An appeal for help: is there such a thing as instinct?

November 25, 2010 • 3:41 am

by Matthew Cobb

I’d like to enroll the readers of WEIT in a bit of research. I’m currently applying for a grant looking at the concept of “instinct”. Although “instinct” is widely used in ordinary speech to describe behaviours or processes that appear to be both widespread and consistent between members of the same species (thus a cat has a “hunting instinct”, while bees “instinctively” sting a threatening animal, and humans learn to speak “instinctively”), in science, however, the term was abandoned in the 1950s.

Of course, this does not mean that we think that there are no innate or genetically determined behaviours, merely that “instinct” isn’t a useful way of describing them. So there’s an apparent mis-match between scientific speech/concepts and that used by other people. That’s one of the things I want to investigate.

To explore what people outside the animal behaviour world think “instinct” means, I will set up focus groups, questionnaires and so on. As an initial step on this road – and to flesh out my grant proposal! – I’d like WEIT readers to make comments below about what *you* think “instinct” means. If you accept that that some behaviours are innate, is “instinct” simply shorthand for this, or does it mean something different to you?

Post away!

100 thoughts on “An appeal for help: is there such a thing as instinct?

    1. Me, too.

      For many animals, it seems that the right stimulus has to come along at the right time in development for that “instinct”~ to manifest, so many “innate” behaviours are not completely innate.

  1. Well, I finished a psych degree last year (yes, not hard science, but hey, I’ve done a science degree so…., ok it’s not science) anyway, one of the instincts, which I’ve observed recently with my son was that he had the grasping instinct, anyway, apparently when a newborn or near enough is touched on the palms, the baby grabs hold instinctively (there’s lights on, but nobody’s home) and you can lift the child up. The strength and coordination of an otherwise more or less unable neonate is amazing. Thus I think it’s an instinct or reflex.

    1. Is there a major difference between instinct and reflex? If so, forget my comment. Buy hey, my son is amazing. He could still be a contender, not I. 🙂

      1. Yeh Brian, i think they are different things, but would love some input from an expert.

        I would describe reflex as a specific involuntary physical response to a given stimulus eg patella tendon reflex, gag reflex, eyes closing as something approaches.

        Instinct might be described as a more coordinated set of behaviours/physical responses, yet simliarly sub-conscious.

        As an adult i dont exhibit a “grasp reflex”, which makes me wonder if there are any other “reflexes” that diminish with age (or any that appear with age)

        By my admittedly arbitrary definitions i think your bub is showing “instinctive” behaviour rather than a “reflex”.

        And as a father of 2 pre-school kids i completley understand your wonderment at your little boy. Enjoy them while they’re tiny – they get big real quick!

        1. What about the fact that newborns will automatically hold their breath if you submerge them in water? Is that instinct or reflex?

  2. I’m by no means even a sub-expert in any of this (my organisms don’t have “behavioural biology” per se, though they most definitely have complex behaviour nonetheless), but thought about the subject a little. It was once a daunting question and I could also find very little literature on instinct, particularly how it could be “encoded”.

    Typically, instinct and behaviour are thought to require the nervous system. This to me strikes as a bit artificial since many unicellular organisms, as well as plants and fungi, clearly exhibit behaviour and respond to the environment. Some amoebae have been documented to catch rotifers, “measure” them with their pseudopodia and later move to the posterior end through which they slurp the juices. That is clearly a complex behaviour, but one that happens in the absense of a nervous system. Some elements of ‘instinct’ present as well.

    Next is the question of what behaviours are NOT instinct? The traditional usage seems to presuppose a mind-body dualism, where parts of the behaviour are caused by a thinking agent, while other elements of it are hard-wired/innate. This is an outdated view, and it’s clear that there is no scientific rationale whatsoever for any Cartesian Dualism. It’s just wrong. Perhaps that is why instinct has seldom been used in scientific literature lately? Does its loss of use coincide with the acceptance of monism in the biological community?

    Lastly, you could also argue that since behaviour is ultimately molecular/biochemical (even if there’s a high component of stochasticity and/or we have no chance in hell in ever sorting it out), molecular responses are also a form of ‘instinct’. Thus, just as a bird “just knows” to nest in a certain location, a gene just “knows” to be turned on in certain environmental conditions – I think all that separates the two is the number of interactions between the stimulus and the response (the genetic path is much more direct), which also influences the opportunity for noise/randomness: a longer path would be less predictable and more subject to noise. Other than that, the principle is the same.

    So in a way, we can say behavioural instinct is highly derived molecular instinct. But again, in light of materialism and the collapse of mind-body dualism, is there a need to have ‘instinct’ at all if we already have ‘behaviour’? I don’t know – but just some food for thought.

    Hope at least some part of my ramblings may be useful to you 😉

    Best of luck with the grant!

    Regards,
    -Psi-

  3. Any Pinkerians/Chomskyans around? “Language Instinct”? In this case, I think not.

    Coming from a linguistic point of view, it’s hard to see some things as not instinctual. Human foetuses start, it seems, making phonological distinctions in the womb. What’s making them do that if not instinct? Googling “prenatal language development” will show up some useful info amongst the usual dross.

  4. I somehow got it into my head that “instinct” was an innate response that is directed by the brain, and may subside with development. In contrast, a “reflex” is a quicker reaction that is autonomous, i.e. doesn’t reach the brain, and therefore is faster but also less likely to be altered and changed through learning or growth. The distinction may be a bit blurry at times, but in principle – reflexes are fast specific response of a rather small neural subsystem, while instincts are more widespread and endemic responses, involving lots of circuits and producing slower responses.

    It seems I was wrong. So be it.

    1. lamacher: You are not wrong. In neurophysiologic terms, a reflex requires only two or three neurons in the arc, occurs almost instantaneously, and a brain is NOT necessary. The notion of ‘instinct’ seems to require an integrating system to fire and direct the response, with more delay time for various inputs to occur.

      Part of the problem here is the rather mushy concept of ‘instinct’. I recall how, in my anatomy lab days, all of 52 years ago (490 hours of gross anatomy dissection!), one could tell within a few weeks who the surgeons would be because some just showed an ‘instinct’ for understanding and pursuing anatomical detail. Instinct, or simply a mindset that predisposed to acquiring that sort of information? In human terms, very difficult to know because there are so many levels to explore.

