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Biology LibreTexts

45.6A: Introduction to Animal Behavior

  • Page ID
    14206
  • Behavior is the change in activity of an organism in response to a stimulus and can be grouped as innate or learned.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Distinguish between innate and learned behaviors

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Behavioral biology is the study of the biological and evolutionary bases for changes in activity in response to a stimulus.
    • Comparative psychology is an extension of work done in human and behavioral psychology. Ethology is an extension of genetics, evolution, anatomy, physiology, and other biological disciplines.
    • Innate behaviors have a strong genetic component and are largely independent of environmental influences; they are “hard wired.”
    • Learned behaviors result from environmental conditioning; they allow an organism to adapt to changes in the environment and are modified by previous experiences..

    Key Terms

    • behavioral biology: A systematic approach to the understanding of human and animal behavior assuming that the behavior of a human or animal is a consequence of that individual’s history.
    • comparative psychology: The scientific study of the behavior and mental processes of non-human animals, especially as these relate to the phylogenetic history, adaptive significance, and development of behavior.

    Behavior is the change in activity of an organism in response to a stimulus. Behavioral biology is the study of the biological and evolutionary bases for such changes. The idea that behaviors evolved as a result of the pressures of natural selection is not new.

    Animal behavior has been studied for decades, by biologists in the science of ethology, by psychologists in the science of comparative psychology, and by scientists of many disciplines in the study of neurobiology. Although there is overlap between these disciplines, scientists in these behavioral fields take different approaches. Comparative psychology is an extension of work done in human and behavioral psychology. Ethology is an extension of genetics, evolution, anatomy, physiology, and other biological disciplines. One cannot study behavioral biology without touching on both comparative psychology and ethology.

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    A Range of Animal Behaviors: Ethology has many aspects ranging from animal communication, emotions, culture, learning and sexuality.

    One goal of behavioral biology is to distinguish the innate behaviors, which have a strong genetic component and are largely independent of environmental influences, from the learned behaviors, which result from environmental conditioning.

    Innate behavior, or instinct, is important because there is no risk of an incorrect behavior being learned. These behaviors are “hard wired” into the system. In contrast, learned behaviors are flexible, dynamic, and can be altered relative to changes in the environment. Learned behaviors, even though they may have instinctive components, allow an organism to adapt to changes in the environment and are modified by previous experiences. Simple learned behaviors include habituation and imprinting—both are important to the maturation process of young animals.