Chapter 16: The Important Human Instincts

James Rowland Angell

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The Distinction Between Native and Acquired Forms Of Reaction.-- We come now to examine the general scope and character of human instincts, and we are at once confronted with the concrete difficulties previously mentioned, i. e., the difficulty of distinguishing the genuinely instinctive and hereditary reactions from the merely habitual, or from the acquired. Fortunately, there are certain great basal instinctive activities which we find appearing in children long before they have had sufficient experience to enable them to execute such reactions on the basis of volition; and, further. more, there is a considerable group of reactions which all of us manifest that appeal to us when our attention is called to the matter as being native and untutored, as all but wholly devoid of purposeful conscious guidance. With these as a clue we may at least make a beginning in our catalogue, and from their analysis secure hints as to other similar instinctive traits.

In all properly constituted babies anger and fear are in evidence, with their appropriate motor expressions, long before experience has afforded opportunity to observe and copy these reactions in others. They are, therefore, unquestionably native. It may, however, be said, that these are emotional processes, and not instincts. Half of this contention is true and half is false. Anger and fear are instincts, and they are also emotions. Each involves a series of somewhat elaborate organic activities, and these are all of the unpremeditated hereditary type. They pos-

(295)-sess, however, in addition to these motor characteristics perfectly definite conscious concomitants, and to the conscious part of the whole process we commonly give the name emotion. We shall return to a detailed consideration of emotions in the next chapter. Meantime, we find that in anger the brows are wrinkled, the face ordinarily crimson, the veins gorged and prominent, the nostrils dilated, the lips drawn back and the teeth set, the hands clenched, the body tense, and the voice harsh. In extreme fear we meet with pallor and trembling, spasm of the heart, diarrhoea, the appearance of goose-flesh, cold sweat, bristling of the hair, dryness of the mouth, choking, paralysis of the voice, or hoarse screaming, together with tendencies to flight, coupled with a feeling of weakness. These reactions are called out precisely as the instinctive reactions in animals, i. e., by the presence of appropriate stimuli. So far as consciousness is involved in them, the striking thing is the headlong fashion in which we find ourselves plunged into a vortex of intense impulsive feeling, compelling us to acts the consequences of which, in their first expressions, anyhow, are wholly unforeseen.

Utility of Instinctive Reactions.--The utility of such expressions may well arouse one's curiosity. In the case of anger some of the movements evidently have a "use" value, provided actual combat is necessary or desirable. But the trembling of fear, whatever may be -aid of the tendencies to flight, is a questionable organic asset for an individual wishing to react most effectively -upon menacing surroundings. It must be admitted frankly that some of the motor responses displayed in emotional and instinctive discharges are unintelligible at present from the standpoint of utility. The attempt has often been made to refer the preservation of such acts as have no obvious value for the conquest of the environment, and even, perhaps, a deleterious influence upon this task, to their physiological usefulness in restoring disturbed organic conditions. Thus, the gorging of

(296) the blood vessels in anger, the secretion of tears in grief, the laughter in response to wit and humour, have sometimes been held to assist in relieving the abnormal circulatory conditions in the brain set up by the several emotional experiences. Of such explanations one can only say that they serve, at least, temporarily, decently to cloak our ignorance. Nevertheless, there seems to be in the meantime no hesitation in any important quarter in accepting the general hypothesis already mentioned, that these racial habits which we designate emotions and instincts represent types of reaction which were useful at some time in the past history of the race, however problematical their usefulness may be at present.

Genetic Interrelations of Instincts.-- The precise order in which the great mass of instincts make their debut is a difficult problem, and one for which it is, perhaps, not altogether profitable to undertake a solution. It seems probable that rudimentary forms of most of the instincts are encountered at a very early date, whereas the occasion for the expression of the matured reaction may be long postponed. Ribot has made it clear that in general those instinctive activities, such as fear and anger, which have to do most immediately with the maintenance of the physiological organism, and to which lie gives the name of "egotistical emotions," are the first to appear in infancy and the last to disappear in old acre or before the ravages of mental disease. The more altruistic emotions and instincts are for the most part found in a developed condition much later. Thus, sympathy, in unequivocal form, anyhow, occurs only with some considerable mental development. Indeed, it has sometimes been questioned whether sympathy is truly instinctive at all, whether it does not rather reflect the conclusions of intelligent consideration. But on the whole there seems no good reason to cavil at the evidences of its native character , especially as we can discern its seeming presence in certain animals.


