Biological preparedness is a psychological concept related to how one’s brain, genetics, and behavior are unintentionally pre-determined to react under certain situations. In other words, biological preparedness is related to innate behavior.
Innate behavior refers to a set of reflexes and instinctual behaviors that are present from birth, as opposed to acquiring behaviors that are learned throughout life.
In psychology and neuroscience, “preparedness” refers to an individual’s tendency to form associations between specific stimuli and responses. It’s a valuable concept for understanding the mechanisms behind learning, particularly the classical conditioning process.
Biological preparedness can explain many things in human behavior, including how we form associations with particular experiences or how our brains process information differently depending on various situations. This article explains everything about the theory.
What Is the Concept of Biological Preparedness in Psychology?
Biological preparedness is a concept in psychology that refers to the idea that our brains and bodies are pre-wired by evolution to react to certain stimuli in specific ways. The phenomenon of biological preparedness is based on three factors:
- A tendency for an organism to respond to environmental stimuli in a particular way
- A set of innate reflexes that serve as a base for learning new behaviors
- The ability to learn new behaviors more quickly when those behaviors are associated with stimuli that are already familiar
Simply put, it describes organisms’ tendency to respond to certain stimuli in specific ways. For example, humans may be biologically predisposed to react negatively when encountering snakes because snakes have historically been dangerous for humans.
Examples of Biological Preparedness
One great example of biological preparedness at work in the classical conditioning process is the phenomenon of food aversions.
Food aversions are learned associations between the taste or smell of a particular food and negative experiences such as illness, pain, or even an unpleasant feeling. In other words, you eat some food, get sick, and never want to touch that food again. These learned associations can be formed through classical conditioning.
What Does Biological Preparedness Have to Do With Phobias?
Biological preparedness is an evolutionary theory explaining why we naturally fear certain things. The theory suggests that humans are genetically predisposed to fear things that may have posed a threat in the past, such as snakes and spiders. These fears were likely developed through natural selection and passed down from generation to generation.
Phobias are irrational fears that can cause anxiety or panic attacks when confronted with the object or situation that triggers them. For example, a person with arachnophobia (fear of spiders) may experience uncontrollable fear when encountering a spider or even thinking about one. Other common phobias include acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces).
When we think of our reactions to stress and fear, it’s easy to assume they’re based on our conscious thoughts and feelings. But looking at them from an evolutionary perspective, it becomes clear that there’s much more going on than we might realize.
Biological preparedness is a vital part of understanding the way our brains work. It refers to the idea that certain behaviors or reactions have been hardwired into our minds over the millennia. For example, if we see a snake in the wild, we will likely react with fear because this behavior has been selected over time. After all, it is adaptive and helps us survive. So even though we don’t consciously know what a snake looks like or what one can do to us, our brains react as if they do — because they do!
Similarly, the human body has a fantastic ability to adapt and recover from stress. When stressed, your brain releases a chemical called cortisol, which causes your body to start preparing for fight or flight. To deal with stress, your body makes changes that help it handle it.
The amygdala is one of the most essential parts of the brain when dealing with stress. This is because it controls our emotions and is linked to our memories. It also plays a vital role in reacting to fear and anxiety. Too much adrenaline in the brain can cause us to feel anxious or scared, leading us to develop phobias or panic attacks.
That said, biological preparedness has a lot of things in common with phobias and panic attacks because it relates to our emotions and how we react to certain situations or stimuli. For example, if someone was bitten by a dog when they were young, and then they see another dog later on in life, they may develop a fear of dogs because their amygdala responds as if they were being threatened again even though there is no real threat present in that situation at all!
Related Read: What Is Latent Learning and How Does It Work?
The idea of biological preparedness is an intriguing one. We’ll likely never completely understand how our brains sort and store memories, but this research provides some insight.
In the end, biological preparedness explains a concept in evolutionary psychology that deals with how evolved, genetically determined traits and behaviors are expressed in people. In other words, it addresses whether certain human behaviors are developed or unfold due to a complex interaction between genes and the environment.
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- Seligman, M. E. P. (2016). Phobias and preparedness – republished article. Behavior Therapy, 47(5), 577–584. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2016.08.006
- Dellarosa Cummins, D., & Cummins, R. (1999). Biological preparedness and evolutionary explanation. Cognition, 73(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/s0010-0277(99)00062-1