We speak of knowing, believing, or feeling something instinctively and thereby mean that we cannot recall having learned or having been told about it but rather that the knowledge, belief, or feeling just arose within us. We say of someone that he has an instinct for, say, mathematics or stage direction, meaning that he is by nature good at these things.
We speak of maternal or creative instincts when referring to behavior that seems to be the expression of a deep and perhaps characteristically human urge. We describe someone as acting out of an instinct of revenge, meaning that revenge was his motive. We speak of blind instinct when someone cannot say why he acted in a certain way or what the purpose of his action was. We might say that someone was obeying the herd instinct if he followed the crowd instead of his own judgment. We might claim to have found our way home by instinct, meaning that we did not arrive home by accident, or by the conscious use of a map or memory, but were guided in some unconscious way.
This list of how instinct and instinctive are used every day in reference to human thought and action is by no means exhaustive, and many more differences and shades of meaning could be added if we were to extend the list to the behavior of animals. But it should be clear already that there is no one meaning common to all these usages.
There is continuity between the several meanings in the sense that no usage is completely unrelated to at least one of the others. In spite of the range of meanings that instinct and instinctive have in everyday language, usage seldom leads to misunderstanding; context and custom usually furnish whatever is necessary to convey the meaning that is intended on a particular occasion. Science and philosophy traditionally aim at a greater degree of precision or rigor than is characteristic of the statements of ordinary language.
A scientist or philosopher might object that many of the uses of instinct are loose and vague, that underlying the varieties of use there must be a single concept of which instinct is the name, but of which the ordinary man is only dimly aware. The inconsistency of ordinary language will be avoided by making the underlying concept explicit and by defining instinct in terms of it.
We find frequent reference in psychological writing to the concept of instinct and numerous attempts to define instinct in a precise way. However, the variability of the definitions that scholars have proposed for instinct is almost as great as the variety of its uses in ordinary language. Any new theory of, or outlook on, behavior is likely to incorporate a concept, category, or distinction that is matched by at least one of the uses of instinct in ordinary language. Scholars have tended to settle on the ordinary language use or uses that suit their purposes, and they define instinct accordingly.
Hence the persistence of the word in psychology. But there has also been a tendency to assume, albeit tacitly, that an explicit definition of instinct in terms of one of its meanings somehow incorporates its other meanings as well; at least the other meanings tend to be retained regardless of the definition—hence, in part, the difficulties that psychologists encounter in using the term. To assume that all, or most, of the many meanings of instinct can be gathered into one precise concept in fact leads to the reverse of precision, to the blurring of distinctions, to the confounding of questions, and hence to misunderstanding and confusion.
A detailed analysis of the several kinds of uses to which instinct has been put—demarcation of the several kinds of facts, concepts, questions, and explanations with which instinct has been associated—would be a move in the direction of greater precision. Until such analysis has been made it is unlikely that questions about the relations between the different meanings of instinct and the possibility of their being reduced to one concept can be profitably discussed. In what follows, some examples will be used to illustrate the hybrid character of the instinct concepts and the controversies to which these concepts have led.
Most modern theories of instinct are derived from Darwin as much as from anyone else. And he used instinct in a number of ways: to refer to what impels a behavior pattern such as bird migration, to a disposition like courage or obstinacy in a dog, to feelings such as sympathy in man, and to stereotyped and species-characteristic behavior patterns such as hive building in the bee.
For instance, it was essential to his argument that instincts be hereditary, but he assumed that being hereditary implies, and is implied by, development without the mediation of experience. Now if instinct is defined in terms of both inheritance and independence of experience, it follows that one can be inferred from the other if we know that we are dealing with a phenomenon to which this notion of instinct is applicable.
The connection is a logical one—true by definition. But how are we to know that we are dealing with a phenomenon to which this definition applies, unless we already know, as a matter of fact, that this phenomenon is both hereditary and independent of experience? For it is at least conceivable that something could be inherited and yet depend on some sort of experience for its development and that something could develop independently of experience, in the sense in which this is usually understood, and yet not be inherited.
Intelligence has a hereditary basis but also requires experience for its development. Whether or not a particular pattern of behavior is both inherited and independent of experience cannot be decided by inference from evidence in favor of only one of these possibilities; the question can be decided only on the basis of observation. In fact, in compiling material for the Origin of Species, Darwin had little detailed information about how behavior patterns and dispositions develop in individual animals, and he apparently made little effort to obtain it.