List of Human Instincts.-- Waiving, then, the question of the order of appearance, we find the generally recognised instincts in man to be as follows: Fear, anger, shyness, curiosity, affection, sexual love, jealousy and envy, rivalry, sociability, sympathy, modesty ( ?), play, imitation, constructiveness, secretiveness, and acquisitiveness.

Many authorities would add hunting to this list, and it must be admitted that in many races, and in many individuals of all races, it gives strong indications of a fundamentally instinctive nature. It is, however, so honeycombed with the effects of experience, and so irregular in its appearance, that it may fairly be given a position among the disintegrating instincts. Walking and talking are also included by many writers. Whether they shall be counted in or not is, as we have already observed, simply a question of classification. We may call them either chained reflexes or instincts, according to the criterion which we adopt for our divisions. James has added cleanliness to his list, and there are some facts which point to the correctness of this view, both in its application to men and to animals. But it is at best a very imperfect and erratic trait, as any mother of normal children can testify, and we may omit it in consideration of the necessary brevity of our discussion. We shall similarly forego any description of sympathy and modesty.

A perusal of our list brings at once to notice the union of instinct and emotion. A part of the terms apply primarily to acts, and so connect themselves with the common implication of the term instinct; whereas the other part suggests much more immediately the conscious feelings characteristic of the several forms of emotional experience. Imitation, play, and constructiveness are examples of the first kind of term; fear, anger, and jealousy illustrate the second. A few comments upon each of the instincts mentioned may serve to emphasise helpfully the typical conditions under which they

(299) appear, and the wholly naive, untutored nature of the motor reactions which they manifest.

Fear.-- We have already sufficiently described the motor phenomena in the case of fear, and it surely requires no additional argument to convince one of their native and unsophisticated character. It only remains to notice that in little children, despite some irregularity in different individuals, the normal provocatives are represented by strange objects, frequently by fur, by strange places, and especially by strange people, by being left alone, by darkness, and even occasionally by black objects; and by noises, particularly if very loud and unfamiliar. In later life, in addition to the fear which arises from the presence of actually dangerous situations, such as the menace of a great conflagration, many persons are seized with dizziness and a more or less acute terror upon finding themselves on a very high place, even though the possibility of falling over is efficiently precluded by railings, etc. Others are frightened by anything which verges upon the supernatural. Even the cold-blooded materialist of polite fiction feels his unsentimental blood curdle just a bit at the rehearsal of a thrilling ghost story, and only the possessor of practiced nerves can be alone on a dark night in a cemetery, or a thick wood, without some " creepiness " of the hair and skin.

All of us are likely to find that in the midst of a violent tempest, whether on land or sea, the howling of the wind is a distinct source of mental anxiety quite disproportionate to our sober, intellectual apprehension of its real danger. All these things take hold of our racial instincts, and however vigorously our individual experience attempts through its cortical machinery to put a veto on such nonsense, our lower brain centres refuse to abandon their world-old habits, and accordingly we find that our hearts are beating wildly, our breathing coming in gulps, our limbs trembling, the while we look on, mortified at the weakness we cannot control.


