What Are The 5 Basic Human Instincts?

We talk about instincts all the time and how they trigger our behaviours, but we hardly know how they operate. Actually, what are the 5 basic human instincts?

Have you ever wondered why we do the things we do? Why do we act in certain ways or make certain decisions? As humans, we’re complex beings with a multitude of thoughts, emotions, and motivations.

But at our core, we’re also driven by a set of fundamental instincts that have been ingrained in us since the beginning of our species.

In this discussion, we’ll explore the 5 basic human instincts that shape who we are and influence our behaviors.

From our innate drive to survive to our instinctual need for social connection, these instincts have played a crucial role in our evolution and continue to guide us in our daily lives.

So, let’s delve into the fascinating world of human instincts and uncover the driving forces behind our thoughts and actions!

Definition Of Human Instincts

Instinct is a natural, automatic, and intuitive impulse that we all possess. It’s a survival mechanism that helps us make split-second decisions in times of danger or uncertainty.

Not only that they keep us away from danger, but they also control or trigger our urges for hunger, reproduction, and other basic survival needs of humans.

These instincts are involuntary, innate, and universal, present in all of us regardless of age, race, gender, or culture.

These instincts exist to help us adapt to our environment and survive in challenging situations.

They have developed through evolution and are deeply ingrained in our biology.

Why is it Important You Understand What Instinct is?

Understanding what instinct is, and how it influences our behavior, is crucial in helping us navigate through life with greater awareness and control.

By paying attention to our instincts, we can learn to trust our intuition and make better decisions in a variety of situations.

For example, if you’re walking home alone at night and you feel like someone is following you, your instinct might be telling you to pick up your pace or take a different route.

Ignoring that feeling could put you in danger, but listening to it could help keep you safe.

Additionally, understanding instinct can deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.

It can give us insight into why we react to certain situations in certain ways, and help us empathize with others who may be struggling with their own internal instincts.

What are the 5 Basic Human Instincts?

As described above, instincts are the driving forces behind our actions and behaviors as humans, and they help us survive and thrive in the world.

Here are the basic five instincts:

  • Self-preservation Instinct
  • Reproduction Instinct
  • Socialization Instinct
  • Curiosity Instinct and
  • Creativity Instinct

1. Self-preservation Instinct

This is the drive to protect ourselves from harm and danger.

Self-preservation instinct, in simple terms, is the innate drive towards self-preservation or the protection of oneself from harm or danger.

The instinct is present in all living beings, from animals to humans, and it is a fundamental aspect of survival.

It’s the reason we jump when we hear a loud noise, or why we avoid walking down a dark path alone at night.

The self-preservation instinct is triggered by a variety of stimuli, such as fear, pain, hunger, or even just a sense of discomfort.

When our bodies sense danger, instinct kicks in, and our biological responses are activated.

These responses can include an increased heart rate, heightened sensitivity to our surroundings, and an adrenaline rush, all in preparation for a fight or flight.

Examples of Survival Instincts

  • Thirst: Similar to hunger, our instinct to seek out water is vital to our survival. Thirst signals the body to seek out hydration and prevent dehydration.
  • Pain Reflex: When we experience pain, our body instinctively reacts to remove the source of the pain or protect the injured area from further harm. This helps us avoid further injury or damage.
  • Sleep: Our natural need for sleep is a survival instinct that helps our body rest and repair itself. Lack of sleep can have severe consequences on our health and well-being.
  • Fear: Fear is a natural survival instinct that warns us of potential danger and helps us avoid risky situations.
  • Fainting or Passing Out: In extreme cases of stress or fear, our body may instinctively shut down to protect itself from further harm. This is known as the “fainting reflex”.

2. Reproduction Instinct

This is the drive to procreate and continue our species. It’s why we are attracted to certain individuals and want to have children.

At its heart, the reproduction instinct is all about our desire to pass on our genes to the next generation.

For humans, this means finding a partner, falling in love, and starting a family.

But this instinct is not just limited to us; all living creatures – be it plants, animals, or even bacteria – have evolved ways to reproduce and keep their species alive.

In humans, the reproduction instinct manifests itself in many ways.

From the first stirrings of attraction to the rush of hormones during sexual intimacy, our bodies and minds are wired to seek out and connect with others.

