Table of Contents

Do instincts evolve?


Based on the evidence provided below, it can be seen that instincts can evolve and go through the process of natural selection. Instincts can be defined as "an inherited tendency of an organism to behave in a certain way, usually in reaction to its environment and for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need." ( According to <>, there are two separate kinds of instincts -- inborn instincts and gained instincts. Inborn instincts are instincts that an animal is born with, such as nursing their young or a bird knowing how to fly. Inborn instincts are usually needed by the organism to survive and reproduce. Gained instincts are those in which an organism learns how to do something to help it in its environment, for example, a horse learning how to open its stall. An instinct can be categorized as any behavior an organism achieves without being taught.


A good real-world example of a gained instinct is the hunting method of bottlenose dolphins. As dolphins have come up with more advanced techniques for living, their hunting method has become more advanced as well. Throughout the course of their existence, bottlenose dolphins have created an intelligent technique to catch their prey:

This video allows us to see the instinct that has occurred over time. It may not seem like this is an instinct, but has anybody went in the ocean and taught dolphins more efficient hunting techniques? No. How has this happened? Simple. Originally, dolphins mainly hunted by herding fish and using echolocation to locate prey One dolphin found that it was easy to catch fish closer to shore. Since dolphins usually hunt in groups, it makes sense that other dolphins would see this technique being used and adopt it and use it. It has now become the most common technique used from dolphins to hunt prey, but a baby dolphin is not born knowing the technique. They adapt to it throughout the period of their lives. This method of hunting was most likely founded because of the easy catch that can be made on shore versus the energy-consuming chase required to catch fish in the middle of the ocean.

For example, there is a population of birds, called swallows, that build their nests out of mud. It just so happens that their nests, when dried by the sun, heat to the perfect temperature to keep the eggs warm. The bird was not taught this behavior, nor were they born knowing how to build a nest, so this behavior most likely occurred through a gained instinct learned from experimentation. The surrounding of this bird must be wet, since they build their nests out of mud. Natural selection gave them the ability to reproduce and allow their eggs to survive.

cliff-swallow-nests.jpg swallows.jpg


Our argument is that instincts can evolve. Throughout the process of natural selection, the environment around the population affects the physical traits that can continuously occur in the population. It is also possible for instincts and actions to change to help the organisms live in their surroundings. The evolution of instincts, like that of physical genes, can be affected by natural selection, and the new instinct will only survive if it successfully helps the population.

Pianka, E. (2009).Can Human Instincts Be Controlled? Retrieved from <>

Stanek, L. (2010). The Equine Instinct. Retrieved from <>

Students (Katelyn, Caitlyn, Misum, Kristen). (2001). Leap Into the World of Dolphins: Hunting. Retrieved from <>