Anger.-- Anger has several different forms and the most varied provocatives. We are irritated by the tireless piano next door, exasperated by the teasing child, hurt and vexed by the social snub, angry at the open insult, and perhaps moved to enduring hatred by the obnoxious and unscrupulous enemy. There is a common emotional vein running through all these conditions however much the particular momentary expression may vary. Possibly resentment is the best name wherewith to label this common factor. The instinctive nature of the motor reactions requires no further demonstration than is furnished by the sight of any little child enjoying a tantrum. The explicitly pugnacious element is, under civilised surroundings, inconspicuous after childhood is passed, despite the tremendous virility it displays if the curb be once slackened. The evolution of the race has been notoriously sanguinary, and we should feel no surprise, however much of disgust and regret we may entertain, that under the excitement of actual combat the old brute should display the cloven hoof. The development of so-called civilised codes of war affords interesting instances of the effort rational man makes to clothe with decency the shame of his own brutishness. According to the code, women and children may not be slaughtered, but it is occasionally lawful to despoil them of their flocks and herds, to lay waste their grain, and even to burn the roofs above their heads.

Shyness and Sociability.-- The antagonistic instincts to which we have given the names shyness and sociability, not only appear as genuine hereditary impulses in little children, but they also fight, in the case of many persons, a lifelong battle for supremacy over the individual's habits. Sociability is simply an expression of the essentially gregarious nature of man. Some men seem destined for membership in a very small herd,-- two or three at most,-others find their most natural surroundings amid large numbers. But the man or child who in one form or another does not natively crave

(300) companionship, sympathy, admiration, and confidence from others is essentially insane. Many turn from life and such companions as they chance to have attracted with horror and disgust, seeking in God or in some ideal of their own imagination a companionship which shall be fit and satisfying. But what is such a turning other than the most pathetic ap. peal for true comradeship, for a real society conformable with the deepest needs of the soul? No, sociability, under whatever limitations, is an expression of the very essence of humanity, and every little child evinces it by shunning solitude.

What often passes with children for a love of solitude is really more truly referable to the operation of the contrary instinct of shyness. In the very nature of the case the two impulses must always have been in unstable equilibrium so long as the drama of human life has been upon the boards. A certain measure of suspicion toward the action and purposes of others must always have been a condition of avoiding harm and imposition. On the other hand, the race is fundamentally gregarious, and all its greatest achievements have come about through cooperative undertakings in which the solidarity of the social structure has been a sine qua non. The tension between these two instincts, which we often find existing in ourselves, is no mere idiosyncrasy of our own purely personal organisation. It is rather a replica in us of a conflict which has been a part of the experience of every sane human being that ever lived.

Sociability finds everywhere its natural expression in smiling and in bodily attitudes, or gestures, which are, perhaps, best described as obviously non-pugnacious. The secondary gestures, apart from smiling and laughing, are through imitation early overlaid with the conventional ceremonials of different races and peoples. But in babies we find general extensor movements of reaching and stretching out of the arms, with eyes wide open and gaze fixed, head erect, and often nodding. In shyness the precise reverse is encountered. The

(301) eyes are averted, the hands and arms held close to the body, the whole attitude being one of retreat. In older children and adults blushing and stammering, or even speechlessness,* are common concomitants. Strangers and persons feared or venerated are the normal stimulants to shyness. In both kinds of reaction the movements are observed before there can be any question of conscious imitation. They are accordingly of undoubtedly instinctive nature. The great difficulty many persons experience in inhibiting the expressions of shyness also points to a similar conclusion.

A special form of the generic tendency to sociability is found in childish affection for parent or nurse, and in the tender feelings in general which we cherish toward those of whom we are fond. It finds its overt manifestation in facial expression, in modulation of voice, and in caressing gestures in general. The instinct is speedily veiled by experiential influences, but it gives every internal evidence of resting upon a native impulse, and its motor indices apparently require no artificial training. In childhood its common stimulus is found in persons upon whom we are dependent for our daily care. It may even extend in a somewhat imperious fashion to toys and other possessions intimately associated with childish cosmology. In mature life its stimulus is extremely complex, and baffles brevity of description. In general, it extends to all persons and possessions that we cherish as in some sort a part of ourselves.

