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A justification of the concept of instinct

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Abstract

The considerations advanced in favor of eliminating the concept of instinct are largely irrelevant. The argument that the concept is superfluous because all that is inherited reduces to structure would rule out instinct and habit as well. The argument stressing the impossibility of separating native from acquired behavior is irrelevant, or would necessitate ceasing to speak of acquired behavior as well as native. The fact that an instinct is analyzable into simpler performances applies equally well to other concepts of complex performances. Objections to the “criterion of universality” are valid, but do not really apply to the concept as used by recent psychologists. Allport's argument that the concept does not correspond to any facts of behavior, since the serial integration of the reflexes into any complex performances is always the result of learning, is relevant. Here is a question of fact, with the known facts still fragmentary. Known facts do, however, demonstrate the existence of a few instincts. Nutritive behavior is an example of an instinct considered as a “serial performance of much regularity, provided as an integrated whole by the native constitution of the individual.” Hunger, sleep, and sex behavior are other instances. The difficulty with scrapping instinct is that it is one of a system of interrelated and contrasting concepts, including reflex, emotion and habit, and to eliminate instinct and keep the others would be to force descriptions of behavior into an incomplete and insufficient set of molds. Instinct should be kept or these other concepts should be dropped along with it. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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