  5. I have always been intrigued by choice variation among people. From my observation of people, I am always surprised by how much individuals differ in the rapidity and decisiveness when reacting to a situation. And also the direction they ultimately decide to follow. So I have a completely unsubstantiated idea that there is sensory bias among people to pick one kind of response out of several possible options. Possibly a complex of genetic and neurological mechanisms. That is what I fuzzily assign as instinct.

  6. I’d say instinct is something that is done or ‘known’ without having to consciously think about it. Like when a person says something like ‘I instinctively knew that ….’

    Or for example, how does a kitten know to creep up to a bird when its not been raised with another cat, so hasn’t learnt by copying?

    1. Does the kitten do it instinctively, or does it learn pretty quickly after a few misses??

      My 2 pre-school kids dont seem to show the kind of instinctive fear of spiders i would have expected. I’m pretty sure that if I wasnt around they would have no inkling at all that spiders might be dangerous.

      So i’m happy to say that stalking behaviour is learned – but i cant for the life of me explain how a new-born kangaroo knows to climb up its mother’s hairy stomach into the pouch where the nipples are!! that’s instinct – you only get one chance to learn it, get it wrong and you’re dead.

  7. Instinct is behavior hard-coded in your OS, which doesn’t require conscious processing. Learned behaviors are apps. Or maybe OS mods/haxies, as some learned behaviors can become “instinctive” … maybe “habituated” would be a better term?

  8. I have always thought instinct as “hard-wired” brain pathways/structures/chemistry that make an animal do something that improves its survivability. But these behaviors are also able to be modified at least in species where “thinking” goes on. (By thinking I mean intelligence enough to modify ones own behaviors. A moth is not likely to self-modify its behavior whereas a cat is.)

  9. I’ve always defined instinct as behavior that is not learned from culture. If you put a new born baby on a deserted island (no other people or animals to copy behaviour) and somehow manage to feed and protect it till adult hood then everything it does is instinctive behavior. So breathing would be instinct and metabolizing food would be instinct. Defecating would be instinct. Coming up with a way to ambulate on it’s own would be instinct. If you cut off it’s hypothetical food supply at say age 18 then if it managed to find it’s own food then it’s hunting/gathering technique would be instinct.

    1. I tend to disagree with your analogy. Humans seem to have an instinct for pattern forming (watch a small child playing with toys and notice how they will line up the toys of the same type without being told to do this). However the very action of pattern forming allows associations to be made and knowledge to be accumulated. The child on the desert island may have some initial instincts but it also will have accumulated knowledge based on using these instincts. I suspect a lot of any persons life consists of things you do due to knowledge learned by oneself rather than being taught from other people – a sort of personal culture. In other words if you cut off the food supply of this individual at 18 then its hunting/gathering techniques would be a combination of instinct and accumulated knowledge (non instinct).

      1. That’s a fair comment. I agree with you. Many behaviors probably use a combination of instinct and learned. You would have to say that the second nest a bird ever builds is not purely instinct if it managed to learn something from the first attempt. There can’t be much purely instinctive behaviour going on with older animals that are capable of learning.

  10. I guess that I’ve always tended to regard instinct as unlearned behaviour. For example, it seems that most animals I’ve observed, after growing up on a small farm, seem to need no education regarding the mechanics of sex. It comes to them, as it were, by instinct. They might learn various behaviours though through observation and this might not be readily apparent.

  11. Instinct is Nature in the brain, it stands in murky, ill-defined contrast with Culture, which is Nurture in the brain.

    There’s a lot wrong with my previous statement, but it’s a good starting point, methinks.

  12. I’ve always had difficulty assigning anything “instinctual” to human beings. But that is a result of my very behaviorally oriented psych classes in college. I recall at the time that the profs were loath to claim but a very few animal behaviors (e.g. nest building in birds) as instinctive. If there was any possibility that the behavior was learned or reflexive, it wasn’t called an instinct. An instinct is something that every member of the species being studied must perform; no exceptions allowed. I’ve had many arguments with people since about them using phrases like “maternal instinct” or calling an infant’s reflexive grasping an instinct. Popular use allows the use of instinct for just about any behavior you want.

  13. My definition of instinct is:

    An action carried out automatically without conscious thought and generally without specific training.

    E.g. instinctively pulling your hand away from a hot-plate, or dodging something thrown at you.

  14. I would describe instinct as knowledge, behavioral patterns, or skills present in an individual organism before the individual has had an opportunity to encounter or contemplate situations in which the knowledge, behavior, or skill is appropriate or required. Knowledge, behavior patterns, or skills acquired through experience or learning would not be instinctual.

    Most human reflexes would be instinctual; flinching, gagging, retracting from pain. Being able to determine which objects are faces and which aren’t is also instinctive.

    In contrast, most subjects that require higher education to perform are not instinctual.

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. Yes, the ability to recognize a face (in a generic sense) seems to be hard-wired. Hence the pareidolia effect. I wonder about flinching, or as Martin says above, dodging. For the first year of her life, my daughter did NOT flinch or dodge when toys were lobbed at her (soft toys, don’t worry). Not conclusive data, I know, but perhaps dodging projectiles could be a learned behavior, in the “personal culture” fashion described above by Sigmund.

      1. I had the coolest pareidolia effect during my summer holiday this year.

        We had been roasting marehmallows over a brazier – the fire had died down. Most of the group I was with was sick of the cold and the mosquitos so went inside, but me and a few of my oldest mates lingered for a while.

        One of them is a photography buff – so, wanting to show off, I took his swish-bang digital camera and took a photo of the (almost) extinguished embers.

        The embers showed up on his camera as a bright, vibrant, luminous blue. It was very cool and sciency as it was.

        But not only that, the glow of the embers in the infrared looked liks a screaming devil’s face!

        It was a splotchy noise-on-your-television-screen kind of effect, so no hard lines. But the pattern of the face was really, really obvious – two fortuitously placed sticks made the horns, for example.

        I laughed so hard. Best. Pareidolia. Ever.

        1. And before anyone asks: No, he actually deleted the image, the prick. He was more into photos of people, preferably underdressed young women.

          A shot illustrating principles of black-body radiation and quirks of human psychology in the face of randomness wasn’t high enough on his priority list to be worth keeping. The image never made it off his camera.

  15. To me instinct is any behavior that doesn’t have to be learned. For example, an infant instinctively imitates. A psychologist friend of mine in an experimental mood stuck out his tongue at my daughter when she was eight weeks old. After staring fixedly at him for several minutes, she began to work her mouth, and soon she, too, was sticking out her tongue. The action was learned, but the fact that she was primed to imitate was instinctual.

