Behaviours in Animals – Innate, Instinctive, Learning behaviours

Behaviours in Animals

Habits or behaviour is the actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around in addition to the physical environment.

All animals, consisting of humans, display some really unique – and typically entertaining – behaviours. In studying animals, we frequently associate defining differences in between them based upon their behaviours, just as much or perhaps more so than their anatomy. The study of animal behaviours is known as ethology, which especially stresses the natural surroundings that affect the behaviours.

Behaviour is divided into 2 primary types, innate behaviour and learned behaviour.

Innate Behaviour

It is a collection of actions that are predetermined by the inheritance of specific nerve or cytoplasmic pathways in multicellular or unicellular (acellular) organisms. As a result of the built-in pathways, a given stimulus would produce invariably the same action. All plant behaviour is natural.

These behaviour patterns have actually been developed and been reined over lots of generations (selected) and their main adaptive significance depends on their survival value to the species.

Another function is the economy it puts on nerve pathways within multicellular organisms since it does not demand the greater centre of the nervous system.

Types of innate behaviour
1. Orientation

(i) Kinesis: It is a behaviour in which an organism alters the speed of random motions which help them to make it through in the environment e.g. this kind of behaviour allows pillbugs to reach the moist area which is needed for their life.

(ii) Taxes: In contrast to kinesis, a taxis (plural: taxes) is a directed motion either towards (positive taxis) or away from (negative taxis) a stimulus.

2. Reflexes and Instincts

These are extremely complex behaviours and include biological rhythms, territorial behaviour, courtship, mating, aggressiveness, altruism, social hierarchies and social organizations.

Instinctive behaviour

This is the kind of behaviour that depends upon the genetic material which the animal acquires. The animal might be born with the right responses integrated into the nervous system as part of its inherited structure. Experience has no apparent influence on this kind of behaviour.

This kind of behaviour depends on the selection operating throughout the history of species so that it helps in the versatility of the organism in the environment. Instinct can gear up an animal with a series of responses. This is beneficial for animals with brief life expectancy, and with little or no parental care. This type of behaviour develops gradually in the species. For example:

  • (i) Honey bees inherit the ability to form wing muscles and wings for flight. They inherit the propensity to fly towards flowers to look for nectar and pollen.
  • (ii) Behaviour of digger wasp is instinctive; but it does learn specific things throughout its short life, such as locality of each of its nests, where it has to return after searching.
Learning behaviour

This kind of behaviour depends upon the environmental influence, however, the ability to modify the behaviour depends upon the heredity material. Experience has an obvious influence on this type of behaviour. This type of behaviour depends on the selection operating throughout the history of the individual (during one’s life-time) so as to help the organism in its adaptability in the given environment.

Learning can equip an animal with a set of adaptive responses to its environment. This is advantageous for those animals -which have a long life expectancy and have adult care so that they can modify the behaviour by previous experiences. This kind of behaviour evolves throughout the life process of the individual but the ability to find out depends upon the hereditary basis of the individual. For example:

  • (i) Conditioned reflex type I, in case of dogs where pets find out to drool at the ringing of the bell alone.
  • (ii) Trial and error learning in case of the cat, when it discovers to push, the lever to unlock of the cage.
  • (iii) Crawling snail on a sheet of glass, finds out that tapping has no damaging effect and ceases to react after a few early responses.
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Darwin (1859) was the first to propose an objective definition of instincts in terms of animal behaviour. He treated instincts as complex reflexes comprised of units compatible with the mechanisms of inheritance, and therefore an item of natural selection, that had developed together with the other aspects of life. Therefore, instinctive behaviour belongs to one’s inherited structure by which the individual responses to a particular stimulus. This action is similar in members of a species.

All animals inherit specific responses which equip them to live having capabilities like walking, moving running and eating, etc.

The early ethologists (Uexkull 1934, Lorenz 1935) believed that animals often react instinctively to specific though typically complicated stimuli. Such stimuli came to be called “sign stimuli”.

A sign stimulus is a part of stimulus configuration and might be a reasonably basic part. For instance, a male three-spined stickleback fish has a characteristic red belly when in reproducing condition. This is a sign stimulus’ that generates aggression in other territorial males.

Instincts gear up an animal with a specific response to a specific stimulus, hence allowing it to adjust to its environment. Learning, on the other hand, depends on the experiences in one’s own life but for this to take place, depends upon the development and growth of the nervous system of that animal. So, the higher animals have a greater level of learning. Lower animals because of badly developed systems to respond to a particular stimulus discover extremely gradually, and even in some cases do not have the capability to modify or change their instinctive behaviour.

The selective responses to stimuli suggested that there needs to be some built-in system by which sign stimuli were recognized. This system came to be called the innate releasing mechanism (IRM). The important element of this concept is that the mechanism is imagined as being inherent, that is, both the acknowledgement of the sign stimulus and the resulting response to it are inborn and characteristics of the species.

