Distinguishing Instinctual & Learned Behaviors

Key Difference – Instinct vs Learned Behavior

When discussing behavior, there is a key difference between instinct and learned behavior. Instinct, also known as innate behavior, is an action that occurs instantly upon a trigger. In contrast, learned behavior is an action that an individual learns through observation, education, or experience. Innate and learned behavior can be observed in both humans and animals.

What is Instinct?

Instinct is also referred to as innate behavior, which is a type of behavior that an individual possesses from birth and does not need to be taught. This can be seen in both humans and animals. For example, an infant crying is an innate behavior, as it is not something that is taught. Similarly, a spider weaving a web is an innate behavior.

Instinctual behavior is within the genetic makeup of an individual, allowing them to engage in an action that has not been previously taught. However, it is important not to confuse instinct with reflexes, which refer to an immediate response to a specific stimulus. In the animal world, instinct is crucial for species survival and reproduction.

What is Learned Behavior?

Learned behavior is an action that an individual learns through observation, education, or experience. Unlike instinct, which does not require teaching or practice, learned behavior must be taught, as it is not inherent and needs to be perfected. Learned behavior involves different skills that a person learns or improves, which can be perfected through repetition. This can be observed in both animals and humans.

In psychology, the concepts of classical conditioning and operant conditioning can be linked to learned behavior. Both highlight that behavior can be learned, which can either increase or decrease certain behaviors. For example, when an individual is rewarded for a particular behavior, it is likely to increase, while when they are punished, the behavior is likely to decrease.

Key Takeaways

  • Instinct is an innate behavior that occurs instantly on a trigger, while learned behavior is acquired through observation, education, or experience.
  • Instinctual behavior is inherent and does not require practice, whereas learned behavior must be taught and practiced to be perfected.
  • Both instinct and learned behavior can be observed in humans and animals, playing a crucial role in survival and reproduction.
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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