Proximate and Ultimate Mechanisms

How are proximate and ultimate mechanisms different from each other when studying why an animal behaves in a certain way?

Behavior is defined as the immediate response of an organism to a stimulus. When observing these behaviors, there are two main levels of analysis that can take place.

First, biologists attempt to determine the proximate mechanisms for this behavior. These processes explain how the organism reacts in the way that it does. In other words, an analysis of the immediate causes of the behavior takes place. Was the behavior an innate or learned response? Was it triggered by hormones or was the response developed by the individual through experience? These processes can often be proven through experimentation, and the specific stimuli may be determined.

Ultimate mechanisms, on the other hand, explain why an organism behaves in a certain way. It determines the long-term causes of the reaction. In most cases, the individual has a potential to benefit from the response. Does the action contribute to the individual’s fitness? Will it now live longer or be more successful at reproducing? It is essential to consider the evolution of the species in determining these mechanisms. There may be historical evidence suggesting the benefits of these behaviors.

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