Psychology - A Study Of Mental Life
by Robert S. Woodworth
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1. Outline the chapter.

2. When does the individual come into existence as an individual? When does he begin to acquire traits? How long does he continue to unfold his native traits, and how long does he continue to acquire traits?

3. Which of the following elements of spoken language are native, and which acquired?

(a) Production of voice by the vocal cords and air blast from the lungs.

(b) Varying the voice in loudness.

(c) Varying the voice in pitch.

(d) Production of vowels by different positions of the mouth.

(e) Production of consonants by lip and tongue movements.

(f) Combination of vowels and consonants into words.

(g) Combination of words into idioms and grammatical sentences,

(h) Attachment of meanings to words.

(i) Sweet-toned voice.

(j) Nasal twang.

(k) Fluency in speaking.

4. In each of the following reactions, decide whether the connection of stimulus and response is probably native or acquired:

Stimulus Response

(a) a sudden noise starting

(b) a bright light blinking

(c) a bright light shading your eyes

(d) cold putting on coat

(e) cold shivering

(f) sight of a ball reaching for it

(g) ball in the hand throwing it

(h) slipping righting yourself

(i) row of objects counting them

(j) insulting language anger


Edward L. Thorndike, in Chapter I of his Educational Psychology, Briefer Course, 1914, gives a general survey of the native factors in mental life and behavior.


Hollingworth and Poffenberger, in their Applied Psychology, 1917, devote Chapters II and III to the matter of mental heredity.

Norsworthy and Whitley, in their Psychology of Childhood, devote Chapters I and II to "original nature".

C. B. Davenport, in his Heredity and Eugenics, presents evidence of the importance of heredity in determining mental and moral traits.

Yerkes and Bloomfleld, in a short article in the Psychological Bulletin for 1910, Vol. 7, pp. 253-263, under the title, "Do Kittens Instinctively Kill Mice?", furnish a good illustration of the method employed in distinguishing native from acquired reactions.





Instinct is native behavior. It is contrasted with habit, knowledge, or anything in the way of learned reactions. When the mother wasp gathers a store of food suitable for young wasps, lays eggs beside the food and covers the whole with a wall of mud, we know that her behavior is instinctive because she has had no possible chance to learn from older wasps. She has never seen a wasp's nest made, for when the last preceding crop of nests was being made she was herself an unhatched egg. Therefore, she cannot possibly know the use of the nest with its eggs and store of food. She has no "reason" for building the nest, no ulterior purpose, but is impelled to build the nest, simply and solely for the sake of doing just that thing. Thus instinct is contrasted with calculated or reasoned action as well as with learned action. Calculated action is based on knowledge of cause and effect, and this knowledge is acquired by the individual in the course of his experience; but instinct is not based on the individual's experience, but only on his native constitution.

The case of the baby eating is exactly the same as that of the wasp. The baby has not learned to eat, he knows nothing of the use of food and therefore has no ulterior purpose in eating, he does not reason about the matter, but eats simply because hunger is a native impulse to eat. {106} Eating is an end in itself to a hungry baby, and not a means to some further end; and that is what eating continues to be even to the hungry adult, however much he may learn about the use of food in maintaining life. From a broad philosophical point of view, instinct may be seen to work towards some great end, such as the preservation of the individual or the propagation of the race, but from the individual's own point of view, it is directed simply towards the performance of some particular act, or the accomplishment of some particular result.

If instinct, as a collective term, means native behavior, "an instinct" is a unit of such behavior. Or, it is some unit of native organization that equips the individual to behave in a certain way. Different species of animals have different instincts, i.e., they are differently organized by nature. The differences of organization lie partly in the equipment of sense organs, partly in the equipment of motor organs, and partly in the nerves and nerve centers that, being themselves aroused by way of the sense organs, in turn arouse the motor organs.

The dependence of instinct on sensory equipment becomes clear when we think of animals possessing senses that human beings lack. The instinct of dogs to follow the scent depends on their keen sense of smell. Bees have something akin to a sense of taste in their feet, and follow their own trails by tasting them. Fishes have special sense organs along their sides that are stimulated by water currents, and it is in response to this stimulus that the fish instinctively keeps his head turned upstream.

The dependence of instinct on motor equipment is still more obvious. The flying instinct of birds depends on the possession of wings, and the swimming instinct of the seal depends on the fact that his limbs have the peculiar form of flippers. The firefly instinctively makes flashes of light, {107} and the electric eel instinctively discharges his electric organ and gives his enemy a shock.

But the core of an instinct is to be sought in the nerve centers, since it is there that the cooerdination of the muscles is accomplished. A wing or flipper would be of no use unless its muscles were excited to action by the nerve centers, and it would be of very little use unless the nerve centers were so organized as to arouse the muscles in a certain combination, and with a certain force and rhythm. In terms of the nervous system, an instinct is the activity of a team of neurones so organized, and so connected with muscles and sense organs, as to arouse certain motor reactions in response to certain sensory stimuli.

The Difference Between an Instinct and a Reflex

What we have said regarding instinct thus far could equally well be said of reflex action. A reflex is a native reaction, and it is taken care of by a team of neurones in the way just stated. We might speak of a reflex as "instinctive", using this adjective as equivalent to "native"; but we should shrink for some reason from speaking of the pupillary reflex to light as an instinct, or of the "knee jerk instinct", or the "swallowing instinct", or the "flexion instinct". There is some difference between the typical reflex and the typical instinct, though it is not very obvious what the difference is.

The typical reflex is a much simpler act than the typical instinct, but it is impossible to separate the two classes on this basis. At the best, this would be a difference of degree and not of kind. Among reflexes, some are simpler than others, but even the simplest is compound in the sense of being a cooerdinated movement. The knee jerk is simpler than the flexion reflex, and this is simpler than the scratch {108} reflex, which consists of a rapid alternation of flexion and extension by one leg, while the other is stiffly extended and supports the trunk. Coughing, which would be called a reflex rather than an instinct, consists of a similar alternation of inspiration and forced expiration, and swallowing consists of a series of tongue, throat and gullet movements. These compound reflexes show that we cannot accept the simple definition that is sometimes given for an instinct, that it is a compound of reflexes. Such a definition would place coughing and swallowing among the instincts, and so do violence to the ordinary use of the word. In point of complexity, we find a graded series ranging from the pupillary reflex at one extreme to the nesting or mating instinct at the other, and no sharp line can be drawn on this score between the reflexes and the instincts.

Another distinction has been attempted on the basis of consciousness. Typically, it may be said, a reflex works automatically and unconsciously, while an instinct is consciously impulsive. The reflex, accordingly, would be an unconscious reaction, the instinct a conscious reaction. But this distinction also breaks down on examination of cases. The pupillary reflex, to be sure, is entirely unconscious. But the flexion reflex is a little different. When unimpeded, it occurs so promptly that we are scarcely aware of the painful stimulus before the reaction has occurred. But let the reaction be hindered—either voluntarily or, for instance, by the foot being seized and held—and a strong conscious impulse is felt to pull the leg away; so that here the flexion reflex would belong among the instincts, according to the proposed distinction.

Similar remarks would apply equally well to coughing, since a strong impulse to cough is felt if the coughing movement is checked. Sneezing, a protective reflex, is usually a slow reaction, giving time for a conscious impulse to {109} sneeze before the reaction takes place. The same is true of scratching and of swallowing, and of a number of other reflexes. In short, it is impossible to draw a satisfactory line between reflexes and instincts on the basis of conscious impulse.

These cases point the way, however, to what is probably the best distinction. It was when the flexion reflex was delayed that it began to look like an instinct, and it was because sneezing was a slow response that it had something of the character of an instinct. Typically, a reflex is a prompt reaction. It occurs at once, on the occurrence of its stimulus, and is done with. What is characteristic of the instinct, on the contrary, is the persisting "tendency", set up by a given stimulus, and directed towards a result which cannot be instantly accomplished.

An Instinct Is a Native Reaction-Tendency

We would propose, then, to consider an instinct as an inner adjustment, or tendency to reaction. It is this, rather than just a reaction. When a stimulus promptly arouses a reaction, and that ends the matter, we speak of reflex action—provided, of course, the connection between stimulus and response is native. But when a stimulus sets up a tendency to a reaction that cannot be immediately executed, or towards an end-result which cannot immediately be reached, and when the tendency so aroused persists for a time in activity, and gives rise to preparatory reactions, then we speak of instinct.