Related: Fear Propaganda: How It is Used For Psychological Manipulations

And let’s not forget the feelings of joy and fulfillment that come with parenthood – the urge to care for and protect our offspring is just another part of this powerful instinct.

But despite its importance, the reproduction instinct is often shrouded in taboos and misconceptions.

Many people are uncomfortable talking about sex and sexuality, while others struggle with infertility, pregnancy loss, or complicated family situations.

These challenges can make it hard to fully embrace our innate desire to reproduce and connect with others.

Examples of Reproductive Instinct

  • Sexual Attraction: an instinct that drives individuals to seek out a mate and engage in sexual activity.
  • Fertility Cycles: An instinct that regulates the reproductive cycles of, including ovulation and mating behavior.
  • Parental Care: an instinct that drives animals to care for and protect their offspring, ensuring their survival and development.
  • Courtship: an instinct that drives individuals to perform elaborate displays or behaviors to attract mates or establish dominance.

3. Socialization Instinct

This is the desire to connect with others and form relationships. It’s the reason we seek out friendships and romantic partnerships, and why we engage in group activities like sports or clubs.

It’s what makes us seek out companionship and even build familial bonds.

Studies have shown that socialization is actually a basic need for humans – we need human interaction in order to thrive.

It’s not just about forming connections, though. The human socialization instinct also drives us to conform to social norms and expectations.

We learn how to behave and interact with others by observing those around us and mimicking their behavior.

Related: How To Master Your Sense Of Agency And Sensory Intelligence

It’s why we tend to conform to the practices and customs of our culture and community.

Of course, the way we socialize has evolved over time. In the past, socialization may have been more closely tied to survival – forming bonds with other people meant a better chance of staying alive.

Today, however, socialization is more about building relationships for emotional fulfillment and social support.

But even though our socialization instincts might not be as closely tied to survival as they were in the past, they’re still incredibly important.

Studies have found that people with strong social connections have better physical and mental health outcomes than those who are isolated.

Examples of Socialization Instinct

  • Learning Language: Humans have an innate ability to learn language from a very young age, which is essential for socialization and communication.
  • Emulating Others: Children often imitate the behavior of their parents and other people around them. This is an instinctive way for them to learn social norms and customs.
  • Attachment: Babies are born with a strong instinctual drive to form attachments with their caregivers. This attachment plays a crucial role in the development of socialization skills.

4. Curiosity Instinct

This is the drive to explore and learn about our environment. It’s why we ask questions, try new things, and delve into subjects that interest us.

It’s amazing how curious we can be about small things in our everyday life, that’s because our curiosity is what makes us innovative thinkers, and it’s what drives our progress in the world.

Our innate human curiosity is what motivates us to learn new things, explore unknown territories, and discover the unknown.

Ultimately, it sets us apart from other species on the planet.

From the moment we are born, we show an inclination to explore our surroundings and learn new concepts.

We develop a natural interest in the world’s various elements and want to know more about them.

This natural curiosity is what leads to our development as individuals and our progress as a society.

Curiosity also helps us develop our critical thinking skills, as we continue to ask questions and seek answers.

This allows us to make more informed decisions and enables us to thrive in our increasingly complex world.

Examples of Curiosity Instinct

  • Exploration: Humans have always had a natural tendency to explore their environment. This curiosity has led us to discover new lands, new creatures, and new resources.
  • Learning: We are naturally curious about how things work, why things are the way they are, and what we can do to improve them. This has led to countless scientific discoveries, technological advancements, and creative innovations.
  • Risk-taking: Humans are curious about the unknown, and this can sometimes lead to risk-taking behavior. Whether it’s exploring dangerous territories, pushing the boundaries of science and technology, or simply trying new things, our curiosity can sometimes lead us to take risks that others might avoid.

5. Creativity Instinct

Creativity instinct in humans is the innate ability to think, imagine, and create novel and innovative ideas or products.

It is an inherent ability that is present in every human being, but it varies in degree from person to person.

Humans have an intrinsic urge to explore and experiment with new ideas and concepts, which leads to the generation of groundbreaking discoveries and inventions.

Creativity instinct allows humans to come up with unique solutions to complex and challenging problems, enabling them to adapt to their surroundings and cope with them.