Curiosity and Secretiveness.-- Curiosity and secretiveness are in a measure antithetic impulses, like shyness and sociability; they vary immensely in different individuals, but bear, whenever met with, unmistakable traces of an instinctive origin. Animals afford us abundant instances of curiosity, and many methods of hunting are designed to take advantage of this tendency. Taken broadly, curiosity is simply another name for interest. In its simplest and most immediate form it is represented in the vertiginous

(302) fascination which novelty of any kind at times possesses for us. The child must pry about until he has fathomed the depths of your preoccupation. If asked why he wishes to know what you are about, he could give you no rational answer, even if he would. He simply knows that he must find out what you are doing. That is his feeling, and to ask for any deeper reason is itself unreasonable. The staid business man who allows himself to be lured across the street of a summer evening by the flaring torch of the street fakir has no reputable account to offer of his procedure. Time out of mind he has yielded to the same fascinating bait, always to find the same old bogus gold watches, the same improbable jewelry, the same nauseous medicines, passing out into the capacious maw of the great gullible public. Curiosity is the racial instinct to which our sedate citizen is yielding, and that is all there is to the matter. In this simple form the motor expression is found in the alert and wide-open eyes, the parted lips, the attentive ear, the general attitude of readiness to react to any lead. In its more intellectual phases we shall consider it under the head-of interest in a later chapter.

Secretiveness will by many readers be thought unwarrantedly introduced as an instinct. It is not usually of sufficient consequence to justify any extended defence of its instinctive nature. But as a special form of shyness, at least, it deserves a word. It seems to be a development of those instincts among animals which lead them to render themselves as inconspicuous as possible. Certain insects and birds frequent haunts in which the surroundings, whether vegetation or earth, are of a colour similar to their own. In a corresponding fashion many persons feel an ineradicable impulse to conceal their plans, their actions, and their character behind a screen of non-committal silence and reserve. The impulse has no necessary connection with the preservation of a consciously defined personal dignity. It extends quite as forcefully to the suppression of all publicity touching the

(303) trivial as it does to the concealment of the momentous. Taciturnity is its commonest expression-if this formulation be not itself a paradox. Its irrational impulsive character is the mark which stamps it instinctive. Many of us are at times secretive of fixed and consciously recognised design. But the sort of thing of which we are here speaking is temperamental and may be felt in the absence of all explicit justification.

Acquisitiveness.-- The instinct which we have called acquisitiveness appears chameleon-wise in many colours and under various conditions. As a primitive expression of the recognition of personal property it is one of the earliest and most tempestuous of innate reactions. It commonly gets a bad name at this time, and is often undiscriminatingly entitled selfishness. Certainly the distinction between meum and tuum is one for which every child betrays a remarkable precocity, although the precocity is commonly much more evident in the emphasising of meum than in the recognition of tuum. But however perverted the moral perspective, the thing is there in the form of an impulse to get hold of, and keep, and guard, something -- anything. The particular objects which call it out are altogether incidental to the momentary surroundings and to tile age of the special individual. With boys in the " marble age glassies " and " alleys " are the recipients of the passion. A little later it may be ribbons bestowed by, or purloined from, the young ladies of the hour; presently it is stocks and bonds and real estate. Now these things are many of them sought for ulterior ends consciously apprehended. But through the whole drama runs the instinctive thread, the impulse to acquisition, binding the whole together into a vital tale of human impulse striving after gratification. So far as it can be said to possess relatively fixed motor expressions, they are to be found in the elaborations of the infantile reaching and grasping, with the facial expression of alert, tense interest, and the intra-organic dis-

(304)-turbances which generally accompany such excitement. The impulse takes its origin, however, from so many forms of stimulations that a perfectly fixed and inflexible motor indication of it is hardly to be expected.

Rivalry.-- Closely connected with acquisitiveness is the instinct of rivalry, or emulation. It is intimately allied to play and imitation in its origin, and it easily runs to excess in anger, hate, jealousy, and envy. Its stimulus is apparently found in the successful achievements of anyone coming within our own social circle, by virtue of which we are likely to be relegated to inferior positions. If one happens to be a bank clerk one feels no rivalry instigated by the promotion of the janitor, but the advancement of one's fellow clerk is quite another matter.

