Instinct Theory

By: Tyler, Cole, Nick, Dylan, Bailey

Key Concepts

According to the instinct theory of motivation, all organisms are born with innate biological tendencies that help them survive. This theory suggests that instincts drive all behaviors. Instincts are goal directed and innate patterns of behavior that are not the result of learning or experience. In humans, many reflexes are examples of instinct behavior. In order to be considered an instinct behavior, the behavior must naturally occur.


Infants have an inborn rooting reflex that helps them seek out a nipple and obtain nourishment.

Birds have an innate need to build a nest or migrate during the winter.

Dogs shaking after it gets wet.

Sea turtle seeking out the ocean after hatching.

A bird migrating before the winter season.

Troublesome Words

Instinct-- typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli

Innate-- originating in the mind

Biological-- of or relating to biology or living organisms

Organisms-- an individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form

Reflexes-- an action that is performed as a response to a stimulus and without conscious thought


The instinct theory suggests that motivation is primarily biologically based. We engage in certain behaviors because they aid in survival.


Instincts can't explain all behaviors.

Instincts are not something that can be readily observed and scientifically tested.

Labeling something as an instinct does nothing to explain why some behaviors appear in certain instances but not in others.