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  In the life sciences, the term instinct (Latin, ‘pricked in’) is generally used to describe animal behaviour which is not learned. In antiquity, it was considered that most animal behaviour was governed by innate impulses. Although many conceded that animals could show intelligence, most philosophers denied that animals reasoned when performing functions such as nest-building in birds or web-weaving in spiders. Avicenna (980 - 1037) defined instinctive behaviour as that which was performed invariably; this definition persisted into the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries some, such as Erasmus Darwin, admitted that animals could reason. This developed into the idea that animals exhibited habitual behaviour because their environment was relatively constant. This was explained by Charles Darwin as the action of natural selection on inheritable behaviour patterns. In the modern context, ethologists (see ethology) recognize that instinct is represented by behaviour which is substantially determined by genetic information, and thus under the influence of natural selection, but that there is an element of environmental stimulation in all behaviour.

Instincts are a vital part of Freud\'s psychological theories. He assumed that all human behaviour is governed by instinct. Before 1920, he thought that the two instinctual drives in man were the sexual instinct (a general drive towards physical pleasure) and the ego instinct (which strives towards self-preservation. Hunger and fear, for example, are responses to reality made possible by the ego instinct.) Freud regarded psychological phenomena as being the result of conflict between these two opposing instincts. The sexual, instinctual wishes strive for realization and the ego instinct acts to repress them.

The phenomenon of narcissism upset this picture because it did not fit neatly into either category. Narcissism was seen as an over-active ego instinct striving for self-preservation and aggrandisement, but it also led to a lack of sexual drive. Freud could no longer satisfactorily separate out the instincts into the two categories: sexual and ego instincts. He solved the problem by subdividing the sexual instinct into object and ego libido. In this way the instincts came from the same libidinal force and the two aspects of narcissism could be accounted for. But this now meant that sexual libido and object (ego) libido came from the same source of energy: human beings were motivated by a single drive. This no longer accounted adequately for the conflict and compromise in human nature. In 1920, therefore, Freud postulated a new instinctual drive: the death instinct. There were once again two opposing instincts, the sexual instinct and the death instinct. MJ RB

See also sociobiology; thought.Further reading Raymond E. Fancher, Psychoanalytical Psychology, The Development of Freud\'s Thought.



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