Encyclopedia of Psychopharmacology

Living Edition
| Editors: Ian P. Stolerman, Lawrence H. Price

Behavioral Flexibility: Attentional Shifting, Rule Switching, and Response Reversal

  • Verity J. BrownEmail author
  • David S. Tait
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27772-6_340-2


Adaptability; Cognitive flexibility; Responsiveness


Behavioral flexibility refers to the adaptive change in the behavior of an animal, in response to changes in the external or internal environment. Ongoing behavior (which might include inactivity) is stopped or modified and new behavior is initiated. Adaptive changes in behavior can vary by degree, ranging from changes that are little more than reflexes or tropic reactions (i.e., reflecting a change in environmental conditions but without the involvement of cognitive processes) to behavioral changes that are anticipatory of environmental changes. Unlike impulsivity, which is responding without inhibitory control and can be maladaptive (see “Impulse Control Disorders”), behavioral flexibility reflects a change in cognitive state in response to the perceived environmental contingencies.

Given that there is a wide range of adaptive responses, it is important to be clear about terminology, particularly if the intention...

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of St AndrewsScotlandUK