Adaptation refers to the behavior that enables an organism to function effectively in its environment.

Adaptation is the process of change occurring in organisms or species in order to adjust to a particular environment to assure group survival. Adaptation is crucial to the process of natural selection. Ethologists, scientists who study the behavior of animals in their natural habitats from an evolutionary perspective, have documented two main types of adaptive behavior. Some behaviors, known as closed programs, transmit from one generation to the next relatively unchanged. Open genetic programs involve greater degrees of environmental influence.


Natural selection—
A term popularized by Charles Darwin that describes a process in which organisms adapt to their environment and survive to maturity and produce offspring, thus passing the adaptive trait on to future generations.

Sensory adaptation consists of physical changes that occur in response to the presence or cessation of stimuli. Examples of human sensory adaptation include the adjustment eyes make when individuals move from bright sunlight into a darkened room or the way bodies adjust to the temperature of cold water after an initial plunge. Once a steady level of sensory stimulation (light, sound, or odor) is established, it is no longer noticeable. However, any abrupt change requires further adaptation.

The adrenalin-produced reaction to environmental dangers, called the fight-or-flight syndrome response (including rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweating, and other physiological changes), can also be considered a form of adaptation. The psychological responses involved in classical and operant conditioning, which stimulate learned behaviors motivated by either positive reinforcement or fear of punishment, are often considered adaptive.

See also Environment ; Ethology ; Fight/flight reaction ; Habituation .



Baum, William M. Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 1859 reprint. New York: Signet Classic, 2009.

Fuentes, Agustin. Evolution of Human Behavior. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.