Biology » Population and Community Ecology » Behavioral Biology: Proximate and Ultimate Causes of Behavior

Summarizing Behavioral Biology


Behaviors are responses to stimuli. They can either be instinctual/innate behaviors, which are not influenced by the environment, or learned behaviors, which are influenced by environmental changes. Instinctual behaviors include mating systems and methods of communication. Learned behaviors include imprinting and habituation, conditioning, and, most powerfully, cognitive learning. Although the connection between behavior, genetics, and evolution is well established, the explanation of human behavior as entirely genetic is controversial.


aggressive display

visual display by a species member to discourage other members of the same species or different species


change in an organism’s activities in response to a stimulus

behavioral biology

study of the biology and evolution of behavior

classical conditioning

association of a specific stimulus and response through conditioning

cognitive learning

knowledge and skills acquired by the manipulation of information in the mind

conditioned behavior

behavior that becomes associated with a specific stimulus through conditioning

courtship display

visual display used to attract a mate

distraction display

visual display used to distract predators away from a nesting site


biological study of animal behavior

fixed action pattern

series of instinctual behaviors that, once initiated, always goes to completion regardless of changes in the environment


behaviors species use to find food


ability of a species to ignore repeated stimuli that have no consequence


identification of parents by newborns as the first organism they see after birth

innate behavior

instinctual behavior that is not altered by changes in the environment

intersexual selection

selection of a desirable mate of the opposite sex

intrasexual selection

competition between members of the same sex for a mate

kin selection

sacrificing one’s own life so that one’s genes will be passed on to future generations by relatives


undirected movement of an organism in response to a stimulus

learned behavior

behavior that responds to changes in the environment


long-range seasonal movement of animal species


mating system whereby one male and one female remain coupled for at least one mating season

operant conditioning

learned behaviors in response to positive and/or negative reinforcement


mating system where one female mates with many males


mating system where one male mates with many females

reflex action

action in response to direct physical stimulation of a nerve


method of communication between animals including those obtained by the senses of smell, hearing, sight, or touch


directed movement in response to a stimulus

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