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Instinct vs. Associated Programmed Responses

Bill Skaggs skaggs at bns.pitt.edu
Wed Jul 19 11:49:00 EST 2000

"Adam Turkelson" <aturkelson at home.com> writes:
> So where is the line drawn between associated programmed responses and
> instinct? Further more, how exactly is an instinct 'hardwired' into the
> human brain? Please let me know if you would like me to elaborate on my
> ideas/questions - I could easily write hundreds of pages containing my
> ideas, but I was attempting to save the space.

What you are raising is the question of "nature" versus "nurture"; it
is probably the longest-running and most hotly debated single issue in
psychology/neuroscience, and it is far from being resolved.  There are
still behaviorists who follow B. F. Skinner in thinking that nearly
everything is learned by a few straightforward rules; there are still
Chomskians who think that even language is to a large degree an
instinct (Steve Pinker is the most vigorous proponent of this
attitude).  Most people nowadays, I imagine, fall somewhere in
between, but it is a complicated question, and the body of relevant
evidence is very extensive.

As for the mechanism by which an instinct is wired in the brain, most
people, I think, hypothesize that learning and instinct both are
implemented in essentially the same way, namely by making or
strengthening connections between different groups of neurons.  It is
hard to be more specific, because there are many different instincts
and many different types of learning.  Just as an example, the
instinct of arachnophobia (fear of spiders) could be implemented by
making connections between a group of visual neurons in the neocortex
("spider" detectors) and neurons in the amygdala that control the
body's fear system.

	-- Bill

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