An Introduction to Social Psychology

Supplementary Chapter 4: The Instinct of Laughter and Some Minor Tendencies

William McDougall

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

IN writing this book many years ago, I did not know that I was helping to bring to a head a division of opinion and a controversy which had long been shaping themselves somewhat obscurely. I had supposed that I was merely rendering more definite and precise a view of human nature that was generally held. But it has now become clear that the instinct-problem is one that stands at the parting of the ways in psychology, the way of mechanical explanation on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the way which, in the broadest sense of the word "vitalism," may be called vitalistic. "Vitalism" is a word of bad odor to a great number of men of science, many of whom incline to the view that any vitalistic view is the very negation of science. I would explain, therefore, that I use the word " vitalism " to cover all views which reject the belief that the facts of biology, the facts of life and mind, can be adequately and completely interpreted in terms of the conceptions and principles with which at the present time the physical sciences operate. Up to a very recent date those conceptions and principles were strictly mechanistic, or determinist; they assumed that the present is wholly determined by the past and that the future course of events is, in principle, strictly predictable from a knowledge of its past and present course. They, therefore, when applied to human action, left no room for belief

(442) in the reality and effectiveness of our efforts, our strivings toward goals or ideals. Yet, in practice, all men assume such reality and effectiveness; we adopt the belief as a working hypothesis and we find that it works; it is thereby pragmatically justified. It is, then, in no spirit of opposition to science that the enlightened vitalist seeks to describe and interpret the facts of life and mind in terms which shall avoid any such deadlock between scientific principles and the pragmatically justified belief in our limited power of self-determination, our power, however slight, to create novelties in the way of thought and action. And, since the continuity of human with animal evolution is so well established, he inclines to credit the animals also with some slight germ of this power of effective striving towards natural goals.

There is only one way in which we can in any sense understand or interpret such effective striving towards a goal, and that is in terms of our own experience of such striving. We know what it is to desire to attain a goal, to feel impelled to seek and to strive towards a goal, a goal which we may conceive, either clearly and definitely, or with various degrees of vagueness down to the extreme vagueness of those instances in which we merely know that we want something but cannot say what it is we want. When we observe an infant or an animal behaving as though it wants something; and especially when it seems to strive persistently towards some object or goal, refusing to rest, to be satisfied or content, until it attains that goal, we seem justified in interpreting such behaviour in terms of our own, experience during similar behaviour on our own part.

Now, we find that our own strongest strivings, our most vivid desires, our most powerful urges to action, spring up within us in relation to goals that are prescribed

( 443) for us in our common human nature. Every man is so constituted as to seek, to strive for, and to desire, certain goals which are common to the species, and the attainment of which goals satisfies and allays the urge or craving or desire that moves us. These goals and these modes of striving towards them are not only common to all men, but also in a general way are common to men and their nearer relatives of the animal world; such goals as food, shelter from danger, the company of our fellows, intimacy with the opposite sex, triumph over our opponents and leadership among our companions. These are the facts on which the theory of human instincts is based.

If we believe that all such forms of human and animal behaviour can be adequately interpreted in mechanistic terms, as sequences of strictly determined causes and effects, then we have no need and no use for the conception of instinct. All that is called instinctive action can then be more properly described as reflex actions of more or less complexity; reflex action being mechanistically regarded as action wholly predetermined by the mechanical structure of the organism.

If, on the other hand, we believe that such modes of behaviour cannot be adequately interpreted in such terms, if we believe that the conceptions of present-day physics and chemistry are not adequate to the interpretation of them, then we are, provisionally at least, vitalists; and we are prepared to accept the theory of instincts. For instinct is the conception we form for the interpretation of such modes of behaviour and of such modes of experience as accompany them. The word " instinct " indicates that we regard the urge to action, the impulsion to strive towards a goal, as something sui generis in nature, something without parallel in the inorganic world, or, if there paralleled, paralleled only by some aspect of

(444) inorganic happenings so subtle as to have escaped hitherto the observation of physical science.

Any psychologist who recognizes the urge to action, and the striving in which it expresses itself, as other than a mechanical compulsion, thereby defines his position in respect of the most fundamental of all the issues that divide psychologists; he places himself on the side of purposive psychology over against mechanistic psychology. For all the strivings to which we are impelled by the urging of our instinctive constitution are of the same nature as those strivings which are purposive in the fullest and most unmistakable sense, those in which our activity is guided by our thinking of a goal which we desire to attain and of the course of action by means of which we hope to attain it.

In the more primitive forms of striving, the goal of action is not clearly envisaged, but there is nevertheless some conscious reference to some goal, there is some germ of desire directed to the future; and, since the strivings we experience range in a series without breaks or sharp differences in kind from those that are purposeful or purposive in the fullest sense to those that have only this vague direction towards a goal scarcely defined in consciousness, we may validly extend the term "purposive striving" to cover the whole series. In this extended or wide sense of the word "purposive," then, the simplest instinctive actions of men and of animals seem to be purposive. And it is only by recognizing the continuity of the series and the essential similarity of type between the higher, or explicitly purposive, forms of striving and the lower and simpler forms that we can understand the development of the higher out of the lower forms of striving in course both of individual development and of racial evolution.


This division between those who regard all human and animal action as purely mechanical and those who recognize purposive activity as something radically distinct from mechanistic causation is, I say, the deepest, most significant division between the schools of psychologists. In contemporary thought it takes the place of the older divisions between the materialists and the spiritualists or idealists, between psycho-physical monists and dualists, between parallelists and interactionists. I do not assert that these several oppositions of opinion or theory are identical with one another, but that the opposition of purposive to mechanical interpretation of human action is the form taken in contemporary thought by a fundamental opposition which at different periods has assumed these various forms.

