Perform experiments

The following article aims at giving you an overview over important aspects to consider when carrying out behavioural experiments.

If you have additional questions or wish to book a personal meeting with our staff to discuss aspects of your experiments, feel free to contact us.

If you are planning to conduct experiments in UUBF's facilities, please make sure to carefully read through the important information section on this website.

Carrying out experiments

At this stage, careful planning and foresight when designing your experiment will pay of and several of the topics covered in this article will be directly affected by your choices when designing the experiment. As the exact steps needed for performing an experiment vary greatly depending on your experimental procedure as well as the species studied, this article does not provide detailed descriptions tailor made for each and every possible experiment but rather seeks to give a rough overview of some important aspects you should consider when performing behavioural experiments.

1. Prepare for your experiment

After the you have completed your experimental design and received ethical approval of your experiments, carefully read through all of your experimental designs, SOP's as well as all ethical applications belonging to the experiments again.

If you are using chemicals, prepare these in advance if possible. Make sure you have a sufficient supply of all substances needed, preferably from the same batch. If possible, make sure you have an additional supply of substances in order to be able to perform a larger number of experiments, if any changes to the study have to be made. Familiarize yourself with the safety procedures and waste management concerning the substances you are using.

Book facilities well in advance to make sure you will have access to the room(s) and equipment you need during the entire time of the experiment.  Furthermore, check details around the facilities, can you keep your setup assembled throughout the experiment or do you have to set everything up for each day separately.

Make sure you have your lab book or ELN to note all important aspects of the experiment as well a a journaltemplate that will ensure you document all necessary details and observations. This will improve reproducibility and make it easier for you to analyse your data and prepare your results for publication.

2. Test your arena as well as hard- and software

Assemble all components of your arena, check if everything is working as it should. Do this either in the behaviour room you have booked or in advance in a separate place. Double-check recording equipment and other hard- and software. Check if there is a backup equipment available in case you experience difficulties during the experiment. If not, make sure you know how to take care of minor errors in the setup and whom to ask if larger issues or unforeseen difficulties arrise during the course of the experiment.

3. Identify sources of error

Check the schedule with other people working in the facility to identify recurring noise or other disturbances. Make sure you double-check the following details in your experimental design and make a plan for these:

  • Who will be working with the animals?
  • At what times of the day and on which week days?
  • Are there interactions with other people during the day(s) the experiment is conducted (animal caretakers, colleagues, technical staff etc.)?

4. Make a detailed plan for the experimental days

Make sure you have a plan for where are the animals kept between trials, how are they transported between their home environment and the test site. Control for smells, visual cues and noise that might interfere with the experimental design. Perform randomisation as decided during the planning phase. Make a plan on how to clean the arena between trials. Make sure you have a plan for handling your data including regular backups to prevent data loss that might lead to unnecessary repetitions of experiments.

5. Habituate the animals to handling

Prior to startin the actual experiment, the animals should be habituated to handling and this should be reflected in your planning of the experiment. Procedures and time frames for habituation vary between species, follow the guidelines and literature for your chosen species.

6. Habituate the animals to the test arena and procedures

Similarly to habituating the animals to handling, the experimental plan should contain a time period in which the animals are habituated to the arena in which they are tested and the procedures to be performed during the experimental schedule. An exception to this are experiments in which the reaction of the animal to a novel environment is tested. The details of this step can vary a lot depending on the experiment. Habituation can be an integral part of the experiment and should be recorded exactly as the following parts of the experiment.

7. Perform experiment

If all preparations are done correctly, this step should go without much trouble. More time invested in planning will lead to a more refined experiment and in turn more consistent results and better quality data. Make sure to follow your protocol and record all possible deviations from pre-definded experimental routines carefully. 

8. Wrap-up your experiment

After your experiment is completed, double-check that all documentation has been correctly filled in, all data is present and securely backed up.


Feel free to write an email to UUBF at any stage in the process for feedback and discussions.

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Last modified: 2021-03-24