugal
Andreas Lüthi, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland
Michael Platt, Department of Psychology, University Of Pennsylvania, USA
Scott Sternson, Janelia Research Campus, HHMI, USA
Lisa Stowers, Department of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), USA
Nachum Ulanovsky, Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Registration and stipends

Fee: FENS Members: 495 EUR

  •          FENS Non-members: 575 EUR
  • Registration fee covers tuition, accommodation and meals.
  • FENS offers 4 stipends (covering the registration fee) available for candidates from disadvantaged countries. Any applicant in need of a grant should however first try to request it from the lab, institution or government if possible. You can apply for a stipend inside the application form. 
  • Please note that if you already benefited from a FENS grant in 2018, you are not eligible to receive a stipend.


Universitätszentrum Obergurgl, Austria











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