Behavior Chain

Overview and Meaning

Behavior Chains are a fundamental concept in classical ethology, and motivational theory. Behavior chains are roughly equivalent to the idea of incentive motivations in comparative psychology, and in both disciplines, they the highest level of behavioral organization.


A Behavior Chain is a set of organized behaviors directed to satisfying a certain motivation, such as feeding, mating, etc.


The term 'Behavior Chain' reflects the fact that within a motivational set of behaviors, individual behaviors tend to follow a set sequence. In ethology these are referred to as 'goal directed behaviors', because each behavior in the chain brings about a goal (often represented by a change in stimuli) at which the animal transitions to the next behavior in the chain. For instance, when feeding motivation is active, the animal cannot consume food, until it has found it, and cannot find it until it has searched for it.


Consequently, classical ethology emphasizes the difference between appetitive and consummatory behaviors in a chain. Appetitive behaviors are performed large in the absence of external stimuli, and serve to bring about stimuli or behavioral substrates required for the consummatory behaviors in the chain. Conversely consummatory behaviors are stimulus-driven and serve to satisfy the motivation that initiated the behavior chain. For example searching for food is appetitive and serves to bring the animal in contact with food (the stimulus), which allows it to switch to food processing and ingestion, which are consummatory behaviors, and which satisfy the feeding motivation.


Behaviors in this ethogram are organized according to the behavior chains in which they occur.