Instincts can be said to be an animal’s autonomous response to their internal and environmental stimuli. Such responses are very primitive but very powerful that many a times they overshadow their exhibitor’s mental power (Pianka 1).
These responses are more often than not protective, but at times they can be said to serve nature’s interest. Classical examples of the above said are reflex actions that enable an animal to instantly flee from impromptu dangers, and behaviors that make mating possible.
I agree with William McDougall that humans just like other animals do demonstrate instincts but sway a little from his view, in similarity, degree of utility and context in use of such instincts in comparison with other animals.
Animals unlike humans are fully dependent on instincts to survive and to propagate life, sole reason being that their brain power is very primitive in conscious applications, and that they can survive without consciously using it at all. Humans on the other hand have a fully developed brain, engineered to perform intelligent functions, like reasoning and decision making.
Use of instincts in humans is most applied at child birth, in neonates and early child hood when the brain is underdeveloped to perform the basic survival functions like locating mother’s breasts and suckling, crying when troubled and sleeping when comfortable. Dependence on instincts diminishes on ward as they grow and as their brain develops.
Adult humans’ use of instincts is very limited to the basic biological functions and is very common to what is exhibited by other animals in the same family. Love, sympathy, modesty, hunger, sex and self-assertion are some of instincts that humans posses, according to William MacDougall. Love as feeling of affection when fully developed cannot be branded an instinct since it bears aspects of choice.
The very first attraction of one person to another is what is similar and universal to all other animals and purely depended on senses. What happens after the first instance of attraction is what distinguishes man from the rest of animals. Even as animals use this instinct of attraction to express love through mating, feeding and protecting their young ones, they cannot be said to be conscious of their actions.
A good example is a faithful dog that singles out its owner from a big crowd but fails to pass the mirror test, implying that it is completely unaware of itself. Man after the first momentarily instance of attraction goes ahead to employ his mental power to determine whether his object of desire is worthy his committed pursuance (Pianka 1).
The other human instincts quoted by McDougall i.e. sympathy, modesty, hunger, sex and self assertion follow the same. Man usually takes them to another level of mental processing; to act on them, refine them, control or stop feeling them altogether. A man feeling and expressing sympathy for his suffering friend may remodel the feeling as common sense may demand, to empathy to be able to help his friend out of his troubles.
Animals on the other hand may experience a short lived sympathy, a good example is chicken which looses all its brood to a predator, it immediately demonstrates short lived actions of distress, soon afterwards it forgets and perches ground as if with its brood.
Hunger, sex and self assertion are some of the instincts that man carries with himself to adulthood, there is much remodeling to these, this comes with continuous development and application of his mental power. The way an adult man responds to drives of hunger and sex differs a lot from the way a child will, and much more from the way animals do.
Animals’ response to hunger and sex is instant given the opportunity and right instincts; a child’s response to instincts of hunger is instant with or without food. An adult’s man response to these will be more determined by his mental prowess than his mare instincts.
Self assertion and modesty are classical examples of instincts that man carries with himself without much interference by his mental power. Such instincts can be said to be borne more in his subconscious faculties than his conscious mind. These can be branded adoptive instincts because they will enable man behave differently in different environments.
For instance, a man will act in an assertive manner if feels intimidated or when reproached. A man will carry himself with modesty in respectful environs, like religious centers, and respectful authorities. Few animals exhibit modesty as an instinct.
Man uses instincts mostly as an informative tool to acquaint himself with the changing environment; whatever actions he takes in respond to such bodily inputs is determined by many other factors like the mind, timing and available opportunities.
Man instincts can be said to share same qualities with other animals in the bodily inputs of information with the changing environment, but sharply differ in the timing, level of consciousness and manner of response to such bodily inputs.
Pianka, Eric. Can Human Instincts be controlled? 2009-April 22, 2010.