The "broody" hen makes a good picture of instinct. When in this condition she responds to a nestful of eggs, as she does not at other times, by sitting persistently on them and keeping them covered. She is in a certain "organic state" that facilitates this response. In the absence {110} of any nestful of eggs, she shows a peculiar restless behavior that indicates to one who knows hens that this one "wants to set." The tendency that has been awakened in her cannot be satisfied by any momentary act, but persists and governs her actions for a considerable period.

The nesting instinct of birds affords a still more complete example. The end-result here, the finished nest, cannot be instantly had, and the pair of birds keep on gathering materials and putting them together until this end-result is present before their eyes. It is not necessary to suppose that the birds have any plan or mental image of what the nest is to be like; probably not. But their state, in the nest-building season, is such that they are impelled to build, and the tendency is not quieted till the completed nest is there.

The mating instinct, in unsophisticated members of the human species, is another perfect example. So is the hunting instinct in a dog; when this instinct is aroused, the animal makes a lot of movements of various sorts, responses to various particular stimuli, but evidently these movements are not sufficient to quiet the tendency, for they continue till the prey is captured. The behavior of a gregarious animal when separated from his fellows shows the same sort of thing. Take a young chick out of the brood and fence it away from the rest. It "peeps" and runs about, attacking the fence at different points; but such reactions evidently do not bring satisfaction, for it varies them until, if a way out of the inclosure has been left, it reaches the other chicks, when this series of acts terminates, and gives way to something quite different, such as pecking for food.

The persisting tendency does not produce the series of movements all by itself, but, as was explained in speaking of tendencies in general, cooeperates with sensory stimuli in producing them. Clearly enough, the nest-building bird, {111} picking up a twig, is reacting to that twig. He does not peck at random, as if driven by a mere blind impulsion to peck. He reacts to twigs, to the crotch in the tree, to the half-built nest. Only, he would not react to these stimuli unless the nesting fit were on him. The nest-building tendency favors response to certain stimuli, and not to others; it facilitates certain reactions and inhibits others. It facilitates reactions that are preparatory to the end-result, and inhibits others.

Fully and Partially Organized Instincts

Insects afford the best examples of very highly organized instincts. Their behavior is extremely regular and predictable, their progress towards the end-result of an instinct remarkably straightforward and sure. They make few mistakes, and do not have to potter around. By contrast, the instincts of mammals are rather loosely organized. Mammals are more plastic, more adaptable, and at the same time less sure; and this is notably true of man. It would be a mistake to suppose that man has few instinctive tendencies; perhaps he has more than any other creature. But his instinctive behavior has not the hard-and-fast, ready-made character that we see in the insects. Man is by all odds the most pottering, hem-and-hawing of animals. Instinct does not lead him straight to his goal, but makes him seek this way and that till he finds it. His powers of observation, memory and thought are drawn into the game, and thus instinct in man is complicated and partly concealed by learning and reasoning.

For example, when an insect needs a nest, it proceeds in orderly fashion to construct a nest of the pattern instinctive to that species of insect; but when a man needs a home, he goes about it in a variable, try-and-try-again {112} manner, scheming, experimenting, getting suggestions from other people, and finally producing—a dugout, a tree house; a wigwam, a cliff dwelling—something that differs altogether from many other human habitations, except in the fact that it is a habitation and thus satisfies a need which is undoubtedly as instinctive in man as in the insect.

A fully organized instinct is one where the necessary preparatory reactions are linked up closely with the main reaction-tendency, so that, once the main tendency is aroused to activity, the preparatory reactions follow with great sureness. The main team of neurones is closely connected with the subordinate teams that give the preparatory reactions; and these connections do not have to be acquired by experience and training, but are well formed by native growth. Just the right preparatory reactions are linked to the main tendency, so that the whole series of acts is run off with great regularity.

In a loosely organized instinct, the main tendency is not firmly linked with any specific preparatory reactions, but is loosely linked with a great many preparatory reactions, and so gives quite variable behavior, which, however, leads on the whole towards the main goal.

While a creature under the spell of a fully organized instinct is busy, one driven by a loosely organized instinct may be better described as restless. He tries this thing and that, and goes through the kind of behavior that is called "trial and error". A closely knit instinct, then, gives a perfectly definite series of preparatory reactions, while a loosely organized instinct gives trial and error behavior. We shall see later how trial and error furnishes a starting point for learning, and how, in an animal that can learn, those among the trial-and-error reactions that are actually preparatory to the end-result become firmly attached to the main tendency, so that what was by native constitution a loosely {113} organized instinct may become, through the individual's experience, a closely organized habit. If a man has occasion to build himself many homes, he comes, after a while, to build almost as uniformly and surely as an insect.

Instincts Are Not Ancestral Habits

The theory of inheritance of acquired traits has gone by the board; biologists no longer accept it. Such traits as an individual's tanned skin acquired by living in the tropics, horny hands acquired by hard labor, immunity to measles acquired by having measles, big muscular development acquired by gymnastics, are not transmitted by heredity to the children of the individual who acquired these traits.

Nor are acquired behavior traits transmitted by heredity. Learned reactions are not so transmitted, knowledge is not, acquired skill is not. Learn to cook, to typewrite, or pilot an airplane as perfectly as possible, and your child will still have to learn all over again. You may make your experience valuable to him by teaching him, but not in the way of heredity.

Language affords a good test of this matter. A child's parents, and all his ancestors for many generations, may have spoken the same language, but that does not relieve the child of the necessity of learning that language. He does not inherit the language habits of his ancestors. He has no native tendency to say "dog", or "chien", or "hund", on sight of this animal. Here in America we have children born of stocks that have spoken foreign languages for many generations; but English becomes their "native tongue" after a generation or two here, that is to say, as soon as the child hears English from infancy.

In short, there is no likelihood whatever that any instinct {114} ever originated out of a habit or learned reaction. If we could believe it had so originated, that would furnish an easy explanation of the origin of an instinct; but it is contrary to all the known facts.

Instincts Not Necessarily Useful in the Struggle for Existence

Some of the best-known instincts, such as feeding or mating—or hunting, or flight from danger, or the hibernation of frogs—are so essential for the survival of the individual or the propagation of the next generation that we tend to assume that all instinctive behavior has "survival value", value, that is, towards the survival of the individual or of the race. But this is an assumption, and it seems not to be borne out by actual observations of instinctive behavior, since, along with the definitely useful reactions, others occur that would seem to have no survival value. Perhaps the crowing of the rooster at dawn would be a case in point; or the elaborate bowing that is observed in some kinds of birds. And there are the less definite, rather random movements of squirming, kicking, running about, wrinkling up the face, etc., that appear in young animals. We may well hesitate before definitely asserting that these movements are of no use for survival, but at least their use is not obvious, and there is no reason for assuming that all instinctive behavior must necessarily be useful.

To be sure, the "struggle for existence" would eliminate individuals who behaved in ways that seriously handicapped them in procuring food or escaping from enemies; and therefore we should not expect to find really harmful instincts preserved in the race. But a mode of behavior might be neutral in this respect, or even slightly disadvantageous, and yet not be weeded out unless the struggle for existence were very keen.


The main point is that the psychologist should take instinctive behavior as he finds it, and not allow himself to be prejudiced by the assumption that instinct must necessarily be useful. That has to be shown in each case, not assumed at the outset.

The So-called Instincts of Self-preservation and of Reproduction

You will hear it stated, by some, that there are just two instincts, and that all instinctive behavior belongs under the head of one or the other of these two. The one is the instinct to preserve one's individual life, and the other is the instinct to propagate the species. Mating, nesting and care of the young come under the reproductive instinct, while feeding, flight from danger, and shunning extreme heat or cold are modes of self-preservation. This seems logical enough, but it is very bad psychology. It amounts to a classification of native reactions from an external point of view, without any consideration of the way the individual is organized.

Perhaps the most obvious objection to these two supposedly all-inclusive instincts is found in what has just been said, to the effect that some instinctive behavior has no known survival value. This amounts to saying that some instincts do not serve either the preservation of the individual or the propagation of the species; and such a statement is probably true, especially of human instincts.

But even if this objection should not hold, there is another, more radical one. Neither of these two big "instincts" is a behavior unit in any sense. Take the "instinct of self-preservation", for example. It would certainly have to include both feeding and escape from danger. But feeding and flight from danger do not belong in a single series {116} of acts; they are two distinct series, and represent two distinct tendencies. So distinct are they that, as we shall see in the next chapter, they are antagonistic. If the danger-avoiding tendency is aroused, the whole feeding and digestive activity is checked for the time being. The two instincts are antagonistic, in their actual operation; throw one into action, and you throw the other out. It is only from an external point of view that the two can be classed together; in the organization of the individual they are entirely separate.