The modern formulation of this opposition as that between purposive and mechanical psychology differs from the older formulations in that it makes no claim to metaphysical or ultimate validity; rather, it remains upon the plane of science and leaves to metaphysics the task of deciding whether the distinction between purposive and mechanical processes is ultimate and final, or one that may be resolved by showing that one of them is more fundamental than the other, or by showing that both are imperfect and provisional formulations which will eventually be resumed within a single formula.

The psychology that finds in our instinctive constitution the foundation or source of all our activities may, then, be identified with purposive psychology as opposed to mechanistic psychology; for the latter, if it makes any use of the term instinctive, does so only to imply the more complex forms of reflex action mechanically conceived. Of late years an old Greek word has been given currency as the most convenient term to denote all psychology

( 446) that is vitalistic, purposive, or instinctive, in the sense defined above. It is proposed to use the word "hormé" [1] (derived from the Greek noun όρμη = an urge to action and the verb όρμηαϖ = I strive, I am impelled or suffer impulsion) to denote the energy that seems to find expression in purposive striving, in conation of every kind; and the adjective "hormic" to denote such strivings or activities and also the psychology which, in opposition to the mechanical psychology, regards this conception of hormic striving as its most fundamental category.[1]


The issue between the hormic or purposive and the mechanical psychology is only in process of being defined. At the time when this book was first published (1908) the view that human nature comprises some instinctive foundations was widely, I think one may fairly say generally, accepted. It was supported by the great authority of William James and of Wilhelm Wundt. But this book, by its attempt to define more nearly the nature and rôle of instincts in human life, has done much to bring to a head the issue between the hormic and the mechanical psychology. Many authors have criticized adversely the theory of human instincts propounded in this volume on the ground that it implies that instinctive

(448) activity is something that cannot be wholly interpreted in mechanistic terms.[2]

The essence of the reasonings of these deniers of instinct, however varied and copious their expositions, may be stated succinctly in a single syllogism : All events are mechanically explicable. The alleged instinctive actions are not mechanically explicable: therefore there are no instinctive actions and no instincts. In this reasoning the major premise lacks solid foundation; it expresses merely a prejudice which has been much favored by the course of modern science; for the adoption of this major premise as a guiding principle in the physical sciences has been very fruitful. But we have no guarantee that it will prove equally fruitful in biology. That is a question which only the future can solve. There is much ground for the view that at the present time the dogmatic acceptance of this principle in biology by so many men of science is blocking the path of progress. It behooves us to keep an open mind on such a fundamental question. To pretend to know the answer to such a question is merely a mark of scientific incompetence. It is rather the part of scientific wisdom to observe accurately the phenomena and to classify them and to interpret them by the aid of suitable general conceptions. Instinct is such a general conception to which we are led in our endeavor to interpret by a common principle the various forms of unlearned activity displayed by men and animals.


The Objective Marks of Hormic Activity

When we array these forms of activity and seek their common objective characters, we find seven which seem to mark them as distinct in kind from all processes of the inorganic world and as expressive of mind, of hormic or, in the widest sense, purposive action or striving. These objective marks of purpose may be enumerated as follows: first, a certain spontaneity of movement, a power of initiative. Secondly, a tendency to persistence, whether the movement concerned is apparently spontaneous or is initiated by some physical stimulus falling on the organism from without. Thirdly, variation of or of direction of the persistent movements. Fourthly, the cessation of the movements when, and not until, they result in the attainment of the goal, in effecting a change of situation of a particular kind. Fifthly, the movements commonly seem to anticipate, or to prepare in some manner for, the new situation which they them-selves tend to bring about. Sixthly, repetition of the situation that has evoked the train of movements evokes again a similar train of movements, but the movements so evoked commonly show, as compared with those of the former occasion, some degree of improvement in respect of efficiency, i.e., in respect of speed, accuracy or nicety of adjustment. Seventhly, the purposive action is in a sense a total reaction, that is to say, it is an activity in which the whole organism takes part so far as necessary; the energies of the whole organism seem to be bent towards the one end, all other concurrent processes within it being subordinated to the major or dominant system of hormic activity. It may perhaps be questioned whether this last character can properly be asserted of all hormic processes; but it seems to be true of those which are conative in the sense defined by Professor Nunn, or

(450) truly purposive in that they involve or imply foresight of the goal to be achieved.

These seven objective characters of hormic bodily activity are not found in, or displayed by, the indisputably reflex actions ; but they are found in all cases of instinctive action which we have the opportunity to observe in detail. Further, when we ourselves exhibit reflex actions, we do not experience any urge or impulse towards, or any desire for, a goal; but, when we act instinctively, we do experience such an " internal drive," some urge, impulse or desire, no matter how vaguely we may conceive the goal or end of our action. The reflex action seems (though this may be illusory) to be evoked in the body as a mechanical response to a stimulus, a response in the production of which we, as conscious personalities, have no part and no concern; whereas, in instinctive action or striving or conation of any kind, we commonly feel that we take an active part, are actively concerned; this is true even though the action may be one to which we do not positively assent, or one which we strive to avoid or inhibit.

All these facts, then, justify us in regarding instinctive action as other than a purely mechanical sequence of events, as a mode of action that expresses in some degree the mental or physical nature of the organism. But all these facts are set aside or ignored by those who profess themselves incapable of discerning any difference between instinctive activity and mechanical reflex action.