The small boy views with unmixed admiration the skill of the professional ball-player, but the performances of his rival for a place on the school nine stir his blood in quite a different way. So far as concerns the voluntary muscles, the expression of this impulse has about it hardly anything fixed save the vigour and energy which go into their use when stung by the prick of rivalry.

As we intimated a few lines above, emulation is readily transformed into anger, and this fact points to a kinship which has undoubtedly in the history of racial evolution been most significant. Among the lower animals fighting is a constant and fundamental factor in life history. Under the ameliorating conditions of civilisation mankind has managed in large measure either to eliminate this element from human life or so to change its complexion as to shade its more brutal features, and to substitute for bloodshed and carnage the starvation and bankruptcy which emanates from unsuccessful competition. In so far, therefore, as rivalry represents the survival in modern life of the old fighting propensities, we must look in it for the vestigial evidences of tumult and excitement, of emotional tension, which have always char-

(305)-acterised the struggle for existence. Needless to say, we find them in abundance, and hence it is that emulation so easily leads to the more unworthy instinctive expressions; hence it is that so much of moral dignity attaches to him who can feel and cherish rivalry without sacrificing his highest ethical ideals of integrity and respect for others.

Jealousy and Envy.--Viewed merely as natural impulses, jealousy and envy are sufficiently alike to render a separate mention of each unnecessary. Envy is generally applied to our covetousness of the prosperity or possessions of others. This covetousness is often accompanied, as in jealousy, by more or less malignity. Jealousy we commonly apply to a similar feeling toward persons who are our supposed rivals, whether actually successful or simply feared. Both animals and little children manifest jealousy, and no one can question that the depth of the feeling, together with these facts, points to its springing from a racially hereditary source. Its characteristic expressions are similar to those of anger and hatred, but commonly occur in milder form.

Sexual Instincts.-- Among the most imperious of our impulses are undoubtedly those connected with sex. The approach to sexual maturity is usually attended by very deep-seated organic changes, and these are reflected in a marked development of the whole emotional nature. It is in this fact that we find an explanation of the definite bent which is often imparted to character at this time, leading in certain instances to a life-long devotion to ideals which are lofty and habits which are pure, and in other instances to perversion and debasement of the entire moral nature. This is the great formative period, the storm and stress period, of the moral life. The delineation of the basal facts in the birth and development of love between the sexes has been accomplished so perfectly in the great poems and tales of passion as to render futile and superfluous any such brief outline as would be possible here.


Parental Love.--Parental love is a far stronger impulse in the mother than in the father, as a rule. It is unquestionably instinctive in the mother, is given most lavishly during the infancy and childhood of the offspring, but commonly remains to the end one of the majestic forces in the history of humanity. Its expressions are partly those of caressing tenderness and partly those of protection and prescient regard for the, needs of the child.

Play.-- We come now to speak: of the three instincts remaining upon our list, i. e., play, imitation, and constructive: ness. They are by no means synonymous, but their connection is so intimate, and their significance for the development of the child so similar and so important, that we shall consider them together, and at some length.

In little children the impulse to play is practically identical 'With the impulse to use the voluntary muscles. Indeed the definition of play which enjoys widest currency at the present moment identifies it with the free, pleasurable, and spontaneous activity of the voluntary muscles. For all periods after those of early childhood, say subsequent to seven years of age, there is an increasing disposition to contrast play with work, and to ascribe to the former a certain lack of seriousness. But with little children this lack of seriousness exists only for the sophisticated onlooker. To the child himself his playing is the " real thing." It has all the seriousness which the child is able to reflect in his activities at the time.

The two most important theories regarding play are, perhaps, those advocated respectively by Spencer and Groos. The former regards play as representing a discharge of surplus organic energy. The latter considers it as an impulsive function serving to call into being those activities which presently are to be required in the strenuous conflicts of life. Play has its biological significance, therefore, in the discipline which it affords. So far from finding it necessary to choose one or the other of these theories, reflection suggests that they

(307) are entirely reconcilable and distinctly supplementary to one another. It may be that the impulse to play has its racial significance in the opportunity which it affords for the exercise of those forms of coordinated movement which adult life demands. It may, indeed, owe its preservation in hereditary form to just this circumstance. And it may, nevertheless, be also true that in its expression at any specific time the impulse really represents the tapping of reservoirs of surplus energy. These alternatives seem altogether probable, and they serve to connect the obvious present vitality and utility of the play impulse with adequate genetic and historical causes.

