from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli.
  • noun A powerful motivation or impulse.
  • noun An innate capability or aptitude.
  • adjective Deeply filled or imbued.
  • adjective Obsolete Impelled from within.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Urged or animated from within; moved inwardly; infused or filled with some active principle: followed by with.
  • To impress as by an animating influence; communicate as an instinct.
  • noun A special innate propensity, in any organized being, but more especially in the lower animals, producing effects which appear to be those of reason and knowledge, but which transcend the general intelligence or experience of the creature; the sagacity of brutes.
  • noun Natural intuitive power; innate power of perception or intuition.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Urged or stimulated from within; naturally moved or impelled; imbued; animated; alive; quick.
  • transitive verb obsolete To impress, as an animating power, or instinct.
  • noun Natural inward impulse; unconscious, involuntary, or unreasoning prompting to any mode of action, whether bodily, or mental, without a distinct apprehension of the end or object to be accomplished.
  • noun (Zoöl.) Specif., the natural, unreasoning, impulse by which an animal is guided to the performance of any action, without thought of improvement in the method.
  • noun A natural aptitude or knack; a predilection

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A natural or inherent impulse or behaviour.
  • noun An intuitive reaction not based on rational conscious thought.
  • adjective archaic Imbued, charged (with something).

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective (followed by `with')deeply filled or permeated
  • noun inborn pattern of behavior often responsive to specific stimuli


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Latin īnstīnctus, impulse, from past participle of īnstinguere, to incite : in-, intensive pref.; see in– + stinguere, to prick; see steig- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Latin instinctus, past participle of instinguere ("to incite, to instigate"), from in ("in, on") + stinguere ("to prick")


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  • Let us adopt then words sanctioned by usage, and give the distinction between intelligence and instinct this more precise formula: _Intelligence, in so far as it is innate, is the knowledge of a_ form; _instinct implies the knowledge of a_ matter.

    Evolution créatrice. English Henri Bergson 1900

  • Thus, if we consider only those typical cases in which the complete triumph of intelligence and of instinct is seen, we find this essential difference between them: _instinct perfected is a faculty of using and even of constructing organized instruments; intelligence perfected is the faculty of making and using unorganized instruments_.

    Evolution créatrice. English Henri Bergson 1900

  • Once upon a time, the term instinct was perfect way to explain things that we didn't completely understand at the time.

    Archive 2009-08-01 DNLee 2009

  • Once upon a time, the term instinct was perfect way to explain things that we didn't completely understand at the time.

    Ethology Conference - The Development of Behavior DNLee 2009

  • To apply the term instinct to the regular and involuntary movements of the bodily organs, such as the beating of the heart and the action of the organs of respiration, is manifestly an extension of the ordinary acceptation of the term.

    The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 05, No. 31, May, 1860 Various

  • This wisdom is often classed by the unknowing under the term instinct, whereas it displays no less skill and knowledge than that of our modern surgery.

    The Human Side of Animals Royal Dixon 1923

  • As we breed animals for the transmission of physical attributes, so the Kaldanes breed themselves for the transmission of attributes of the mind, including memory and the power of recollection, and thus have they raised what we term instinct, above the level of the threshold of the objective mind where it may be commanded and utilized by recollection.

    The Chessmen of Mars 1922

  • McDougall obviously employs the term instinct in a much more comprehensive and inclusive sense than Shand does.

    The Journal of Abnormal Psychology 1916

  • There is a growing tendency in biology and comparative psychology to restrict the term instinct to inherited purposive adaptations.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 8: Infamy-Lapparent 1840-1916 1913

  • In both popular and scientific literature the term instinct has been given such a variety of meanings that it is not possible to frame for it an adequate definition which would meet with general acceptance.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 8: Infamy-Lapparent 1840-1916 1913


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  • ...their immense magnitude renders it very hard really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can possibly be instinct, in all parts, with the same sort of life that lives in a dog or a horse...

    - Melville, Moby-Dick, ch. 58

    July 26, 2008