Behavioral rigidity in the face of rapid anthropogenic changes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


For well over a century, biologists and psychologists have been arguing about the origins of behavior. Is behavior fixed and innate? Is it only determined by the genetic composition of the individual or is it flexible and shaped by the individual's environment? This heated argument, also known as the “nature versus nurture” debate, is yet unsettled (Ridley 2003), although the common consensus (at least among biologists, Bolhuis 2013) is that the dichotomy between innate and learned behaviors is false and that the development of behavior is a complex process involving continual interactions between the characteristics of an individual and its environment (Lehrman 1953).
The relevant aspect of this debate for our purposes is that some behaviors are mostly fixed, and do not change, regardless of the environment the individual is in, compared to other behaviors that are much more plastic. Furthermore, even plastic behaviors are constrained within limits, and these limits may vary depending on the behavior and the environment. We term the display of fixed behaviors in the face of a changing environment as “behavioral rigidity.” There are three main causes for behavioral rigidity: fixed or “instinctive” behaviors for which the individual displays no learning or that cannot be changed due to physical or physiological constraints, imprinted behaviors that are plastic only during the early period of an organism's life and afterwards become fixed, and behaviors that are flexible, but this flexibility is too slow to keep up with environmental change.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationConservation Behavior
Subtitle of host publicationApplying Behavioral Ecology to Wildlife Conservation and Management
EditorsOded Berger-Tal, DavidEditors Saltz
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781139627078
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameConservation Biology
PublisherCambridge University Press


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