In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evolution and Development of Individual Behavioral Variation

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Definitions
  • Overviews
  • Behavioral Maturation
  • Niche-Picking and Niche Construction

Evolutionary Biology Evolution and Development of Individual Behavioral Variation
Kate L. Laskowski, Alison M. Bell, Judy Stamps
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199941728-0135


What makes individuals unique? The answer to this question lies in understanding why and how individuals respond to numerous internal and external factors that they experience over their lifetimes. This fundamental question lies at the heart of the study of human and animal behavior and is best addressed by integrating both proximate and ultimate perspectives. From a proximate perspective, we need to understand the molecular, hormonal, and physiological pathways involved in enacting behavioral changes within individuals. From an ultimate perspective, we need to understand when and why behavior changes in response to different internal and external factors and whether such changes are adaptive, a result of constraints, or pathological. Research on this topic draws links across several fields including developmental and abnormal psychology, personality in humans and animals, developmental plasticity, and parental effects. The development of individual behavioral variation encompasses many different processes because there are so many ways that behavior can vary within and across individuals. This article considers behavioral variation in both of these respects, that is, within-individual plasticity and among-individual differences. Within an individual, behavioral plasticity describes the way in which behavior can change across the lifespan as a result of changes in internal factors such as maturational state, or as a result of salient experiences. Among individuals, differences in average behavior can be a result of individual differences in internal factors, such as genetic variation, variation in their experiences, and variation in how they respond to the same experiences. Traditionally, students of behavioral variation in humans and animals focused on describing the mean levels of behavior expressed by groups of individuals as a function of changes in age or in response to specific experiences. More recently evolutionary and behavioral ecologists have become interested in patterns of within-individual plasticity and among-individual differences in behavior, and the factors that contribute to their development, which is the focus of this review here.


The evolution and development of behavioral variation is a broad topic and so many journals publish articles related to it. From a human perspective, major journals are the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Psychological Bulletin, Social Psychological and Personality Science, and Evolution and Human Behavior. In nonhuman animals, journals such as Behavioral Ecology, Animal Behaviour, Ethology, and Applied Animal Behaviour Science all routinely publish research relating to the development and evolution of behavioral variation. The Journal of Comparative Psychology publishes papers on both humans and other species.

  • Animal Behaviour. 1953–.

    This broad journal publishes empirical and theoretical work on animal behavior including work from evolutionary, ethological, or more applied perspectives.

  • Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 1974–.

    This journal focuses on the behavior of domesticated or utilized animals with a focus on how this work can help inform animal management, husbandry, and/or welfare.

  • Behavioral Ecology. 1990–.

    This journal publishes both empirical and theoretical work dealing with the study of behavior from an eco-evolutionary perspective. This often includes research on animal personality and its development.

  • Ethology. 1937–.

    This journal publishes research on behavior, generally in nonhuman animals, including its physiological mechanisms, function, and evolution.

  • Evolution and Human Behavior. 1979–.

    This interdisciplinary journal focuses on linking the study of human behavior within an evolutionary context.

  • Journal of Comparative Psychology. 1921–.

    This journal publishes empirical work focusing on the study of behavior and cognition across multiple species, including humans.

  • Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1965–.

    This journal focuses on empirical work done on human personality and social psychology with special focus on the topics of social cognition, interpersonal relations, and individual differences in personality processes.

  • Psychological Bulletin. 1904–.

    This journal specializes in publishing integrative research reviews and research syntheses to help summarize the current state and future directions of the field.

  • Psychological Science. 1990–.

    This broad journal focuses on empirical work on any aspect of psychology, though routinely publishes work investigating the human personality and its development.

  • Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2010–.

    This journal specializes on publishing short empirical articles of work considered to be major advancements to the field of social psychology and personality science.

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