What is the survival instinct?

The word instinct is translated into Latin by instinctus which means impulse and motivation, it has its root in the term instingere which is composed of the verb stingere which is interpreted as impulse, to motivate or incite and the prefix -in which refers to something internally. As its etymology indicates, instinct would be an impulse or a motivation that comes from within ourselves.

It should be added in his presentation that instinctive behavior usually occurs unconsciously, the person or animal responding instinctively does not think the behavior, just reacts automatically to a specific situation or object.

We identify instincts, especially in animals, because they exhibit certain complex behaviors or behaviors that no one has taught them to perform. We know that birds are able to fly and, moreover, to anticipate the changes of season and to migrate, and to fish?, no one teaches them how to swim or feed themselves. We call these unlearned behaviors instinctive.

But contrary to what we want to think, instincts are not exclusive to the animal kingdom, humans also have innate behaviors. With the evolution and construction of society, it is true that drives have diminished, they have even become problematic, because they are less and less necessary and reason and language should prevail over other responses, even if sometimes we respond automatically to certain situations or stimuli, without being able to rationalize or avoid the behavior manifested.

In this article we will see what the survival instinct ishighlighting its importance within the animal kingdom, but also for the development of the human being as a species, we will also discover where and how the most fundamental of our instincts comes from.

    What is the survival instinct?

    All animals are programmed to survive. The survival instinct is the ability of all beings that inhabit the earth to face both external and internal aggressions, allows us to stay alive and avoid death, has as its consequence and ultimate goal the preservation of life. ‘species.

    If you try to kill a bee, it will feel threatened and sting you, it will die immediately, however, you cannot avoid this behavior. If a cat feels threatened, it will respond with aggressive behavior, ruffling and scratching. As one can see, in the face of danger, an animal will naturally act to save its life, even if it sometimes fails.

    But not only do these behaviors exist, each species has developed, during evolution, extraordinary abilities to recognize and deal with dangerous situations. In addition, all animals of the same species automatically react in the same way to danger. This automatic way of acting is what we call the survival instinct..

    The reality is that animals have much more developed senses than humans and can sense danger long before we do. Those of us who live with a dog aren’t surprised when it starts barking long before we realize a stranger is coming home and ringing the bell.

    This innate instinctual ability always makes sense, animals need to survive in the wild, we have long lived in communities and cities. In order to be able to face all the challenges that come their way, animals have complex adaptive behaviors, we have already talked about reactions to danger, but not only these reactions allow survival, other extremely complex behaviors such as migration in birds in the changing seasons or hibernation of bears and other animals that live in extreme climates also keep animals alive and able to cope with extreme situations. Each species has different instinctive mechanisms and behaviors.

      The Three Human Survival Instincts

      It is often said that animals are limited to instinct and that reason is the basis of human behavior. However, like animals, humans also react to the aggressions and contingencies of life several times instinctively and automatically. The survival instinct is, and above all has been, the main mechanism of the evolution of species. Without survival instinct, we would not have arrived where we are. The main concern of this instinct is to ensure their survival and the physical survival of the clan.

      Unlike animals, in the case of man and his current situation, with their level of socialization, the definition of the survival instinct must be extended to others; don’t leave it to preservation, sex, or the satisfaction of basic needs, as in the case of animals. In man there would be three types of instincts or instincts (instinct passed through language) instinctive:

      self-preservation instinct

      The need for physical preservation or survival It has to do with food, housing and comfort. It guarantees the security of the individual according to his basic need for survival. The main function of this instinct is to ensure the physical survival of both the individual and the clan or community.

        Sexual instinct

        The sexual instinct or the intimate encounter is linked to the reproductive impulse, it feeds on the vital energy and strength of face-to-face relationships. It allows you to release creative energy and experience the feeling of being unique, thanks to the unique moment shared with the other. The main function of the sexual instinct is union and/or procreation.

          social instinct

          The social or societal instinct characterizes the intrinsic need to belong to a group, society or business. It allows us to feel more effective and intelligent within an organization of people, for a constructive purpose. The main concern of this instinct is to contribute to the progress of the world.

          Evolution of instinct in humans

          The evolution of man is undoubtedly one of the most complex and extraordinary known to date. We have come a long way for thousands of years. However, over time, the conditions of life improve and force us to rely less and less on primitive senses or instincts.

          Scientists agree that humans, like all living beings, possess both acquired and innate knowledge. This division of knowledge takes place within each species.

          Writing or walking are acquired knowledge and result from different factors: experience, individual learning, intelligence, reasoning and what we call in psychology conditioned reflexes.

          As for innate knowledge or what is called instinct in relation to animals, as behaviors that no one teaches us, it depends on the hereditary heritage of the species, behaviors written into the genes, such as movements migrations of the birds that we had mentioned, an animal reacts to an attack, for example by fleeing. However, for the human being the border between the innate and the acquired is sometimes ambiguous.

          To illustrate this point a bit, let’s think about a person’s reaction to an assault. If the person happens to be a black belt in karate, they may treat the attacker differently from others, perhaps immobilizing them without harming them; other people will flee and call the police; and an aggressive person can strike.

          Faced with an attack, we can experience a protective mechanism dictated by our instinct, comparable to a reflex.. But in this case, it is a conditioned reflex. It is the result of learning, as we can deduce from the examples. However, in case of aggression, we cannot deny the role of instinct in our reactions, so it would be part of our genes.

          The neurological origin of the impulse

          The survival instinct is written in the brainstem, which forms the brain’s main communication pathway with the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. A study conducted by the European Laboratory of Molecular Biology has identified the circuits between neurons that allow the regulation of impulses.

          Neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which control the mental processes that allow us processing information and developing a response could inhibit impulses coming from our most primitive part of the brain, the brainstem. Blocking the connections between these two parts of the brain could inhibit certain behaviors, such as flight. However, the mice used for the experiment showed clear signs of fear, which led to the conclusion that the instinctive reaction can be avoided, but not the emotion that causes it.

          This study offers new insights into the development of therapies for self-control, anxiety, phobias, as well as serious disorders like schizophrenia, where instinct control plays a key role.

          Bibliographic references

          • Frandsen, G. (2013). Man and the rest of the animals. Tinkuy No. 20, 56-78.
          • Maldonato M., Dizionario di Scienze Psicologiche, Edizioni Simone.

          Leave a Comment