define instincts

Instincts Explored: Definition, Examples and Significance


Instinct is an important topic of discussion in Psychology as well as Educational Psychology. The British psychologist William MacDougall is specially remembered during discussing about instincts.

MacDougall mentioned instincts during studying human social behavior. According to him, every human being is born with several biological mental tendencies. These biological mental tendencies are the source of all basic actions human being. On the basis of these biological mental tendencies, which behaviors human do, is called instinctive behavior.

For example – A dog barked at me while passing by the road. In this situation I first observe it specifically. As soon as I see the dog, I have a fear emotion in me and I run away or try to kill the dog. Such behavior is not only seen in humans. Such behavior is also seen in various non-human animals.

MacDougall gave a comprehensive definition of instinct by analyzing the behavior of humans and various animals and the opinions of various psychologists. He says – Instinct is a special biological mental tendency derived from birth which compels us to look on and pay attention to a particular class of objects. In this case, with the sight of the object, a special kind of emotion is created in us. As a result we become active and compelled to act in terms of objects.

Since instinct is a biological mental tendency, it cannot be observed from outside. What we can observe from the outside is the behavior that these tendencies produce in the animal.

Dimensions or stages of instincts

Analyzing psychologist MacDougall’s definition of instinct, it is seen that every instinctive behavior has three dimensions or stages. These three dimensions or stages are –

1) Cognitive dimension or cognitive stage.

2) Affective dimension or affective stage.

3) Conative dimension or Conative stage.

1) Cognitive dimension or cognitive stage:-

At this dimension or stage we pay particular attention to an object in the impulse of instinct or observe it specially.

2) Affective dimension or affective stage:-

At this dimension or stage, a special kind of emotional feeling is created in our mind in view of the objects observed in the previous stage.

3) Conative dimension or Conative stage:-

At this stage we perform any particular action in terms of the feelings created at the affective dimension or affective stage.

Let us illustrate the point with an example –

Suppose a person suddenly sees a snake while walking. (This is the cognitive dimension).

After witnessing the snake, the fear of safety arose in the person. (This is the affective dimension).

In such situations the person either runs away or tries to kill the snake. (This is the conative dimension).

Characteristics of Instinct:

Instinctive behavior has several characteristics of its own, which help to distinguish instinctive behavior from other specialized types of behavior. Those characteristics are –

(1) Instincts are innate

Instinct is an innate biological mental tendency. That is, the animal acquires this mental tendency at birth and it is active in the animal from birth onwards. When an animal performs a particular task easily without any training, it is known as the instinct of the animal.

For Example – A duckling can swim beautifully as soon as it first enters the water. That’s why no one teaches them to swim. Or after the chicken eggs hatch into chicks, they can eat food by themselves. In this case, no one teaches them to eat food with thokkar.

As seen in the case of humans, the desire to know about a particular subject (curiosity instinct), trying to move away from dangerous situations to a safe place (escape instinct) etc.

2) Instincts is hereditary

Instincts are not only innate but also hereditary. That is, the instinct is passed on to the next generation in the line of heredity.

For example – bees collect honey for ages, they make beehive in a special way. Such behaviors are coming through generations to generations in bees. Or a special type of style of bird nesting of weaver bird. This is too coming through generations to generations in weaver bird. If bees or weaver birds are reared far away from their colonies and observed for several generations, there is no change in the bees’ honey-gathering and wax-making, or in the nest-building patterns of the weaver bird.

3) Goal oriented

Instinctive behavior is always goal-oriented. Sometimes it seems aimless. But in reality instinctual behavior is not an aimless, hesitated and mechanical behavior or reaction. Instinctive behavior is always executed with a specific goal.

For example, the nest building behavior of a bird has the purpose of rearing its future offspring.

Again escape is an instinct. When humans or any animals face a dangerous situation, they run away for safe shelter.

Or, curiosity is also an instinct. The desire to know something act on the basis of curiosity instinct. So all instinctive behavior has some purpose behind it.

4) Variability

Sometimes psychologists are not agreed with whether instinctual behavior is fixed or variable. Many think instinctive behavior is mechanical and irreversible. But according to modern psychologists it cannot be said that instinctive behavior is extremely immutable. According to them there is some change in instinctive behavior. In fact the more advanced the animal, the variability of instinctual behavior is greater in them.

5) Maintaining Equality of Behavior

Instincts are equally expressed in all animals of the same species. That is, any particular instinctive behavior observed in any one animal is equally observed in all animals of that class.