Instinct can gear up an animal with a series of responses. This is important for animals with short life expectancy and with little or no adult care. For example, a female digger wasp (Ammophila adriaansei) prepares a nest, captures caterpillars, eliminates them by sting, puts them in the nest, lays eggs on them and then closes the nest. After doing all this, she dies.

The larvae after emerging from the eggs, begin feeding on caterpillars killed by their mother before death and grow to digger wasps. All this is completed within a couple of weeks and is done by instincts of digger wasp, which might be responding to perception of a caterpillar (the possible sign stimulus) in different methods.

Quick Quiz

The inherited behaviour is called

Answer: Instinct

The change of behaviour by life experiences is called

Answer: Learning

The attachment or attention of a younger animal towards another animal or object firstly it sees is called

Answer: Imprinting

The use of cognitive or mental processes to associate experiences and solve problem is called

Answer: Insight

The non-associative learning in which response decreases to repeated or continuous stimulation is called

Answer: Habituation

The study of the evolution of social behaviour is called

Answer: Sociobiology


  • 1. What is the study of animal behaviors called?
    • a) Zoology
    • b) Ethology
    • c) Entomology
    • d) Herpetology
    • Answer: b
  • 2. How is behavior defined in the context of animals?
    • a) Physical movements only
    • b) Actions and mannerisms
    • c) Response to stimuli
    • d) Genetic traits only
    • Answer: b
  • 3. What are the two primary types of behavior mentioned in the tutorial?
    • a) Learned and instinctive
    • b) Innate and acquired
    • c) Natural and artificial
    • d) Genetic and environmental
    • Answer: a
  • 4. In which branch of biology is the study of animal behaviors emphasized?
    • a) Botany
    • b) Physiology
    • c) Ethology
    • d) Genetics
    • Answer: c
  • 5. What is innate behavior based on?
    • a) Environmental influence
    • b) Genetic material
    • c) Learning experiences
    • d) Cultural factors
    • Answer: b
  • 6. Which of the following is an example of innate behavior?
    • a) Trial and error learning
    • b) Conditioned reflex in dogs
    • c) Digger wasp building a nest
    • d) Cats pushing levers
    • Answer: c
  • 7. What is the primary factor influencing instinctive behavior?
    • a) Genetic material
    • b) Environmental experiences
    • c) Cultural influences
    • d) Random stimuli
    • Answer: a
  • 8. How does learning behavior differ from instinctive behavior?
    • a) It depends on genetic material
    • b) It is not influenced by the environment
    • c) It relies solely on instincts
    • d) It depends on environmental influence
    • Answer: d
  • 9. Which scientist was the first to propose a definition of instincts in terms of animal behavior?
    • a) Uexkull
    • b) Lorenz
    • c) Darwin
    • d) Heredity
    • Answer: c
  • 10. What is a sign stimulus?
    • a) A complex learning experience
    • b) A basic part of stimulus configuration
    • c) A reaction to environmental factors
    • d) A cultural influence on behavior
    • Answer: b
  • 11. What does the term IRM stand for in the context of animal behavior?
    • a) Internal Reflex Mechanism
    • b) Inherited Response Module
    • c) Innate Releasing Mechanism
    • d) Instinct Recognition Model
    • Answer: c
  • 12. Why is learning important for higher animals?
    • a) To respond to specific stimuli
    • b) To exhibit innate behaviors
    • c) To adapt to the environment
    • d) To minimize genetic traits
    • Answer: c
  • 13. What is the selective response to stimuli indicative of?
    • a) Genetic traits
    • b) Lack of instincts
    • c) Innate releasing mechanism
    • d) Built-in system for stimulus recognition
    • Answer: d
  • 14. What is the primary benefit of instinct in animals with a short life expectancy?
    • a) Allows for complex learning
    • b) Ensures adaptability
    • c) Equips with a series of responses
    • d) Promotes environmental awareness
    • Answer: c
  • 15. In the example of the female digger wasp, what is the role of instincts?
    • a) To modify behavior
    • b) To respond to perception
    • c) To learn new skills
    • d) To avoid environmental stimuli
    • Answer: b
  • 16. What is the term for the study of animal behaviors specifically emphasizing natural surroundings?
    • a) Biology
    • b) Ethology
    • c) Environmentalism
    • d) Genetics
    • Answer: b
  • 17. Which behavior relies on the hereditary basis of the individual?
    • a) Innate behavior
    • b) Instinctive behavior
    • c) Learning behavior
    • d) Environmental behavior
    • Answer: c
  • 18. How does innate behavior contribute to the survival value of species?
    • a) By minimizing genetic traits
    • b) By promoting cultural influences
    • c) By ensuring adaptability
    • d) By providing predetermined responses
    • Answer: d
  • 19. What is the primary characteristic of orientation behavior in animals?
    • a) Directed motion
    • b) Complex learning
    • c) Cultural influences
    • d) Genetic modification
    • Answer: a
  • 20. In which field did Darwin propose an objective definition of instincts in animals?
    • a) Psychology
    • b) Ethology
    • c) Physiology
    • d) Botany
    • Answer: b
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FAQs about Animal Behaviors – Innate, Instinctive, Learning Behaviors

