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Reflex Actions, Maturation and Fixed-Action Patterns: Behaviour of an Animal Not Dependent on Learning (with examples)

Updated on May 8, 2012

Learning is to acquire knowledge or a skill through experience.

Much of what you do in your every day life has been learned. You were not born with the knowledge of how traffic lights work, or how to use an elevator. You learned those skills.

Some behaviour, however, is not dependent on being learned. These include reflex actions, behaviour dependent on maturation and fixed-action patterns.

Reflex Actions

Reflex actions are actions that occur automatically after you are exposed to a certain stimuli. For example, jerking your hand away from a hot light or saucepan. This is a reflex action because you do not need to think about what to do, or have someone teach you to pull your hand away.

Babies are born with many reflexes, like the sucking reflex which allows it to feed, and grabbing onto things very tightly with its hands. Many of these disappear in the months following the baby's birth.

The purpose of reflexes are mostly to protect the person or animal from danger, and to ensure its survival. For example, with the baby, if it did not have the sucking reflex and know instinctually how to feed, it could starve.

Some behaviours, such as babies learning how to crawl, are dependent on maturation.
Some behaviours, such as babies learning how to crawl, are dependent on maturation. | Source

Behaviour Dependent on Maturation

Some unlearned behavior is the result of maturation. This type of behaviour can be predicted, as it is generally the same across the entire species. For example, most human babies begin crawling at the age of nine months. This behaviour does not need to be taught.

(READ: Trial and Error Learning)

Bees exhibit some fixed-action behaviors, such as showing the hive where food they have found is located.
Bees exhibit some fixed-action behaviors, such as showing the hive where food they have found is located. | Source

Fixed-action Patterns

A fixed-action pattern is an instinctive behavioral response to certain stimuli that all members of a species produce similarly to each other. Examples include:

  • mating rituals of certain animals, including birds.
  • migration of certain animals, including salmon
  • some species of moths that instantly drop to the ground if they sense a bat
  • the dance of a honeybee to show members of the hive where food is located

Fixed action patterns are different than reflexes because even though animals are born with both, fixed-action patterns are more complex. Fixed-action patterns can be relevant to a single gender of the species, for example in mating dances, when females and males may demonstrate different behaviour. But all the females will act in the same way as each other, and all the males will act in the same way as each other.

The higher order of animal, the fewer instinctive behaviours occur, and more of what the creature knows is based on learning. Humans have no instinctive behaviour complicated enough to count as a fixed-action pattern.

If not all members of the species produce the same result, it is NOT a fixed-action pattern. For example, even though many humans may scream in horror if they saw a bat covered in cockroaches and dripping blood carrying a human head in its mouth, not everybody would, which means it is not a fixed-action pattern, and is learned behaviour.

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      igiraneza eric 

      6 months ago

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