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The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour

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The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour

The way aggression is expressed is somewhat complex. After an argument, slamming the door can release pent-up anger, which is a form of aggression. The hydraulic model of aggression links together Lorenz’s theory of aggression (consisting of innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns in ethology), focusing on the motivation behind an action, behaviour, and external stimuli to explain how aggression is expressed in animals.

Innate releasing mechanism in ethology

Innate releasing mechanisms (IRMs) in ethology are hardwired neural networks in the brain that recognise specific stimuli ( sign stimuli or releases ) that trigger fixed action patterns (FAPs), i.e., a sequence of actions encoded in response to these specific stimuli.

The hydraulic model of instinctual behaviour brings these ideas together to illustrate how this is implemented in an animal, considering the animal’s motivation.

The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour, Wolf lorenz theory of aggression, StudySmarterWolf mid snarl, Pixabay

Lorenz’s Hydraulic model of aggression definition

Overall, the hydraulic model visualises pent-up aggression an animal may experience and release, taking into account IRMs and FAPs and acknowledging motivation in animal behaviour.Interestingly, Lorenz’s hydraulic model of instinctual behaviour goes back to the work of Freud. He believed that aggression was an inevitable outcome because, in his view, animals, especially males, are biologically programmed to fight for what they deem necessary for their survival. These include food, territory, and the right to mate.Take a look at the diagram below:

The Hydraulic Model Of Instinctive Behaviour, konrad lorenz's hydraulic model of motivation, StudySmarterKonrad Lorenz’s hydraulic model of motivation (1950), Wikimedia Commons

Motivation is the fluid that accumulates in the reservoir and becomes the drive to act in this mechanism.

  1. Action-specific energy or pent-up aggression accumulates in the reservoir, and the sign stimulus serves as the trigger. In this case, the stimulus is the weight that clogs the reservoir.

  2. A sign stimulus will ‘release’ the pent-up reservoir, resulting in FAPs, and FAPs can vary depending on how much the reservoir releases.

Once this occurs, the animal’s aggression level drops (known as behavioural quiescence) until the pent-up aggression builds back up, and the process repeats.

Motivation increases over time, so the reservoir builds up over time.

Motivation in animal behaviour is specific to the behaviours it triggers (e.g., when a species needs to mate or secure food).

A male stickleback has increased motivation to mate with a female stickleback during the mating season. This motivation rises over time and accumulates in its ‘reservoir’. When the male stickleback encounters another male stickleback, identifiable by its red underbelly (the sign stimulus or release), it releases this reservoir. It begins its FAP, aggressive behaviour to fend off competition.

Rhoad and Kalat (1975) observed aggressive behaviour of male Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) in response to other male fish (recognised by their bright colours), a mirror image of the fish, a moving model, and a stationary model.Typically, Siamese fighting fish inflate in response to the presence of another male by inflating their dorsal, ventral, and caudal fins, among others.

Rhoad and Kalat (1975) found that the fish would puff up in response to any stimulus, exhibiting similar behaviours. The mirror image elicited a response most effectively, followed by the moving and stationary models. However, another fish is still more effective than the mirror image, and effectiveness does not depend on the stimuli’s order.After repeated exposure, the aggressive behaviours decreased rapidly. However, the fish were still alert to the stimuli, but they actively avoided them instead of being aggressive (habituation), which could signify the ‘reservoir’ needs to replenish itself.

Vacuum activity and spontaneous FAPs

In Lorenz’s model, either the stimulus causes the release of the pent-up aggression, leading to FAPs, or the pressure from the reservoir spontaneously discharges.

In this vacuum activity, the pent-up aggression has built up to a point where it must be released, and it does so in the absence of external stimuli. It makes its way out and leads to a FAP.

Evaluation of Lorenz’s hydraulic model (1950)

Konrad Lorenz’s theories are essential for multiple reasons, namely through their contributions to understanding behaviour in animals, specifically aggression, and acting as a model for comparative aggression in humans.

However, the model has a few problems, which we will address here:

  • It fails to acknowledge premeditated aggression: the model does not account for premediated aggression when it refers to how aggression builds up. Instead, motivation or pent-up aggression accumulates and is discharged when needed.
  • It fails to consider learning: if an action has a consequence for the animal, the animal has been shown to adapt to this feedback and change FAPs during development. The model does not consider this. There is no feedback in the hydraulic model of instinctive behaviour.
  • It is overly simplistic: the brain is a complex organ, and the model does not account for all the complexities involved in aggression. It oversimplifies aggression to an excessive degree, which Lorenz himself admitted. However, it is meant to be a ‘starting point’.
  • There is a lack of structural evidence: the model has not been located in the brain. We still do not know where these structures are located where action-specific energy accumulates.
  • Arms et al. (1979): this study measured spectators watching aggressive sports on scales of hostility. Male and female participants were exposed to stylised aggression (professional wrestling), realistic aggression, and competitive non-aggressive events. They found aggression and hostility increase rather than decrease after viewing the events. However, this was not the case for the non-competitive events. This finding suggests aggression was not released as the hydraulic model would suggest.

