William Mcdougall: Problems With Instinct Term Paper

Length: 12 pages Sources: 1+ Subject: Psychology Type: Term Paper Paper: #49715382 Related Topics: Lewis And Clark Expedition, Alfred Adler, Biometrics, Attribution Theory

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Not all humans exhibit the same jealously levels, behaviors, etc.); and, 2. Today, instinct theory has a more biological emphasis for specific motives and not all (like aggression and sex). but, there is still a strong instinct perspective in the study of animals (ethology) (p. 2).

Notwithstanding this lack of consensus, there have been much attention directed to the relationship between instinct theory and the various dimensions of the human experience, which are discussed further below.

Relationship of Instinct Theory to Dimensions of Human Experience.

A) Paradoxes in Human Experience. Indeed, in their book, Psychologies of 1925: Powell Lectures in Psychological Theory, Madison Bentley (1928) asked early on, "By what theory can it be explained how it comes about that an individual can exhibit so many and such extreme and even seemingly paradoxical phases, or alterations of his character, and such contrasting contradictory traits and behavior?" (p. 259). The duality of the nature of humanity frequently relates to contrasting moral traits; William McDougall suggests that motives are for the most part primarily derived from our inherited primitive instincts or instinctive dispositions with which every child is born or which soon develop within him, or what Bentley et al. describe as "the instincts of pugnacity, and greed, and curiosity, and sex, and fear, and sympathy, and self-abasement, and self-assertion, and the tender parental instinct of love, etc." (p. 259).

B) Differences or Similarities between Culturally Diverse Human Experiences.

Differences or Similarities between Human and Other Animal Species. Mankind has always sought out explanations of the human condition that reinforced the notion that people are "special" by virtue of their divine heritage, in other words, people have always been looking for something that helps set them apart from the apes. Unfortunately, by applying an inaccurate concept of instinctual behavior to the entire animal kingdom while separating mankind into a separate Petri dish ran the serious risk of completely misunderstanding the human condition in the first place. In this regard, "The actions of men were said to be governed by the faculty of reason," McDougall says, "those of animals by the faculty of instinct; and this attribution of the actions of animals to instinct seems to have disguised from most of those who used the word the need for further study or explanation of them" (p. 139). In his book, Psychology, the Study of Behavior McDougall (1912) points out that early perspectives of instinct were largely theological in nature rather than based on scientific observations, with this distinction representing both the most profound sort of fallacy in reasoning, but again relating to the power of semantics to cloak the reality of the world from the psychological community. "It was a striking example of the power of a word to cloak our ignorance and to hide it even from ourselves," he says. "Those who tried to go behind the word, to seek some further explanation of animal behavior, usually represented the instinctive acts of animals as directly guided by the hand of God" (McDougall, 1912, p. 139). In their book, Psychologies of 1930, Alfred Adler, Madison Bentley, McDougall and others debate the prominent psychological theories of the day. To help establish the theoretical framework for how views, McDougall noted that empirical observations clearly indicated that virtually all animal species shared certain commonalities as they related to survival; for example, all members of a species tend to seek and strive toward a limited number of goals of certain types, certain kinds of food and of shelter, their mates, the company of their fellows, certain geographical areas at certain seasons, escape to cover in presence of certain definable circumstances, dominance over others, the welfare of their...


13). These powerful natural forces help to shape the way that existing generations of an animal species tend to behave, but more importantly, McDougall suggests that these tendencies are also communicated to future generations. "We are justified, then, in inferring that each member of the species inherits the tendencies of the species to seek goals of these several types" (p. 13). In reality, it would seem that many of the controversies and problems associated with McDougall's assertions concerning how and why animals - including humans - act they way they do centered on semantics and the enormous egos of the psychological community of the day. For example, in his introductory chapter to Psychologies of 1930, McDougall writes that:

Man also is a member of an animal species. And this species also has its natural goals, or its inborn tendencies to seek goals of certain types. This fact is not only indicated very clearly by any comparison of human with animal behavior, but it is so obvious a fact that no psychologist of the least intelligence fails to recognize it, however inadequately, not even if he obstinately reduces their number to a minimum of three and dubs them the 'prepotent reflexes' of sex, fear, and rage. Others write of 'primary desires,' or of 'dominant urges,' or of 'unconditioned reflexes,' or of appetites, or of cravings, or of congenital drives, or of motor sets, or of inherited tendencies or propensities; lastly, some, bolder than the rest, write of 'so-called instincts.' For instincts are out of fashion just now with American psychologists; and to write of instincts without some such qualification as 'so-called' betrays a reckless indifference to fashion amounting almost to indecency. Yet the word 'instinct' is too good to be lost to our science. Better than any other word it points to the facts and the problems with which I am here concerned (emphasis added). (McDougall, 1930, p. 13).

Despite the controversy that has followed these early arguments, McDougall was absolutely correct in his observations concerning the usefulness of the term "instinct," and it has not been lost science in the decades that followed; the manner in which the historical perspectives concerning instinct have changed since McDougall's time are discussed further below.

D) Historical Perspectives or Views that Have Changed. In 1912, McDougall wrote that: "Modern science is no longer content to use [instinct] as a cloak for ignorance, and to regard such actions as explained by attributing them to a faculty of instinct: it uses the word rather to mark the need for a theory" (p. 160). The need for a theory has resulted in some profound reaffirmations of McDougall's original propositions that have managed to weather the semantic and scientific debate over what he meant in his early psychological works concerning instinct theory. According to Brand (1997):

McDougall's belief in instinct (rather than in the master role of conditioning) and in what he himself called "evolutionary psychology" have lately been well within the psychological pale. In 1972, a Nobel Prize was awarded to the three ethologists (Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and Kurt Von Frisch) who had detailed innate systems of motivation and communication in birds, fish and bees. Today, evolutionary psychology is one of the few really thriving research programs within psychology.

Quite a few intellectuals around 1930 still entertained Lamarckian sympathies, as had Darwin himself; and McDougall's work (for all that he himself had lived in hope of 'positive' results) furnished a crucial nail for the Lamarckian coffin. Few psychologists have had the honor of participating in the falsification of such an important theoretical possibility.

As to McDougall's interest in the possibly radical distinctness of mind from matter, parapsychology has been a growth area in university psychology departments since 1980 - particularly attracting students who want to turn the highest methodological sophistication and rigor on problems of greater importance than those which keep most postgraduate psychologists in receipt of their funding from the taxpayer (Brand, 1997, p. 37).

Carlos S. Alvarado suggests that McDougall was responsible for much of what is now known about out-of-body experiences (OBE) among the scientific community. "In recent times," Alvarado says, "most of the studies on the relationship of out-of-body experiences to psychological processes or experiences such as dissociation and dreams, as well as studies of the features of the experience, have been published in parapsychology journals. There is no doubt that most of the contributions to our understanding of the psychology of OBEs have come from parapsychologists such as William McDougall" (p. 211).

E) Human Life-Cycle Factors. In his book, the Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life, Robert Jay Lifton (1979) reports that, "To reject instinct theory is by no means to understand the newborn as a tabula rasa or blank screen. We have, in fact, overwhelming evidence of the infant's inborn inclination toward enhancing its own life process. It 'expects' to be fed, and 'knows'…

Sources Used in Documents:


Adler, a., Bentley, Boring, E.G. et al. (1930). Psychologies of 1930. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press.

Alic, M. (2001). McDougall, William (1871-1938). In Gale encyclopedia of psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group.

Alvarado, C.S. (2003). Reflections on Being a Parapsychologist. The Journal of Parapsychology, 67(2), 211.

Arieti, S. (1974). The foundations of psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.
Motivation and Emotion. (2005). Introductory psychology class notes. Retrieved April 29, 2005 at http://www.alleydog.com/101notes/mot-emot.html.

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