Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology

Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology

Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology

Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology

Excerpt

This volume of selected experiments and articles provides the reader with a firsthand experience with the literature produced by psychologists and workers in the biological sciences who have addressed themselves to the problems posed by the order and regularity of the behavior of infrahumans. Though a problem faced by philosophers since antiquity, as Beach succinctly shows, the advent of a scientific psychology insured that the many complex and mysterious behavior patterns which reliably appear in the life cycle of a species would become a primary field of study. We begin with William James because his treatment of the subject gives the first hint that empirical studies were to become increasingly important as a means of resolving issues, while his theoretical treatment sets the question as one of learning vs. heredity--the form it was to have for half a century.

Posing the question this way determined the design of experiments. One of the two variables had to be controlled while variation in the other was observed. It is interesting that those experiments which were to become classic examples of this technique led their authors to the position that such a statement of the problem was much too simple to do justice to the processes being studied. Both Kuo and Carmichael make a strong plea for the recasting of the problem as one of identification and study of both physiological and situational variables and their interaction. A similar conclusion is reached by Lashley in 1938.

But there were difficulties in the way of this step. Bernard's review showed that theorists who preferred the instinct-learning distinction were those who felt the phenomena of instinctual events to be self-evident. Everyone knew that birds build nests without practice, and no amount of reductionism could possibly account for such a complex end product as an oriole's nest. Indeed, it was the logical assault on the term which damped . . .

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