episode #105 creatures of instinct

Instinct is an innate impulse or motivation, typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals in response to certain external stimuli. Today instinct is generally described as a stereotyped, apparently unlearned, genetically determined behaviour pattern.

Instinct is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behaviour, containing both innate (inborn) and learned elements. The simplest example of an instinctive behaviour is a fixed action pattern, in which a very short to medium length sequence of actions, without variation, are carried out in response to a corresponding clearly defined stimulus. Any behaviour is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors.

The term “instinct” in psychology was first used in the 1870s by Wilhelm Wundt. By the close of the 19th century, most repeated behaviour was considered instinctual.

Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915), an entomologist, considered instinct to be any behaviour which did not require cognition or consciousness to perform.

Sigmund Freud considered that mental images of bodily needs, expressed in the form of desires, are called instincts. Freud early in his studies, took the biological view that there are two basic instinctive forces governing life: self-preservation and reproduction. Later the biological duo of drives gave way to a system in which self-preservation instinct virtually disappeared and sexual appetite dominated. As a consequence, Freud recognised a number of “sexual component instincts”. The theory incorporating the concept of libido underwent continual revision until it reached its final form in 1923 with the publication of The Ego and the Id. In place of sovereign sexual libido, he was led to postulate two opposing instincts: Eros, the life instinct, and Thanatos, the death instinct (a desire to return to an inorganic state).

Søren Kierkegaard, the famous Danish philosopher, celebrated the individual over “the crowd,” while similar ideas also derived great attention from Friedrich Nietzsche, who once remarked that, “the concept of greatness entails being noble, wanting to be by oneself, being able to be different, standing alone and having to live independently.”

In the 1950s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that humans no longer have instincts because we have the ability to override them in certain situations. He felt that what is called instinct is often imprecisely defined, and really amounts to strong drives. For Maslow, an instinct is something which cannot be overridden, and therefore while the term may have applied to humans in the past, it no longer does.

F.B. Mandal proposed a set of criteria by which a behaviour might be considered instinctual: a) be automatic, b) be irresistible, c) occur at some point in development, d) be triggered by some event in the environment, e) occur in every member of the species, f) be unmodifiable, and g) govern behaviour for which the organism needs no training (although the organism may profit from experience and to that degree the behaviour is modifiable).

Darwin drew attention to questions about the causal basis of actions that seemed incapable of explanation in terms of learning or cognition, and it opened up the remarkable world of animal behaviour, which seemed far removed from the world of human nature. Thus, Darwin’s legacy has stimulated the study of motivation and provided a foundation for comparative psychology and for ethology.


Denis Parker: Like an Eagle

Bonobo: Animals 

The Souljazz Orchestra: Mugambi

Gotan Project: Una Música Brutal

Tony Donner The Sura Quintet: Searching For The Answer

Gabin: Between The Lines

Nicole Croisille: Vivre Pour Vivre

Agnes Obel: It’s Happening Again

Jon Hopkins: I Remember

A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight (the night between Saturday and Sunday) on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.