  16. Unlearned behaviour triggered by some stimulus in the environment. An example? Walking – a baby held up tries to ‘walk’ its leges even before the usual age of walking.

  17. I see the term as meaning any behavior that was not learned, or was at most tuned by experience. Hunting behavior in a cat, for example, is therefore instinctual, even though much of the technique must be learned, either through imitation of a parent, or trial and error.

    A cat adopted right after weening that never witnesses hunting behavior will nonetheless practice it later on, instinctively. Seeing mother hunt would at most improve the initial hunting skills.

    There’s also a quite separate meaning that I’ve used on occasion, and witnessed others use more often, and it applies only to humans (or, at least, it’s only with humans possessing language that it can be observed). Any behavior undertaken unconsciously while conscious may be labelled as “instinct”.

    Typically, this would be used to describe reactions that take place too fast for deliberation, such as to avoid an oncoming threat. This differs from the first definition in that the behavior itself may be entirely learned on the whole. Someone trained in martial arts, for example, may describe how they react to a sudden attack as “instinct”, even though it was all training, used pretty much unconsciously. Contrast this with removing your hand from a hot object “instinctively” – experience tunes your motor coordination, but retreating from a pain stimulus is not learned behavior.

    Pretty much all behavior of an animal with no parental care and a solitary existence must be instinctual. Throw in parental care or communal living, and cultural learning would need to be ruled out before I’d label anything instinctual – something easily done if the animal can be raised alone in an experimental setting.

  18. Some of the greatest professional athletes of our time, like Jim Brown and Willie Mays, were said to have had great instincts and natural abilities. These descriptors for black players lingered well beyond the seventies. On the other hand, the storyline for white players were those who played catch with their dads and worked on their “god given” skills.
    This is also how we distinguish ourselves for other species.

  19. I would distinguish between an innate act and an instinctual one. You might or might not actually do an instinctual act, but you don’t have any sort of choice with an innate act. For instance, breathing isn’t instinctual. We do not instinctually breath, just like we do not instinctually create new skin cells. These are things that we basically do not have control over. These are not instincts.

    I’m not completely satisfied with my answer, this is indeed an interesting thing to think about. Have you thought about contacting a linguist about this, as well. That might greatly add to the discussion.

  20. To me, instinct is shorthand for inherited (and sometimes habitual) behavior patterns that are usually (but not always) impervious to cognitive analysis. Birds fly south, turtle babies crawl towards the ocean, etc. And birds cannot cognitively “analyze” or “rethink” their southern estivations–they just do it.

    One question to me is whether all instinctual behaviors need priming from the environment, e.g., language in humans is instinctual but requires hearing adult humans speak. It seems possible to argue that almost all instinctual behaviors require priming from the environment, e.g., the moro reflex requires a sound; flying south is primed by a change in photoperiod; even baby turtles crawling to the ocean might be primed by a slight slope in terrain or ocean sounds.

    I don’t think physiological processes such as breathing, defecating, etc., should be viewed as “instinctual” if the term is to have any didactic or theoretical value. Instinct should refer to behavior–a term that itself will require some careful thought, perhaps “goal-oriented movement”–and should be treated in that context. “Motivation” and “emotion” are terms that can help explain physiological processes, such as thirst, hunger, excretion. Motivations cause an animal to pee, poo, drink, eat, (i.e., engage in physiological processes common to all animals) and they can trigger unique instinctual behaviors (inherited and generally cognitively inflexible actions) in different species; this is why domestic cats bury their poo but domestic dogs do not.

    In my mind, learning can influence instinctual behaviors (e.g., language), but instinctual behaviors greatly constrain what can be learned (some species, like rats and hummingbirds, more quickly learn win-shift strategies than win-stay strategies); more generally, a Canada goose that lives in Vancover might learn small variations in flight path but you’ll never teach it to fly towards Sarah Palin’s house come October.

  21. I think in many animals “instinct” almost equals “common sense”, at least in the way it’s commonly spoken of (here in Denmark).
    I know horses best. They have a strong flight instinct. Their FIRST reaction to strange sounds/sights is “I’m outta here!”, but right after that initial, instinctive reaction, it all becomes more complex: Some have been taught not to flee (they stay; nostrils dilated, heart racing, bug-eyed), some run a little, turn around and either begin an attack or go “ohhhh can I play with that”, and others do not stop until they’ve reached the next county. I think I’d say only the first reaction is instinct (RUN!), and all the followong (re)actions are either personality traits/training/experience …
    Some instincts are difficult to untrain, probably because they make so much “sense” to the animals, that any other solution to the problem seems to provoke a “no way!” reaction (Says she who once got drenched to the bone in a sudden icy rainstorm, because the horse’s instinct told him to turn his butt against the rain, put his head down between his front legs and stand STILL!!! Human “instinct” yelled: GO INSIDE NOW!!!)
    A LOT of instincts can be overruled (horses going into trailers, dogs told to wait/sit/stay etc.) But when it is an instinct, I suppose it is still there??? But overruled by learning/experience?

    1. I don’t quite agree Trine – that common sense & instinct can be equated. Common sense can (not always though) be anything but sensible. In fact common sense tells us things about the world that are plainly not true – heavier objects ought to fall faster than smaller, to take an example from Julian Baggini.

      Otherwise you give good examples!

      1. I think maybe you’re right, that the “common sense” analogy won’t hold water, but some instincts (Like the horse “choosing” to stay out in the sudden icy rainstorm, is instinct/common sense – though “real” sense would have been to run inside with me as quickly as possible 😉 ) So I think what I’m getting at, is that instinct can be overruled – but never forgotten or erased.

  22. Hah! This could be fun 😉

    I personally use instinct largely the same as innate, to denote behavior that is automatic, not learned, and visible throughout a large percentage of the species.

    At times, however, I might also use it as it is seen sometimes, to denote a behavior or action that is learned, but happens without apparent conscious thought – like what Thanny above says, with martial arts responses. Additionally, it sometimes seems to refer to something perhaps better termed as intuition, which indicates decisions made by subconsciously noted factors – the stranger who seems agitated, insincere, or even too cheerful when asking for a favor; the salesperson who tries too hard. And of course, as others have noted, it gets mistaken for reflexes too often too.