Not much different is the "instinct of reproduction". In birds, to be sure, there is a fairly continuous series of reactions, that begins with mating, continues with nesting, laying eggs and incubating them, and ends in the care of the young birds. But in mammals there is no such continuous series of reproductive acts, but mating comes to a close and an interval elapses in which there is no behavior going on that has anything to do with reproduction.

Before giving a detailed list of the various human instincts, we shall do well to consider emotion, which is closely bound up with instinct.



1. Outline the chapter.

2. Explain the differences between these three;

Action governed by instinct.

Action governed by habit.

Action governed by deliberation.

3. What is the objection to each of the following expressions?

(a) "The ex-soldier instinctively saluted when he met an officer in the street."

(b) "The bee knows by instinct how to construct the honeycomb."

4. Why is it so difficult to find a valid distinction between instinct and reflex action?

5. Why are instincts more universal and uniform than habits?

6. How is instinct an important matter to consider in a study of human motives?

7. Show how the behavior of a hungry child of six or eight years fits the picture of a "loosely organized instinct".


William James in his Principles of Psychology, 1890, has a very stimulating chapter on instinct, in Vol. II, pp. 383-441.

John B. Watson, in Chapters IV and V of his Behavior, 1914, gives a good account of the instincts of animals.





Joy, sorrow, fear, anger, amusement, disgust and curiosity illustrate the meaning of the term "emotion". An emotion is a "moved" or stirred-up state of mind. Or, since almost any such state of mind includes also elements that are cognitive, like recognition of present objects or memories of the past, we might better speak of emotion as the stirred-up-ness present in a state of mind. The emotional part of the total state may be so strong as to overshadow all other components, or it may have less intensity down to zero.

Such is emotion from the introspective point of view; but it can also be observed objectively, and in fact there is more to say about it objectively than introspectively. What appears to introspection as the scarcely analyzable state of anger appears to the external observer as clenched fists, flushed face, labored breathing, tense muscles, loud voice, and many other describable details. Anger is a state of the organism, or state of the individual, rather than simply a state of mind.

We shall have a more comprehensive definition, then, if we substitute "state of the individual" for "state of mind", and say that emotion is a stirred-up state of the individual. It is a conscious state, however; an "unconscious emotion" would be practically a contradiction in terms. Not but that a person may be angry without knowing it. He may be {119} "unconscious of the fact" that he is angry; which simply means that he is not introspectively observing himself and analyzing his mental state. But it is impossible that his organic state shall be all stirred up and his mental state meanwhile perfectly calm and intellectual. In short, an emotion is a conscious stirred-up state of the organism.

Organic States That Are Not Usually Classed as Emotions

Something was said before about "organic states", under the general head of tendencies to reaction. Fatigue was an example. Now we could include fatigue under the term, "stirred-up state of the organism"; at least, if not precisely "stirred-up", it is uneasy. It is a deviation from the normal or neutral state. Also, it is often a conscious state, as when we speak of the "tired feeling"; not a purely cognitive state, either—not simply a recognition of the fact that we are fatigued—but a state of disinclination to work any longer. Though fatigue is thus so much like an emotion that it fits under our definition, it is not called an emotion, but a sensation or complex of sensations. After hard muscular work, the state of the muscles makes itself felt by "fatigue sensations", and the sum total of these, coming from many different muscles, makes up the complex sensation of fatigue. After prolonged mental work, there may be fatigue sensations from the eyes and perhaps from the neck, which is often fixed rigidly during strenuous mental activity; and there are perhaps other obscure fatigue sensations originating in other organs and contributing to the total sensation which we know as mental fatigue, or as general fatigue.

Many other organic states are akin to emotion in the same way. The opposite of fatigue, the "warmed-up" condition, brought on by a certain amount of activity after {120} rest, is a case in point. It is a deviation from the average or neutral condition, in the direction of greater readiness for activity. The warmed-up person feels ready for business, full of "ginger" or "pep"—in short, full of life. The name "euphoria" which means about the same as "feeling good", is given to this condition. Drowsiness is another of these emotion-like states; but hunger and thirst are as typical examples as any.

How These Organic States Differ from Regular Emotions

Now why do we hesitate to call hunger, fatigue and the rest by the name of emotions? For two reasons, apparently. There are two salient differences between an organic state such as hunger, and an emotion such as anger.

Hunger we call a sensation because it is localized; we feel it in the region of the stomach. Thirst we localize in the throat, muscular fatigue in the fatigued muscles, and there are several other organic states that come to us as sensations from particular organs. This is not entirely true of drowsiness or euphoria, but it is still less true of the emotions, which we feel as in us, rather than in any part of us. We "feel mad all over", and we feel glad or sorry all over. It is true that, traditionally, the heart is the seat of the emotions, which means, no doubt, that they are felt in the region of the heart more than elsewhere; and other ancient "seats", in the bowels or diaphragm, agree to this extent that they point to the interior of the trunk as the general location where the emotions are felt. But at best the location of emotions is much less definite than that of the sensations of fatigue or hunger.

The second difference between the emotions and the other organic states comes to light when we notice their causes. Thirst, as an organic state, is a lack of water resulting {121} from perspiration, etc.; hunger as an organic state results from using up the food previously eaten; fatigue results from prolonged muscular activity. Each of these organic states results naturally from some internal bodily process; while, on the contrary, the exciting cause of an emotion is usually something external which has nothing directly to do with the internal state of the body. Here I am, perfectly calm and normal, my organic state neutral, when some one insults me and throws me into a state of rage; this queer state seems to be inside me, specially in the trunk. Now how can the sound of the insulting person's voice produce any change in my insides? Evidently, by way of the auditory nerve, the brain and lower centers, and the motor nerves to the interior. While, then, organic states of the hunger class result directly from internal physiological processes, the organic state in an emotion is aroused by the brain, the brain itself being aroused by some stimulus, usually external.

The Organic State in Anger

But perhaps we are going too fast in assuming that there is any peculiar internal state in emotion. Possibly our subjective localization of anger in the trunk is all wrong, and everything there is going on as usual. At least, the question is squarely before us whether or not there is any internal bodily response in emotion.

Suppose we have a tame cat, that knows us well, and, after feeding her a good meal containing some substance that is opaque to the X-rays, suppose we place her on a table and pass X-rays through her body, so as to get a visible shadow of the stomach upon the plate of the X-ray machine. Well and good; the cat is contentedly digesting her meal, and the X-ray picture shows her stomach to be making rhythmical churning movements. In comes a fox {122} terrier and barks fiercely at the cat, who shows the usual feline signs of anger; but she is held in position and her stomach kept under observation—when, to our surprise, the stomach movements abruptly cease, not to begin again till the dog has been gone for perhaps fifteen minutes. The churning movements of the intestine cease along with those of the stomach, and, as other experiments show, even the gastric juice stops flowing into the stomach. The whole business of digestion halts during the state of anger. So anger is an organic state, without doubt. At least in cats—but the same is found to be true of man, and hence the excellent rule not to get angry on a full stomach.

Stomach-inhibition is not the only internal response during anger. The heart, so long regarded as the seat of the emotions, does beat more forcibly than usual; and the diaphragm, where the old Greeks located the emotions, does make extra-strong breathing movements. There are yet other and more curious changes that have recently been discovered by the physiologists.

Glandular Responses During Emotion

Thus far, we have been considering muscular responses, but now we must turn our attention to the glands. The glands are often affected during emotion, as witness the shedding of tears in grief, sweating in anger, the dry mouth during fear due to inhibition of the salivary glands, and the stoppage of the gastric juice during anger, as just noted. These particular glands all pour out their secretions either upon the skin or upon the mucous membrane of the mouth, stomach, etc.; and such secretion is called "external" in distinction from the "internal secretion" of certain other glands which may be called the glands of internal secretion or the "endocrine glands". Internal secretions are {123} discharged into the blood vessels, and carried by the blood to all parts of the body, and they have important effects on the activity of various organs.

Of the endocrine glands, we will mention only two, which are known to play an important part in mental life.

The thyroid gland, situated in the lower part of the neck, is necessary for normal brain activity. Without its internal secretion, brain activity is very sluggish.

