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10.5: Learned Behavior of Animals

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Fighting or playing?

You might think that these young tigers are fighting, but they’re really just playing. Like most other young mammals, tigers like to play. Why do mammals play? Is playing just for fun, or does it serve some other purpose as well? Playing is actually an important way of learning. By playing, these tigers are learning moves that will help them become successful predators as adults. Playing is just one of many ways that mammals and other animals learn how to behave.

Learned Behavior

Learning is a change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience. Compared with innate behaviors, learned behaviors are more flexible. They can be modified to suit changing conditions. This may make them more adaptive than innate behaviors. For example, drivers may have to modify how they drive (a learned behavior) when roads are wet or icy. Otherwise, they may lose control of their vehicle.

Animals may learn behaviors in a variety of ways. Some ways are quite simple. Others are more complex. Several types of learning are described in Figure below.

Types of Learning. Five different ways that animals may learn behaviors are shown here. What have you learned in each of these ways?

Insight learning, which is based on past experience and reasoning, is a hallmark of the human animal. Humans have used insight learning to solve problems ranging from starting a fire to traveling to the moon.


  • Learning is a change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience.
  • Learned behaviors are adaptive because they are flexible. They can change if the environment changes.
  • Behaviors can be learned in several different ways, including through play.


Use these resources to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Define learned behavior. Provide an example.
  1. What is conditioning? Give an example.
  2. Describe classical conditioning and habituation.
  3. Give an example of insight learning.
  1. When are learned behaviors favored?
  2. Give an example of a species that relies on learned behaviors.
  3. Who usually teaches offspring learned behaviors?


1. What is the relationship between intelligence and learning?

2. Name three types of learning in animals.

3. Compare and contrast instinct and learning.

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insight learning

Learning which is based on past experience and reasoning.


Change in behavior that occurs as a result of experience.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Sep 04, 2016
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