MCAT Content / Social Behavior / Biological Explanations Of Social Behavior In Animals

Biological Explanations of Social Behavior in Animals

Topic: Social Behavior

There are several significant types of social behavior found in animals including foraging behavior, mating behavior and mate choice, game theory, altruism, and inclusive fitness.

Foraging behavior (the set behaviors through which animals obtain food) is a type of social behavior that can be observed in many species. Animals optimize the energy expenditure involved in obtaining it. Social behavior can increase foraging efficiency by allowing knowledge of effective techniques to be passed from individual to individual or by allowing the community to achieve what an individual alone could not. Teamwork makes foraging behavior more efficient and gives individuals within the group a higher return on their energetic investments in food-seeking.

Social behavior also includes mating behavior, the behavior surrounding the propagation of a species through reproduction. Because success at reproduction determines whether or not an individual’s genes survive in the population, natural selection plays a role in mating behaviors. Natural selection is particularly influential in the process by which one member of a species chooses another individual with which to reproduce. Mate choice is determined by a number of factors, including attempts to judge the genetic qualities, overall health, and potential parenting skills of prospective mates.

Another significant type of social behavior is altruism. Altruism consists of behaviors that are disadvantageous to the individual acting, but confer benefits to other members of its social group. Many theories have been proposed to explain the existence of altruism. At first glance, altruism appears to have no evolutionary benefit. If helping others is detrimental to an individual’s survival, one would assume that genes contributing to such behaviors would quickly be eliminated from a population. However, altruism persists and has been observed in a wide variety of species. One compelling explanation of altruism from an evolutionary perspective includes the concept of inclusive fitness. Inclusive fitness describes overall fitness (an individual’s level of success at passing on its genes) by considering not only the individual’s own progeny but also the offspring of its close relatives. Lemurs have often been observed to care for offspring that are not their own. This altruistic behavior diverts the helper lemur’s time and energy away from the creation of its own offspring. However, such altruism is often directed toward assisting close relatives that share much of the same genetic makeup. If the helper lemur aids her sister in successfully rearing more offspring to adulthood than either lemur would on her own,  the helper is promoting the success of the genes she shares in common with her sister (and her sister’s offspring). When the concept of fitness is expanded to include the offspring of relatives, the evolutionary benefit of altruism becomes apparent.

Many scientists apply game theory to understand and mode the decision making processes that govern competition, altruism, and other social behaviors. Game theory is the use of mathematical models to represent complex decision making in which the actions of other group members must be taken into account. Interactions between organisms can be modeled as a multiplayer game in which each player carries out competitive or cooperative strategies that maximize evolutionary success (i.e. fitness). The success of an individual depends no only on his or her own strategy but also on the strategies and decisions of the other “players.” Game theory presupposes that that most successful strategies result in greater fitness and will be favored by natural selection. A common application of game theory is in the “prisoner’s dilemma,” where two prisoners have the option of staying silent or betraying each other by confessing. If both stay silent, they both have shorter prison sentences. If one confesses and the other stays silent, the betrayer goes free, and the silent person has a longer sentence. If they both confess, they both receive a prison sentence of a length in between the short and long sentences. The best overall outcome occurs if the prisoners remain silent. In practice, participants in scenarios based on the prisoner’s dilemma tend to confess in hopes of achieving the best personal outcome or at least preventing the worst personal outcome.

 

Practice Questions

 

Khan Academy

 

MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Section Bank P/S Section Passage 7 Question 57

Section Bank P/S Section Passage 8 Question 62


Key Points

• There are several significant types of social behavior found in animals including foraging behavior, mating behavior and mate choice, game theory, altruism, and inclusive fitness.

• Foraging behavior is the set behaviors through which animals obtain food. Animals optimize the energy expenditure involved in obtaining it. Social behavior can increase foraging efficiency by allowing knowledge of effective techniques to be passed from individual to individual or by allowing the community to achieve what an individual alone could not.

• Mating behavior is the behavior surrounding the propagation of a species through reproduction. Natural selection is particularly influential in the process by which one member of a species chooses another individual with which to reproduce. Mate choice is determined by a number of factors, including attempts to judge the genetic qualities, overall health, and potential parenting skills of prospective mates.

• Altruism consists of behaviors that are disadvantageous to the individual acting, but confer benefits to other members of its social group.

• Inclusive fitness describes overall fitness (an individual’s level of success at passing on its genes) by considering not only the individual’s own progeny but also the offspring of its close relatives. When the concept of fitness is expanded to include the offspring of relatives, the evolutionary benefit of altruism becomes apparent.

• Many scientists apply game theory to understand and mode the decision making processes that govern competition, altruism, and other social behaviors. Interactions between organisms can be modeled as a multiplayer game in which each player carries out competitive or cooperative strategies that maximize evolutionary success (i.e. fitness). The success of an individual depends no only on his or her own strategy but also on the strategies and decisions of the other “players.”


Key Terms

Foraging behavior: the set behaviors through which animals obtain food

Mating behavior: the behavior surrounding the propagation of a species through reproduction

Natural selection: a process in which individual organisms or phenotypes that possess favorable traits are more likely to survive and reproduce

Mate choice: one of the primary mechanisms under which evolution can occur. It is characterized by a “selective response by animals to particular stimuli” which can be observed as behavior

Altruism: consists of behaviors that are disadvantageous to the individual acting, but confer benefits to other members of its social group

Inclusive fitness: the ability of an individual organism to pass on its genes to the next generation, taking into account the shared genes passed on by the organism’s close relatives

Game theory: the use of mathematical models to represent complex decision making in which the actions of other group members must be taken into account



Billing Information
We had trouble validating your card. It's possible your card provider is preventing us from charging the card. Please contact your card provider or customer support.
{{ cardForm.errors.get('number') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('zip') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('coupon') }}
Tax: {{ taxAmount(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }}

Total Price Including Tax: {{ priceWithTax(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }} / {{ selectedPlan.interval | capitalize }}