Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Idioms, Wikipedia.
instinct,term used generally to indicate an innate tendency to action, or pattern of behavior, elicited by specific stimuli and fulfilling vital needs of an organism. Examples of almost purely instinctive behavior are found in the behavior of many lower animals, in which activity (often quite complex) is performed that is not based upon past experience, e.g., reproductive and food-gathering activity in insects. Instinctive behavior generally acts as an initiator or triggering mechanism to arouse the organism, and it is modified by learned behavior as well as innate regulatory mechanisms. For example, nest-building by birds is a complex activity triggered by instinctive drives and modified by environmental conditions, such as the availability of materials and sites. Among animals, fixed patterns of instinctive behavior include fighting, courtship behavior, and escape; even these can usually be shown to be modified by experience (see ethologyethology,
study of animal behavior based on the systematic observation, recording, and analysis of how animals function, with special attention to physiological, ecological, and evolutionary aspects.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Freud used the term instinct when referring to human motivational forces, such as sex and aggression. Sociobiologists and ethologists such as Konrad LorenzLorenz, Konrad
, 1903–89, Austrian zoologist and ethologist. He received medical training at the Univ. of Vienna and spent two years at the medical school of Columbia Univ. He received a Ph.D. (1936) in zoology from the Univ.
..... Click the link for more information. have sought to understand social behaviors in terms of instincts, among humans as well as other animals. The usage of the term among psychologists has largely died out; today, motivational forces among humans are generally referred to as instinctual drives.
- (ETHOLOGY) the innate, motivating drives leading to species-specific behaviour patterns. Instinctive behaviour in animals is usually observed to be released by a specific stimulus, stereotyped (a ‘fixed action pattern’), not learnt or open to change, e.g. nest-building or courting rituals. Some human behaviour, e.g. maternal behaviour, is commonly regarded as instinctive. However, maternal behaviour is far more complex, even in animals, and is certainly affected by learning, though some psychologists would regard it as primarily learnt and not therefore instinctive in humans. Though some human behaviour may be based on inherited tendencies, the development of the human brain has meant that behaviour is far less reliant on ‘built-in mechanisms, and much more controlled by learning and choice. Animals lower down the PHYLOGENETIC SCALE have proportionately less brain area for learning, and more for instinctive processes, so their behaviour is less plastic and more predictable, i.e. controlled by instinct rather than learning.
- (PSYCHOANALYSIS), in FREUD's theory of personality dynamics, an inherited, motivating force, or drive found in the UNCONSCIOUS. See EROS, THANATOS.
the totality of complex innate reactions (acts of behavior) of an organism that arise, as a rule, in almost unchanged form in response to external or internal stimuli. The mechanism of instinct, according to I. P. Pavlov, is an unconditioned-reflex mechanism; hence, he considered the concepts of instinct and unconditioned reflex to be identical. Usually the term “instinct” is used to designate only complex unconditioned reflexes (feeding, defense, sexual) rather than simple unconditioned reflexes (blinking, sneezing, coughing).
Any instinct consists of a chain of reactions, in which the end of one link serves as the beginning of the next. There have been attempts to classify instincts according to their biological and physiological significance (Soviet physiologists N. A. Rozhanskii and A. D. Slonim). According to data of the Pavlov school, one may distinguish the following major instincts: feeding instinct, which is manifested in food gathering, food catching, food hoarding, and the like; defense instinct, which consists in passive defensive reactions (taking flight, freezing, concealing), as well as active defense using teeth, claws, horns, and the like; sexual instinct, which includes mating games, dances, singing, mating calls, fighting for the female, migration to the spawning ground, and other acts that lead to actual mating; parenthood (also called care of offspring), which is manifested in the building of nests, storing food for the young, feeding the young, and training the young to defend themselves, hunt, and the like; and group instincts, which constitute the basis of the interrelations between members of a herd, flock, hive, or family and are manifested in collaborative defense against enemies, building of nests, migration, warming each other during the cold season, and the general care of offspring.
Of special interest in the comprehensive investigation of the mechanism of instinct is their variability by virtue of the possible superposition of conditioned-reflex reactions, which, together with instinct, constitute the “biocomplex of activity” (A. N. Promptov’s expression) or “unitary reactions” (L. V. Krushin-skii’s terminology). It has been established (L. A. Orbeli et al.) that the more developed the central nervous system, the greater the relative importance in the animal’s behavior of reactions acquired in the individual’s life. Thus, the behavior of lower invertebrates (protozoans and coelenterates) is based exclusively on instinct. But in the behavior of higher invertebrates (insects, crustaceans, higher mollusks), despite the presence of the most complex instincts (in particular in the social insects, bees and ants), a notable role is played by conditioned reflexes.
Human instincts are to a significant degree subordinated to man’s conscious activity, which is formed in the process of rearing. However, rearing in turn, in addition to its sociohistorical foundations, is based on a biological foundation in the form of the major instincts, which mature at various periods of embryonic and postembryonic life. Already during the uterine period, certain structures of the nervous system of the embryo mature more quickly than others, thereby ensuring the readiness of the newborn to survive under the specific conditions of his existence (P. K. Anokhin). At various times after birth, other instincts begin to mature, on the basis of which important functions of the body develop (sexual attraction, maternal feeling). The glands of internal secretion play a very large role in the realization of instinctive activity.
The study of instinct has exceptionally great significance in medicine, since some mental illnesses stem from disorders (or disruptions) of instinctual drives; in animal breeding, in connection with the selection of animals with the most economically useful innate characteristics; and in the development of methods of the transformation of wild fauna, acclimatization of animals, and control of agricultural pests. (See also INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOR.)
REFERENCESPavlov, I. P. “Lektsii o rabote bol’shikh polusharii golovnogo mozga.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Promptov, A. N. Ocherki po probleme biologicheskoi adaptatsii i povedeniia vorob’inykh plits. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
Rozhanskii, N. A. Ocherki po fiziologii nervnoi sistemy. Leningrad, 1957.
Krushinskii, L. V. Formirovanie povedeniia zhivotnykh v norme i patologii. Moscow, 1960.
Slonim, A. D. Instinkt: Zagadki vrozhdennogo povedeniia organizmov. Leningrad, 1967.
Anokhin, P. K. Biologiia i neirofiziologiia uslovnogo refleksa. Moscow, 1968.
L. G. VORONIN