XII. Instinctive Emotions

Atkinson defines instinct as a natural impulse that is unconscious, involuntary, and unreasoning. It is generally considered as spontaneous and short-lived, but this is not always so: the construction of a web or a honeycomb is an instinct, even though it takes a significant amount of time - but we do not consider bees or spiders to be capable of planning or rational thought.

Neither can it be said that instincts are the result of rational thought, as they are practiced in situations in which they are inappropriate or even harmful. An animal does not act on instinct because it knows or even thinks that a given action is a good idea, but merely acts in the way that is its nature.

Instinct is a developed form of reflex action that is inherited rather than learned. A learned behavior must be witnessed or at least described in order to be imitated, and a cognitive behavior requires deliberation to envision the outcome of a course of action and assess whether it will be successful in achieving a goal. Instinct has none of these qualities.

It is believed that man has some instinctive behaviors, though there is great argument over the extent to which this is true. Suckling is perhaps the only action that is universally agreed upon as instinctive. Others suggest that many of our fears are instincts - we flee from loud noises and fast-moving objects, and avoid darkness or unpleasant odors, out of instinct.

Many childhood fears are instinctive rather than learned behaviors, and it requires little analysis to recognize their value to survival. In fact, man adult phobias can also be linked to things that it seems rational to fear because of the threat of danger - high places, snakes and insects, confined places, and other things are not dangerous in all situations, but can in certain situations be deadly. While there is a belief that phobias are a result of an unfortunate experience that unconsciously teaches us to feel fear, there are some things that we recoil from at our very first experience. Without memory or knowledge, these fears are not learned behaviors - and in fact it requires considerable effort to learn to overcome our instincts and resist the fear that arises naturally.

It's also disputable whether instinctive emotions are emotions at all. The root of instinct is in a feeling: a strong positive or negative sensation that occurs to trigger a reaction that is uninstructed or ungoverned. It is likely more accurate to suggest the feeling is the instinct, but when emotion, motivation, and action follow without a rational process then they are considered to be instinctive as well.

The origin of instinct is highly speculative - it is suggested that instincts are the behaviors of our historical ancestors, transmitted by heredity. But not enough is known about genetics to determine with any certainty whether behavior is genetic - that something we do repeatedly makes an alteration to our genes such that it is passed on to the next generation.

(EN: That's a point that might be considered now that the human genome has been mapped. To date I have not heard of an analysis that considers the evolution of DNA in a creature over time - but it is also true that we accept the idea that mutations that occur in the DNA cause changes in the next generation, and that some of these are behavioral. Consider the experiment of wolves that exaggerated their docile or aggressive tendencies by selective breeding. So while it is still unproven, the idea of hereditary behavior seems entirely plausible.)