The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour - Key takeaways

  • Lorenz’s theory of aggression is linked by the hydraulic model of motivation, which focuses on the motivation behind an action, behaviour, and external stimuli to explain how aggression is expressed in animals.
  • Overall, the hydraulic model visualises pent-up aggression that can be released in an animal, incorporating IRMs and FAPs while acknowledging the animals’ motivation.
  • Motivation is the fluid that fills up the hydraulic model in an animal.
  • Action-specific energy or pent-up aggression accumulates in this reservoir, and a stimulus acts as a release. In this case, the stimulus is the weight that clogs the reservoir. A sign stimulus will ‘release’ the pent-up reservoir, resulting in FAPs, and FAPs can vary depending on how much is released from the reservoir.
  • Once the hydraulic model’s aggression buildup is relieved, the animal’s aggression level drops (known as behavioural quiescence) until the aggression buildup rebuilds and the process repeats.
  • In vacuum activity, the pent-up aggression has built up to a point where it must be released, and it occurs in the absence of external stimuli. It makes its way out and results in a FAP.
  • The model fails to recognise the ability to learn and adapt FAPs and is overly simplistic without much structural evidence in the brain. It also fails to recognise intentional aggression.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour

In psychology, specifically ethology, the hydraulic model is a concept Konrad Lorenz developed to demonstrate the release of pent-up aggression in animals (innate releasing mechanisms), specifically by showing a reservoir of motivation/aggression. A sign stimulus releases this reservoir to cause fixed action patterns to specific stimuli.

Konrad Lorenz proposed the psychohydraulic model (1950).

Konrad Lorenz’s theory surrounded the concept of aggression and its release in animals, explicitly referencing innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns. 

Konrad Lorenz’s theories are essential for multiple reasons, namely through their contributions to understanding behaviour in animals, specifically aggression, and acting as a model for comparative aggression in humans. 

Final The Hydraulic Model of Instinctive Behaviour Quiz

Question

What is the hydraulic model of instinctive behaviour?

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Answer

The hydraulic model of instinctive behaviour is a concept Konrad Lorenz developed to demonstrate the release of pent-up aggression in animals (innate releasing mechanisms), specifically by showing a reservoir of motivation/aggression. A sign stimulus releases this reservoir to cause fixed action patterns to specific stimuli.

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Question

Who proposed the hydraulic model of instinctive behaviour?

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Answer

Konrad Lorenz (1950).

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Question

How does the hydraulic model relate to innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns?

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Answer

It ties them together to show how aggression builds up and is released in an animal.

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What does Lorenz’s hydraulic model derive from?

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Answer

Freud’s work. 

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What did Konrad Lorenz believe about aggression?

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Answer

He believed it was inevitable, particularly for males, as they are biologically programmed to fight for survival. 

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Question

What components exist in the hydraulic model?

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Answer

The components are:

  • The drive/motivation (liquid) building up in the reservoir (pent-up aggression).
  • The weight and sign stimulus clogging the reservoir and releasing to initiate behaviours.  

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Question

What is action-specific energy?

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Answer

It is the pent-up aggression accumulating in the reservoir. 

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Question

What happens in the hydraulic model when seeing the specific stimuli or sign stimulus?

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Answer

The weight releases, resulting in the release of aggression and fixed action patterns.

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Question

What is behavioural quiescence?

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Answer

It is where aggression levels lower in an animal following the release of pent-up aggression. 

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Question

What happened in the study by Rhoad and Katal (1975)?

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Answer

To appear threatening, Siamese fighting fish puffed up in response to stimuli that looked like other male fish – a fixed action pattern.

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What is vacuum activity?

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Answer

In vacuum activity, pent-up aggression is released in the absence of the sign stimulus. 

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Question

Motivation increases as time goes on – true or false?

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Answer

True. The reservoir then builds up again in the hydraulic model. 

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What does the hydraulic model fail to consider?

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Answer

It fails to consider the ability to learn and adapt fixed action patterns during development in animals. 

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Question

The hydraulic model fails to acknowledge premeditated aggression – true or false?

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Answer

True. 

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Question

What happened in the study by Arms et al. (1979)?

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Answer

Arms et al. (1979) found aggression and hostility in male and female spectators of sports increase rather than decrease after viewing the events. However, this was not the case for the non-competitive events.

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