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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Development evolving: the origins and meanings of instinct

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How do migratory birds, herding dogs, and navigating sea turtles do the amazing things that they do? For hundreds of years, scientists and philosophers have struggled over possible explanations. In time, one word came to dominate the discussion: instinct. It became the catch‐all explanation for those adaptive and complex abilities that do not obviously result from learning or experience. Today, various animals are said to possess a survival instinct, migratory instinct, herding instinct, maternal instinct, or language instinct. But a closer look reveals that these and other ‘instincts’ are not satisfactorily described as inborn, pre‐programmed, hardwired, or genetically determined. Rather, research in this area teaches us that species‐typical behaviors develop—and they do so in every individual under the guidance of species‐typical experiences occurring within reliable ecological contexts. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1371. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1371 This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Genes and Environment Psychology > Comparative Psychology Neuroscience > Development
Head‐scratching in a dog and a European bullfinch. Konrad Lorenz used scratching in these two very different species to argue for the notion that behavior is shaped by evolution. With respect to head‐scratching, he stated unequivocally that it ‘is part of their genetic heritage and is not shaped by training’ (p. 119). (From Ref . Drawings by Rudolf Freund and used with permission of Susan Freund Borden)
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The limbs of jerboas change dramatically across early development and their locotomor patterns change in lock‐step. As newborns, these desert rodents look much like other rodents and they move around similarly as well. As their hind legs elongate, they crawl around very awkwardly. Finally, with gaining strength, they can walk and hop upright. (Reprinted with permission from Ref . Copyright 1997 John Wiley & Sons)
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