Of the facts enumerated one is of peculiar importance and deserves some more special consideration, namely, the third of the seven characters of hormic activity defined above. If an instinctive action were merely a mechanical response to a sense-impression or stimulus, the nature of which is wholly determined by pre-existing channels of

(451) conduction in the nervous system of a certain pattern, we should expect to find that a sense-impression or stimulus of a particular kind should evoke from any particular organism one particular response in the form of a certain movement or train of movements. This we find to be the rule with reflex actions ; though reflex action may be inhibited or otherwise modified by the incidence of other stimuli. But we find that in this respect instinctive action differs profoundly from purely reflex action. In simple situations in which the organism (man or animal) easily and immediately attains its natural goal, instinctive action often proceeds in a routine fashion, repeating itself, without obvious variation, on repetition of the exciting impression or situation. It is when the instinctive action cannot attain its goal in the simplest, most direct fashion that its peculiar nature and its profound difference from mechanical reflex action clearly appear. All down the scale of animal life we find that under such circumstances the instinctive striving is apt to display a surprising variability. The animal, baffled in its first effort, changes its line of action and tries another. In the simpler instances of instinctive locomotion, whether movements of appetition or aversion, whether a striving to reach an object such as food or a striving away from an object as in striving to escape, the variations may take the simple form of changes of direction of locomotion. But in a multitude of instances the variations are less simple; the animal may bring into play successively a great range of motor capacity. Thus, a hungry dog or cat, con-fronted with food which it cannot reach (because either the animal or the food is shut in a cage), may first try to attain its goal, the food, by squeezing through some aperture; failing in this, he prowls around and seeks other apertures; still failing, he bites and claws at the obstruc-

(452) -ting bars, or turns the cage over and shoves it hither and thither. In all the instinctive actions of the higher animals such variation of movement is the rule rather than the exception. Thus, when two dogs (or any birds or mammals) fight, they exhibit movements and attitudes which in a general way are those characteristic of the species and of the situation; but in detail the movements are infinitely varied. In the course of the struggle each animal may bring into play almost the whole of its repertoire of movements; it crouches, leaps, runs, growls, bites, scratches, tears; all these many kinds of bodily activity being activated by the one instinctive impulse. In the courtship of animals, which is one of the undeniably unlearned forms of behaviour, that is to say instinctive behaviour, we observe a similar variety of movement. In many species the coyness of the female necessitates on the part of the male a prolonged courtship. Thus the male pigeon of the domestic species, under the impulse of the mating instinct, may execute a multitude of movements that bring into play almost all his varied powers of movement; he struts and bows and spreads his tail, he coos, now loudly, now softly; he pursues the object of his attentions assiduously from place to place on foot and on wing, he pecks her, now violently, now caressingly.

Now in such instances of instinctive behaviour, the animal makes use of a large number of inborn motor mechanisms, nervous arrangements or patterns, each of which gradually takes the shape common to all members of the species, by a process of maturation that is but little influenced by the circumstances of the animal and by the animal's own activities. Thus the nestling bird, on attaining a certain age, spreads its wings and flies almost as well at its first attempt as it will ever do. Such improvement as it may later show is probably due

( 453) almost wholly to further maturation that would go on even though the first flight were postponed; or it may be due in part to a mere strengthening of the muscles through exercise. That is to say, the precision of the bird's flight which enables it to catch the midge on the wing is almost wholly due to an inborn or inherited nervous organization which works automatically, and which may fairly be called a motor mechanism of the nervous system. The same is true of the movements by means of which the bird or the mammal walks, runs, swims, eats, utters his specific calls or cries, mates, attacks, or defends himself. That is to say, each animal species possesses, as part of its hereditary equipment common to all its members. an array of such motor mechanisms.

If each instinct could be identified with some particular motor mechanism, the fact would go far to justify the mechanistic view of instinct, and the description of an instinctive act as merely a somewhat complex reflex response.[3] Now this erroneous identification is commonly made by the deniers of instinct, by those who take the mechanistic view of instinctive action. But that such identification is erroneous is clearly shown by facts of two orders. First, as I have already pointed out, one instinct may impel an animal to a series of activities in which it employs in turn two or more such motor mechanisms or, in some cases, well-nigh its entire array of such mechanisms. Secondly, two or more instincts may in turn impel the animal to use the same motor mechanisms.

(454) Especially is this true of those motor mechanisms which subserve locomotion. The bird may use his powers of flight in the course of migration, of mating, of fighting, of escape from danger, of building his nest, of pursuing his prey. And the mammals of the various species illustrate the same truth, although perhaps in a less vivid manner than the birds. How then can any one pretend that an instinctive action is nothing more than the activation of a preformed motor mechanism of particular pattern? The adaptability of instinctive action to the circumstances of the moment is of its very essence; and this adaptability consists mainly in bringing into action first one, then another, motor mechanism, according as the circumstances of each moment require.

The critic of instinct may reply to this reasoning as follows: if your alleged instinct impels the animal to a varied sequence of movements in which it employs first this motor mechanism, then that, and presently another, by what right do you attribute all these different activities to one instinct? The reply is easy. An instinct is not defined by the kind or kinds of bodily activity to which it impels the animal, but rather by the nature of the objects and situations that evoke it and, more especially, by the nature of the goal, the change in the situation, in the object or in the animal's relation to it, to which the instinct impels. And, if it be asked — How do we ascertain the nature of the goal? we reply that, though in any particular instance we may be in doubt during observation of the train of action, repeated observation of animals of the same species in similar situations enables us to define the goal. Thus, by observing the courtship actions of many male pigeons, we learn the nature of the goal of that kind of activity evoked by that kind of object and situation. Or, after observing the nest-building activities of many

(455) birds of a particular species, we know the kind of goal, the specific form of nest, towards the production of which all the varied movements are directed. And we observe, not only that these activities tend to continue, or to be renewed again and again, until that goal is accomplished, but also, we observe that, as soon as that goal is attained, the activities of this general kind cease, to give place to a new cycle directed towards a different goal. An instinct is characterized, not by any one kind of movement, but rather by the general tendency of many different and variously combined movements to bring about some result that contributes to the welfare of the individual, or of the group, or of the species.

