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The Attributes of Instinct

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image of Behaviour

1. Since some of the attributes of instinct as described by ethologists are operationally defined, their reality can be experimentally examined. 2. Genetical methods enable us to analyze the differential contributions of hereditary and environmental variances to intergroup or individual differences in behavior. Cross breeding experiments indicate that the species-specificity of motor patterns is due to genetic differences between species. However, the stereotypy and universal occurrence of a behavior pattern in the species population alone are not reliable criteria for its inheritance. 3. Ethologists contrasted central (fixed action pattern) and peripheral (taxic) control of motor coordination. Central control has been convincingly demonstrated. However, there is no hard and fast rule that all peripherally controlled patterns are "acquired" and centrally determined patterns hereditary. Also the stereotypy of behavior is not always an indication of its central control. There are several ways of producing stereotyped motor outputs. Each individual case must be analyzed in its own right. 4. Behavior is defined as spontaneous when it occurs without known stimuli, these being environmental changes which alter the state of the organism. Spontaneous behavior patterns are known, although few behavioral studies define precisely the environment devoid of stimuli. Temporal patterns of behavior occurring independently of external timing cues are well documented. 5. The use of the terms implying behavioral development in the total absence of the environment caused misunderstandings in the discussion of ontogeny of behavior. The most important question is whether or not particular patterns of motor coordination or sensory function develop as the result of specific interactions between animal and environment. Some motor patterns and sensory functions are known to develop without such interactions. 6. Although the operationally defined properties of instinct discussed above can be demonstrated, they can not ensure consistent classification of behavior, since they are not always mutually inclusive. Restatement of the major classical issues such as the instinct controversy in terms of operationally definable problems will eliminate further disputes on the issues.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Princeton University, U.S.A.


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