    The hard part seems to be determining and separating what is innate and what is learned. We have a sexual drive, obviously, but what triggers the drive seems to be both cultural and learned (for instance, US culture may point males towards large breasts, but individual experience might have someone favor a slender person in association with a particular experience.)

    I’ve done a bit of casual research (e.g., web searches) trying to find why humans respond to bright colors, and so far haven’t found much – it doesn’t appear to be understood. The same with aesthetic compositional elements like the Rule of Thirds/Golden Ratio (I’m a photographer) – we don’t seem to know why these work, and culture doesn’t explain it. Assuming that they are instinctual/innate, what the hell do they do?

  23. I have always wondered how something like a fear of snakes (and similar ‘instincts’) could possibly be encoded in our DNA.

    1. Some of it undoubtedly is encoded in our genes — we carry the tendency for some fears, for instance toward spiders and snakes, with no corresponding life experiences to justify them. For example, spiders here in northern Europe are harmless, and the few poisonous snakes aren’t especially dangerous, but people still fear them.

      Yet they aren’t afraid of cars, which actually kill many thousands of people every year.

      Our remote ancestors had very good reasons to fear spiders and snakes, and we apparently inherited this tendency.

      A couple of days ago I was driving down a mountain road in South Africa, and I had to slow down to steer around some baboons feeding in the road. They aren’t afraid of cars, either.

      1. There must then be a selection pressure towards developing an innate fear of cars, because presumably people who tend to fear cars will on average produce more offspring as they live longer on average. But that still begs the question how this is encoded in our DNA.

  24. To me an instinct would sit on a spectrum of behaviours that start from “reaction” to “instinct” to “conscious action”. An action that would be described as being done on “instinct” would be a non-simple action that is performed without conscious thought. The action would be non-simple, as a simple action would be a reaction. Eg: Placing your hand on a hot-plate and withdrawing sharply as a result of the pain sensation is a reaction that is automatic, but simple so it is only a reaction to an immediate stimulus.

    For example, most animals can swim without being taught, and as swimming is more than a simple reaction, involving various muscle groups and coordination, I would class the act of swimming as instinctive. Humans in my experience can’t swim from birth so they must be taught; therefore it is not a built-in instinctive action. However, once taught to swim, the act of swimming (treading water say) becomes instinctive.

    Similarly, when playing billiards, I can instinctively hit the target ball when playing right-handed, without any conscious thought. Sometimes a shot cannot be performed right-handed, and when I try to shoot left-handed, I find that I have to concentrate on precise muscles and arm actions to be able to perform the shot well. So I can shoot right-handed instinctively, but left handed only consciously.

    So an instinct is an action that can be performed automatically and sub-consciously. Some instinctive behaviour is built-in from the start, so must already be encoded in the neural pathways of the brain during development. Other neural pathways for conscious repeated behaviours can result in patterns that are learned which could then result in actions that can be classed as instinctive.

    I have the feeling that instinct can be quite complex as well. I am a software engineer, and have been designing and writing software for over 20 years now, and as a consequence I think of programming as instinctive. I don’t actually write the software, I just do the typing and move the mouse a bit; the software writes itself 😉 Another result of my wife’s and my training and experience in computer science is that we instinctively file and classify information when we get it, so the data on the computers at home is quite organised, and I suspect that some of that organisation is instinctive; we just don’t have to think much about it.

  25. I think of behavior as innate to the extent that the trigger can be abstracted. Someone mentioned a kitten creeping up on a bird. Will it creep up on a wooden triangle on dowels?

    And I can’t dissociate innate from instinctive

  26. I define instinct as a response to stimuli that is encoded by DNA. In other words, this is behavior or response that by-passes the brain’s logic and reason centers, ignoring for the moment that reason and logic are probably mapped over the entire brain.

    I hope that it is not dreadfully obvious by this comment that I am not a scientist.

  27. For me instinct means doing something without thinking, automatically, as a reaction to something else, eg moving your hand away from a hot pan that you’ve just touched.

  28. I’m a lawyer, not a scientist, and so I don’t use “instinct” as a label very often, or with intended precision. To me, “instinct” means a behavior or response that is in some valid sense genetically”programmed” into the organism, so that when the right conditions (age of the organism, external stimuli, etc.) are present, the organism responds or behaves in a way that executes the program.

    I just remembered one of the “metalogues” (imaginary father-daughter conversations) that were included in Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Here is a short excerpt from one that started with a question about “instinct”:

    Daughter: Daddy, what is an instinct?

    Father: An instinct, my dear, is an explanatory principle.

    Daughter: But what does it explain?

    Father: Anything almost anything at all. Anything you want it to explain.

    Daughter: Don’t be silly. It doesn’t explain gravity.

    Father: No. But that is because nobody wants “instinct” to explain gravity. If they did, it would explain it. We could simply say that the moon has an instinct whose strength varies inversely as the square of the distance . . .

    Daughter: But that’s nonsense, Daddy.
    Father: Yes, surely. But it was you who mentioned “instinct,” not I.

    Daughter: All right but then, what does explain gravity?

    Father: Nothing, my dear, because gravity is an explanatory principle.

    Daughter: Oh.

    It seems to me that shorthand words like “instinct” reflect a social consensus (sometimes what is mistaken for a [non-existent]consensus) that an inquiry into the nature of some phenomenon should only go so far, and once we reach that stopping point, we pick a word or phrase as the label, to mark the point beyond which our attempts to dissect and explain will not venture.

  29. When I think of “instinct” I think of “fixed action patterns” that occur under certain environmental conditions and/or at certain times in development. Similar to some ethologist’s conceptualizations.

  30. Something that some people here are saying such as Jiten above, like removing a hand from a hot object, is to me an autononmic nervous reflex rather than instinct. I think this is not the same. This is tricky & others will disagree, in fact it disagrees with my definition up the page, but I think that to be defined as instinct we need something more than reaction to pain. [sound of brain cells grinding] …now I am not sure. hmmm…

    1. I was going to say the same thing, and and will add a contrast to, say, hitting the brakes when someone jumps in front of the car, which is a conditioned rather than autonomic nervous reflex. We clearly don’t have an instinct to drive, although you’ll hear people tell you that they reacted ‘instinctively’.

  31. I consider instinct to be something a bit more involved than just reflexive actions to stimuli, although I think reflex action is involved. I would argue that there needs to be an element of learnt behaviour on top the reflex action for it to be considered instinctive.