The adrenals, two little glands located near the kidneys (whence their name, though they have nothing to do with the kidney in function), have a close connection with such emotions as anger. In the normal or neutral state of the organism, the adrenal secretion oozes slowly into the blood, and has a tonic influence on the heart and muscles. But let an anger stimulus occur, and within a few seconds the adrenals are secreting rapidly; all the organs soon get a big dose of the adrenal secretion, and some of them are strongly affected by it. It hastens and strengthens the action of the heart, it causes the large veins inside the trunk to squeeze the blood lagging there back to the heart; and by these two means greatly quickens the circulation. It also affects the liver, causing it to discharge large quantities of stored sugar into the blood. Thus the muscles of the limbs get an unusual quantity of their favorite fuel supplied them, and also, by the increased circulation, an unusual quantity of oxygen; and they are enabled to work with unusual energy. The adrenal secretion also protects them in some way against fatigue.

While the adrenal secretion is thus exerting a very stimulating influence on the limb muscles, it is having just the opposite effect on the digestive organs; in fact it is having the effects described above as occurring there during anger. These inhibitory effects are started by the stomach nerves, but are continued by the action of the adrenal juice {124} on the stomach walls. The rapid secretion of the adrenal glands during anger is itself aroused by the nerve running to this gland.

The Nerves Concerned in Internal Emotional Response

There is a part of the nervous system called the "autonomic system", so called because the organs it supplies—heart, blood vessels, stomach, intestines and other internal organs, possess a large degree of "autonomy" or independence. The heart, it will be remembered, beats of itself, even when cut off altogether from any influence of the nerve centers; and the same is true in some measure of the other internal organs. Yet they are subject to the influence of the nerve centers, which reinforce and inhibit their activity. Each internal organ has a double supply of nerves, one nerve acting to reinforce the activity of the organ and the other to inhibit it; and both the reinforcing and the inhibiting nerves belong to the autonomic system.

The autonomic is not separate from the main nervous system, but consists of outgoing axons from centers in the cord and "medulla" (part of the brain stem). It has three divisions, one from the medulla, one from the middle reach of the cord, and one from the lower part of the cord; and these three divisions are related to three different emotional states. The upper division, from the medulla, favors digestion by promoting the flow of gastric juice and the churning movements of the stomach; and at the same time it seems to favor the comfortable, rather lazy state that is appropriate for digestion. The middle division (often called the "sympathetic", though the name is rather misleading to a student of psychology, as it has nothing to do with "sympathy") checks digestion, hastens the heart beat, and stimulates the adrenal glands to rapid secretion, thus giving {125} rise to the organic condition of anger. The lower division has to do with the bladder, rectum and sex organs, and is active during sex excitement, for one thing.

The lower centers in the medulla and cord that give rise to the autonomic nerves are themselves much under the influence of the higher, cerebral centers. Thus appetite for food, and the flow of gastric juice, can be aroused by the sight of good food, or by hearing or reading about food, or even by merely thinking of food; and both anger and sex appetite can be aroused in corresponding ways.

We should notice right here the antagonism that exists between the middle division of the autonomic and the other two. Suppose the upper division is active, as in comfortable digestion, when an angering stimulus supervenes; then, as we have seen, digestion halts, the upper autonomic is shunted out of action by the middle division. In the same way, sex appetite is shunted out by anger.

The Emotional State as a Preparatory Reaction

An emotion is often spoken of as a disturbance of the normal quiet state, and as if it represented a breakdown of the organism's machinery. Anger or fear is often a nuisance in civilized life, and any strong emotion is apt to disturb mental work or skilled manual work. But if we think ourselves back into a primitive condition of life, when anger means a fight, we see that the organic response in anger makes a first-class preparation for the fight. Rapid circulation, abundant muscular fuel, protection from fatigue—these are all positively useful; and the halting of digestion is useful also in relieving the circulation from taking care of an activity that can afford to wait.

What we have been calling the "organic state in anger" occurs also in fear of the strong type (as distinguished from {126} fear paralysis), and in certain other states that are not exactly either fear or anger, such as the state of a football player before the game, or the state of a student about to take an examination. It is the state of excitement or of being "all keyed up". So far as known, the organic response (including the adrenal secretion) is the same in these various instances of excitement: anger, fear, zeal and so on. When an individual is in this organic state, his muscles will work harder and longer than is otherwise possible; and thus are explained those remarkable cases of extraordinary strength and endurance in great emergencies, as in escaping from a fire or from a bombarded city.

The fear-anger state of the organism, being certainly a state of preparedness for attack or defense, suggests the following generalization: "Any emotion represents internal preparation for some type of overt action." This holds good, at least, for food appetite and sex appetite. Regarding the other emotions, we know too little of the internal responses that may occur, to judge whether or not they have any utility as preparatory reactions.

"Expressive Movements," Another Sort of Preparatory Reactions

Though we know little of any internal response in many of the emotions, we almost always find some characteristic external movement, such as smiling, scowling, pouting, sneering, sobbing, screaming, shouting or dancing. By aid of such "expressive movements" we are sometimes able to judge the emotional state of another person. But what is the sense of these movements? At first thought, the question itself is senseless, the movements are so much a matter of course, while on second thought they certainly do seem odd. What sense is there is protruding the lips when sulky, {127} or in drawing up the corners of the mouth and showing the canine teeth in contempt? Perhaps they are just odd tricks of instinct—for we agreed in the preceding chapter not to assume all instinctive responses to be useful. Darwin, however, after studying a great many of these expressive movements, both in men and in animals, reached the conclusion that, if not of present utility, they were survivals of acts that had been useful earlier in the life of the individual or of the race.

Shaking the head from side to side, in negation or unwillingness, dates back to the nursing period of the individual's life, when this movement was made in rejecting undesired food. Directly useful in this case, it was carried over to analogous situations that aroused the child's reluctance.

Showing the teeth in scorn dates back, according to Darwin, to a prehuman stage of development, and is seen in its useful form in animals like the dog or gorilla that have large canine teeth. Baring the teeth in these animals is a preparation for using the teeth; and often, also, it frightens the enemy away and saves the bother of actually attacking "small fry". The movement, Darwin urges, has survived in the race, even after fighting with the teeth has largely disappeared.

Many other expressive movements are traced back in a similar way, though it must be admitted that the racial survivals are usually less convincing than those from the infancy of the individual. The nasal expression in disgust was originally a defensive movement against bad odors; and the set lips of determination went primarily with the set glottis and rigid chest that are useful in lifting heavy weights or in other severe muscular efforts. Such movements, directly useful in certain simple situations, become linked up with analogous situations in the course of the {128} individual's experience. Many of them, certainly, we can regard as preparatory reactions.

Do Sensations of These Various Preparatory Reactions Constitute the Conscious State of Emotion?

No one can doubt that some of the bodily changes that occur during an emotion make themselves felt as sensations. Try this experiment: pretend to be angry—it is not hard!—go through the motions of being angry, and notice what sensations you get. Some from the clenched fist, no doubt; some from the contorted face; some from the neck, which is stiff and quivering. In genuine anger, you could sense also the disturbed breathing, violent heart beat, hot face. The internal responses of the adrenal glands and liver you could not expect to sense directly; but the resulting readiness of the limb muscles for extreme activity is sometimes sensed as a feeling of tremendous muscular power.

Now lump together all these sensations of bodily changes, and ask yourself whether this mass of sensations is not identical with the angry state of mind. Think all these sensations away, and ask yourself whether any angry feeling remains. What else, if anything, can you detect in the conscious emotional state besides these blended sensations produced by internal and external muscular and glandular responses?

If you conclude that the conscious emotion consists wholly of these sensations, then you are an adherent of the famous James-Lange theory of the emotions; if you find any other component present in the emotion, you will find this theory unacceptable.


The James-Lange Theory of the Emotions

The American psychologist James, and the Danish psychologist Lange, independently of each other, put forward this theory in the early eighties of the last century, and it has ever since remained a great topic for discussion. According to the theory, the emotion is the way the body feels while executing the various internal and expressive movements that occur on such occasions. The "stirred-up state of mind" is the complex sensation of the stirred-up state of the body. Just as fatigue or hunger is a complex of bodily sensations, so is anger, fear or grief, according to the theory.

James says, we do not tremble because we are afraid, but are afraid because we tremble. By that he means that the conscious state of being afraid is composed of the sensations of trembling (along with the sensations of other muscular and glandular responses). He means that the mental state of recognizing the presence of danger is not the stirred-up state of fear, until it has produced the trembling and other similar responses and got back the sensations of them. "Without the bodily states following on the perception"—i.e., perception of the external fact that arouses the whole emotional reaction—"the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult, and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry."