Observation of the animal affords in many cases yet another clue to the nature of the instinct at work in it, namely the signs or expressions of emotion which, though we may observe them very imperfectly and interpret them but crudely, are seldom lacking altogether. The animal which is pairing, or escaping, or fighting, or hunting, gives signs of an emotional excitement which are peculiar, more or less, to each such form of striving, no matter how varied may be the bodily movements primarily concerned in achieving the goal.[4]

( 456)

Inadequacy of the Reflex-Pattern Theory of Instinctive Action

Those who are concerned to deny or belittle the rôle of instinct in human and animal life commonly are content to imply that they can explain alleged instinctive behaviour by postulating in vague general terms a "reaction pattern" in the nervous system corresponding to every movement and attitude displayed, and by assuming that every such "action pattern" is brought into play by a specific combination of sensory stimuli. But they have never succeeded in demonstrating the validity of such interpretation in any single case of instinctive behaviour. Some such attempt has been made to show that the assumption of a gregarious instinct is unnecessary and therefore invalid. And gregarious behaviour is perhaps the most favorable to the attempt; for there is little in it that is highly specific, whether in the gross bodily movements or in the finer emotional expressions. The gregarious instinct expresses itself in the main very simply by means of the motor mechanisms of locomotion. All that is specific is the direction of the locomotory movements. The gregarious animal, isolated from his herd or flock, is apt to move about in a restless and apparently random fashion; but, as soon as he comes within sensory reach (by sight, or sound, or smell) of his

(457) company, his movements are at once directed towards it. It has been attempted to explain this comparatively simple instinctive behaviour by assuming that the gregarious animal is so constituted as to respond reflexly with an avoiding or retreating movement to all sense-impressions other than those which come to him from the herd. This ingenious assumption (which is founded not at all on fact, but only in the needs of the mechanical theorist) interprets the behaviour of the animal rejoining the herd as the consequence of a multitude of mechanical repulsions; it regards the movements which eventually bring him back into the herd, not as expressing in any sense a striving of the animal towards the herd, but as being merely a multitude of reflex movements which bring about in the end the restoration of the individual to the herd, because the herd is the only object from which proceed no stimuli provoking aversive reflex movements. Such theorizing is best refuted by the observation of simple instances of animal behaviour. Observe a horse or an ox turned into a meadow where a herd is grazing; see how he is at once interested in the distant herd and directs his movements towards it. Or note the behaviour of a horse, solitary in an enclosed meadow, when a troop of cavalry passes down the road, his excited calls, his lively approach, his endeavors to break out and join the herd.

I recently had the opportunity to observe continuously for more than half an hour a migrating flock of geese. They were traveling southward, and my car was running at the same speed and in the same direction. The flock preserved the familiar harrow formation; the shape of it varied from moment to moment, always returning towards the typical symmetrical form after each disturbance. This formation is in itself a profoundly interesting problem. But I was especially interested in the behaviour of

(458) those birds which from time to time became detached from the flock, singly or in twos and threes. In some cases they would rejoin the flock very soon; in others, one or two birds would become more widely separated and continue for some minutes to fly behind the flock and to one side of its path. Two birds, who kept close together, became separated from the flock by a distance which I judged to be at least two miles; they were a little behind and far to the eastward of the flock. I felt sure that they were lost; it seemed impossible that they should regain the flock save by happy chance. But, after flying thus widely separated for some ten minutes, they began to close the gap and soon were merged once more in the flock. The stragglers must have been guided by vision or hearing. Their visual power is known to be excellent ; and no calls were audible to me. The guiding impressions were presumably visual. That sense-impressions from the flock guided the impulse to rejoin it cannot be doubted. Far aloft in the blue of the sky there were no other visible objects to repel them. The flock itself was for them but a distant speck subtending a very small visual angle.

The mechanist, confronted with such facts, inclines to fall back on the theory of tropisms. Admitting that guiding sense-impressions came from the flock, he argues that these, falling on the sense-organs of the stragglers, provoke by way of a mechanical reflex, such action of the muscles concerned in flight as to turn the animals' path towards the flock. If we grant that this is conceivable, there remains the problem of the pace. The stragglers could only rejoin the flock by accelerating their pace; for they, having followed a divergent course, were distinctly behind the flock. The difference between the tropic theory and the instinct theory is, in this relatively

(459) simple instance, reduced to its simplest terms. Both theories postulate the guiding sense-impressions : the tropic theory assumes that they work by modifying the action of the muscles of flight through a mechanical reflex process. The instinct theory, on the other hand, assumes that the isolated situation of the straggler provokes in him an uneasiness, an excitement, an urge, a felt tendency to rejoin the flock, and that, when sense-impressions come to him from the flock, they are utilized by him in the way we call intelligent, at however low and simple a level of intelligence; they serve as the basis of an act of recognition, and this recognition guides and perhaps intensifies the urge, the hormic impulse, already at work in him, until this impulse attains its goal and is satisfied and allayed by the new situation, the near presence of the flock.