Such information would not have been as obviously relevant to his argument—that behavior has evolved by natural selection —as the kinds of facts he did document: evidence for the evolution of behavior, the inheritance of behavior, and the adaptiveness of behavior. In the Descent of Man Darwin employed instinct mainly in the sense of natural urge or compulsion to action. An instinct in this sense was a unitary or autonomous entity of which there are a specific number in each kind of animal.
Such an instinct has three main aspects; the nature of the impulse, the behavior it impels, and the goal toward which the impulse, and hence the behavior, is directed. In fact it is by its goal more than anything else that such an instinct is identified; whether a behavior, such as a pecking movement, belongs to a particular instinct will be judged not on the basis of form alone stereotyped or not but rather on whether it is the kind of behavior that in the circumstances will tend to bring about acquisition of the goal of the instinct—the building of a nest, the securing of food, the defeat of a rival, and so on.
Unfortunately there can often be more than one version of what the goals of behavior are, and it is a questionable assumption that a classification of behavior patterns according to the goals they serve corresponds to a set of internal unitary driving systems. These are difficulties which adherents of this concept of instinct had to contend with. However, if one assumes the existence of a certain number of distinct natural impulses in an animal the possibility arises that there can be interactions between them.
In social behavior, Darwin said, we often see the simultaneous arousal of incompatible tendencies—for example, self-preservation instincts and parental instincts—and so we are led to the notion of conflict between instincts and to the notion that instincts can differ in strength and that one can overcome another [ see Conflict , article on psychological aspects ]. Freud made much use of the notion of conflict, in particular, conflicts between instinct and experientially acquired features of mental life. He assumed the existence of two broad categories of instinct in man, aggression and sex, each of which was to be considered as consisting of, or differentiating into, a number of subinstincts [ see Aggression , article on psychological aspects ].
According to Freud , the goals of overt behavior are not always sufficient to reveal its instinctive basis, since the social, convention-ridden life of man involves suppression or distortion of many of the natural expressions of instinct. Only the techniques of psychoanalysis, such as the analysis of word associations and dreams, can reveal the true inner dynamics of human behavior—the ways in which the instincts and their conflicts express themselves.
It also contained contradictory elements that led to some inconsistency in its use. Freud wrote at times as though instinct were a kind of blind energy, at least analogous with the energy of physics, the dynamics of which follow quasi-mechanical laws; at other times he wrote as though instinct were something that could have intention and could employ strategies.
Subsequently, some psychoanalysts such as Karen Horney and her colleagues e.
They did not deny the existence of instincts as biologically grounded forces affecting behavior, but they took the position that the available facts allot a greater contribution to social forces in the generation of psychological conflicts, psychoses, and so forth, than was allowed by the speculative notions of classical Freudian theory about the functioning of instincts [ see Horney ].
Perhaps the most influential champion of instinct in psychology was William McDougall , whose Introduction to Social Psychology was one of the first textbooks of social psychology. In it he employed a concept of instinct as a base for an extremely persuasive comprehensive theory of behavior, a theory that was credited with the dual achievement of bringing a new and elegant synthesis to the subject matter of psychology and of giving psychology the status of a natural science based on biological principles.
The biological principles were those of Darwinism.
To this McDougall grafted the traditional particularly Kantian conception of the tripartite division of mind into faculties of knowing, feeling, and willing. Conveniently at hand was the three-part division of neurophysiological systems, and McDougall took what to him was the obvious step of locating the cognitive aspect knowing of instinct in sensory pathways, the affective aspect feeling in associative pathways, and the conative aspect willing in motor pathways.
The connections between the three parts of an instinct were thus thought of as neural, but McDougall insisted that the dynamics of instinct are not purely mechanical, after the manner of reflexes. He insisted that an instinct is a psychophysical system, by which he meant that mental phenomena—the awareness of feeling, emotion, and impulse—play an essential and active role in determining instinctive action.
According to McDougall, instincts are capable of modification during the life of an individual within limits that differ from species to species, man having wider limits than other animals. But the possibility of modification through experience pertains only to cognition and conation , p. Hence identification of the distinct primary emotions is the one valid method of discovering what, and how many, instincts there are.
According to McDougall, such an analysis of instincts is necessary before one can make significant progress in understanding the nature of complex derived or secondary patterns of behavior or mental phenomena. He presented a list of what he considered to be the primary emotions and hence the principal instincts in man. He attempted to justify his list on Darwinian principles by reference to the probable adaptive significance, and hence evolutionary basis, of each instinct.