It has proved very difficult to submit this theory to a satisfactory test. The only real test would be to cut off sensations from the interior of the trunk entirely; in which case, if the theory is right, the conscious emotion should fail to appear, or at least lack much of its "emotional warmth". Evidence of this sort has been slow in coming in. One or {130} two persons have turned up at nerve clinics, complaining that they no longer had any emotions, and were found to have lost internal bodily sensation. These cases strongly support the theory, but others have tended in the opposite direction. The fact that the internal response is the same in anger, and in fear of the energetic type, shows that the difference between these emotions must be sought elsewhere. Possibly sufficient difference could be found in the expressive movements, or in minor internal responses not yet discovered. If not, the theory would certainly seem to have broken down at this point.

In any case, there is no denying the service done by the James-Lange theory in calling attention to bodily sensations as real components of the conscious emotional state.

Emotion and Impulse

Most people are rather impatient with the James-Lange theory, finding it wholly unsatisfactory, though unable to locate the trouble precisely. They know the theory does not ring true to them, that is all. Now the trouble lies just here: what they mean by "being afraid" is "wanting to get away from the danger", what they mean by "being angry" is "wanting to strike the offending person", and in general what they mean by any of the named "emotions" is not a particular sort of "stirred-up conscious state", but an impulse towards a certain action or a certain result. Evidently it would be absurd to say we want to get away from the bear because we tremble, or that until we started to tremble we should be perfectly indifferent whether the bear got us or not.

The tendency to escape is aroused directly by the perception of danger; of that there can be no doubt. It does not depend on trembling, but for that matter neither does it depend on feeling afraid. Sometimes we recoil from a {131} sudden danger before experiencing any thrill of fear, and are frightened and tremble the next moment, after we have escaped. The stirred-up state develops more slowly than the tendency to escape. The seen danger directly arouses an adjustment towards the end-result of escape, and both the preparatory bodily responses and the feeling of fear develop after this adjustment has been set up. If the end-result is reached instantly, the preparatory reactions and the feeling may not develop at all, or they may put in an appearance after the main act is all over. There is nothing in all this that speaks either for or against the James-Lange theory.

These statements need further elucidation, however. Notice, first, that psychology makes a perfectly proper and important distinction between emotion and impulse. In terms of consciousness, emotion is "feeling somehow", and impulse is "wanting to do something". In behavior terms, emotion is an organic state, and impulse an adjustment of the nerve centers towards a certain reaction. An impulse is a conscious tendency.

Since emotion and impulse so often go together, common sense does not bother to distinguish them, and the common names for the "emotions" are more properly names of impulses. Fear means the impulse to escape, rather than any specific stirred-up state. Psychology has, indeed, made a mistake in taking over these names from common speech and trying to use them as names of specific emotional states. We were having some difficulty, a few moments ago, in finding any great distinction between fear and anger, considered as emotional states—just because we were overlooking the obvious fact that "fear" is an impulse to escape from something, while "anger" is an impulse to get at something and attack it. The adjustments are very different, but the organic states are much alike.


The organic state in fear or anger cannot generate the escape or fighting tendency, since the two tendencies are so different in spite of the likeness of the organic state. The tendencies are aroused directly by the perception of the dangerous or offensive object. The order of events is as follows. The stimulus that sets the whole process going is, let us say, a bear in the woods. First response: seeing the bear. Second response: recognizing the dangerous situation. Third response: adjustment towards escape. Fourth response (unless escape is immediate): internal preparatory reactions, adrenal, etc.; also, probably, external expressive movements and movements steered in the general direction of escape. Fifth response: conscious stirred-up state consisting of blended sensations of all these preparatory reactions. Sixth response (by good luck): definitive escape reaction. Seventh response: satisfaction and quiescence.

Emotion Sometimes Generates Impulse

Typically, impulse generates emotion. The reaction tendency is primary and the emotion secondary.

But suppose the organic state of fear to be {133} present—never mind how it got there—might it not act like hunger or fatigue, and generate a fear impulse? Could it not be that a person should first be fearful, without knowing what he was afraid of and without really having anything to be afraid of; and then, as it were, find something to be afraid of, something to justify his frightened state? This may be the way in which abnormal fears sometimes arise: a naturally timid individual is thrown by some obscure stimulus into the state of fear, and then attaches this fear to anything that suggests itself, and so comes to be afraid of something that is really not very terrific, such as the number two, "I mustn't do anything twice, that would be dangerous; if I do happen to do it twice, I have to do it once more to avoid the danger; and for fear of inadvertently stopping with twice, it is best always to do everything three times and be safe." That is the report of a naturally timorous young man. We all know the somewhat similar experience of being "nervous" or "jumpy" after escaping from some danger; the organic fear state, once aroused, stays awhile, and predisposes us to make avoiding reactions. In the same way, let a man be "all riled up" by something that has happened at the office, and he is likely to take it out on his wife or children. Slightly irritating performances of the children, that would usually not arouse an angry reaction, do so this evening, because that thing at the office has "made him so cross."

In the same way, let a group of people get into a very mirthful state from hearing a string of good jokes, and a hearty laugh may be aroused by a feeble effort that at other times would have fallen flat.

In such cases, the organic state, once set up in response to a certain stimulus, persists after the reaction to that stimulus is finished and predisposes the individual to make the same sort of reaction to other stimuli.


Emotion and Instinct

Anger, fear, lust, the comfortable state appropriate to digestion, grief (the state of the weeping child), mirth or amusement, disgust, curiosity, the "tender emotion" (felt most strongly by a mother towards her baby), and probably a few others, are "primary emotions". They occur, that is to say, by virtue of the native constitution, and do not have to be learned or acquired through experience. They are native states of mind; or, as modes of behavior, they are like instincts in being native behavior.

One distinction between emotional and instinctive behavior is that the emotion consists of internal responses, while the instinct is directed outwards or at least involves action on external objects. Another distinction is that the emotional response is something in the nature of a preparatory reaction, while the instinct is directed towards the end-reaction.

The close connection of emotion and instinct is fully as important to notice as the distinction between them. Several of the primary emotions are attached to specific instincts: thus, the emotion of fear goes with the instinct to escape from danger, the emotion of anger goes with the fighting instinct, the emotion of lust with the mating instinct, tender emotion with the maternal instinct, curiosity with the exploring instinct. Where we find emotion, we find also a tendency to action that leads to some end-result.

It has been suggested, accordingly, that each primary emotion is simply the "affective" phase of an instinct, and that every instinct has its own peculiar emotion. This is a very attractive idea, but up to the present it has not been worked out very satisfactorily. Some instincts, such as that for walking, seem to have no specific emotion attached to them. Others, like anger and fear, resemble each other very {135} closely as organic states, though differing as impulses. The really distinct emotions (not impulses) are much fewer than the instincts.

The most important relationship between instinct and emotion is what we have seen in the cases of anger and a few others, where the emotion represents bodily readiness for the instinctive action.

The Higher Emotions

We have been confining our attention in this chapter to the primary emotions. The probability is that the higher emotions, esthetic, social, religious, are derived from the primary in the course of the individual's experience.

Primary emotions become refined, first by modifications of the motor response, by which socially acceptable reactions are substituted for the primitive crying, screaming, biting and scratching, guffawing, dancing up and down in excitement, etc.; second by new attachments on the side of the stimulus, such that the emotion is no longer called out by the original simple type of situation (it takes a more serious danger, a subtler bit of humor, to arouse the emotional response); and third by combination of one emotion with another. An example of compound emotion is the blend of tenderness and amusement awakened in the friendly adult by the actions of a little child. Hate is perhaps a compound of anger and fear, and pity a compound of grief and tenderness. There are dozens of names of emotions in the language—resentment, reverence, gratitude, disappointment, etc.—which probably stand for compound emotions rather than for primary emotions, but the derivation of each one of them from the primary emotions is a difficult task. The emotional life cannot be kept apart from the life of ideas, for the individual is a good deal of a unit.



1. Outline the chapter.

2. Make a list of 20 words denoting various emotional states.

3. Trace the expressive facial movement of pouting back to its probable origin in the history of the individual.

4. What internal nerves are concerned with digestion? With fear?

5. Show by diagrams the differences between (a) the common-sense theory of the emotions, (b) the James-Lange theory, (c) the James-Lange theory modified to take full account of the reaction-tendency.

6. Make a list of objections to the James-Lange theory, and scrutinize each objection carefully, to see

(a) whether it really attacks the theory, or misconceives it.

(b) whether it carries much or little weight.

7. Act out several emotions, (a) by facial expression alone, and (b) by facial expression plus gestures, and let another person guess what emotion you are trying to express. How many times does he guess right under (a), and under (b)?

8. Discuss the relative practical importance of emotion and impulse.


For the James-Lange theory, see the chapter on the emotions by William James, in his Principles of Psychology, 1890, Vol. II, pp. 442-485.

