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Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior

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An examination of innate behavior and its possible origins suggests parallels with the formation of habitual behavior. Inflexible but adaptive responses-innate reflexive behavior, Pavlovian conditioned responses, and operant habits-may have evolved from variable behavior in phylogeny and ontogeny. This form of "plasticity-first" scientific narrative was unpopular post-Darwin but has recently gained credibility in evolutionary biology. The present article seeks to identify originating events and contingencies contributing to such inflexible but adaptive behavior at both phylogenic and ontogenic levels of selection. In ontogeny, the development of inflexible performance (i.e., habit) from variable operant behavior is reminiscent of the genetic accommodation of initially variable phylogenic traits. The effects characteristic of habit (e.g., unresponsiveness to reinforcer devaluation) are explicable as the result of a conflict between behaviors at distinct levels of selection. The present interpretation validates the practice of seeking hard analogies between evolutionary biology and operant behavior. Finding such parallels implies the validity of a claim that organismal behavior, both innate and learned, is a product of selection by consequences. A complete and coherent account of organismal behavior may ultimately focus on functional selective histories in much the same way evolutionary biology does with its subject matter.


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