Animal instinct: what are we talking about?


Instinct is present in animals as well as in humans. But is this instinct the same? We invite you to take stock of instinct in animals and how it manifests itself in humans.

Define animal instinct

The Le Robert Dictionaries describe instinct as an “innate and powerful tendency, common to all living beings or to all individuals of the same species”.

Instinct leads to act quickly, without leaving room for choice or reflection. If one perceives the animal easily as a being without reflection, it is not the same for the human being.
The main science which helps us to clear this vast subject is ethology because it is interested in the behavior of animal species, including humans, in their natural environment or in an experimental environment, through methods of observation and quantification of animal behavior. The two Austrians Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz and the Dutch Nikolaas Tinbergen are considered to be its founders. Their foundations of the discipline were laid in 1940. This science defines what are called behavioral stereotypes.

Lorentz was particularly interested in instinct. In the 18th century, the notion of instinct was opposed to that of intelligence and was used to accentuate the rupture between man and animal, without taking into account the fact that the acts of animals were obviously acts. intelligent. Lorentz questioned the assimilation of instinctive acts to reflexes.

Instinct serves different purposes

Instinct to survival is one of the most important. The immediate, or even instantaneous, reactions that an animal adopts when a danger arises is instinctive. Studies show that running away is not a systematic instinctive behavior. In a life threatening situation, small animals are able to attack predators larger than themselves, causing a real surprise effect.

Instinct oriented towards the protection of children is another instinct strongly present in animals. It is indeed rare that we can approach a nest or a baby without being attacked by the mother or the father. This instinct to protect the young can also extend to an entire herd.

Instinct to reproduction is also a powerful instinct to the point of triggering clashes that can prove fatal. In some herds, the dominant male who is in a position to perpetuate the species must regularly prove that he deserves his place. This type of instinct is triggered by hormones usually emitted by the female and to which the males who receive the signals respond.

Instinct often combines with learning

In life, instinct and learning are often intertwined. Instinct is more of a global scheme rather than a precise program, and that to allow an application adapted to the environment.

In complex activities such as jackdaw nest building, collecting nest building materials is instinctive, but choosing materials is a matter of learning.
Migration is a phenomenon that differs depending on the species. While experiments with geese and cranes have shown that it is possible to teach these birds new migration routes, individuals of some cuckoo species are able to migrate on their own and without ever having been taught the share of older or experienced individuals.
Errors of judgment

Among the general public, animal instinct is sometimes the subject of hazardous deductions. The dog gives us an example of a common mistake. A very widespread misconception is indeed associated with the fact that a dog should never taste blood, otherwise he risks becoming a bloodthirsty beast. Many people think that a dog that has tasted blood is good to be killed because it will seek to feast on it again. However, the reality is much more complex and it is necessary to reflect to understand what pushed a dog to act as he could. It is very possible that this prejudice arose in not so distant times when dogs were badly treated and that they unfortunately had to multiply the attacks in the hope that their abuse would stop. However, no scientific experiment has ever demonstrated its veracity.

Animal instinct in humans

The innate / acquired relationship has undergone changes in line with cultures and eras. In the 17th and 18th centuries, with the development of scientific theories, the acquired took precedence over the innate. With the increase in knowledge in the field of genetics, the innate has come back to the fore. Today, the report is fairly balanced based on the idea that the innate is a support nourished by the acquired.

If instinctive behavior is identified in human beings, because after all, we are also animals, a major difficulty is that Man is not an animal like the others because he is endowed with a particularly developed consciousness.

The maternal instinct is thus the subject of debate because it crystallizes a certain number of symbolic issues affecting the status of women in society. Elisabeth Badinter is the author of a shocking book, Love in addition, published by Flammarion in 1980. This philosopher has shown that this instinct is not written in the genes of women and that the outlines of maternal love emerge in a given cultural context. For her demonstration, she looked at works relating to childhood history. For her, the role of mother only asserted itself at the end of the 18th century and from there, the view on childhood evolved considerably.

Reality and ideal

In psychology, we identify people who are more instinctive than others. These act according to trade-offs made on the basis of the notions of pleasure and unpleasure, satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Physical sensations are very important for them and take precedence over inner questioning or emotions. Such people, when balanced, are generally appreciated for their common sense.

In the philosophical field, instinct is little considered because it hinders the human being in the spiritual development which leads him to the fulfillment of his condition. Many wisdoms thus propose practices intended to extract Man from his animal condition by going beyond his instincts. Man must take control of his senses to overcome in particular the sexual drives often considered as the most “bestial” manifestations of our behavior.

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