    A classic example would be the hunting behaviour in cats. There seems to be a reflexive element as cats will pounce on small moving objects even as young kittens, but there is also an element of leant behaviour.

    1. It’s interesting that although hunting behaviour seems to be instinctual for cats, killing the prey is not. They have to be taught by their mothers to kill.

      (Or so I’ve read.)

      1. They also have to learn to be a bit more subtle in their hunting, rather than just pouncing on something as soon as they see it.

  32. I think instinct is that driving force that makes you act (or not act) without even considering them consciously. 🙂

  33. Yay, opportunity to wax lyrical!

    There seems to be two threads of meaning for instinct, which you could boil down to the “unlearned” and the “unthought”.

    I’m not particularily happy about the “unlearned” side. It also seems to be split into two halves – reflexes, such as pulling your hand away from a painful stimulus, or babies grasping/walking reflexes, which I think are just too simple to justify “instinct”. Admittedly I come from a neuroscience bent, but when those stimuli are hardwired together I think it’s something less than instinct. Would you describe a peristaltic wave in the gut as instinct? I wouldn’t – it’s verging on autonomy. To me, reflexes – were the stimulus is neurologically hardwired to the response – is conceptually distinct from instinct. The second line seems to be “anything you can do without being taught”; I also struggle to see that as instinctual (I’d use the worted “intuitive”, but that’s semantics for you). I also have a problem because many of the animal examples of instincts that are not taught or learned, are in fact learned through experience. Just because a cat can stalk without having been taught by another cat doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone through a learning process. This leads on to my final issue – in my understanding of “instinct”, you can certainly train yourself to have them. You might say that a bird has an instinct to fly; I think that might be trivially true in that a bird may come with a grain of intuitive instinct that moving it’s limbs in some way will get it to move, but to my thinking, it will take some trial and error before the bird takes to the sky. If instinct is necessarily untaught, you would have to say that flying is not instinctive, only learning to fly.

    So my understanding of the term instinct is on the side of “the unthought”. Like a reflex, it might be a response to a stimulus, but I think of it as much more complicated and contextual than a reflex. If someone smacks your patellar tendon, there’s only one, highly steretypical response (a consequence of the reflex being neurally hardwired). If something comes flying at your face, instinct may prompt you to raise your arm, or duck, or step out of the way – the response is unconscious, but not hardwired. There is probably a good deal of semantic overlap with instinct and reflex, but I tend to think that reflexes are simpler and more fixed than instincts. As a layman, you might think of a coma patient having some reflexes, but it’d be hard to ascribe instincts to them.

    In terms of abstract thought, instinct may lead you to one conclusion automatically; instinctively, without thought. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t taught – I would argue the opposite, most of what we do instinctively (in terms of thoughts and actions) is actually following a process that we have learned before. We reach the familiar conclusion instinctively, it is harder to instinctively reach for a counterintuitive solution. I’m learning fencing at the moment, and a large part of my training is learning to instinctively respond to an attack. It is certainly possible to retrain your instincts.

    I’ve obviously made it clear that not all unthought actions are instincts. I think I’d try to roughly classify instincts as complex, flexible, goal driven activities that are outside conscious thought. Indeed, the ends themselves may be outside of an individuals awareness.

    Anyway, that’s enough for now. It’s a muddy definition, and I can see why the term has been dropped!

  34. I had a strong interest in behavioural ecology, before I drifted into genetics and evolutionary biology and biogeography. I can’t recall ever encountering the term “instinct” in the literature, but I didn’t notice and I wasn’t looking for it.

    It’s not a word I regularly encounter. Hmmm… I’ve got to think about this for a bit. I think I agree with the comments above that distinguish between instinct and reflex. I think I’m most comfortable with the definition presented in the post: “instinct” is widely used in ordinary speech to describe behaviours or processes that appear to be both widespread and consistent between members of the same species.

    Also, what’s all this baseless speculation about hunting behaviour in cats? I thought it was pretty well established in scientific studies of felines that their hunting efforts are basically useless unless they can learn from an accomplished individual (typically the mother cat) and get some practice in (hence the still-twitching injured mouse deposits). Has no-one here ever watched a cat raised to adulthood after abandonment at a young age go after birds? An untrained cat is completely hopeless at it, and clearly would rapidly starve in a feral / wild setting. Cats might have an “instinct” to attack birds and rodents, but that doesn’t mean they perform behaviours likely to result in prey capture. Most of this “instinctive” behaviour seems to be about the sensory systems – they stare at birds, the ears rotate to follow a scurrying mouse, etc. Actually sneaking up on the prey and pouncing on it (to say nothing of the precision strike to the cervical vertebrae characteristic of a fully skilled hunting cat) is a behaviour set that requires a great deal of practice and skill development.

  35. Since we are all members of the same tree of life, I think a spectrum like the one below helps to think about this:

    Reflex (pure stimulus/response)
    Innate (evolutionarily tuned reflex)
    Instinct (the innate becoming intuition — some decision making)
    Intuition (inarticulate knowledge)
    Expertise (trained best practices)
    Knowledge (socially transmitted information)

    Rough and full of lots of holes, I’m sure.

    1. I might flip knowledge and expertise, but a thought provoking progression.

      I suppose that some learning can/might/should be included in a description of instinct. I seem to remember that at least some migratory birds need to learn the route, although migration itself might be instinctive (whatever that means). Presumably the same is not true of migratory fish such as salmon returning to spawn, since it’s a one off trip, and we would assume chemical cues are in place.

      During organismal development cells migrate in a predictable manner to produce tissues,organs and organisms. A huge field is built around understanding the molecular and genetic basis for this, but I don’t think anyone would describe such a process as “instinctive”. Cells not commonly being ascribed an “instinct”. So some level of cerebral processing would seem to be required to meet the definition. Which begs the question of the lowest limit of “instinct”. Is a simple invertebrate responding to a chemical stimulus acting on instinct? – or just responding to the stimulus? The example given of bees attacking an invader is interesting – and seems at an interface, there is not a lot of thought – the behavior is presumably driven by pheromones (not my area) so is it really a higher level behavior than a worm following a chemical trail to its lunch? I don’t know. if the bees are acting “instinctively” then, further to my comment in the previous paragraph, learning seems not to be required (although it may not be excluded).

      The reason the term has disappeared from the scientific literature might well be that it is subject to varying interpretations and has become a victim of it own semantics.

