Useful Notes on the McDougall’s Theory of Instinct
According to him an emotional excitement does accompany an instinctive act He defines an instinct as “an inherited or innate psycho-physical disposition which determines its possessor to perceive, and to pay attention to, objects of a certain class, to experience an emotional excitement of a particular quality upon perceiving such an object, and to act with regard to it, in a particular manner, or at least, to experience an impulse to such an action.
Thus to McDougall an instinct is a primary motive, ‘a native spring of action.’ He analyses it into three main phases, receptive, executive, and between these two is the emotion, the core of the whole instinct.
The psycho-physical organism is modifiable through experience. All the individuals are endowed with certain native dispositions. How far these dispositions are modifiable will always depend upon the environment the individuals pass through.
All of us have some special likings for certain objects which become through experience the centers of definitely organized groups of emotions. These organizations of emotions around an object help to form a ‘sentiment’ for that object.
Thus a sentiment is the sum total of an individual’s feelings and emotions. Shand defines a sentiment as, “an organized system of emotional tendencies centered about some object.” McDougall says that a sentiment is an “enduring concave attitude towards some object induced by experience of that object.”
According to McDougall while instincts become combined into complex attitudes or sentiments, the emotion remains practically the same in spite of all learning and experience. All behavior is carried out by sentiments built up out of instincts.
Hence the Hormic psychologist says that the instincts are the foundations of human behavior. Evidently according to him the immediate cause of human behavior is a sentiment which may be analyzed into two components parts viz., primitive instincts and their emotions.
The Hormic psychology has been bitterly criticized for its view of human nature, because according to the critics it reduces man to the level of mere animal. They, argue: “Is not man moved by noble and divine ideals; how can we reduce all his aspirations to the level of primitive instincts?”
The bloody and horrible scenes of the battle-front are enough silence the critics of McDougall. They clearly reveal the primitive passion of man. McDougall is perfectly justified in holding that ‘man is but an instinctive animal’.
But we should note that McDougall has not brought down man to the animal category. He has not denied to him his ‘intellect’. As we have seen above, he says that human behavior is regulated by sentiments which are practically absent in animal behavior.
Nevertheless, we will have to admit that both man and animal began at the same instinctive level. But man has raised himself from that level and has attained the level of cultured sentiments, whereas the animal remains at the same.