William D. Timberlake

William D. Timberlake

Professor Emeritus, Psychological of Brain Sciences

Co-Director, Program in Animal Behavior

Co-Director, Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior


  • Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1969

Research interests

Analysis and modeling of regulatory systems

The long term objective of my research is to develop a theory of purposive behavior that combines an ecological emphasis on the basis of naturally occurring behavior with a focus on the role of learning and regulatory processes in controlling behavior. I am interested in ties to philosophy and computer science on one hand and to evolution and neuroscience on the other.

Empirically we are concerned with:

  • Analyzing the temporal and stimulus control of sequential motivational states underlying foraging behavior, using the techniques of Pavlovian conditioning
  • Clarifying the unique circadian control of anticipation of food
  • Understanding the role of spatial cues and existing perceptual-motor organization in efficient locomotor search

Theoretically we have been concerned with:

  • Simulating and modeling free and constrained feeding in rats, and generalizing our threshold approach to multiple behaviors
  • Proposing a general conception of the organization of functional systems of behavior, particularly as applied to the perceptual, motor, and motivational structure underlying naturally occurring foraging behavior
  • Developing a motivational "grammar" of purposive behavior.

We have a large number of computer-controlled experimental stations for recording and precisely constraining the 24-hr behavior of rats. We also acquire video data using cameras linked to computers, and, in some cases, are able to program spatial-temporal contingencies based on video input. Finally we have a variety of spatial mazes suitable for studying search in rodents.

Dissertation committee service

Author: Baray, C.
Dissertation title: Evolution of Coordination in Reactive Multi-Agent Systems (December 1999)
Committee: Mills, J. (Chair), Gasser, M., Rawlins, G., Timberlake, W.

Author: Wagner, K.
Dissertation title: Simulation Models of Evolution: Communication And Cooperation (August 2000)
Committee: Gasser, M. (Chair), Leake, D., Port, R., Timberlake, W.

Author: Tamara, Carolina
Dissertation title: Route Learning And Its Interaction With Visual Landmarks (May 2013)
Committee: Timberlake, W. (chair), Crystal, J., Goldstone, R., Todd, P.