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Human Instinct: Is there such a thing? If so, what is it?

AstralSmoke 8 July 13

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As far as I understand it we have our basest instincts (fight/flight/freeze, perhaps procreation and seeking food/water/shelter) as a result of the simplest original reptilian core of our brain. Then Im guessing the instincts that mammals have for suckling, grooming, childrearing, socialization, territorialism and tribalism come from our primate brains. Then theres also such a thing as inherited fears and other types of trauma that seem to travel in our genetics. People with famine in their family history for example seem to have a metabolism that wants to hold onto fat. Its almost as if every cell, organ or microorganism in us has its own relevant sense memories for how to behave coded in based on past successes and failures in our ancestors.

Then theres the microbiome of our intestines. There are more bacterial cells in your gut microbiome than there are human cells that compose the rest of you and science is just now finding out how much our poop flora is calling the shots on how our bodies work. Then parasites like toxoplasmosis can make you behave with more risk too. We’re seemingly the result of a hierarchy of instinctual hardwiring from every type of organism we evolved from, or alongside for Millenia. The instincts of so many types of life converge inside us to make perhaps the worlds most confused animal behave the way we do.

Some more examples of inherited fears: like someone else mentioned we don't have to be taught to fear snakes, spiders, and perhaps most recently rats. I think that inherited fear came as recently as the black plague. Also ever get a feeling of dread as a cloud passes over you and casts you in a shadow? Thats from the days when prehistoric raptors and flying reptiles were big enough to swoop down and carry us mammals away.


Other animals have instincts. Why wouldn't humans?

From what I've read (I'm far from being a scientist) is the higher the animal is in classification, the fewer instincts they display.


We instinctively look in the direction of a sudden sound.

Is it instinctual? Can you 'learn' not to look in the direction of a sudden sound?

@Dave75 According to what I have read, instinct is something animals have no control over.

I'm still learning and reading. Definitely not an expert on any scientific matters.


Why would it not be?

Would you care to elaborate?

All animals have instincts, why would humans be any different?


Erections are instinctive. That's hard to deny!

But when they occur at the wrong time, it does prick my conscience…

Have Hardon
Will Travel


I can't describe it, but l knows it when l feels it, and l have learned not to ignore it.


There are a few takes on this subject by so called experts (psychologists) that can differ greatly. This makes me say it's really subjective what qualifies, but we definitely have them.. Some say you have to be born with it, you can't unlearn it, it has to be seen in every member of the entire species, etc... they put in so many parameters that it's almost impossible to qualify. lf you say it's an innate and intrinsic desire to do something, l think you are there. The one that stands out the most to me is the attraction to the opposite sex when you hit puberty, (or the same sex,, you know,, what ever blows your skirt up so to speak 😉 ) and the desire to procreate. Your ideal mate will vary from person to person, but when you see them, you instinctly recognize them and your desire for them is felt inside you.. You may be attracted to the tall thin version, the short plump one, the mid height version, long hair, big breast, big muscles, etc... what ever it is, when you see them, your instinct to be with them kicks in. Then, if you're successful in procreating and have a child, the need to protect, feed, etc the newborn is another example that stands out to me.. So there's my two cents.

Thank you. Your two cents have inflated to a nickel 😉


Of course we have instinct. Just like the other animals, our bodies come preprogrammed with all sorts of instructions. Back when I was in high school our science books claimed that instinct was for animals only and that humans were above all that. That claim made no sense to me then or now. What it did was to create in me a fiery skepticism toward claims made in the name of science.

IMO our bodies are directed mainly on the subconscious level, and instinct plays a big part in that. Just as a computer can be reprogrammed and modified by conscious effort, so can our bodily selves be changed through conscious oversight. Our basic operating systems are pretty well fixed though.

Interesting thoughts. From what I've been reading though, it sounds like humans have very few instincts. Suckling is one. I'm not convinced about yawning and children hand grasping. They seem more like reflexes to me, but I'm no scientist.

@AstralSmoke I’m no scientist either. I think the previous generation was sold on Skinner materialism and that our bodies should be understood as machines and that all behavior is learned behavior. Are reflexes supposed to be learned behaviour?

My son could flip himself over on the bed his first day home from the hospital. There wasn’t enough time for him to have learned that, and what would have been the motivation? IMO that was instinctive knowledge that he came with. A new calf can very soon romp around and play—obviously instinctive behavior. A bird dog puppy will automatically point birds from a very early age. Why should humans be that much different from our animal cousins?

@WilliamFleming Good points. I believe it has to do with our developed brains that leave instincts out in the cold. Interesting about your son!


survival, continuing the species, pleasure


Yes, I think it's pretty well established that there is.

Coffeo Level 8 July 13, 2018

Can you give me some examples?

@AstralSmoke The web is replete with them. I grabbed five more or less at random:

Emotional contagion
Fear of snakes
Tribal loyalty

@Coffeo I'm not convinced the ones you listed are instinctual, except yawning. The other four are learned behaviors, are they not?

@AstralSmoke what are you getting at here, tabula rasa?

@AstralSmoke I think we may be getting to definitions of instinct. It's all learned, some of it very long ago.