Even if we were to admit provisionally the plausibility of the mechanistic interpretation of the birds' behaviour in rejoining the flock, we should still have on our hands, in a rather different form, the same problem. For how are we to understand the fact that the flock of geese flies steadily southward, maintaining its course over thousands of miles, resting here and there perhaps at long intervals and resuming its southward flight after each pause? Here no external compulsion by sense-impressions evoking reflexes will explain the facts; and so the mechanist falls back on internal sense-impressions. Now we certainly may postulate some cyclic organic change, dependent perhaps in some degree on climatic - conditions, which is a necessary condition of the impulse to migration; and we must assume that sense-impressions from the outer world play some part in enabling the birds to maintain the direction of their migratory flight. But these internal and external impressions only serve to

( 460) awaken and guide the impulse to migrate which sustains the immense output of energy displayed.

It is in respect of such simple facts of animal behaviour as the rejoining of the herd, or the return home from a distance, that the mechanical theory which would deny all instinctive activity should most easily achieve some plausible explanations. The capacity of "homing,"of returning from a distance to the nest or lair or hole, is displayed by a great number of animal species ; it presents a crucial problem to the mechanical theorizers; and some of them have attempted to deal with it on the basis of the tropic theory, there being no other line that offers them the least prospect of success. In my "Outline of Psychology" I have examined these attempts in some detail and have shown that they break down hopelessly; and have shown further that the only way in which we can interpret or in any sense understand such behaviour on the part of animals is to interpret it in the light of our own experience and behaviour in similar situations. In short we are compelled to regard the return home of the animal as a train of activity sustained by an impulse or desire and guided by intelligent recognition of various landmarks previously perceived in their spatial relations to the home.

Relation of Instinct to Intelligence

The consideration of homing is especially instructive, not only because it reveals clearly the inadequacy of all attempts at mechanical explanation of the facts, but also because it illustrates another fact of fundamental importance, namely, the intimate coöperation and mutual dependence of what we call instinct and intelligence, respectively. By an intellectual process of abstraction we distinguish instinct and intelligence as two functions or faculties; and some authors, notably Professor Bergson,

(461) go so far as to regard them as radically different and, in a sense, opposed functions; alleging that, while the insects have evolved along the line of increasing specialization of instinct, the mammals have evolved along a very different line, namely one of supersession of instinct by intelligence. But this separation of instinct from intelligence is effected by a misleading process of abstraction. In reality, instinctive action everywhere displays that adaptability to special circumstances which is the mark of intelligence ; instinct is everywhere shot through with intelligence, no matter how constantly, in how routine a fashion, a particular mode of instinctive behaviour may be repeated. Where the routine specialized behaviour suffices, there no special adaptation of the inborn mode of action is made; but where the inborn mode of action does not suffice for the attainment of the natural goal of the instinct, there some adaptation, or some effort at adaptation, is made. And intelligence, on the other hand, works always in the service of some conation, some tendency, some desire or intention, rooted in and springing from our instinctive constitution.

The foregoing discussion has been directed against the attempt to discredit the theory of instinct by showing that all animal and human behaviour may be adequately interpreted mechanistically, i.e., solely by reference to physical and chemical causes of movements, without making use of the conception of a goal or of an impulse directed to a goal. This mechanistic endeavor has been made in the main by the members of the school of Behaviourists, that school which, in endeavoring to interpret human and animal behaviour, perversely refuses to make use of such aid as we can obtain by reflection upon our own experience, our own introspective observations and the introspective reports of other men. But there are

( 462) members of this school who see that the conceptions of a goal and of striving towards a goal are useful and that, in the present state of science, they are indispensable. Prof. E. C. Tolman classes himself as a member of the Behaviourist School because he harbors this strange prejudice, observes this perverse self-denying ordinance, against making use of introspection. It is interesting, therefore, to find that, in a series of papers dealing with this problem, he frankly avows the inadequacy of the mechanistic categories and admits the propriety and the advantage of using the teleological conceptions of goal, end, and purposive striving. In a recent article[5] he carefully examines the various arguments against the conception of instinct and finds them to be invalid, shows the inadequacy of the mechanical reflex theory, and concludes that instinct is a useful conception and that any instinct is to be defined in terms of the end or goal towards which the instinctive action tends. Countless observations of the variability and adaptability of instinctive behaviour have, he says, " given the pure reflex-pattern theory its final coup de gràce." And he quotes with approval Professor Hocking, who says, " It may be admitted at once that the explanation of instinctive behaviour by the chain-reflex pattern has definitely broken down."

The contention that instinctive behaviour is nothing more than a train or chain of reflex actions, of mechanical responses to physical stimuli, is the principal objection to the theory of instincts brought forward by its critics. But many of them insist also on another objection which may at first sight seem to have a certain plausibility. The psychology of instinct, they say, is merely the old fallacious faculty psychology served up in a different form. And they point to the usage of numerous authors

( 463) who, in the course of literary or social studies, inevitably come upon psychological problems and solve them by the easy method of postulating corresponding instincts in the human race or in the particular individuals concerned. And they support this charge, somewhat irrelevantly, by pointing out that the various authors who have attempted to deal with the problems of instinct in a more scientific manner are not agreed as to what instincts are common to the human race, some postulating few and others many human instincts. I have examined this and various other criticisms at some length elsewhere.[6] Here it may suffice to cite the concise refutation of this criticism made by Professor Tolman. " The assumption of instincts, it is said, is similar to the now discredited assumption of mental faculties. For the `instincts' are mere class names which the instinct psychologists have elevated to the rank of potencies. The charge is leveled most directly at the teleological theories. These theories are said to assume mystical drives or forces behind the actual responses. But the assumption of such forces adds nothing to a causal and descriptive explanation of the phenomena. Is the indictment sound? Are the teleological definitions, in any serious sense, a return to faulty psychology? It would hardly seem so. For how else can we so simply and easily describe such empirical facts as that, with constant environmental conditions, one and the same external stimulus will, in the same individual on one occasion arouse one response and on another occasion a quite different response, and that one

( 464) and the same stimulus will arouse two quite different responses in two different individuals, except by assuming varying degrees of instinctive proclivity? For as McDougall points out: ` the correct ascription of an action, or a phase of behaviour, to a particular instinct enables us to forecast the further course of behaviour.' It is because there are observable functional interdependencies,common wakings and wanings, common references to preceding causal excitement, that we find the concept of instincts a simple and useful descriptive tool. In one individual, we say, a given instinct is relatively weak, in another relatively strong; and in the case of one and the same individual, we say that it is easily touched off by such and such a set of conditions but not by such and such another set of conditions. Or, again, we discover that for the species as a whole its liveliness is thus and thus functionally dependent upon such general conditions as age, internal physiological conditions, etc."