For Darwin's views on expressive movements, see his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, first published in 1872.

For pictures of facial expression in various emotions, see Antoinette Feleky, in the Psychological Review for 1914, Vol. 21, pp. 33-41.

For the internal physiological changes, see Walter B. Cannon's Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage, 1915.

For an interesting and important view of the close connection between emotion and instinct, see William McDougall's Introduction to Social Psychology, Chapter II.





It would be a great mistake to suppose that instinct was important only in animal or child psychology, because the human adult governed his conduct entirely by reason and calculation of consequences. Man does not outgrow instinct, any more than he outgrows emotion. He does not outgrow the native reaction-tendencies. These primitive motives remain in force, modified and combined in various ways, but not eliminated nor even relegated to an unimportant place. Even in his most intelligent actions, the adult is animated by motives that are either plain instincts or else derivatives of the instincts. According to some of the leaders in psychology, he has no other motives than these; according to this book, as will be set forth later, there are "native likes and dislikes" (for color, tone, number, persons, etc.) to be placed beside the instincts as primary motives; but, according to either view, the instincts are extraordinarily important in the study of motivation, and a complete and accurate list of them is very much to be desired. Life is a great masquerade of the instincts, and it is not only entertaining to unmask them, but illuminating as well.

A complete account of an instinct would cover the following points: the stimulus that naturally arouses it, the end-result at which it is aimed, the preparatory reactions that occur, external and internal; and also, from the {138} introspective side, the conscious impulse, the peculiar emotional state (if any), and the special sort of satisfaction that comes when the end-result is reached. Further, we should know what modifications or disguises the instinct takes on in the course of experience—what new stimuli acquire the power of arousing it, what learned reactions are substituted for the native preparatory and final reactions, and what combinations occur between the instinct in question and other reaction-tendencies.

Besides all this, it would be very desirable to present convincing evidence that each instinct listed is a genuine instinct, a part of the native equipment, and not something built up by experience and training. It is rather absurd, the free and easy way in which an instinct is often assumed, simply to fit behavior which needs to be explained—a money getting instinct, for example, or a teacher-hating instinct. Since money and teachers do not exist in a state of nature, there can be no instincts specifically related to them; and it is incumbent on the psychologist to show how such acquired tendencies are derived from the native tendencies.

The full program outlined above being much too extensive to follow out completely in this chapter, we shall only mention a few salient points under each instinct. We shall try to point out the primitive behavior of the child, that reveals the instinct at its lowest terms, and give some hint also of its importance in adult behavior.


Of all the instincts, two groups or classes stand out from the rest: the responses to organic needs, and the responses to other persons. The first class includes eating, avoiding injury, and many others; the second class includes the herd instinct, the mating instinct and the parental instinct, these three and perhaps no others.


These two groups out, the rest are rather a miscellaneous collection, including the "random" or playful activity of young children, locomotion, vocalization, laughter, curiosity, rivalry and fighting. They might be named the "non-specific instincts", because the stimulus for each is not easy to specify, being sometimes another person, so that this group has great social importance, but sometimes being impersonal. This third class might also be called the "play instincts", since they are less essential than the other classes for maintaining the individual life or for propagating the species; and are, we may say, less concerned with the struggle for existence than with the joy of living.

Our classification then has three heads:

(1) Responses to organic needs, (2) Responses to other persons, (3) Play responses.

Responses to Organic Needs

Something has already been said [Footnote: See above, pp. 79-81, 112.] of the manner in which an organic state, such as lack of water, acting on internal sensory nerves, arouses in the nerve centers an adjustment towards an end-result, and how, if the end-result cannot immediately be attained, preparatory reactions occur, the preparatory reactions being in some cases closely attached, by nature, to the main tendency, and in other cases only loosely attached so that the tendency leads to trial and error behavior. The reactions that are nearest to the end-result are likely to be closely attached to the main tendency, while those that are farther from the end-result are loosely attached. Thus, in the case of thirst, the drinking movement itself is about all, in man, that is purely instinctive, {140} and the way of getting water to the mouth, or the mouth to the water, is a matter for trial and error, and only becomes fixed as the result of a process of learning. Still less can we mention any specific water-seeking reactions, in the human being, that are provided by the native constitution. Yet the whole business of relieving thirst is directed by the native thirst-impulse, and to that extent is an instinctive activity. And shall we say that so simple a matter as meeting this organic need is below the dignity of psychology, and can have little influence on the behavior of mankind? Hardly, when we think of the role played by springs, wells and drinking places of all kinds in the life of the race, of aqueducts and reservoirs, of all the beverages that have been invented, and of all the people whose job it has been to provide and dispense them. To be sure, any beverage with a taste, or a "kick", is not simply a thirst-reliever, but makes some additional appeal, good or bad; but all this simply illustrates the way instincts become modified, by combination with other instincts, and by the learning and fixing of various preparatory reactions that were not provided, ready-made, in the native constitution. The drinking instinct, or thirst impulse, is a very good example of this whole class of organic instincts.

Instincts connected with hunger.

Here again, the reactions nearest to the end-result (food in the stomach) are provided by nature. Sucking and swallowing appear at birth, chewing with the appearance of the teeth; and the infant also makes what seem to be instinctive movements of seeking the breast, as well as movements of rejecting it when satiated and of spitting out bad-tasting food. Putting food (and other things) into the mouth by the hands seems almost instinctive, and yet it has to be fixed by trial and error. Anything like definite food-seeking behavior, amounting to a hunting instinct, scarcely gets a chance to show itself in {141} the human child, because his food is provided for him. In many animals, hunting is a highly organized instinct; thus, crouching, stalking, springing and teasing the mouse when caught, have been proved to be instinctive in young cats. Some animals have definite food-storing instincts also, and possibly food-storing shows the acquisitive or collecting tendency in its lowest terms. Possibly, that is to say, hunting and collecting, as well as disgust (primarily of bad-tasting or bad-smelling food), are originally parts of the food-getting behavior, having the general character of reactions preparatory to eating. However this may be, we can easily see the great importance of the hunger motive in human life; we have only to consider the matter in the same way as we considered thirst just above.

Breathing and air-getting.

Breathing, obviously a native reaction, is ordinarily automatic and needs no preparatory reactions, simply because air is so easy to get. But let breathing be difficult, for any reason, and the stifling sensation is as impulsive as hunger or thirst. The stuffy air in a cave or in a hole under a haymow will lead a child to frantic escape. Possibly the delight in being out of doors which shows itself in young children, and is not lost in adults, represents a sort of air-hunting instinct, parallel to food-hunting. Closely connected with breathing is the function of circulation, automatic for the most part; and we should mention also the organic needs of waste-elimination, which give impulsive sensations akin to hunger and thirst, and lead to more or less organized instinctive reactions.

Responses to heat and cold.

The warm-blooded animals, birds and mammals, have the remarkable power of keeping the body temperature constant (at 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit, in man, somewhat higher in birds), in spite of great variations in the external temperature to which the body is exposed, and in spite of great variations in the {142} amount of heat generated in the body by muscular exercise. Sweating and flushing of the skin are reactions to heat, and prevent the body temperature from rising; paling of the skin, shivering and general muscular activity are responses to cold and prevent the body temperature from falling. Shrinking from great heat or cold are also instinctive, while seeking shelter from the heat or cold is a preparatory reaction that is not definitely organized in the native constitution of man, but gives rise to a great variety of learned reactions, and plays a considerable part in life.

Shrinking from injury.

The "flexion reflex" of the arm or leg, which pulls it away from a pinch, prick or burn, is the type of a host of defensive reactions—winking, scratching, rubbing the skin, coughing, sneezing, clearing the throat, wincing, limping, squirming, changing from an uncomfortable position—most or all of them instinctive reactions. With each goes some sort of irritating sensation, as pain, itching, tickling, discomfort; and a conscious impulse to get rid of the irritation is often present. When the simpler avoiding reactions do not remove the irritating stimulus, they are repeated more vigorously or give way to some bigger reaction tending towards the same result. The climax of the avoiding reactions is flight or running away. Akin to flight are cowering, shrinking, dodging or warding off a blow, huddling into the smallest possible space, getting under cover, clinging to another person; and most or all of these, too, are instinctive reactions. With flight and the other larger danger-avoiding reactions there is often present, along with the impulse to escape, the stirred up organic and conscious state of fear.