      If I were writing a grant on a subject as broad as “instinct” I’d want to define what I mean very clearly and to strongly justify why knowing the lay or the “out of group technical” interpretation of the word has any importance (something I couldn’t approach). Differences between scientific use and lay use of words are common – “theory” might be a good example. Most don’t cause real problems. Technical group uses of the same term can be more problematic. Personally I wish the term “stem cell” would go the way of “instinct”, or at least acquire a tightly restricted definition. As things stand I have to adjust my understanding of the term depending on the background of the group that wrote the paper I happen to be reading.

  36. My high school psychology teacher (1974) claimed that humans have no instincts. She insisted that instincts are pre-programmed behaviors, such as the honey bee waggle-dance.

    I never completely agreed with her, but I see a useful distinction between a behavior that is an instinct– that is, more or less pre-programmed– and one that is instinctual– IOW, a tendency to act in a particular way. So a bird building a nest is carrying out an instinctive behavior, and a man becoming more defensive towards his family when his wife is pregnant is acting instinctually.
    So to me, an instinct involves a set behavior, and instinctual behavior reflects a tendency to act in a particular way.

  37. Having no (educational) basis whatsoever to comment, you can take this for what it’s then worth but I’d put my money on there being few truly instinctive – i.e., carried in the genes – behaviors. Examples have been given above of cats crouching while hunting and animals swimming and they seemed fine examples to me when I first read them; however, on closer analysis, couldn’t those too be learned behaviors, even if learned rather quickly, and in isolation from others of the species? For example, cat quickly learns it’s less hungry if it stays low whilst creeping up on prey and that it can pounce on it more effectively? Swimming could be a natural reaction to sinking in water – flail away with the limbs and eventually you’re swimming? Also, can you really claim that basic bodily functions – e.g., motion – are “instinct”? Like I said, for what it’s worth.

  38. Seems to me that your grant will be reviewed by neuroscientists, and so if you want it to be funded, it doesn’t much matter what we think, you have to figure out what the neuro cabal thinks.

    That said, it seems that the distinction between reflex and instinct has been drawn. But then looking at bird migration, which used to be chalked up to instinct, is now regarded as a complex and incompletely understood but somehow hardwired behavior. Contrast that with the “instinctive” avoidance of eg humans by many animals. But then if you raise one of them in captivity from newly-born, you can’t release it to the wild since it won’t fear humans. That would seem to indicate that the normal instinct is one that has been learned through subtle cues (thus masking the learning process), to the point that it’s displayed without deliberate effort.

    Or something like that.

  39. Anyone who has been aroubd an Australian Cattle Dog (blue heeler) puppy and enjoyed(?) the constant nipping at the the back of their ankles (heels) has no doubt as to the existence of instinct.

    Or you could watch a teen boy the first time he talks to his first love.

  40. To me instinct is genetically encoded behaviors that are expressed in some specific context. I differentiate it from habitual behaviors that are learned (driving on the right side of the road). But I recognize that the difference is somewhat arbitrary, that instinctual behaviors may be over-ridden by a variety of environmental factors.

  41. Hello, I haven’t the other comments of this post, so I’m sure how close I am to the comments of others.

    I would define the word instinct as a set of common behaviorial reactions within a species to a threat or prey. The term: “acting on intinct” implies an innate response, not influenced by rational thinking or experience.

  42. My concept of “instinct” is that it is simply a pre-wired behavior, but generally at a complexity level where one would usually assume some conscious, directed action would usually be involved. So, breathing, while pre-wired, wouldn’t count as it is not one that an external viewer would mistake for a voluntary action. But the behaviors of bees in finding food, coming back to the hive and “telling” all the other bees about it–that appears complex and requiring thought behind it.

    And given that it is a misperception (external observer ascribing conscious direction to involuntary action), it is a fairly useless concept. It is very much like the ID argument that there has to be a god behind all the complex things in the universe, ’cause–dammit–they are just so complex. Well, yeah, they may be complex–but that doesn’t mean that there’s any thought behind them.

  43. To me, the only coherent use of instinct would be as a description of not-premeditated behavior. It’s isn’t a very good definition, but it isn’t a very good term.

    IMHO this also deviates from common usage of instinct. If I were to define common usage of instinct it would be something more like “behavior we don’t want to ascribe to cognitive ability”. ie – something not done by me.

    This reminds me of my fav joke btw:

    There once was to skunks, in and out. When in was out, out was in, and when in was in, out was out. One day out was in and in was out. Their mother asked out to go out and fetch in in. Out went out and fetched in in. “How did you find him so quickly?” their mother asked. “Instinct” he said.

  44. I used to know what “instinct” meant. But then I made the mistake of thinking about it. And it now seems clear to me that a lot of what is called “instinctive” probably isn’t.

    Take the case of nest building by a bird. It now seems clear to me that it requires a lot of learned behavior. The bird can’t just build a nest. How it builds the nest will depend on the materials it uses, and what materials it uses will depend on what is locally available. So this requires both learning how to manage with available materials, and cognitive involvement, monitoring the developing nest as pieces are added.

    I’m am now more inclined to talk of drives (think of psychological drives) and learning that results from attempting to respond to these drives.

  45. My first thought, as an interested layman, when I read your question, was “‘Instinct’? I haven’t heard that word in ages!”

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the rise of computational metaphors to explain complex behaviors. E.g., a series of simple IF-THEN-FOR loops in response to environmental or neurochemical signals can explain very complicated behavior that we used to call “instinct.” By the same token, there’s an increased tendency to attribute complex behaviors in non-human animals to cognition.

    So, that doesn’t leave much room for instinct. So, I guess “instinct” would be defined as “whatever can’t be explained using computational metaphors or attributed to cognition.”

  46. I define “instinct” as a behaviour that doesn’t have to be (specifically) taught. eg. animals, including us, instinctively know how to mate.

    However one could consider an instinct to be an elaborate reflex. In other words there is probably a large grey area between a reflex (eg. quickly moving your hand away after touching a hot object), and some instincts (eg. sucking/feeding behaviour of mammals).

  47. I agree with the “unlearned but displayed behavior” definition. Instinct to me has always meant programmed behavior.

  48. I’m answering before reading the comments (apart from the first 2) in order to give a more “innocent” answer, since that’s what you’re looking for.