Related: Exploring The Primal Instincts Of Survival In the Modern Day

The creativity instinct is rooted in the human brain’s cognitive processing and mental processes, which encompasses various cognitive domains such as divergent thinking, imagination, intuition, and cognitive flexibility.

These cognitive processes enable humans to think beyond the limitations of established norms and conventions and explore new perspectives and avenues of thought.

Moreover, the creativity instinct is influenced by various external factors such as environment, socio-cultural setting, and personal experiences.

Exposure to different cultures, ideas, and stimuli can stimulate creativity, as it encourages people to view things from different perspectives and generate novel insights and ideas.

Examples of Creativity Instinct

  • Artistic Expression: Many individuals have a creative instinct for artistic pursuits, including painting, music, literature, and theatre.
  • Innovation and Invention: Human beings can create entirely new products and technologies through their creative instinct.
  • Scientific Discovery: Creative thinking can lead to new discoveries and advancements in fields like medicine, physics, and astronomy.
People displaying instinctive behaviour

How Instincts Shape Human Behaviour

Instincts play a significant role in shaping human behavior.

Instincts also play a role in our decision-making skills. Our brain is hardwired to assess situations quickly and make instinctive decisions based on past experiences.

For example, if we encounter a dangerous animal, our instinct will be to fight or flee, based on our previous experiences and the information available to us at the time.

However, as we have evolved, we have developed the ability to override our instincts and make more rational decisions.

Related: Instinctual Motivation: How Instincts Drive Desire For Status

For example, we may choose to ignore our instinct to eat a sugary snack and opt for a healthier option instead.

We can also learn to control our emotions and not let our instincts take over in situations where it may not be appropriate.

While we may have the ability to override our instincts and make more rational decisions, they are still an essential part of who we are as living beings.

Understanding our instincts and how they shape our behavior can help us make better decisions and live more fulfilling life.

The Role of Culture and Society in Shaping Human Instincts

Culture and society play a significant role in shaping human behavior, including our instincts.

While our instincts are innate and hardwired, they are heavily influenced by the cultural and societal norms that we grow up with.

Let’s explore the role of culture and society in shaping human instincts.


Culture is a set of shared values, beliefs, customs, and practices that define a group of people.

It is passed down from generation to generation through language, traditions, and social norms.

Culture plays a crucial role in shaping our instincts by influencing our behavior and perception of the world.

For example, the concept of time varies widely across different cultures. In some cultures, punctuality is highly valued, and being late is considered rude and disrespectful.

In contrast, in other cultures, time is viewed as more fluid, and being late is not as big of a deal.

This cultural difference can shape our instinctive behavior, as we may feel the pressure to be punctual in one culture but not in another.


Society, on the other hand, is a group of individuals living in a particular geographical location and sharing a common culture.

Society plays a critical role in shaping our instincts by influencing our behavior through social norms, laws, and institutions.

For example, in some societies, there is a strong emphasis on individualism, where people are encouraged to be independent and pursue their own goals.

In contrast, in other societies, there is a stronger emphasis on collectivism, where people are encouraged to work together and prioritize the needs of the group over their own individual needs.

These societal differences can shape our instincts, as we may feel more inclined to prioritize our individual needs in one society and prioritize the needs of the group in another.

It is important to note that culture and society can also shape our instincts in negative ways.

For example, if a culture or society values aggression and violence, individuals may be more inclined to behave aggressively and violently, even if it goes against their natural instincts of cooperation and empathy.


The five human instincts are a fundamental aspect of our behavior, shaping how we interact with the world around us.

These instincts – survival, reproductive, social, curious, and creative – are innate and hardwired into our biology.

By understanding these instincts, we can better understand the motivations behind our behavior, and how we respond to various situations.

These instincts are essential for our survival and development as a species, and play a critical role in shaping our actions and reactions.

However, it is important to note that these instincts are not fixed, and can be influenced by various external factors such as culture and environment.

By being aware of our instincts, we can strive to make conscious decisions and balance them with rational thinking, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling life.

By working with our instincts, rather than against them, we can achieve a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose in life.


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Adolescent and Adult Psychologist
Pyo Merez (PsyD) is a certified adolescent and adult psychologist who has been on the frontline of helping adolescents and adults with mental health. An expert in cognitive and developmental psychology - social relationships, cultural contexts, and individual differences. He is also a speaker and panelist on issues bordering on budding young people.