@recluse No, I'm not an opponent of being born with a clean slate. I believe in evolution and know we are animals that share a lot of things with other animals. I believe our instincts have been extremely diminished due mostly impart to a brain size/capabilities.

To me, it's probably more a problem with word meaning. Instinct can be defined in at least two ways. The definition of an instinct I'm looking at allows the organism no choice. Every member of a species has the same response to a certain influence, migration by birds, butterflies, and other flying 'things' for instance.


Its the hypothalamus

Why so? Hormones maybe?


I don't see much of a difference between instinct and emotion..


To learn language
To be part of the group
To please those much larger than ourselves: this is why religion is so difficult to stop

I remember learning about the research by a dude in the 80's. He got a lot of shit from the post-modernists who believe humars are born a blank slate (cannot recall his name), and these resulting vids: []

Although dated, this is a interesting list: []

JacarC Level 8 July 14, 2018

Thanks. I’ll have to view them later. On my phone at the moment.


The Human Instinct , I would take that as being the instinct for survival .........could be also called the fight or flight syndrome!


Are you asking if there is such a thing as human instinct? Id say humans share a huge number of instinctual behaviour with many animals. But i call that animal instinct. The thing that makes us human is basically our brains computational ability and our ability express ideas in abstract terms. Everything else like living in groups, fight or flight, love, , etc is demonstrated by a huge number of other animals—even ones distant from humans genetically.

So im not sure which question you were really asking. Whether humans have animal instinct, or whether humans posessed instincts that no other animal has. Or something else. Either way, pretty broad questions but fun think about.

Well, humans are animals, so I guess it's a mute point whether you call them animal instincts or human instincts. My question does apply to humans only though. Sucking is an instinct, at least as far as I understand the meaning. Can't think of too many others though. I'm not sure how scientists would approach the love aspect.

I'm having a little confusion over reflex and instinct though. Many things I've read use loose terminology like the instinct is a reflexive condition or something similar.

I appreciate your input!


I actually did a little bit of studying on this human beings don't have instincts they have drives an instinct not only tells you to do something but it tells you how to do it I.E. the way that birds not only know to migrate but where to migrate to that is an instinct Drive simply tell you need to do it and you have to figure it out on your own i e human reproduction we don't automatically know how to do that........ Ask any woman

Since you have studied this, perhaps you can clarify a couple of terms. This is something I am curious about and have found several 'overlapping' definitions. The words 'instinct' and 'reflex' are often used together, interchangeably. How do you define these two words? To me, they are not the same, but it is confusing the way they can be used.

@AstralSmoke that's the problem with words and definitions their meanings can have a tendency to drift into each other

@AstralSmoke I would say that an instinct is something that you were born with and the reflex is something that is learned like the burn reflex

@Drsmash253 This is an article I read this morning: Wise Silence: Reflex vs. Instinct; []

This article broke it down like this: "The uniqueness of the instinct is contained in the large complexity of the performed actions. While reflex, typically, causes activity of one organ; instinct, typically, causes a large number of cooperating activities of various organs. In other words, it's fair to say that reflex represents a reaction of one organ while instinct represents a reaction (behavior) of the whole organism."

I'm still researching. Do you have any sources you think are pertinent to this topic?


"Reflexes are stimulus-driven behaviours. They cannot be spontaneous. They has to be something in the outside world that triggers them. They are usually reasonably simple behaviours that don't last long.

Instincts are not necessarily evoked by stimuli. They can be responsible for spontaneous behaviours, and could be more complex behaviours that last longer periods of time."

I think that drives are bundles of instincts.

@cava I was following you until that last sentence. I think you went over a speed hump and threw me out of the back of the pickup 😉

I think that as we develop our instinctual responses become organized under the broader categories of life & death drives/forces (following Freud) These drives are not directed toward any conscious aim or desire which is why in some (such as the anorexic) these drives can become compulsions.


Sure there is.... It is that split second where one realize it is not worth it to engage in this discussion


The sentient nature of being as in relationship to how humans learn through sensing and or inferring symbolic meaning.

Etre Level 7 July 13, 2018

I thought it was emotional

Instinct is emotional?

@AstralSmoke instinct IS emotion

@AstralSmoke at least that is a thought I have considered for decades


Fear upon seeing a snake is supposed to be instinctual. Babies have an instinct to suckle the mother's breast. Kids have an instinct to grasp with their hands.

I've thought about the snake scenario. My kids, when younger, weren't afraid of snakes at all. They wanted to catch them and play with them. It has been a cautionary learning curve for them.

Suckling and grabbing I agree with.

@AstralSmoke if your ancestors survived the last ice age in Northern Europe, could it be that the fear of snakes was bred out of them? I’m not much afraid of snakes myself, but I’ve never known a person with African ancestry who was not very leery of snakes.


Define instinct as you see it first

On the right track. Care to clarify what it means to you?

@AstralSmoke no, this is your topic


No, as long as what we mean by instinct is a complex behavior -- we (humans) have no complex unlearned behaviors. Not sure what value it would be to define instinct as something not complex like, say, breathing. Not sure someone slapping us on the back when we're born to start breathing counts as learned.

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