We hungry is also an innate behavior. You

We all respond to different situations with some type of behavior. Some of these are innate and others are learned. This lesson will help differentiate between the two.


Behavior is simply something you do in response to a situation. It can be determined by genetics, the environment, your own experience, or a combination of these factors.

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This lesson will focus on two types of behaviors: innate behavior and learned behavior. How do you react when you are hungry? You probably find something to eat. How do you react when you want to answer a teacher’s question at school? You probably raise your hand and wait to be called on.

These are both examples of behavior. One is innate and the other is learned. Let’s look more closely at what makes a behavior innate and what makes a behavior learned.

Innate Behavior

Behavior that you are born with is innate behavior. It is part of your genetic makeup.

Since it is coded in your DNA, you don’t have to learn it. You might refer to innate behavior as instinct. Innate behaviors include things like the need to sleep or an adrenaline response to danger.

Getting something to eat when you are hungry is also an innate behavior. You didn’t have to be taught to do any of these things.All animals, including humans, have innate behaviors. Typically, these behaviors are related to basic needs such as finding food or producing offspring, and they are genetically encoded. Innate behaviors exist because they are necessary in some way for survival and have evolved through the process of natural selection.

In other words, the behaviors most beneficial to a species’ success are the ones passed on to future generations.

Learned Behavior

Some behaviors have to be taught before you do them. These are learned behaviors. You aren’t born knowing how to respond in a classroom when a teacher asks a question. Raising your hand and waiting to be called on is something you learn from your interaction with the world.

Learned behaviors include things like speaking in a specific language (for example, English or Spanish) or how you should eat in a restaurant. If you weren’t taught these things through your environment and experiences, you would not know how to do them.Learned behavior has the advantage of being more flexible than innate behavior. All animals, including humans, depend on learned behavior to adapt to new situations.

Learned behavior can be as simple as knowing you shouldn’t eat peanuts because you will break out in hives. It can also be more complex, such as finding a new route to take when a road is closed. More intelligent animals have a greater capacity for learned behaviors. As humans, almost all of our behaviors are learned.

More Examples

Let’s discuss a couple more examples of learned and innate behavior.

  • A dog is born with an instinct to hunt for food, so when a dog chases a small animal it is an innate behavior.
  • Your dog begs for a treat.

    You have taught the dog to do this by giving it a treat in the past when it begs, so it is a learned behavior.

If you are still confused about what behaviors are innate and which are learned, you can ask yourself some simple questions. Would the behavior exist if in a different environment? If the answer is no, then it is learned.

Did the behavior have to be taught? If the answer is yes, then it is learned. Is the behavior something that would be present at birth? If the answer is yes, then it is innate. Would the behavior be present in a variety of different environments without being taught? If the answer is yes, then it is innate.

Lesson Summary

Your response to a situation is your behavior.

There are a number of factors that interact to determine most behaviors. Genetics, experiences, and environment can all play a role. Innate behavior and learned behavior are two categories that can be used to differentiate responses. Behavior that you are born with is innate behavior. It is instinctual and part of your genetic makeup.

Other behaviors have to be taught. These are called learned behaviors.


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