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THE PROBLEM OF INSTINCT



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Март 23, 2014

Sir Patrick Bateson, University of Cambridge.

The post-genomic phase of biology is leading to a growing interest in the development of the whole organism. Components of behaviour, sometimes referred to as "adaptive modules", are not necessarily recognisable by their origins. Adaptive behaviour can be expressed without obvious practice. However, many different features of behaviour have been lumped together in the general ideas about innateness and instinct, namely: present at birth, not learned, genetic, highly heritable, phylogenetically adapted, develop pre-functionally, shared by all members of species/sex/age group, distinct motivational system, controlled by a neural module and developmentally robust. The existence of one feature does not necessarily imply another. For instance, non-learned behaviour may be influenced by experience before birth (e.g. human babies' voice preferences) and may be modified by experience (e.g. the human smile, foraging in ospreys). Many other examples of such dissociations of the characteristics of the supposed modules can be found. My general advice is to say what you mean rather than use confusing terms like "instinct" and "innate". Moreover do not suppose that two kinds of behaviour can be found: instinct and non-instinct. The integrative capacity of the developing capacity of the developing organism and its transactions with its environment suggest much more interesting approaches to development and evolution. Within species differences are attracting increasing attention, particularly in relation to different coping styles (such as boldness and shyness). The styles are readily subject to artificial selection and, in nature, the frequency of boldness is likely to depend on the recent history of the population. Also the roles of the environment in determining which genes are expressed and which ones are suppressed is increasingly recognised as not only being important in an individual's own development but also in its effects on its offspring and its offspring's offspring.

Read more:

  • Has the innateness concept helped or hindered the understanding of
    behavioural and cognitive development?
  • Mahler P Innateness and the instinct to learn. An Acad Bras Cienc. 2004 Jun;76(2):189-200.

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