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Biology LibreTexts

45.7A: Simple Learned Behaviors

  • Page ID
    14212
  • Simple learned behaviors include habituation and imprinting, both of which are important to the maturation process of young animals.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Distinguish between the simple learned behaviors of habituation and imprinting

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • Learned behaviors stand in opposition to innate behaviors: while learned behaviors may have an innate component, they allow the organism to modify its behavior according to environmental factors or previous experiences.
    • Habituation is a simple form of learning in which an animal stops responding to a stimulus after a period of repeated exposure; it is a form of non-associative learning, as the stimulus is not associated with any punishment or reward.
    • Imprinting is a type of learning that occurs at a particular age or a life stage that is rapid and independent of the species involved.

    Key Terms

    • imprinting: any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior
    • habituation: a learned behavior involving modifying behavior according to the environment or previous expriences
    • innate: inborn; native; natural

    Simple Learned Behaviors

    The majority of the behaviors discussed in previous sections are innate or at least have an innate component. In other words, variations on the innate behaviors may be learned. Innate behaviors are inherited and do not change in response to signals from the environment. Conversely, 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 of which are important to the maturation process of young animals.

    Habituation

    Habituation is a simple form of learning in which an animal stops responding to a stimulus after a period of repeated exposure. This is a form of non-associative learning as the stimulus is not associated with any punishment or reward. Prairie dogs typically sound an alarm call when threatened by a predator, but they become habituated to the sound of human footsteps when no harm is associated with this sound; therefore, they no longer respond to them with an alarm call. In this example, habituation is specific to the sound of human footsteps, as the animals still respond to the sounds of potential predators.

    Imprinting

    Imprinting is a type of learning that occurs at a particular age or a life stage that is rapid and independent of the species involved. Hatchling ducks recognize the first adult they see, their mother, and make a bond with her. A familiar sight is ducklings walking or swimming after their mothers. This type of non-associative learning is very important in the maturation process of these animals as it encourages them to stay near their mother in order to be be protected, greatly increasing their chances of survival. However, if newborn ducks see a human before they see their mother, they will imprint on the human and follow it in just the same manner as they would follow their real mother.

    image

    Imprinting: The attachment of ducklings to their mother is an example of imprinting.