    I don’t think I knew that the term had been abandoned by science in the 50s…but I think I may have picked up on the fact without realizing it. I don’t think I use the word much, and I think that’s because I consider it a bit off – imprecise, non-technical, folk psychologyish – something like that. I’m not sure though – all this could just be reading backward from the post.

    I don’t think so though. I think I do avoid it in technical contexts. I think there may be a very faint meme that it’s not really…not really “right.”

    I bet I avoid it lest I use it wrong and betray ignorance. I’m an outsider, and it has a whiff of outsiderish error to me – the kind of word an outsider thinks is technical.

    I use it for things like “I instinctively flinched” or “I instinctively avoided the subject” – in everyday contexts like that, just to mean automatically or not fully consciously.

    Probably TMI; sorry!

  49. There’s also the difference between using it and understanding it. I don’t think I use it much, but I hear/see it a fair amount. “Maternal instinct,” that kind of thing. I usually understand it to mean innate behavior.

    So I guess I understand people who use it to mean innate behavior, but I (occasionally) use it to mean reflex or not-fully-conscious decision or action. I use it as almost a kind of slang.

  50. I thought that instinct was an innate behavior or perceptions that influenced choices, like the general preference for fatty, salty, and sweet foods.
    I think it might be that part of the cognitive precess that says “Yeah, that looks right”.

  51. Ah one of your most memorable animal behaviour lectures Matthew! The way I understand instinct would that it is any behaviour or action that it is carried out without any conscious thought attributed. An organism could learn a behaviour to the point that the response is elicited automatically without thinking. Almost like humans learning to walk. Nobody thinks about walking you learnt once and now you instinctively know how. Soberly at least!

  52. “Instinct” is a word I tend to avoid. It’s so easy to use it without really thinking about what you mean (if anything). I tend to think of innate behaviour patterns as “instinct”, such as sexual arousal, or a newborn baby making for its mother’s nipple, as well as a lot of reflexes and reactions. But it’s sometimes hard to be sure that one’s reactions aren’t learnt behaviour: smiling at someone who “seems nice”? A lot of people seem to use the word to mean some emotional condition, like the fabled “sixth sense” or a “feeling” that something will go right (or wrong), but I imagine that digestion or some other function (or malfunction, or temporary blip) is more likely to play a significant part. Sorry if that’s not much use.

    GordonWillis.

  53. Oooops. I guess I missed part of the point of this exercise. Unlike Ophelia, I read the comments so my answer won’t be “pure”. For what it’s worth…

    I use “instinct” rarely, perhaps because it is as vague as it seems to be. I tend to use it to refer to behaviour that is innate, unreasoned, subconscious, reflex, etc. I wonder how much the distinctions being drawn in many of the comments above (e.g., between autonomic responses or reflexes and instinct) are actually getting at a distinction between instinct and not instinct. If I were doing work on instinct, I might try to motivate the view that it is an umbrella term that covers a whole bunch of different sorts of behaviours including but perhaps not limited to the many sorts of behaviours listed in the comments above (and probably, now, below). The distinctions being drawn may usefully be seen, then, as distinctions between different types of instinct rather than as distinctions between instincts and other stuff.

  54. For me, it means the pre-programmed ROM software that is generated genetically that gives creatures a path of least resistance behaviour-set.
    This wiring has evolved to enhance the reproduction of a certain set of co-operating genes.

  55. My first thought was the same as Sam’s in comment #1,(and at least one other responder further down):

    Yes I just thought ‘instinct’ meant an innate behavioural trait.

    Only without the British spelling…:D

    As Ophelia said, “I don’t think I knew that the term had been abandoned by science in the 50s” either. In fact, I was sure it was a part of an ethology class I took sometime in the late 60’s/early 70’s…

  56. First off, I’m not a biologist; my background is in computer science.

    Instinct to me means a pre-programmed response to a particular stimulus. That response can be a evolved reaction to a certain predator, or what to do when you’re hungry, what types of food are safe to eat, or even simply the ability to follow the guidance of your mother, because she will protect you.

    The bottom line is it’s something that you know without being taught. Something that is required for the survival of your species. Essentially a basic behavioral pre-programming.

  57. Always has meant two things for me: the things animals are born with that mean they perform behaviors without learning (and humans, being animals, are included – like a baby’s suck reflex, jerking away from hot/painful stuff, and that sort o’ thing). Second meaning: the actions you perform without thinking, which could be an innate response or just resulting from having learned something so thoroughly that it doesn’t require conscious thought anymore.

    Good luck!

  58. I agree with Dana Hunter’s idea. When a bird jumps from one branch to another he does not think ‘hey I’m going to jump over there’ and then jump, he just jumps somehow knowing it’s safe, his little feet gripping the new branch exactly and perfectly measured. We have left this lovely state of mind for something more cognitive. My feeling is that we have replaced our instincts with ‘rapid cognition’ (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) and call it things like gut feel, intuition, or even instincts. I think it goes as far as mind to body coordination as well. When great sports players (especially baseball, tennis, soccer) are playing instinctively, it is fluid, seemingly thoughtless. Then suddenly they choke throwing critical errors, multiple boggies, Double faults. They look like high school players trying to perform the fundamentals as they were taught.

    Disclaimer: As a member of the laity I reserve the right to be wrong as often as I like.

  59. My instinct is that this joke has been taken that the term hasn’t made sense to me ever since I’ve started to try to make sense of evolution biology.

    I’m glad to see that I was on the right path, but that also means I can’t help; I can’t say I remember the impression I had earlier.

  60. A very interesting question. I have read all the responses. Certainly the term can mean simply innate behavior and given it’s ambiguity, that may be the safest way to interpret it. I think the vernacular confounds ‘instinct’ with ‘talent’, ‘reflex’ (conditioned or unconditioned), and ‘intuition’. I agree with Bateson (as quoted by Jeff D post # 32) that ‘instinct’ is an explanatory principle that can be used to explain pretty much whatever one wants (in the realm of behavior—I wouldn’t go as far as gravity). The interesting question then is, what do we want to explain with it? Since we have perfectly adequate words for talent, reflex and intuition, I would not uses the term ‘instinct’ as synonyms with any of those though many people do. I agree with rich lawler (post #24) that instincts are “impervious to cognitive analysis,” but I would not allow, as he does, that this is not always the case. I think of Dennettt’s book on free will where he talks about the ‘degrees of freedom’ in the behavior of certain wasps. Instincts have limited degrees of freedom. In other words, they are inflexible. I think that SeanK (post #65) is right that instincts are, “Something that is required for the survival of your species.” Which is why I can’t accept definitions like Andrew Sinnot’s (post #59) “any behaviour or action that it is carried out without any conscious thought.” That seems too broad a category to me. The behavior has to be (ordinarily) pro-survival for me to think of it as instinct. (As Dennett described how the wasp could be foiled by moving it’s prey even a few inches—being pro-survival does not mean infallible.)