We see, then, that even the behaviourist (provided that he is not committed to that form of the doctrine which Professor Tolman contemptuously refers to as " a mere Muscle Twitchism of the Watsonian variety ") finds that the conception of instinct is indispensable.

Theory of Human Instincts Maintained by Other Authors

The theory of human instincts as the prime movers of all human activity, although it has evoked much scepticism and adverse criticism since it was propounded in this book, has also received much support.

Professor James Dreyer published, in the year 1911, his book, " Instinct in Man," in which he reviewed in a very critical manner all the extensive literature of the topic and arrived at the conclusion that the view set

( 465) forth in this book is in the main correct, though he pro-posed certain modifications of its secondary features.

Many other authors have approved in a general way the same view and have made use of it in many different ways. Some of them, by applying the theory in an indiscriminating fashion, have given the critics of instinct many openings for attack. Yet, on the whole, the approval of so many authors and their application of the theory in so many diverse fields of practical psychology may be claimed as substantial evidence of its usefulness and therefore of its approximation towards truth.

The Psycho-Analysts

The instinct theory propounded in this book as the most fundamental part of human psychology finds strong support in the successes of the psycho-analytic movement. This book was written at a time when Professor Freud's doctrines were only just beginning to make a noise in the world; and it was written in entire independence, and almost complete ignorance, of Freud's works. It is, therefore, very satisfactory to find that the psycho-analysts, approaching the problem of human nature exclusively by way of the study of mental and nervous disorders in the human subject, have arrived at the same fundamental theory of human nature as that reached in these pages by way of a comparative psychology based upon the hypothesis of the continuity of human with animal evolution. For, however little one may incline to accept the more detailed and speculative hypotheses of the psycho-analysts, there is no room for question that the psycho-analytic movement has achieved striking successes, has been productive of very great and rapid progress in the sphere of mental medicine, and has established as lasting contributions to psychology

(466) a number of conceptions of the greatest value, conceptions such as conflict, repression, regression, sublimation and rationalization.[7]

The psycho-analysts are now divided into several schools; but all the schools retain those features of the parent school of Freud to which it has chiefly owed its success. Those features are the following: first, the full recognition of the hormic or purposive nature of man; the recognition that all his activities, even his dreams and his neurotic symptoms, are in a sense products of a purposive activity, a striving towards goals, however obscure or ill-defined in consciousness those goals may be. Secondly, all the psycho-analytic schools recognize that the strivings, the active tendencies, the desires and impulses of men, are rooted in instincts common to the race.

It is true that the psycho-analysts have made little attempt to define the human instincts. But that has been due to their unfortunate neglect of the comparative method and to Professor Freud's undue extension of the sphere of influence of a single instinct, namely the sex instinct. Impressed by the immense strength and influence in human life of the sex instinct, his attention became concentrated upon it, and, as he found it necessary to recognize various other instinctive tendencies, such as curiosity, disgust, self-assertion, submission, and acquisitiveness, he has endeavored to exhibit them as in some sense derivatives of, or components of, the sex instinct. However, even Freud does not carry this tendency to the extreme of denying all other human instincts; he recognizes, however vaguely and inadequately, a group

(468) of instincts which he calls " the ego instincts " and which he regards as perpetually conflicting with the sex instinct or group of sex instincts. In a recent publication Freud has declared that the most satisfactory way of approaching the problems of human nature, if such a way were practicable, would have been to study and define as nearly as possible the array of human instincts: thus indirectly admitting the truth of the charge that his own psychology has been seriously handicapped and led astray through his neglect to make any such preliminary study.[8] And one of the leading British exponents of the Freudian psychology has recently formulated the foundations of that psychology in words which are a paraphrase of the much-quoted statement of the rôle of instinct in human life contained in the concluding paragraphs of Chapter II of this book (page 45). Dr. J. Glover writes as follows: " What might be called the raw material of the individual, namely those inherited instincts which, in spite of subsequent complex changes, remain throughout life the hidden sources of all his manifold activities." And on another page he writes: " Psycho-analysis has demonstrated a firm genetic continuity between the earliest nascent manifestations of these instincts and their most complicated and remote end-products. This range of indirect expression is especially marked in the case of energy derived from the sexual instincts. "[9]

Besides the psycho-analysts proper, many medical psychologists, finding in Freud's teaching much that

( 469) is important and true combined with much that they cannot accept, have based their interpretations of mental and nervous disorder on the psychology of instinct. Dr. Morton Prince in particular has applied the teachings of this book to the interpretation of some of his remark-able and famous cases of multiple personality. And among other influential medical psychologists of this group, I would mention especially the late W. H. R. Rivers and Dr. Bernard Hart. In a recent lecture, the latter has said: " The recognition of the importance of instinct in the functioning of the human mind may be said to be the keynote of modern psychology."

