Moyer, Kenneth E. Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Last reviewed:February 2020
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A relatively complex response pattern that is usually present in one or both sexes of a given animal species. Instinctive behavior (see illustration) comprises any species-typical pattern of responses that are not clearly acquired through training. Responses of instinctive behavior have a genetic basis, are essentially unlearned, and are generally adaptive. The qualifying terms are an important part of the definition because each of the defining characteristics of instinctive behavior can be shown in certain circumstances and under certain conditions to be inappropriate. As a result of this, some theorists have suggested that the terms instinct and instinctive behavior be stricken from the lexicon. However, instinctive behavior is still a useful term to describe various intricate actions, such as the complex behavior of the courting bowerbird and the efficient and precise killing behavior of the predatory cat. See also: Ethology; Psychology
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