The concept of the innate is theoretically set up in contrast to that of the acquired, Forming the space in which the two create a complementary duality upon which the human being is erected.
Understanding the importance of the innate and the acquired makes it possible to understand the different mechanisms underlying the expression of individuality and the influences that can act on it during development.
The meaning of the word “ innate ”
The word innate comes from the Latin word innatus. Etymologically, it can be divided into two constitutive elements: the prefix in, which refers to a reality inherent or located within; and the suffix natus, which means “born”.
Therefore, it is understood to be innate any expression of a living being that is part of its potential baggage from birth, Without a direct learning experience with the natural environment.
Thus, in general, it is understood that the innate is anything that an individual expresses without having learned it through personal experiences with the environment, only because he possesses a genetic background which models his biology and the corresponding emotional or behavioral substrate which may depend on it. above. For psychology, it is a nuclear concept for the purpose of understanding the mind and behavior of human beings.
Three different perspectives have been postulated to explain innatism throughout the historical development of construction. All of them remain important, as it is a matter of debate today, with evidence for and against for all cases. We then review the basics of all of these approaches.
1. Extreme innatism or modularity
From this perspective, the mind is understood as a relatively organized set of modules specialized in specific areas or skills, which are sensitive to certain types of information.
When it is in the environment, a pre-programmed treatment starts, automatic and devoid of the will of the individual. It is for this reason that, as a result of these learnings, the innate acquires special importance.
The best-known example is that of the language. Different authors have defended the existence of a universal grammar, that is to say of a series of rules common to all human beings which allow the acquisition of verbal and symbolic codes by interacting with others in their environment. social. Some examples of theorists who have postulated explanatory models from this perspective are Chomsky or Fodor.
2. Moderate innatism
In this position are the authors who share a modular view of the structure of the mind but who conceive of its innate potential as limited, so that the individual through his exploratory behavior must be responsible for complementing and enriching it. with the nuance of his self to live. There would therefore be a basic prior knowledge that would require contact with the environment to give it adaptive properties.
This prism would integrate the innate with the acquired in a global unit, giving each of these realities an important role in the acquisition of knowledge and skills which are specific to us as a species, as well as in the construction of our way of being in the world.
3. Representational innatism
This perspective assumes the most lax vision possible on the issue of innatism, although it does not remove it completely from the equation. By preserving certain innate capacities, the most important weight of individuality would fall on the capacity to explore and explain the world through the formulation of symbolic representations dependent on the experience.
This way of understanding innatism defends the ability of individuals to generate explanatory theories when they experience different situations, so that an end result would not be achieved, but would go through a constructive process that would last a lifetime. From this point of view, there would be no prior programming or a sequence of innate automations.But it would be the individual who would rise up as the sole architect of himself.
Biology and psychology versus innatism
Biology and psychology have built, throughout their respective histories as scientific disciplines, a set of theoretical models which have often considered innate aspects from an ethological and evolutionary point of view. This scientific research connects with some of the big questions to which philosophers and thinkers have devoted their time before, trying to scrutinize the very nature of knowledge and identity.
Innatism and biology
Biology plays a key role in understanding the innate, as it refers to the concept of design. In this context, natural selection would be responsible for perpetuating the presence of certain traits through the screening of survival, so that individuals better able to cope with environmental threats can transmit their peculiarities from generation to generation, forming a evolutionary baggage sculpted by sexual reproduction and the passage of time.
This baggage would offer successive descendants of any species a number of attributes that would improve their chances of survival, without having to face the rigors of real danger. The preparation theory, which describes how people tend to develop phobias more quickly towards life-threatening stimuli, is said to be consistent with innate-induced facilitation.
Beyond the evolutionary perspective, innate was also considered to be a matter of genetics and heredity. Thus, the presence or absence of a trait would be determined by the sequence of genes that each individual could present in the specific configuration of his DNA. However, there is evidence contrary to this theoretical postulate, as phenotypic expression requires the participation of epigenetic factors (eg environmental).
Since the biological and the psychological form an indissoluble reality, due to the organic substrate underlying thoughts and behaviors, some degree of influence of genetic adaptations on these would be expected.
Innatism and psychology
The debate between the innate and the acquired was born naturally following one of the first questions that man asked himself. Philosophy, represented by rationalists and empiricists, posed the question a long time ago without being able to resolve it in favor of any of them. Today, the concept of innate is particularly defended by theorists of evolutionary psychology, Coexisting in a certain harmony with what has been learned.
Evolutionary psychology brings together in its study the different forces that construct the particular way a person expresses and feels. If intrinsic elements are recognized in the organism that contribute to its maturation, these are complemented by equally influential forces, such as the social and natural environment. The person is therefore the product of the intersection between the organic and the cultural, between phylogeny and ontogeny, between what he has acquired and what he has learned.
From psychology it is understood that every cognitive mechanism has an adaptive functionSo its primary purpose was to give the animal an advantage in using it over one that didn’t, in obvious parallel with what we know about organic qualities. The fact that a group of living things have adopted common strategies to solve a problem, such as in the collective hunt for predators, is one example.
Human reality: a question of confluences
The human being is a biopsychosocial reality of extreme complexity, which implies the existence of multiple forces acting on him during the process of gestation of his individuality. Our central nervous system has developed over the millennia in a physical and social context full of threats to life, different from what exists today for most people in the world, and it has left a phylogenetic imprint imprinted on our most primitive brains.
Measuring the extent of this footprint is not at all straightforward, but it involves a number of mechanisms that influence several basic processes, such as emotional and perceptual. We cannot thus elude the relevance of the innate in the range of our thoughts and emotions, for the substrate on which they are lodged was formed through the avatars that homo sapiens had to live for. countless generations.
The human being is therefore not a tabula rasa. He does not reach the world devoid of tools to solve the first puzzles that existence will throw at him. The functions of communication, perception and motor skills already have a nucleus of organization in the mind of the child; all they need is experience to build a body of sophisticated skills that will contribute to their ability to live full lives.
Undoubtedly, the human being is also an animal endowed with extraordinary creative and symbolic capacities, which allow him to transcend to a large extent the joy of innate conditioning to build himself from personal experience. Although affected by its evolutionary history and life history, it continues to unravel the enormous mystery of its own mind and the space it occupies in nature.
- Garcia, CL (2005). Innatism and biology: towards a biological concept of the innate. Journal of Theory, History, and Foundations of Science, 20 (2), 167-182.
- Enesco, I. and Delval, J. (2006). Modules, domains and other artifacts. Childhood and Learning, 29 (3), 249-267.