For example, bees build their hives in one way, while birds build their nests in another way. There is no similarity between making a bee’s hive and building a bird’s nest. But all bees have the same style of hive making process. Or all weaver birds have similar of nesting style.

Hence it can be said that instinctive behavior takes a special form in particular animals. But even so instinctive behavior in a particular class of animals retains its equality.

6) Instinct-Emotion relationship

According to the psychologist McDougall, every instinctive behavior of human has a specific emotion associated with it. This emotion gives power of activity in humus. That is, when emotion is awakened in a human, it destroys the balance of his mind and creates an uncomfortable state in his mind. It compels the human to perform certain instinctive behaviors. And until this behavior is performed, the uncomfortable state of the human’s mind does not go away.

According to psychologist McDougall, there are about 14 types of instinct or instinctive behavior observed in humans. These 14 instincts are associated with 14 emotions.

They are —

Sl No Instinct Emotion
1 Escape Fear
2 Combat Anger
3 Sex Lust
4 Parental Tender, Emotion, Love
5 Appeal Distress
6 Curiosity Wonder
7 Acquisition Ownership
8 Laughter Amusement
9 Self Assertion Positive Self Feeling
10 Food Seeking Appetite
11 Submission Inferiority
12 Gregariousness Loneliness
13 Repulsion Disgust
14 Construction Creativity

Importance Of Instinct In Education

Instinct and Education:

Current and modern education is child-centered education. The main objective of this education is to achieve balanced development of the child. Much of a child’s behavior in infancy is governed by instinct. And every instinct is associated with some kind of emotion. So to implement the child’s development as well as their educational system, the teacher needs to know about instincts and the emotion associated with them. Also remember that some instincts are positive and some are negative.

Therefore, it is necessary to create such an environment in the school so that students can satisfy their positive instincts and control their negative instincts by Udgaman (Sublimation) them.

Now let’s know how to use the instinct to implement the education system of students for balanced personality development.

Control negative instincts by sublimation or suppression:

Udgaman (Sublimation) is the turning away of an instinct from the unwanted path and leading it to the desired path. Along with positive instincts in children there are some negative instincts. For example – escape instinct, Combat instinct, sex instinct etc. Their free manifestation must be suppressed; otherwise they will create various problems in school, family and social life.

It should also be remembered that extreme manifestation of negative instincts is not good, just as their extreme suppression is not good also. Psychologist Freud said in this context – over-repression of instincts can cause various mental conflicts in the child, as a result of which he may become mentally ill and his normal development may be disturbed.

Therefore, a middle way should be adopted which will benefit both the individual and the society. In this case, the negative instincts should be sublimate in the psychological method. Sublimating rather than suppressing instincts is the right path. And this is possible only through education. For this the following methods can be adopted.

1) The instinct of combat is a negative instinct. Due to this tendency, children or students quarrel, conflict and fight with classmates or friends. This instinct should be mitigate in a psychological manner from children.

For this, children or students should be given the opportunity to participate in various competitive programs in schools. For example – games like wrestling, boxing and debates, quizzes etc. should be arranged.

2) Escape instinct is another negative instinct. As a manifestation of this tendency, students are usually absent from class or school. Sometimes it is seen that the students leave the school before the scheduled school hours are over. These can be due to many reasons. However, the most common reason is their fear of a particular teacher or a particular subject. As a result, students are absent during the time when that particular teacher is teaching or when that particular subject is being taught.

For the suppression of this instinct among the students, it is necessary to make the school environment fearless and joyful. So that students can come to school and study with joy.

3) Sexual instinct is a natural instinct. Some consider this instinct as a negative instinct. For the sake of normal development of children and students, this instinct should be brought out in a psychological manner.

Sex drive can be developed through various creative activities. For example – painting, writing poetry, music – dance etc. In addition, religious activities or thoughts also work as aids in the control of sexual instincts. Besides, collection of various objects, such as collection of information and pictures from newspapers, collection of postage stamps, collection of coins, etc., help in the control of sexual desire. So students should try to be busy with all these activities during extra time.

Emergence of Positive Instinct:

Some of the instinct observed in children or students are positive. For example – self-establishment instinct, curiosity instinct, construction instinct etc.

In order to manifest these instincts naturally and spontaneously and in the desired way, the family and the school must pay special attention to that. Because their natural and spontaneous expression will help in developing a balanced personality of the child as well as the student.

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