The stimuli that arouse movements of escape are of two sorts: those that directly cause some irritating sensation, and those that are simply signs of danger. The smaller avoiding reactions—flexion reflex, coughing, etc.—are {143} aroused by stimuli that are directly painful or irritating; whereas flight, cowering, etc., are mostly responses to mere signs of danger. A "sign of danger" is usually seen or heard at some distance, not felt directly on or in the body. Now, while avoiding reactions are attached by nature to the irritating stimuli, it is not at all clear whether escape movements are natively attached to any signs of danger, or, if they are, to what particular signs of danger they are attached. What visual or auditory stimuli, that are not directly irritating, will arouse escape movements in a young child? For the youngest children, no such stimuli have been found. You can easily get avoiding reactions from a little baby by producing pain or discomfort; you can get the clinging response by letting the child slip when he is being held in your arms; and you get crying and shrinking on application of a loud, grating noise, such a noise as is irritating in itself without regard to what it may signify. But you cannot get any shrinking from stimuli that are not directly irritating.

For example, you get no sign of fear from a little child on suddenly confronting him with a furry animal. With older children, you do get shrinking from animals, but it is impossible to be sure that the older child has not learned to be afraid of them. I have seen a child of two years simply laugh when a large, strange dog came bounding towards him in the park; but a year later he would shrink from a strange dog. Whence the change? There are two possibilities: either a native connection between this stimulus and the shrinking response only reached its maturity when the child was about three years old—and there is nothing improbable in this—or else the child, though actually never bitten by a dog, had been warned against dogs by his elders or had observed his elders shrinking from dogs. Children do pick up fears in this way; for example, children who are {144} naturally not the least bit afraid of thunder and lightning may acquire a fear of them from adults who show fear during a thunderstorm.

On the whole, the danger-avoiding reactions are probably not linked by nature to any special signs of danger. While the emotion of fear, the escape impulse, and many of the escape movements are native, the attachment of these responses to specific stimuli—aside from directly irritating stimuli—is acquired. Fear we do not learn, but we learn what to fear.


We have the best of evidence that this is a native reaction, since the baby cries from birth on. He cries from hunger, from cold, from discomfort, from pain, and, perhaps most of all, as he gets a little older, from being thwarted in anything he has set out to do. This last stimulus gives the "cry of anger", which baby specialists tell us sounds differently from the cries of pain and of hunger. Still, there is so much in common to the different ways of crying that we may reasonably suppose there is some impulse, and perhaps some emotional state, common to all of them. The common emotion cannot be anger, or hunger, or discomfort or pain. To name it grief or sorrow would fit the crying of adults better than that of little children. The best guess is that the emotional state in crying is the feeling of helplessness. The cry of anger is the cry of helpless anger; anger that is not helpless expresses itself in some other way than crying; and the same is true of hunger, pain and discomfort. Crying is the reaction appropriate to a condition where the individual cannot help himself—where he wants something but is powerless to get it. The helpless baby sets up a wail that brings some one to his assistance; that is the utility of crying, though the baby, at first, does not have this result in view, but simply cries because he is hungry and helpless, uncomfortable and {145} helpless, thwarted and helpless. The child cries less as he grows older, because he learns more and more to help himself.

With the vocal element of crying goes movement of the arms and legs, which also has utility in attracting attention; but what may be the utility of shedding copious tears remains a mystery, in spite of several ingenious hypotheses that have been advanced to explain it.

Fatigue, rest and sleep.

That fatigue, primarily an organic state, gives rise to fatigue sensations and to a neural adjustment for rest—a disinclination to work any longer—and that drowsiness is a somewhat different organic state that gives an inclination to sleep—all this has been sufficiently set forth in earlier chapters. Going to sleep is a definite act, an instinctive response to the drowsy state. In the way of preparatory reactions, we find many interesting performances in birds and mammals, such as the curling up of the dog or cat to sleep, the roosting of hens, the standing on one leg of some birds; and we see characteristic positions adopted by human beings, but do not know how far these are instinctive and how far acquired. Closing the eyes is undoubtedly a native preparatory reaction for sleep.

Like the other responses to organic needs, rest and sleep figure pretty largely in the behavior of the adult, as in finding or providing a good place to sleep. Certainly if fatigue and sleep could be eliminated, as some over-enthusiastic workers have pretended to hope, life would be radically changed.

Instinctive Responses to Other Persons

We are next to look for action and emotion aroused by persons, specifically—not by persons and things alike. Fear can be aroused by persons, but also by things. In a social animal, such as man, almost any instinct comes to have {146} social bearings. Eating and drinking become social matters, and all the organic instincts figure in the placing and making of a home. Home is a place of shelter against heat and cold, it is a refuge from danger, it is where you eat and where you sleep. It meets all these organic needs but—it is specially where "your people" are.

Home is a place where unlike persons foregather, male with female, adults with children, and thus it symbolizes the "family instincts", mating and child-care, which are responses to persons unlike in sex or age. But home also illustrates very well the herd instinct, which is a response to like persons, "birds of a feather flocking together". It is not the single home that illustrates this, but the almost universal grouping of homes into villages or cities.

The herd instinct or gregarious instinct.

It might be argued that a city or village was the result of economic causes, or, in the olden days, a means of protection against enemies, and not a direct satisfaction of any instinct in man to flock together. But often a family who know perfectly well that their economic advantage demands their remaining where they are, in some isolated country spot, will pull up stakes and accept an inferior economic status in the city, just because the country is too lonely for them. One woman, typical of a great many, declined to work in a comfortable and beautiful place in the country, because "she didn't want to see trees and rocks, she wanted to see people". There is no doubt that man belongs by nature with the deer or wolf rather than with solitary animals such as the lion. He is a gregarious creature.

The gregarious instinct does not by any manner of means account for all of man's social behavior. It brings men together and so gives a chance for social doings, but these doings are learned, not provided ready-made by the instinct. About all we can lay to the herd instinct is uneasiness when {147} alone, seeking company, remaining in company, and following the rest as they move from place to place. The feeling of loneliness or lonesomeness goes with being alone, and a feeling of satisfaction goes with being in company.

Probably there is one more fact that belongs under the herd instinct. A child is lonely even in company, unless he is allowed to participate in what the others are doing. Sometimes you see an adult who is gregarious but not sociable, who insists on living in the city and wishes to see the people, but has little desire to talk to any one or to take part in any social activities; but he is the exception. As a rule, people wish not only to be together but to do something together. So much as this may be ascribed to the instinct, but no more. "Let's get together and do something"—that is as far as the gregarious instinct goes. What we shall do depends on other motives, and on learning as well as instinct.

The mating instinct.

Attraction towards the opposite sex is felt by a small number of children, by most young people beginning from 15 to 20 years of age, by a minority not till a few years later, and, by a small number, never at all. On account of the late maturing of this instinct, in man, instinctive behavior is here inextricably interwoven with what has been learned. A definite organic and emotional state, lust, goes with this instinct. Preparatory reactions, called "courtship", are very definitely organized in many animals, and often quite elaborate. In man, courtship is elaborate enough, but not definitely organized as an instinct; and yet it follows much the same line as we observe in animal courtship. It begins with admiring attention to one of the opposite sex, followed by efforts to attract that one's attention by "display" (strutting, decoration of the person, demonstrating one's prowess, especially in opposition to rivals). Then the male takes an aggressive attitude, the {148} female a coy attitude; the male woos, the female hangs back, and something analogous to pursuit and capture takes place, except that the capture may be heartily accepted by both parties.

The "survival value" of this instinct is absolute; without it the race would not long survive. But it has "play value" also, it contributes to the joy of living as well as to the struggle for survival. There is much in social intercourse, and in literature and art, that is motivated by the sex impulse. Some would-be psychologists have been so much impressed by the wide ramifications of the sex motive in human conduct that they have attributed to it all play, all enjoyment, all the softer and lighter side of life, even all the spiritual side of life. One need only run over the long list of instincts, especially those that still remain to be mentioned, in order to be convinced of the one-sidedness of such a view. On the other hand, some moralists have been so deeply impressed by the difficulties that arise out of the sex motive, as to consider it essentially gross and bad; but this is as false as the other view. The sex impulse is like a strong but skittish horse that is capable of doing excellent work but requires a strong hand at the reins and a clear head behind. It is a horse that does not always pull well in a team; yet it is capable of fine teamwork. It can be harnessed up with other tendencies, and when so combined contribute some of its motive force to quite a variety of human activities.

The parental or mothering instinct.

In many species of animals, though not by any means in all, one or both of the parents stays by the young till some degree of maturity is reached. In some kinds of fish, it is the male that cares for the young; in birds it is often both parents. In mammals it is always the mother. Instinctively, the mammalian mother feeds, warms and defends her young. Just as {149} instinctively, the human mother does the same. This instinctive reaction to the little baby is attended by a strong emotion, called, for want of a better name, the "tender emotion".

