- Animal behavior includes all the ways animals interact with other organisms and the physical environment.
- Behavior can also be defined as a change in the activity of an organism in response to a stimulus, an external or internal cue or combo of cues.
- To fully understand a behavior, we want to know what causes it, how it develops in an individual, how it benefits an organism, and how it evolved.
- Some behaviors are innate, or genetically hardwired, while others are learned, or developed through experience. In many cases, behaviors have both an innate component and a learned component.
- Behavior is shaped by natural selection. Many behaviors directly increase an organism's fitness, that is, they help it survive and reproduce.
Do the squirrels in your neighborhood bury acorns underground? Does your cat start meowing around the time you usually feed her? Do you start hanging around the kitchen when it’s close to dinnertime?
If you've noticed any of these things, congratulations—you've made your first observations in behavioral biology! These are all examples of animal behaviors. Yep, you and I count as animals too. In fact, these behaviors are just a tiny sampling of the amazing and diverse behaviors we can see in nature.
We could ask what behavior is used for, but it might be better to ask, what isn't it used for? Animals have behaviors for almost every imaginable aspect of life, from finding food to wooing mates, from fighting off rivals to raising offspring. Some of these behaviors are innate, or hardwired, in an organism's genes. For instance, this is true of the squirrel and its acorn. 1^11start superscript, 1, end superscript Other behaviors are learned, such as your tendency to hang around the kitchen at dinnertime or your ability to read the words on this screen.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at animal behavior—how it’s studied, how it evolves, and how it can run the gamut from hardwired to learned.
What is behavior?
Broadly speaking, animal behavior includes all the ways animals interact with other members of their species, with organisms of other species, and with their environment.
Behavior can also be defined more narrowly as a change in the activity of an organism in response to a stimulus, an external or internal cue or combination of cues.
For example, your dog might start drooling—a change in activity—in response to the sight of food—a stimulus.
is the study of the biological and evolutionary bases for behavior.
Modern behavioral biology draws on work from the related but distinct
disciplines of ethology and comparative psychology.
- Ethology is a field of basic biology, like ecology or genetics. It focuses on the behaviors of diverse organisms in their natural environment.
- Comparative psychology is an extension of work done in human psychology. It focuses largely on a few species studied in a lab setting.
Behavioral biology also draws on many related areas of biology, including genetics, anatomy, physiology, evolutionary biology, and, of course, neurobiology—which traces the neural circuits that underlie animal behavior.