Lists of instincts multiplied in psychological writings, and the concept took root in such fields as economics e. However, as the lists multiplied, so did their variety.
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Different writers based their lists on different criteria: primary emotions, purposive behavior patterns, the number of species-characteristic behavior patterns, and so on. Introspection, or whatever other means of judgment were used, yielded different lists for different people, and there was no recognized way of deciding who was right and who was wrong. For, according to his theory, with the exception of reflexes all behavior is instinctive or has an instinctive base.
Also, his concept of instinct appeared to provide a bridge between at least two kinds of explanation of behavior: explanation in terms of causes and effects and explanation in terms of intentions and actions. But the age-old question about the relations between these two kinds of explanation was not solved by talk about psychophysical processes.
Furthermore, the concept and the theory of which it was a part were speculations whose connections with facts were left, to a large extent, indeterminate and hence were difficult to pin down for empirical test. The first significant shot in the anti-instinct revolt was fired by Dunlap in a paper that appeared in Other critics attacked the use of the idea of inborn behavior patterns; they cited evidence that encouraged the view that all but the simplest reflexes are molded by experience.
By and large, instinct theories proved no match for new and rival movements, such as behaviorism, that tough-mindedly insisted on the priority of hard facts and on the value of experimental methods.
However, while discarding instinct as a scientific term, the behaviorists retained some of the ideas that had been connoted by it. Nevertheless, the opponents of instinct, no less than its champions, seemed to have assumed that its many facets rose or fell together, that to affirm or question independence of experience, or subjective purposiveness, was to affirm or question instinct in all its senses.
In fact, behaviorists, with perhaps a few exceptions, did not apply their methods to a number of questions and facts with which the instinct theorists had concerned themselves; for example, the adaptive significance of species-characteristic behavior patterns, spontaneity in behavior, the relation of behavioral similarities and differences to questions about evolutionary relationships. A resurgence of concern with biological aspects of behavior brought about the most recent rejuvenation of instinct. Beginning in the late s the ethologists, led by Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen , accused both the proponents and opponents of instinct of failure to pay sufficient attention to large classes of facts about animal behavior.
Ethologists proceeded to develop ideas about instinctive behavior that purportedly were based on, and took account of, such facts.
The aim was to make instinct an objective concept and the study of instinct an objective science. The background of ethology was classical zoology comparative morphology and evolution and amateur natural history. The facts from which ethologists started were the contents of detailed inventories of species-characteristic behavior patterns, observations of the sequential patterning and frequency distributions of occurrences of such patterns, the taxonomic distribution of variations of behavior patterns, and the biological functions of species-characteristic behavior patterns.
In an early paper Lorenz , p. Here again we encounter a concept of instinct that groups together a number of distinct characteristics. Was this grouping a matter of definition or a matter of fact? There is no doubt that there are stereotyped, environment-resistant, species-characteristic behavior patterns that terminate variable chains of searching activities; and inter-species comparison of variations in the forms of such behavior patterns indicates that they do reflect genetic affinity.
On the other hand, the facts of neuro-physiology disqualify the energy model from being anything more than a picturesque way of describing certain facts about behavior. At each stage of the sequence, with the exception of the last, there are usually several alternative types of appetitive behavior that can follow; which type occurs on any occasion will depend upon which of the several kinds of possible releasing stimuli is encountered.
Thus a hunting predator might begin its search for prey with behavior that is not specific to the capture of only one type of prey; it then switches to the appropriate one of a set of prey-catching patterns as soon as it sees or smells a particular type of prey. The prey-catching behavior will, in turn, vary according to the avoiding measures taken by the prey and be switched to the stereotyped pattern specific for killing the prey once the prey is caught. Activation of the reproductive instinct, then, would mean production of motivational impulses from the highest part of the reproductive hierarchy and the expression of these impulses in courting, territorial fighting, copulation, nest building, parental behavior, and so on, depending at any time on the level of the hierarchy at which the impulses were accumulating and the releasing stimuli available.
But Tinbergen avoided the inclusion of subjective phenomena by accounting for the purposive aspects of behavior with a purely mechanical or quasi-mechanical model.
In spite of the quasi-physiological terms used to describe the model, many of its key properties were known not to have any close correspondence with physiological reality.