Innate vs Learnt Behaviour

Topics: Reflex, Moro reflex, Instinct Pages: 5 (1637 words) Published: April 24, 2012
Question: In your own words, detail ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments with regard to innate and learned behaviour. Feel free to include your own opinion, but be sure to justify it. Try to include equal amount of information for both sides. Use at least 500 words for your answer.

Answer: The innate verses learnt or nature verses nurture argument is a subject that has been theorized and debated by scientists, psychologists and philosophersfor hundreds of years.

It is a question that can be dated back as early as 350 BC where philosophers Plato and Aristotle had different views on whether it was nature or nurture which shaped individual behaviours. Plato believed knowledge and behaviour to be innate. He theorized that all knowledge was present at birth and the environment played a unique part in shaping us. In his opinion the environment did not teach us anything we weren’t born with and that its purpose was merely to remind us of information we already knew.

Aristotle on the other hand theorized that behaviour and knowledge had to be learnt and that we were born as ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate and our behaviour, thoughts and actions were learnt and acquired through experiences.

Although nether Plato or Aristotle’s theories are supported today it is still debated what shapes us in the people we become. Is nature or is it nurture?

What is innate behaviour or viewed as nature? Innate behaviour is a fixed, unchangeable, unthought-of, natural behaviour, which is instinctive and are born with. Behaviour that is inherited or passed on through genes. Things such as reflexes are innate behaviour; a reflex is an involuntary automatic response to a certain stimulus. Those who believe we are shaped by nature are known as nativists.

Examples of innate behaviour are the moro or falling reflex, the moro reflex is any sudden movement that affect the baby’s neck, giving them the feeling of falling or being dropped. The baby’s innate reaction to this is to open their arms out wide, opening up their hands before bringing them back in to their chest almost as if to catch an object. The grasp reflex, whenever an object or fingers touches the palm of a baby’s hand they will automatically grasp or grab it. The swallowing and sucking reflex, if you place something, even a finger in to the baby’s mouth they will automatically suck and swallow, babies are also known to sometimes suck their fingers or thumbs whilst still in the womb, this is an instinctive reflex, something needed to survive. There are many other reflexes including blinking, breathing, sneezing and coughing.

More complex innate behaviour can be seen and is displayed in animals, Birds hatch with the ability to instinctively know how to make nests, what is needed to do this and to carry the materials required to do this in their beaks. Sea turtles despite hatching on land instinctively know to head straight for the water and have the ability to swim. A very complex innate behaviour can be seen in chickens. Having kept chickens since a child myself vast differences can be seen in battery hens and free range hens. Imagine this battery hens never get the opportunity to see daylight, stretch their wings, take a dust bath or forage in the dirt for worms and bugs, unlike free range hens. Yet on removing hens from the battery and giving them the gift and opportunity of a free range lifestyle, all of the natural instincts return immediately. They have always been there just merely suppressed. Other more complex innate or instinctive behaviour in animals can include hibernation and migration.

Learnt behaviour on the other hand or nurture is something we are not born with but which we are taught by parents, peers, teachers and can be influenced by social and environmental factors we are exposed to. These behaviours unlike innate behaviour are not fixed, but flexible and can be changed at any time. Those who believe it is learnt behaviour that shapes us are known as...
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