Recent Developments of German Psychology Favorable to the Instinct-Theory — The Gestalt School

It seems worth while to draw attention to the fact that a new and very influential school of German psychologists is just now actively developing a type of psychology which stands much closer to the teachings of this book than did the psychology predominant in Germany under the leadership of Wundt, Ebbinghaus, and Müller. I refer to the school of Gestalt or configuration psychology, led by Professors Koehler, Wertheimer, and Koffka. The essential novelty (for German psychology) of the teaching of this school is the repudiation of atomistic sensationism, the recognition that our mental life and the course of experience cannot be adequately or usefully described as a streaming and clustering of atoms of consciousness called sensations or images or feelings or by any other name. It is recognized that any cross-section of experience is a structural whole, the distinguish-able features of which are not entities capable of independent existence, like the bricks of a wall or the pieces of a mosaic picture, but rather are parts of a whole of

(469) which each part is organically related to all the rest, and that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. I venture to think that, when this school shall have fully developed its doctrine and applied it to the temporal succession of experience as well as to the coexistent parts of the cross-sections of experience, it must advance to the position which I have long held and taught; namely, that that which has a definite Gestalt or configuration is not the pattern of experience, taken either in cross-section or longitudinally or in both ways, but rather the structure of the mind, the mental dispositions whose activity and interplay underlie and express themselves both in the introspectively observable facts and in the facts of behaviour. At present the Gestalt or configuration has, to my thinking, too much of the flavor of the entities out of which the older psychologies composed their " consciousness," namely sensations, images, and ideas, and what not. The Gestalt is, it is true, a vast improvement upon these older entities; but it retains something in common with them as one of a number of similar units by the juxtaposition of which " consciousness " is supposed to be compounded.

More important from the point of view of the present discussion is the fact that the Gestalt psychology frankly rejects the mechanical accounts of human and animal behaviour based upon the conception of the mechanical reflex. The leaders of this new school rightly point out that it is impossible to interpret the complexities and niceties of behaviour as achieved by the mechanical coördination of a multitude of mechanical reflexes, and that the life of the organism cannot be conceived as merely the working of a vast number of linked machines. They aim at establishing in biology and psychology a position midway between the old mechanistic theory and

(470) the vitalistic views. As regards the ultimate nature of the processes of the body, and especially those of the nervous system, they are open-minded. They admit that these processes may perhaps be more truly described as of the hormic than as of the mechanistic or strictly causal type. They reserve judgment on this deep question. But they do not, like the dogmatic mechanists, insist that we must put aside and ignore as illusory our experience of activity, of active purposive striving. Rather, they recognize that our life is fundamentally a series of such strivings. It is true that they are somewhat chary of using the language of common sense. What German philosopher is not? But they recognize the facts of striving toward goals and the fact that we cannot begin to describe human or animal life in any terminology that does not provide words for taking account of such facts. And so they make use of a new terminology for this purpose. Professor Koffka, for example, uses the expression " closure," and says that the psycho-physical process tends to " closure," a new way of saying that it tends towards a natural end or goal. And they have devised ingenious experiments which show that animals do not act like machines, that their learning is not subject only to the so-called laws of habit-formation and of association, the laws of frequency and recency, but that the animals solve their problems by intelligently appreciating the situation confronting them and adapting their behaviour accordingly.

In his extremely important study, "The Mentality of Apes," Professor Koehler completely demolishes the attempts at mechanical explanations in terms of habits and associations of chance reactions. After describing the behaviour of chimpanzees under a variety of ingeniously devised situations, devised not to show how little but

( 471) rather how much the animal can achieve, he writes : " It would be simply nonsense to assert that the animal has gone through special combinations of accidental impulses for all these different cases and variations. Success is supposed [i.e., by the mechanical theorizers he is criticizing] to have selected and joined together the objectively suitable combinations out of all those that occurred. But the animals produce complete methods of solution, quite suddenly, and as complete wholes which may, in a certain sense, be absolutely appropriate to the situation, and yet cannot be carried out. They can never have had any success with them, and, therefore, such methods were certainly never practiced formerly (as they would have had to be, according to the theory). . . . After all this, as far as I can see, even an adherent of the theory must recognize that the reports of experiments here given do not support his explanation. The more he tries to advance more valuable data than the general scheme of his theory, and really thinks out and shows how he would explain and interpret all the experiments in detail, the more will he realize that he is attempting something impossible." In short, Koehler shows very clearly that the animals' behaviour can only be validly interpreted by attributing to them in some degree insight and understanding of the situations they have to deal with, or, in other words, intelligence.

I would especially draw the reader's attention to the Appendix to Professor Koehler's book; there he has briefly reported a number of observations on the emotional and impulsive life of the chimpanzees. His descriptions show very clearly that these animals display all, or almost all, of the primary emotions and instinctive impulses attributed in this book to the human species, and that these emotions and impulses are called forth by just

(472) such situations as have been stated in these pages. This is especially clear as regards anger, fear, especially fear of the uncanny, self-assertion, submission, the tender emotion and protective impulse, sex, gregariousness, curiosity, distress, and the acquisitive impulse. He describes instances of behaviour which illustrate in the most vivid manner the working of the principle of primitive passive sympathy. And his description and discussion of imitative acts bears out entirely the view of imitation taken in these pages, namely, that there is no instinct of imitation, but rather that such slight general capacity of imitation as these animals display implies their intelligent appreciation of actions as means to the goals they desire to attain.

