Instincts, Training, Discretionary activity - Zoopsychology and comparative psychology


The basis on which the performance of any behavioral act is based is instincts. They induce the animal to perform a biologically expedient act under the action of certain specific stimuli. At the heart of this expediency lies a certain genotypically fixed program, formed in the process of phylogenesis. A characteristic feature of most instincts is their confinement to certain age or seasonal periods. At the same time, the appearance of many of them radically changes the entire stereotype of the animal's life. Despite the great biological expediency of behavioral acts carried out on the basis of instincts, they nevertheless adapt animals only to the specific conditions of their existence. A characteristic feature of the instincts is that they , as a rule, are carried out at the first meeting of the animal with a specific stimulus. However, in some cases, instincts can manifest spontaneously.


In addition to instincts and emotions, the body has remarkable mechanisms in the form of various forms of learning , serving to adapt to the diverse conditions of the habitat. A characteristic feature of this type of behavior is the need for repeatability of a specific situation in which a behavioral act is carried out. As a result of repeatability, behavior acquires an adaptive character through the elaboration of conditioned reflexes. With their formation, an indifferent stimulus acquires a signal meaning for the organism as a result of a combination with an irritant that causes an intense reaction. The leading foundation of learning is memory. Since in nature most of the events are repeated, it is this way of adaptation to the environment that is the most universal and the least energy-consuming for the organism.

Rational activity

Through reasoning, adaptive behavior is carried out at the first encounter of the animal with the diversity of the external world. This type of behavior is the most difficult for an animal. Manifestations of rational activity are very diverse. They are clearly visible in avoiding animal dangers, catching game, overcoming obstacles, in particular, opening various locks, etc. However, rational activity does not always manifest itself in everyday life, for the most part the animal prefers to act but the usual pattern. In human behavior, patterns also play a huge role, often we prefer to act automatically, not reflecting. Let us recall, for example, how difficult it is for us to be in someone else's apartment, which is a mirror image of ours. A person who is accustomed to travel every day on the same route to work, it is very difficult to change it. It is difficult to change from familiar and learned concepts to new ones, and so on. In short, thinking is difficult.

Instincts, learning and reasoning have different reaction rates. The notion of the rate of reaction is the basic position of genetics, from the perspective of which the relationship between the individually acquired and the innate in the formation of the phenotype is examined. Inherited are not certain signs of the body, but only certain norms of its reactions. The genotype does not change under the influence of the external environment during ontogenesis. Differences between specific individuals are due to modifications that arise within different norms of the reactions of organisms. The phenotype is formed as a result of interaction of genotypically conditioned norms of reactions and those external conditions in which the animal develops.

These provisions were very relevant when considering the role of congenital and individually acquired characteristics in the formation of behavior. The norms of reactions of each of the three constituent behaviors determine the relative role of congenital and acquired components. In the process of phylogenesis, there is a significant redistribution of the specific mass of instincts, learning, and rational activity. In higher animals, rational activity begins to play an increasing and greater role in behavior.

Thus, we come to the conclusion that in the formation of adaptive behavior, which is carried out with the help of reason, the leading role is played by the extremely broad norm of the reaction of the animal to various environmental factors. Instinctive acts of behavior are a particular adaptation of the animal to specific environmental conditions. These two groups of behavioral acts should not be confused.

Consideration of the adaptive value of various categories of behavior raises a very topical issue of the relationship between learning and reasoning in the formation of behavior. Both rational activity and learning ability are very broad forms of adaptation of organisms to their habitat. Undoubtedly, rational activity is a phylogenetically younger form of adaptation than learning. In the process of an individual's individual life, both these forms of adaptation closely interact with each other. The study of such interaction has great theoretical and practical significance. It is important for understanding the patterns of individual development of the most complex forms of behavior.

The three components of behavior can be dissected under experimental conditions, and in real life closely interact with each other. However, in each specific case, the significance of each of these components may be different.

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