The way an agent behaves is often used to tell them apart and to distinguish what and who they are, whether animal, human or artificial. Behaviour can also be associated with groups of agents, not just a single agent. For example, human cultural behaviour relates to behaviour that is associated with a particular nation, people or social group, and is distinct from the behaviour of an individual human being or the human body. Behaviour also has an important role to play in the survival of different species and subspecies. It has been suggested, for example, that music and art formed part of a suite of behaviours displayed by our own species that provided us with the evolutionary edge over the Neanderthals.
From the perspective of designing embodied, situated agents, behaviour can be defined as follows. A particular behaviour of an embodied, situated agent is a series of actions it performs when interacting with an environment. The specific order or manner in which the actions’ movements are made and the overall outcome that occurs as a result of the actions defines the type of behaviour. We can define an action as a series of movements performed by an agent in relation to a specific outcome, either by volition (for cognitive - based actions) or by instinct (for reactive-based actions). With this definition, movement is being treated as a fundamental part of the components that characterise each type of behaviour – in other words, the actions and reactions the agent executes as it is performing the behaviour.
The distinction between a movement and an action is that an action comprises one or more movements performed by an agent, and also that there is a specific outcome that occurs as a result of the action. For example,a human agent might wish to perform the action of turning a light switch on. The outcome of the action is that the light gets switched on. This action requires a series of movements to be performed such as raising the hand up to the light switch, moving a specific finger up out of the hand, then using that finger to touch the top of the switch, then applying pressure downwards until the switch moves. The distinction between an action and a particular behaviour is that a behaviour comprises one or more actions performed by an agent in a particular order or manner. For example, an agent may prefer an energy saving type of behaviour by only switching lights on when necessary (this is an example of a cognitive type of behaviour as it involves a conscious choice). Another agent may always switch on the light through habit as it enters a room (this is an example of a mostly reactive type of behaviour).
Behaviour is the way an agent acts in a given situation or set of situations. The situation is defined by the environmental conditions, its own circumstances and the knowledge the agent currently has available to it. If the agent has insufficient knowledge for a given situation, then it may choose to search for further knowledge about the situation. Behaviours can be made up of sub-behaviours. The search for further knowledge is itself a behaviour, for example, and may be a component of the original behaviour. There are also various aspects to behaviour, including the following: sensing and movement (sensorymotor co-ordination); recognition of the current situation (classification); decision-making (selection of an appropriate response); performance (execution of the response).
Behaviours range from the fully conscious (cognitive) to the unconscious (reactive), from overt (done in an open way) to covert (done in a secretive way), and from voluntary (the agent acts according to its own free will) to involuntary (done without conscious control or done against the will of the agent). The above definition is applicable when the term is being used in relation to the actions of a human or animal, but it is also applicable in describing the actions of a mechanical system,or the complex actions of a chaotic system, if the agent-oriented perspective is considered (here the agents are humans, animals, mechanical systems or complex systems). However, in virtual reality and multimedia applications, the term can sometimes be used as a synonym for computer animation.
In the believable agents and artificial life fields, behaviour is used “to refer to the improvisational and life-like actions of an autonomous character” (Reynolds). We also often anthropomorphically attribute human behavioural characteristics with how a computer operates when we say that a computer system or computer program is behaving in a certain way based on responses to our interaction with the system or program. Similarly, we often (usually erroneously) attribute human behavioural characteristics with animals and inanimate objects such as cars.
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