Imitation.-- As the play impulse actually is observed in its development, it early takes on certain imitative characteristics, and at a slightly later date, perhaps, gives evidence of deserving the name constructive. As in the case of play, we must distinguish several stages or phases in the imitative reactions. There is without much question a purely instinctive form of imitation in which, without any necessary conscious purpose to imitate, acts of others are repeated as accurately as possible. This is conspicuously true of the earlier speech activities, in which the sensations of the vocal sounds made by others seem to discharge immediately, in an almost reflex manner, in articulatory reactions more or less closely resembling the stimulus. At a later period, however, there is a definitely conscious purpose to repeat sounds, and this kind of conscious imitation characterises a large part of the educational process in young children. Indeed, the only propriety in mentioning it in this chapter, so explicitly volitional is it, arises, first, from its possession of a compelling fascination for the minds of all normal children, and, second, from its striking similarity to the genuinely instinctive form mentioned above. The name " suggestive imitation " has been given to such acts as appear imitative to an observer but are not necessarily felt to be so by the imitator. A recrudescence of the more purely in-

(307)-stinctive type is exhibited in the loss of individual initiative and inhibition in the case of mob action and the movement f crowds, where one falls in, almost unaware, with the purposes and impulses of the mass. " Plastic imitation " has been suggested as a distinguishing name for this class of cases.

Constructiveness.--In childhood constructiveness is hardly more than a convenient term to specify one of the aspects of play. Children delight in the making of things out of their toys, and this may properly be called constructiveness, even in those cases where a carping parental economy might describe the impulse as one of destructiveness. Pulling a feather-duster to pieces to make a nursery Indian may not commend itself highly to the presiding guardian as an evidence of constructive tendencies, but psychologically it is quite as truly entitled to rank here as the activity by means of which the precocious child converts the paternal cigarbox into the inlaid maternal glove-box. Its shortcomings as a constructive performance are ethical and economic, not psychological. In later adult life constructiveness, so far as it is separable from volitional activities exercised under the stress of fear, pride, or other similar emotions, becomes intimately connected with the impulses of artisanship and craftsmanship, in which a native intellectual interest finds a congenial and appropriate channel of expression by means of native deftness in specific forms of manual manipulation. This later type undoubtedly has in it much that is genuinely impulsive, but it is so overlaid with the effects of experience that it will not be profitable for us to dwell longer upon it.

Relation of Play, Imitation, and Constructiveness.-- It surely requires no complicated demonstration to prove that these three last-mentioned impulses-play, imitation, and constructiveness-- interlace with one another in almost inextricable ways. Much of the strictly impulsive element in constructiveness, if not, indeed, all of it, is play, pure and simple. Many of the plays of children, commonly so recognised, are

(309) of a distinctly constructive character. The child building a house from his blocks is, from his own point of view, much more truly described as engaged in construction than as engaged in play. The conscious " make-believe " of many plays, and the simulation of fictitious situations, is seldom obvious in the earlier plays of little children. Imitation is often simply a designation for a specific mode of reaction which the special play calls forth, and many games have their point in feats of imitation. Constructive impulses are more often than not dependent for their expression in the first instance upon patterns which determine the mould in which the child casts his activities. Little children running after larger children, they know not why, the boy trying to use a hammer as he has seen his father do, the girl playing at setting the table as she has seen her mother do-these and a hundred other instances illustrative of these points will immediately come to mind. We shall revert to the development of these native modes of reaction in our account of the growth of volitional control. It must suffice here to have pointed out the native organic nature of these expressions. The occasions for their appearance are evidently found wherever a situation affords opportunity for a vigorous organism to react spontaneously and agreeably with movements indicative of control and power.


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