Innate, Learned and Complex Behaviors

Innate, Learned and Complex Behaviors

My AP Biology Thoughts

Unit 8 Episode #18

Welcome to My AP Biology Thoughts podcast, my name is Jacky and I am your host for episode 18 called Unit 8 Ecology: Innate, Learned, and Complex Behaviors.  Today we will be discussing the different behaviors animals engage in in response to stimuli.

Segment 1: Introduction to Innate, Learned, and Complex Behaviors

  • Animal behavior is how animals interact with one another and to the environment. The behaviors are specifically triggered by stimuli, which can be internal or external. 
  • EX internal: Need to maintain homeostasis. If an animal eats some bad food, they’re body will often react in a manner to try to throw up that food
  • EX external: Changes in weather will often lead to migration, where an animal leaves their habitat to go to a whole new region
  • Three main types of behaviors: Innate, Learned, and Complex
  • Innate and Learned are two distinctive categories of behaviors, Complex is a mixture of both

Segment 2: Example of Innate, Learned, and Complex Behaviors

  • Innate behaviors are behaviors animals are genetically programmed to engage in. They are instinctive, and are automatically performed by an animal in response to a stimulus.
  • Three types: Reflexes, taxis and kinesis. For these 3, I will be using an example of shining light.
  • Reflexes: A natural response to a stimulus. It was with you the day you were born; an automated reaction by your body. When you go to the doctor, they shine light in your eye. Automatic reaction, or reflex, is to blink or squint; you don’t even think about it.
  • Taxis: Movement away from or toward a stimulus. It is not random; it is a purposeful response of the animal. If you shine a light in the air at night, you will notice bugs gravitate towards it. This is a natural behavior of theirs; they are attracted to sources of light and will move to it, especially during night time.
  • Kinesis: Random movement. There is no defined purpose in the behavior, it is simply stray movement that occurs when a stimulus is introduced. The animal is not moving toward or away from anything. If you are in a dark cave and then shine a light on a cluster of rats, they will scatter and move around erratically, not going anywhere in particular. They are not trying to move toward or away from the light, they are just trying to move.
  • Learned behavior: Behavior that is acquired through experience. It is not a reaction one will have from birth. Some common examples of learned behavior are habituation, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning, observational learning, and insight learning. Will be using example of fire alarm
  • Habituation: When the natural response to a stimulus decreases overtime as the animal is repeatedly subjected to the stimulus, causing them to become almost unreactive to it. You live in a building with a fire drill once a month. When you first moved in, you were shocked when it went off, but now you stay calm and hardly react. You have been habituated to the stimulus
  • Classical conditioning: When an unrelated stimulus becomes associated with another stimulus that naturally produces a specific response. Humans are afraid of fire. The stimulus is the fire, and the response is the fear. The sound of the alarm should be unrelated to our fear, but we have been classically conditioned to associate the fire alarm with the stimulus of fire, causing us to become fearful when we hear it.
  • Operant conditioning: Learned behavior that is more or less likely to happen again based off of the consequences of a certain action. If the consequence of the action is desirable, the action is more likely to be repeated. If the consequence is not desirable, it is less likely to be repeated in the future. Let’s say you are an inexperienced chef who is not very attentive when making food. Unfortunately, one day your turducken burns due to your lack of supervision, causing the fire alarm to go off. You hate the alarm and are extremely scared by it, and in the future you are encouraged to keep a more watchful eye on your food due to the negative consequences if you don’t.
  • Observational Learning and Insight Learning are simpler and quite self-explanatory. 
  • Observational: Learning that occurs by watching someone or something else perform an action, which you then mimic.
  • Insight: An aha moment where you use reasoning to come to a conclusion or solution, allowing you to solve a problem or move forward in a situation and giving you more learning experience.
  • Complex behaviors: Combination of different types of behaviors: innate or learned. It often requires many actions and decisions in order or at the same time, making it more complex than a singular action. Some common examples are fixed action patterns, migration, and even running, swimming, or flying. I’ll be using the example of birds.
  • Fixed action patterns: A complex behavior that is already hardwired in an animal but requires much precision or effort to carry out. One example of this would be a bird performing mating dance. Mating dances are often highly complicated, but they are innately ingrained in the bird; the bird simply must carry them out to attract a mate. 
  • Migration: Seasonal movement of animals from one region to another. Again it is an innate response an animal will have from birth combined with learned behaviors that enable them to physically travel (flying, running, etc). Certain birds will naturally migrate to warmer areas when it becomes cold, which is a multi-step, often tedious process that requires constant, complex, action.
  • I mentioned even supposedly simply behaviors like running, swimming, or fling are complex behaviors. These behaviors combine learned behaviors (the physical movement) with reflexive responses that help with balance or movement. So they are complex behaviors as they still combine learned and innate behaviors, but in a more subtle manner.

Segment 3: Digging Deeper Innate, Learned, and Complex Behaviors

  • The development of behaviors, whether they are innate, learned, or complex, are the basis of an animal’s life and actions. What they do will have a great impact on their fitness and survivability in their environment and the various stimuli provided by it. Certain innate behaviors, if performed better than others, will make an organism better suited for survival or for finding a mate. The same goes for learned and complex behaviors, which can make or break the fitness of an organism. Eventually, because the organisms who perform these behaviors tend to live longer and produce more offspring, more of their genes will be passed down future generations, who are likely to imitate their parents. Therefore, animals with the ability to better perform certain behaviors, innate or learned, will become more abundant. This shift in individuals signifies a change in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool over time, which may lead to evolution. Overall, animal behavior, whether it is innate, learned, or complex, is essential to the life and survival of an organism.

Thank you for listening to this episode of My AP Biology Thoughts.   For more student-ran podcasts and digital content, make sure that you visit  See you next time!

Music Credits:

  • “Ice Flow” Kevin MacLeod (
  • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

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