What is the meaning of animal instinct?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Instinct is an inherent behavior; a fixed action pattern that is unlearned.  Animals are born with certain instincts which are common to all those in their breed.  Some instinctual behaviors require a certain amount of maturation before they begin.  The most obvious one is the instinct to mate and propagate.  This "animal instinct" is, of course, inherent in human beings.  Psychoanalysts sometimes refer to this behavior and aggressions as motivational forces, rather than natural, or animal instincts.

Other behaviors in humans that have been considered instinctual are the reflexes, sleeping, disgust, face perception, language acquistions, fight or flight.  Some scientists think that it is instinctual for children to put everything in their mouth because this is how they tell their immune system about their environment.  However, other sociologists argue that humans have no true instincts, contending that there are simply "complex patterns of behavior." 

besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An instinct is a behavior that is acted out, not done by free will or choice. Animals react to things without thinking about it and the reaction they had was completely functional the first time they performed it.

Animal instinct may be hereditarily based. This means that traits are passed on from generation to generation. As time goes on, traits that are more likely to help the species survive remain, and traits that do not may eventually disappear. This is in direct relation to the preservation of the animal. This is also related to natural selection.

An example of an animal instinct is when baby ducks are born. They know from the moment that they hatch that they are supposed to follow their mother. This is so that they stay safe, learn from her, and survive. Survival is they key.

lebogar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From our vantage point, animals seem to have levels of behavior that would appear learned, but are not. Some of these behaviors include territirial marking and defense, the predator/prey relationship, protection of newborn and young, mating rituals, nest and den building, hunting techniques and so on.

When humans are referenced as having animal instincts it is used as an analogy for animal-like behavior. This analogy is seen more commonly in protection of young and mating or sex drive. Some may even think it applies to an uncanny sense of what to do in certain situations. 

The difference lies in the fact that humans do make choices on a different level than animals and much of our behavior is learned.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When applied to human beings, the term "animal instincts" refers to those of our urges that are not really logical.  These are the things that makes us seem less like thinking humans and more like animals, just reacting to our instincts.

Perhaps the most obvious animal instinct is our sex drive.  Sex has very little to do with thinking and a lot to do with instinct.  It drives us in ways that are not at all logical.

Another could be the instinct to defend ourselves and our families against outsiders.  We seem to have an instinctive preference for "our" people and we seem to want to defend them and our territory from others.

senyoreeta | Student

"Animal instincts" refers to those of our urges that are not really logical. ...