Quantifying Sex Differences in Behavior in the Era of “Big” Data

Brian C. Trainor, Annegret L. Falkner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sex differences are commonly observed in behaviors that are closely linked to adaptive function, but sex differences can also be observed in behavioral “building blocks” such as locomotor activity and reward processing. Modern neuroscientific inquiry, in pursuit of generalizable principles of functioning across sexes, has often ignored these more subtle sex differences in behavioral building blocks that may result from differences in these behavioral building blocks. A frequent assumption is that there is a default (often male) way to perform a behavior. This approach misses fundamental drivers of individual variability within and between sexes. Incomplete behavioral descriptions of both sexes can lead to an over-reliance on reduced “single-variable” readouts of complex behaviors, the design of which may be based on male-biased samples. Here, we advocate that the incorporation of new machine-learning tools for collecting and analyzing multimodal “big behavior” data allows for a more holistic and richer approach to the quantification of behavior in both sexes. These new tools make behavioral description more robust and replicable across laboratories and species, and may open up new lines of neuroscientific inquiry by facilitating the discovery of novel behavioral states. Having more accurate measures of behavioral diversity in males and females could serve as a hypothesis generator for where and when we should look in the brain for meaningful neural differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbera039164
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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