Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!





Here are two examples of instinctive behaviour in animals:

  • a bird building a nest
  • a spider spinning its web

Instincts are useful because they do not have to be learned and they can be complex, like the examples above. Instincts let animals form groups for protection, choose mates, fight to be in charge, and show many other behaviours.


Reflexes are a type of instinct. They happen automatically because of a particular stimulus. For example, if your hand touches something hot by accident, it automatically and quickly moves away. You do not have to learn to do this.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed.

Instinct is not learned behaviour

When the school bell rings at the end of break time, the students leave the playground and go to their lessons. People may say that the students are acting on instinct. But they would be wrong.

An instinct is a behaviour that happens automatically without any learning needed. The students have learned that the bell is a signal to do something, so leaving the playground when the bell rings is not an instinct. It is learned behaviour.


Behaviour activity

Is it instinct or conditioning that makes you study science?



Join Questionaut's quest to find his friend's hat.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.