In Italy, research into animal behaviour is carried out along three lines: the study of social behaviour (University of Parma), the study of orientation (Universities of Florence and Pisa) and the study of the genetics of behaviour (Laboratory of Psychobiology of the CNR, Rome).
Only biologists and naturalists from the four institutes mentioned turn to these research groups for teaching and scientific training.
However, the results of ethological research, providing very useful background information, could find a place in the training of psychologists, sociologists, linguists, glottologists, and other communication scholars, cyberneticians, psychiatrists, urban planners and architects and philosophers. In the conviction that knowledge of behavioural biology is fundamental to this wide range of subjects, the aim of a school with a national character would be precisely to help introduce the subject of ethology above all to postgraduate students of the above-mentioned disciplines.
In addition, the interdisciplinary character of the school should provide a starting point for a broadening of the subject and for the development of new ethologists oriented towards different areas of research.
Ethology differs from other approaches to the study of behaviour in that it attempts to combine functional and causal explanations. Behaviour can be explained in terms of hypotheses that aim to demonstrate how natural selection has acted in the past as a design agent in shaping the evolution of behaviour. Such explanations account for behaviour in terms of function. The alternative form of explanation concerns how proximate causal mechanisms combine to control animal behaviour. Traditionally, ethologists have tried to combine observations on the form of behaviour and hypotheses about its causes with speculations and experiments on the function of behaviour. The International School of Ethology organises various types of meetings in the main fields of the study of animal behaviour and related areas, such as behavioural ecology, conservation biology, ethology and biomedical research, socio-biology, applied ethology, animal and comparative cognitive psychology.