The critics of the instinct-theory find much comfort in the fact that its exponents do not agree as to the number and the definition of the human instincts; they point to the long lists of some authors and the short lists of others, with the implication that a theory whose exponents disagree so widely in detail must be wholly false. They seem to demand that any theory of instincts must, if it is to be acceptable, spring full-blown and perfect from the brain of its propounder. As well might they reject the theory of the chemical elements on the ground that, when John Dalton first expounded it, the theory was incomplete and has since undergone many changes in the way of improvements and refinements. The oft-repeated jibes at the lists of human instincts are as out of place as would be similar jibes at the constantly changing list of chemical elements. It would be presumptuous to pretend to draw up a final and completed list of the human instincts. But it is, perhaps, worth while to attempt to make the list as complete as the present state of knowledge allows. The instincts defined in the

(473) first edition of this book have, I venture to think, with-stood the fires of criticism remarkably well. They have been accepted uncritically, if provisionally, by a great many authors, and more or less critically, with some few proposed modifications, by many others. They may even be said, I think, to have been incorporated in orthodox British psychology. Further observation and reflection has led me to add to the list several instincts which perhaps are of minor importance for social psychology but of which one at least, the instinct of laughter, is of great theoretical interest.


  1. Two authors share the responsibility for the introduction of this useful word into our psychological vocabulary; namely, Prof. T. P. Nunn and Dr. C. G. Jung. The latter, writing of that energy which is expressed in instinctive strivings, says: " I postulate a hypothetical fundamental striving which I designate libido. In the classical use of the word, libido never had an exclusively sexual connotation as it has in medicine. The word interest, as Claparéde once suggested to me, could be used in this special sense, if this expression had today a less extensive application. Bergson's concept, élan vital, would also serve if this expression were less biological and more psychological. Libido is intended to be an energizing expression for psychological values. The psychological value is something active and determining; hence it can be regarded from the energic standpoint without any pretense of exact measurement."And, in a footnote, Jung adds: " This energy may also be designated as hormé. Hormé is a Greek word ôaµn — force, attack, press, impetuosity, violence, urgency, zeal. It is related to Bergson's élan vital. The concept hormé is an energic expression for psychological values." (Analytical Psychology, p. 347.)
    Professor Nunn, in his Education, its Data and First Principles, writes: " We need a name for the fundamental property expressed in the incessant adjustments and adventures that make up the tissue of life. We are directly aware of that property in our conscious activities as an element of ‘drive,' ` urge,' or felt tendency toward an end. Psychologists call it conation, and give the name conative process to any train of conscious activity which is dominated by such a drive — for instance, the reader's endeavor to understand the present sentence is a conative process in which a relatively complex system of mental acts moves towards a more or less clearly envisaged end. While the reader's mind is pursuing the printed argument, his neuro-muscular mechanisms are keeping his head aloft upon his shoulders, his digestive glands are dealing with his latest meal. None of these purposive processes may be called conative, for they lie below, even far below, the conscious level; yet a suprahuman spectator, who could watch our mental behaviour in the same direct way as we can observe physical events, would see them all as instances of the same class, variant in detail but alike in general plan. In other words, he would see that they all differ from purely mechanical processes by the presence of an internal ` drive.' . . . To this element of drive or urge, whether it occurs in the conscious life of men and the higher animals or in the unconscious behaviour of lower animals, we propose to give a simple name— hormé . In accordance with this proposal all the purposive processes of the organism are hormic processes, conative processes being the subclass whose members have the special marks of being conscious."
    According, then, to the usage proposed by these two eminent authors, hormé means purposive energy, or energy that manifests itself to us, objectively as well as subjectively in our immediate experience, as making for or striving towards a goal of some kind.
  2. This reaction against the conception of instinct has been most marked in America. Most of the authors who have taken up this attitude of negation belong to the school of Behaviourists. The reasoning and conclusions of this movement are well represented by Prof. L. L. Bernard's recent volume " Instinct."
  3. In this respect there is an important difference between the teaching of this book and the views of Mr. A. F. Shand, who is so frequently referred to as having put forward a view of instinct very similar to mine. Mr. Shand identifies the instinct with the motor mechanism, whereas I regard the latter merely as one of many similar mechanisms through which any one instinct may find expression.
  4. These bodily signs of emotion not only are constant in the individual and common to all members of the species, but also are, in many instances, common to all members of many allied species; a fact which indicates a common evolutionary origin and the antiquity and remarkable persistence of such constitutional peculiarities. It must be millions of years since the domestic cat and the leopard diverged from a common ancestral stock; yet the cat and the leopard display almost identical bodily signs of emotion; when angry, both crouch with belly touching the ground, snarling and growling, with tail lashing, hairs bristling. Recently I saw in a cage a leopard making a friendly approach to his keeper. His emotional expressions were as nearly as possible identical with those of a domestic cat when he rubs himself in friendly fashion against one's leg. The legs were straight, the back slightly arched, the tail held straight and vertically, except the tip, which was slightly bent over. In view of such facts the present endeavor of some biologists and psychologists to abolish the mystery of heredity by denying it all but a very slight influence on human and animal behaviour seems to me ridiculous. If we could describe in full the bodily signs of emotion in two such animals as the cat and the leopard, we should in all probability find that the similarity runs throughout, even to details of chemical changes, such as the composition of special hormones secreted.
  5. " The Nature of Instinct," Psychological Bulletin, 1923.
  6. In two articles published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, " The Use and Abuse of Instinct in Social Psychology " (1922) and " Can Sociology and Social Psychology dispense with Instincts? " (1924) and in two lectures, " Men or Robots? " published in the Pedagogical Seminary, February, 1925.
  7. For a critical evaluation of the contribution of the psycho-analytic schools, I may refer the reader to my " Outline of Abnormal Psychology," New York, 1926.
  8. In his recent work " Beyond the Pleasure Principle," Freud has written: " No knowledge would have been so important for the establishment of a sound psychology as some approximate under-standing of the common nature and possible differences of the instincts."
  9. " Social Aspects of Psycho-Analysis," London, 1924.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2