Does a person have instincts?

Does a person have instincts?
Does a person have instincts?

We often talk about instincts when we hear some news. Probably, when a person saved himself, the "instinct of self-preservation" helped him, and when the mother abandoned the child, the "maternal instinct" did not work.

Surely you have noticed some actions behind yourself that you are doing as if unconsciously. But can we call them instincts and does a person have them?

First, let's define what instinct is and what it is for.

According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, instincts are "the innate ability to take meaningful actions from immediate, unaccountable urge." They help animals survive and raise offspring.

For example, when a bird sees the open beak of a chick, she puts a worm in it, but does not think why she is doing this. That is why foundlings live so successfully in other people's nests and literally survive their native chicks. The mother bird does not decide who she needs to feed - she has an instinct with a certain order of actions: "open beak - feed." With equal success, a female can feed fish with a bright mouth color instead of chicks.

Scientists have identified only one instinct in humans: when we meet people we already know, we slightly raise our eyebrows. What, then, do we mistake for instincts?

Many actions that we used to call "instincts" are ordinary reflexes, the reaction of our nervous system to a stimulus.

Reflexes are divided into conditional and unconditional. We are born with the unconditioned, and the conditional ones we acquire during life - they are developed under certain circumstances. Yawning, sneezing, coughing, swallowing, sweating in stressful situations are unconditioned reflexes. A classic example of the development of a conditioned reflex is the experiment with Pavlov's dog.

But some of the reflexes that babies have (sucking at the breast and finding the nipple) are lost as they grow up.


In addition to reflexes, a person uses a much more complex and developed system - intellect. Acting in conjunction with life experience, he helps us make decisions quickly and without hesitation.

With questions, we turned to an anthropologist, candidate of biological sciences, associate professor of the anthropology department of the biological faculty of Moscow State University and the scientific editor of the portal - Stanislav Drobyshevsky: “The instinct is useful because it is strictly unambiguous: if you scared, it ran away. And we, humans, are too smart, and in order to calculate the situation, we need the action of many neurons - it takes time. This, of course, happens in a split second, but much longer than with animals. On the one hand, this is a minus, because we slow down, but the plus is that we can react in different ways, and it is impossible to predict us”.

The anthropologist cited the instinct of self-preservation as an example.

Indeed, if danger threatens animals, they react in a strictly defined way in order to save their lives: for example, a cobra hisses and opens its hood, and an antelope, on the contrary, instantly runs away from a predator.

A person does not have an instinct for self-preservation, and therefore the reaction of different people may be different. Several factors affect their actions at once - life experience, psychological and physical condition, and much more.

The maternal instinct is also inherent only in animals. In a person, this is an acquired skill that he learns from other people. During pregnancy and after childbirth, a woman's body produces hormones that help her take better care of the baby, but this cannot be called an instinct.


A person has a tendency in behavior, but there is no maternal instinct. A woman who has given birth turns on cunning restructuring and the need to take care arises. But this is not an instinct, because she does not know exactly how to do it. If a potential mother is not taught this in any way, if she does not know what children are, where they come from and what to do with them, she will not be able to take care of. If there was a maternal instinct, then each mother would act in exactly the same way. In response to a yellow beak, any bird puts food in it. It’s not like that in humans. The number of abandoned children is evidence of this

Stanislav Drobyshevsky

The same can be said for the sexual instinct.

Turning to chimpanzees and gorillas, they, like humans, lack "basic instincts." If they grew up in captivity, for example, in a zoo, then they do not know how to mate. And even if they manage to conceive and give birth to a baby, they do not know how to care for him. To prevent the babies from dying, the zoo employees give them to individuals that have grown free, or are fed artificially.

Curiously, the instincts to help animals survive would prevent humans from surviving. If a person acted only according to a specific program, he would become an easy prey for predators.


Stanislav Drobyshevsky notes: “If there is someone who thinks in a standard way, sooner or later the predator cuts through this counter, and the counter stops working. And it is impossible to calculate us, we cannot calculate ourselves, we do not know how we will react - this is a win. That is, someone, of course, will be eaten, but a person is so cool that he usually eats someone, so a person is an ideal hunter. Every time he hunts differently, and the leopard, for example, every time according to the standard. As soon as an animal begins to adapt to a person, he quickly invents a new way."

But wouldn't it be more convenient for a person to live together with instincts? Innate mechanisms would help save the time we spend making decisions. Unfortunately, the "instinct + thinking" formula doesn't work for our brains. Here you have to choose: either one or the other.

“It is not profitable for a person to have instincts, because instincts are strictly defined reactions. We have a trick: the human brain reacts differently every time - we stand on it. If we have both instincts and thinking at the same time, they will contradict each other: instinct will signal one thing, thinking - another, and in the end there will be a failure,”Stanislav Drobyshevsky comments.

As a result, all our actions can be explained by the complex structure of the brain and the fact that a person is a social being. Thanks to society, we adapt to the world, gain basic skills and life experience. It was they, coupled with thinking, that helped humans survive and become the most cunning mammal on Earth.

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