Some more thoughts on the mechanics of behaviour – An evolutionary perspective.
I started to think about what behaviours we (humans) exhibit that could be regarded as Instinctive. Now this is quite a difficult task as, compared
to most mammals we are born relatively immature.
Compared with a cat or dog (gestation about 70 days, life expectancy about 15 years) a human would be the equivalent of about 5 years old at birth, or
an elephant (life expectancy 80 years, gestation 22 months) where a human would be equivalent of 2 and ½.
With this in mind, I am going to focus on behaviour that might not exhibit itself immediately at birth in humans, but could also be identified as
nonlearned behaviour. (Sucking is far to obvious an example where failure to suck would prevent the offspring from surviving to reproductive age,
although this is also instinctive behaviour)
When a human infant reaches a certain level of motor control, every object grasped is immediately put into the mouth. There’s a very good reason
for this as the mouth, lips and tounge are the most tactile sensitive organs in the human body. (Freud has some interesting views on this stage of
An object placed in the mouth, compared to one held in the hand is perceived to have more distinct textures, sharper edges, rougher or smoother
surfaces. The taste of an object gives an infant clues as to whether its edible, sweet things remain in the mouth whereas bitter, astringent tastes
are spat out. (Usually with enough facial expressions to earn £250 for anyone filming it on camcorder)
So that could be seen as an example of a behaviour that is instinctive, i.e. not learned, and that aids survival. Baby doesn’t eat poison.
Omnivorous apes (chimps) exhibit behaviour that borders on a hunter gather lifestyle. For the most part, chimps will travel across the treetops,
grazing the fruits on offer, but will also hunt small monkeys in co-ordinated, pack hunts.
It is the grazing aspect that I want to switch focus to at this point. (I promise to attempt to link this with the previous paragraphs)
When observing grazing chimps in the wild, (OK, I mean on Discovery) the behaviour appears to be totally autonomous and similar to that of the infant
holding a new object. The item is grasped, placed into the mouth, and if unfamiliar, manipulated using the lips and then either eaten or discarded.
As with rats, I am not claiming to be an expert on chimp behaviour but I offer the idea that the chimp doesn’t wake up and rationalise that it needs
to graze, it just does it because that’s what chimps do when they’re hungry.
What I have attempted to posit here is a link between the instinctive behaviour of an infant of one species and the mature behaviour of a closely
related species, and you would be quite within your rights to ask why.
IF you understand and accept evolution, then you accept that all organisms on the planet have a common ancestor, and that some ancestors are more
closely related than others. (This is why I chose the chimp rather than the cow, but for what I am about to propose, either would be suitable)
Again, if you are happy to accept that cross species similarities are due to kinship, then you might also be happy to accept the possibility that
cross species behaviour is also due to kinship.
It could be argued that both similarities are due to the recent divergence from the evolutionary paths that each species took, the more recent the
divergence, the more apparent the similarity, both in appearance and or behaviour. (Actually, the cause of the divergence would also have to be taken
into account rather than merely the timescale)
Now the weird bit. (That I am seriously considering basing my thesis on)
Is there any evidence suggesting that humans still exhibit grazing behaviour? (from a psychological perspective rather than just eating cake for hours
I believe there is!
I believe that grazing behaviour is a repetitive, autonomous task, entered into without thought or rational. I think that when a human has
a”genetic throw back” and exhibits grazing behaviour it manifests as OCD (that’s “Obsessive compulsive disorder”)
For those that are not aware with the effect that OCD has, I ask this question.
Have you ever lay awake at night with a single phrase constantly going through your mind. ? Maybe a few words from the chorus of a song, or a single
sentence from a presentation you’re going to deliver! The words mean nothing but for some reason you stay awake for hours just repeating them over
and over and over. That is an example of OCD behaviour and in extreme case leads to physical manifestations such as turning lights on and off,
opening and closing doors etc.
EDIT - Thank you for posting this thread, you may well have provided the question that answered MY needs.
edit on 17-1-2012 by idmonster
because: A matter of common curtesy