  1. What is the study of animal behaviors called?
    • Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, emphasizing the influence of natural surroundings.
  2. How is behavior defined in animals?
    • Behavior in animals encompasses actions and mannerisms made by individuals or organisms in conjunction with their environment.
  3. What are the two primary types of behavior discussed in the tutorial?
    • The tutorial discusses innate behavior and learned behavior as the two primary types.
  4. What is innate behavior based on?
    • Innate behavior is based on predetermined actions inherited through specific nerve or cytoplasmic pathways.
  5. Give an example of innate behavior.
    • Orientation behaviors, such as kinesis and taxes, are examples of innate behaviors.
  6. How does instinctive behavior differ from learned behavior?
    • Instinctive behavior depends on genetic material and is not influenced by experience, while learned behavior is influenced by the environment and relies on heredity.
  7. What is the role of instincts in animals with a short life expectancy?
    • Instincts equip animals with a series of responses, beneficial for those with brief life expectancies and little parental care.
  8. Who was the first to propose a definition of instincts in terms of animal behavior?
    • Charles Darwin (1859) proposed an objective definition of instincts as complex reflexes developed through natural selection.
  9. What is a sign stimulus?
    • A sign stimulus is a part of stimulus configuration that generates specific responses in animals, considered part of their inherited structure.
  10. How does learning behavior benefit animals with a long life expectancy?
    • Learning behavior equips animals with adaptive responses to their environment, beneficial for those with a longer life expectancy and adult care.
  11. What is the innate releasing mechanism (IRM) in animal behavior?
    • The innate releasing mechanism (IRM) is a built-in system by which animals recognize and respond to sign stimuli, considered inherent and characteristic of the species.
  12. How do higher animals differ from lower animals in terms of learning?
    • Higher animals have a greater level of learning due to the development and growth of their nervous systems, whereas lower animals may learn very slowly or lack the ability to modify instinctive behavior.
  13. Provide an example of instinctive behavior in animals.
    • The instinctive behavior of a female digger wasp, including nest preparation, capturing and stinging caterpillars, and laying eggs.
  14. Why is the study of animal behaviors important?
    • The study of animal behaviors, ethology, helps define differences between species, often as much or more than their anatomy, and contributes to understanding their adaptation to the environment.
  15. What are the main types of behaviors discussed in the tutorial?
    • The tutorial covers innate behavior, instinctive behavior, and learning behavior in animals.


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Summary: Behaviours in Animals – Innate, Instinctive, Learning Behaviors

The tutorial delves into the captivating world of animal behaviors, emphasizing the study of ethology. Behaviors, ranging from the intriguing to entertaining, serve as crucial differentiators among animals. Two primary types, innate and learned behaviors, are explored in-depth.

Innate Behavior: This collection of actions is predetermined by specific nerve or cytoplasmic pathways, showcasing consistency in response to stimuli. Innate behaviors, observed in both multicellular and unicellular organisms, have evolved over generations for their survival value. The built-in pathways economize nerve pathways within multicellular organisms.

Types of Innate Behavior:

  1. Orientation: Includes kinesis (altering speed of random motions) and taxes (directed motion towards or away from a stimulus).
  2. Reflexes and Instincts: Encompasses complex behaviors like biological rhythms, territorial behavior, courtship, mating, altruism, and social hierarchies.

Instinctive Behavior: Dependent on genetic material, instinctive behavior involves inborn responses integrated into an animal’s nervous system. Experience exerts minimal influence, and these behaviors contribute to the versatility and adaptability of organisms, especially those with brief life expectancies and minimal parental care.

Learning Behavior: In contrast, learning behavior depends on environmental influences, with the ability to modify behavior influenced by heredity. Experience plays a significant role in this behavior, allowing animals with longer life expectancies and adult care to adapt through learned responses.

Key Concepts:

  • Charles Darwin’s definition of instincts as complex reflexes shaped by natural selection.
  • Sign stimuli, such as the characteristic red belly in three-spined stickleback fish, triggering specific responses.
  • The role of the innate releasing mechanism (IRM) in recognizing and responding to sign stimuli.

The tutorial emphasizes how instincts equip animals for specific responses to stimuli, enabling them to adapt to their environments. Learning, a more flexible but experience-dependent behavior, is explored across various examples, highlighting the intricate interplay between genetics, experiences, and adaptation.

In conclusion, the innate and learned behaviors showcased in this tutorial underscore the fascinating ways animals navigate and respond to their surroundings, contributing to a deeper understanding of their evolutionary adaptations.