Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 317–345 | Cite as

Kinds of behaviour



Sciences able to identify appropriate analytical units for their domain, their natural kinds, have tended to be more progressive. In the biological sciences, evolutionary natural kinds are adaptations that can be identified by their common history of selection for some function. Human brains are the product of an evolutionary history of selection for component systems which produced behaviours that gave adaptive advantage to their hosts. These structures, behaviour production systems, are the natural kinds that psychology seeks. We argue these can be identified deductively by classing behaviour first according to its level of behavioural control. Early animals in our lineage used only reactive production, Vertebrates evolved motivation, and later Primates developed executive control. Behaviour can also be classified by the type of evolutionary benefit it bestows: it can deliver either immediate benefits (food, gametes), improvements in the individual’s position with respect to the world (resource access, social status), or improvements in the ability to secure future benefits (knowledge, skill). Combining history and function implies the existence of seven types of behaviour production systems in human brains responsible for reflexive, instinctual, exploratory, driven, emotional, playful and planned behaviour. Discovering scientifically valid categories of behaviour can provide a fundamental taxonomy and common language for understanding, predicting and changing behaviour, and a way of discovering the organs in the brain––its natural kinds––that are responsible for behaviour.


Evolution Behaviour Emotion Brain Cognition Natural kinds 



Thanks to Adam Biran, Kalina Christoff, Barbara Findlay, Carlos Gershenson, Ara Norenzayan, John Odling-Smee, Miguel Rubio-Godoy, Thomas Reydon, Beth Scott, Szymon Wichary and several anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Hygiene Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical MedicineLondonUK

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