    There is one essential for me that no one else seemed to mention. Many say an instinct is unconscious, but I would go further than that. It’s not just that one doesn’t think about doing it, it’s more that one has no clue why one is doing it. I think about my cat covering her feces. I know behaviorism has taught us not to speculate about the mental states of animals (which I mostly agree with) but I can imagine that even a cat might in some sense ‘know’ the ‘purpose’ of hunting. But I cannot imagine that my cat ‘knows’ in any sense why she covers her feces. And while skillful covering might be a learned behavior, the ‘instinct’ to scratch seems hard wired.

    I like what TrineBM (post #25) says about horses (but see below about fight or flight). “Their FIRST reaction to strange sounds/sights is “I’m outta here!”, but right after that initial, instinctive reaction, it all becomes more complex: Some have been taught not to flee (they stay; nostrils dilated, heart racing, bug-eyed), some run a little, turn around and either begin an attack or go “ohhhh can I play with that”, and others do not stop until they’ve reached the next county. I think I’d say only the first reaction is instinct (RUN!), and all the following (re)actions are either personality traits/training/experience …” I disagree with TrineBM that “Some instincts are difficult to untrain, probably because they make so much “sense” to the animals…” since I think an instinct has to not ‘make sense’ as it is “impervious to cognitive analysis.” (Perhaps TrineBM would agree since sense is in scare quotes.)

    I think Maria Jinich (post #36) is on to something with “force that makes you act (or not act) without even considering them consciously.” Perhaps the notion of ‘instinctive desires’ is a holdover from Freudian times, but I will not hesitate to think of certain desires as instinctive. For instance, my daughter as an infant exhibited an insatiable desire to climb that seemed to me neither reflex nor learned (but I wouldn’t say it was unconscious either). Her skill at climbing certainly was learned… but not the desire to climb. I was taught (in the ’80s) that fight or flight was an autonomous reflex, so perhaps horses feel no desire to run when frightened—it just happens. That would be reflex then, not instinct (which would explain why they can be trained out of it). It could be difficult to distinguish reflex from instinct if one did not know what was going on physiologically—although trainability might be an indicator. The tendency for horses to spook easily seems like an example of a behavior that is genetically programed and unconscious, is more than a simple reflex and yet, doesn’t seem to fit the term ‘instinct’ either. It is more of a genetic predisposition… too flexible to be an instinct to my mind. Do cats feel a desire to cover their feces or just do it without thought or desire? I don’t know, but it seems to me that no description of instinct is complete without addressing the desire aspect. But to define instinct as desire is impossible as we cannot know the desires of animals.

    Finally, Ophelia Benson (post #56) said, “I think there may be a very faint meme that it’s not really…not really ‘right.’ ” I have a much stronger sense than Ophelia that the term in a technical sense is outmoded Victorian science… verging on pseudo-science. It is ambiguous and vague. An explanatory principle in the same way that ‘god’ is an explanatory principle. Something that means, essentially, “We don’t know how it works. It’s a mystery.” I probably picked this up getting my B.S. in psychology in the ’80s.

  61. An instinct to pull away when touching a hot plate can be overridden by a learned habit (that might be instinct based) to not drop the dinner. I use instinct to imply a DNA based trigger that might be followed by a DNA based reaction (instinct) or a learned (possibly replacement) behavior.

    Words: How do they work?

  62. I take instinct or, better, instinctual things, as those behaviours that do not need to be learned. Examples of this would be breathing, use of the five senses. Physical movements, however, mostly do need some degree of learning at certain critical times in an animal’s mental development(e.g. walking, flying, etc.). Although, one could argue that fish know how to swim without having to learn.
    I suppose that one could also argue that the “nature” part of nature v, nurture could be seen as the instinctual part.

    …John

  63. The question had to do with how non-technical people use the term? … the “mushy concept” that lamacher referred to at #5. An “instinctive” like or dislike for whatever. The point would be that the trait is *felt* to come from a biological level rather than being learned culturally. Not by “understanding”. And therefore when people attach to something “instinctively”, they can’t be reached by rational counter-arguments.

    So it seems to me that the common homophobia is “instinctive” in this sense. People feel that their revulsion towards homosexual activity is biological. Religious faith is “instinctive” in some, as Atheism is “instinctive” in others. Makes it very hard to have a conversation on such subjects… only thing to be done is let the older generation fade and hope the rising generation is more tolerant.

  64. I think most non-biologists use it as a shorthand for “unconscious” rather than “unlearned” when applied to humans, and “innate to the species” when applied to animals.
    I certainly use “gut-instinct tells me that” when what I really mean in “I intuitively feel that”. It’s a common usage that’s acceptable I think. :-/

  65. Matthew,
    I consider myself reasonably well read scientifically, having degrees in Physics (BS) and Atmospheric Dynamics (MS), and a love of pop-sci TV shows like Nature and NOVA. I was surprised that “instinct” has been abandoned by the biological sciences.
    Without putting an enormous amount of thought into it, I think you summarized my viewpoint on it nicely: that “instinct” is simply shorthand for innate behaviors that are not taught by parents or community.

    Ultimately (and perhaps this is what you’re getting at) I think of “innate” and “instinctual” as synonyms.

    Sign me up for the focus group!
    Rick

  66. “Instinctive Archery”

    The equivocal nature of the term “instinctive” causes quite a few arguments in archery forums. With enough practice, and talent, it is possible to shoot a bow accurately without sights or consciously aiming and adjusting for distance. Many proponents of that shooting style call it “Instinctive Archery” based on the colloquial use of the term “instinctive” to mean something you don’t have to think about to do, as opposed to the usage in behavioral sciences to mean an innate behavior. This equivocation is so great that some people work backwards from the term “instinctive archery” to claim that people are born with an instinct specifically for archery!

    Over and over again I’ve found that many, probably most, people don’t know that the term instinctive is equivocal and has separate colloquial and behavioral sciences meanings. Clearly the term “instinctive” can be problematic.

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