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Study of Instinct, The

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Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science


Genetic codification of behavior; Innate; Nativism


Patterns of behavior that emerge in the absence of relevant related experience, usually taken to be species-specific and genetically encoded


Historically, the study of behavior has been centered around a strong opposition between instinct (or nature) and learning (or nurture). The “instinct” concept was (and still is) adopted in many fields (Psychology, Ethology, Biology, Linguistics, etc.) as an explanation for the complex behavioral patterns exhibited by most species; when in the absence of relevant external influences, these appear to be internally driven. It is routinely suggested that such cases point to some kind of internalized knowledge. In contrast, learned behaviors are those thought of as being acquired from externally experienced models.

The following paragraphs first introduce the conceptual bases of the “instinct” concept as originally elaborated within the ethological tradition, and then...

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This contribution has benefitted from a grant of the Spanish Government (Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness) (Ref. FFI2017-87699-P).

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Correspondence to Víctor M. Longa .

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Longa, V.M., Lorenzo, G. (2019). Study of Instinct, The. In: Shackelford, T., Weekes-Shackelford, V. (eds) Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Springer, Cham.

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