The strongest stimulus to arouse this instinct is the little, helpless baby. The older child has to take second place with the mother, so soon as there is a little baby there. After a child is weaned, and after he is able to get about and do for himself to quite an extent, he has less hold on the maternal instinct. The love and care that he may still get is less a simple matter of instinct.

Though the little baby is the strongest stimulus to this instinct, older children and even adults, provided they are like the baby in being winsome and helpless in some way, may arouse the same sort of feeling and behavior, tender feeling and protective behavior. A pet animal may arouse the same tendency, and a "darling little calf" or a "cute little baby elephant" may awaken something of the same thrill. Even a young plant may be tended with a devotion akin to the maternal. The fact seems to be here, as with other instincts, that objects similar to the natural stimulus may arouse the same impulse and emotion. Love between the sexes is often a compound of sex attraction and the mothering instinct; and it is interesting to watch a happily mated couple each mothering the other.

But is it allowable to speak of this instinct as present in the male human being, or in any one not a mother? Undoubtedly the woman who has recently become a mother is most susceptible to the appeal of a little baby, but the response of other women and of girls to a baby is so spontaneous that we cannot but call it instinctive. Men and boys have no special desire to feed or cuddle a little baby, and are quite contented to leave the care of the baby mostly to the "women folks". But they do object strongly to seeing the {150} baby hurt or ill-treated, and will respond by protecting it. Also, they like to watch the baby act, and like to help it along in its efforts to do things. This may be instinctive in the man; at least it reminds us of the behavior of a mother cat or dog or horse, when she plays with her young and stimulates them to action. When the mother cat brings a live mouse for her half-grown kittens to practise on, she is acting instinctively, and probably a man is obeying the same instinct when he brings the baby a toy and derives pleasure from watching the baby's attempts to use it.

The parental instinct would thus seem to lie at the root of education, considered as an enterprise of adults directed towards getting the young to acquire the behavior of the race; and it also lies at the root of charity, the desire to protect the helpless.

Is there any instinct in the child answering to the parental, any "filial" instinct, as it were? Psychologists have usually answered no, but possibly they have been misled by the word "filial" and looked in the wrong direction. The parental instinct is an instinct to give, and the answering instinct would be one to take—not to give in return. It is probably not instinctive for the child to do for the parent, but is it not instinctive for the child to take from the parent, and to look to the parent for what he wants? It is not exactly "unnatural conduct" in a child to impose on his mother, as it would be in the mother to impose on the child; but would it not be unnatural in a child to take an unreceptive and distrustful attitude towards his mother?

Filial love is different. It is not purely instinctive, but depends on intelligence. It is only possible if the child has the intelligence to see the parent as something besides a parent—as some one needing care and protection—and if the child himself takes a parental attitude towards the parent. But that is a grown-up attitude, seldom taken by {151} young children. It is not the infantile instinct, which, if there is such an instinct, is the spring of trustful, docile, dependent, childlike and childish behavior.

The Play Instincts

Any instinct has "play value", but some have also "survival value" and so are serious affairs. Survival value characterizes the instincts we have already listed, both the responses to organic needs and the responses to other people. But there are other instincts with less of survival value, but no less of play value, and these we call the play instincts, without attaching any great importance to the name or even to the classification.

Playful activity.

The kicking and throwing the arms about that we see in a well-rested baby is evidently satisfying on its own account. It leads to no result of consequence, except indeed that the exercise is good for the child's muscles and nerves. The movements, taken singly, are not uncoordinated by any means, but they accomplish no definite result, produce no definite change in external objects, and so seem random and aimless to adult eyes. It is impossible to specify the stimulus for any given movement, though probably stimuli from the interior of the body first arouse these responses. They are most apt to occur during the organic state of "euphoria", and tend to disappear during fatigue.

There is a counter-tendency to this tendency towards general activity, and that is inertia, the tendency towards inactivity or economy of effort. Most pronounced in fatigue, this also appears in lassitude and inert states that cannot be called fatigue because not brought on by excessive activity. After sleep, many people are inert, and require a certain amount of activity to "warm up" to the active condition. As the child grows older, the {152} "economy of effort" motive becomes stronger, and the random activity motive weaker, so that the adult is less playful and less responsive to slight stimuli. He has to have some definite goal to get up his energy, whereas the child is active by preference and just for the sake of activity.

During the first year or so of the child's life, his playful activity takes shape in several ways. First, out of the great variety of the random movements certain ones are picked out and fixed. This is the way with putting the hand into the mouth or drumming on the floor with the heels, and these instances illustrate the important fact that many learned acts develop out of the child's random activity. Without play activity there would be little work or accomplishment of the distinctively human type. Second, certain specific movements, those of locomotion and vocalization, appear with the ripening of the child's native equipment, and take an important place in his play. Third, his play comes to consist more and more of responses to external objects, instead of to internal stimuli as at first. The playful responses to external objects fall into two classes, according as they manipulate objects or simply examine them.

We have, then, a small group of instincts that is very closely related to the fundamental instinct of random activity.


Evidence has already been presented [Footnote: See p. 95.] indicating that walking is instinctive and not learned, so that the human species is no exception to the rule that every species has its instinctive mode of locomotion. Simpler performances which enter into the very complex movement of walking make their appearance separately in the infant before being combined into walking proper. Holding up the head, sitting up, kicking with an alternate motion of the {153} two legs, and creeping, ordinarily precede walking and lead up to it.

What is the natural stimulus to locomotion? It is as difficult to say as it is to specify the stimulus in other forms of playful activity. From the fact that blind children are usually delayed in beginning to walk, we judge that the sense of sight furnishes some of the most effective stimuli to this response. Often the impulse attending locomotion is the impulse to approach some seen object, but probably some satisfaction is derived simply from the free movement itself. There certainly is no special emotion going with locomotion. Locomotion has, of course, plenty of "survival value", and might have been included among the organic instincts.

Some of the other varieties of human locomotion, such as running and jumping, are probably native. Others, like hopping and skipping, are probably learned. As to climbing, there is some evolutionary reason for suspecting that an instinctive tendency in this direction might persist in the human species, and certainly children show a great propensity for it; while the acrobatic ability displayed by those adults whose business leads them to continue climbing is so great as to raise the question whether the ordinary citizen is right when he thinks of man as essentially a land-living or surface-living animal. As to swimming, the theory is sometimes advanced that this too is a natural form of locomotion for man, and that, consequently, any one thrown into deep water will swim by instinct. Experiments of this sort result badly, the victim clutching frantically at any support, and sometimes dragging down with him the theorist who is administering this drastic sort of education. In short, the instinctive response of a man to being in deep water is the same as in other cases of sudden withdrawal of solid support; it consists in clinging and is attended by the emotion of fear.



Crying at birth proves voice-production to be a native response, but we are more interested just here in the playful cooing and babbling that appear when the child is a few weeks or months old. This cheerful vocalization is also instinctive, in all probability, since the baby makes it before he shows any signs of responding imitatively to the voices of other people. It seems to be one form of the random activity that goes with euphoria. The child derives satisfaction not so much from the muscular activity of vocalization as from the sounds that he produces, so that deaf children, who begin to babble much like other children, lag behind them as the months go by, from not deriving this auditory satisfaction from the vocal activity. Though whistling, blowing a horn, shaking a rattle and beating a drum are not native responses, it is clear that the child naturally enjoys producing sounds of various sorts.

The baby's cheerful babbling is the instinctive basis on which his speech later develops through a process of learning.


While the first random activity of the baby has nothing to do with external objects, but simply consists of free movements of the arms and legs, after a time these give place to manipulation of objects. The baby turns things about, pulls and pushes them, drops them, throws them, pounds with them. Thus he acquires skill in handling things and also learns how things behave. This form of playful activity contains the germ of constructiveness and of inventiveness, and will come into view again under the head of "imagination."

Exploration or curiosity.

Along with manipulation goes the examination of objects by the hand, the mouth, the eyes and ears, and all the senses. Listening to a sudden noise is one of the first exploratory reactions. Following a moving light with the eyes, fixing the eyes upon a {155} bright object, and exploring an object visually by looking successively at different parts of it, appear in the first few months of the baby's life. Exploration by the hands and by the mouth appear early. Sniffing an odor is a similar exploratory response. When the child is able to walk, his walking is dominated largely by the exploring tendency; he approaches what arouses his curiosity, and embarks on little expeditions of exploration. Similar behavior is seen in animals and is without doubt instinctive. With the acquisition of language, the child's exploration largely takes the form of asking questions.

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