Learned behaviour

Learning is the modification of responses as a result of experience. Learned behaviours can vary greatly between individuals.

Examples of learned behaviours

Associative learning

The monarch butterfly has a bright orange colour and an unpleasant taste to birds. As a result of feeding experiences, birds avoid eating orange butterflies as they have learned to associate their colour with the unpleasant taste.

Butterfly sitting on a flower.

Habituation

A snail will withdraw its body when its shell is tapped. This withdrawal response is an innate behaviour that helps it to avoid predation.

If the snail’s shell is tapped repeatedly, but the snail is not attacked by a predator, then the snail stops making the withdrawal response. This is called habituation. Habituation allows animals to avoid wasting energy by responding to repetitive harmless stimuli.

A graph showing responses to when habituation occurs. Y-axis shows strength of response, for example the time a snail spends withdrawn in shell. X axis shows number of times stimulus is given, for example shell taps.  The plotted line starts high up the y axis and initially drops rapidly, before becoming a smooth curve and then dropping very gradually, almost horizontal just above the x axis.

Many behaviours have innate and learned components.