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  1. an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.
  2. a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.
  3. a natural aptitude or gift: an instinct for making money.
  4. natural intuitive power.
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Origin of instinct

1375–1425; late Middle English < Latin instinctus prompting, instigation, enthusiasm, equivalent to *insting(uere) (in- in-2 + *sting(u)ere presumably, to prick; see distinct) + -tus suffix of v. action

Synonyms for instinct

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for instincts

intuition, knack, talent, hunch, sentiment, aptitude, impulse, sense, savvy, feeling, tendency, inclination, urge, proclivity, predisposition, gift, know-how, nose, faculty

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British Dictionary definitions for instincts


noun (ˈɪnstɪŋkt)
  1. the innate capacity of an animal to respond to a given stimulus in a relatively fixed way
  2. inborn intuitive power
  3. a natural and apparently innate aptitude
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adjective (ɪnˈstɪŋkt)
  1. rare (postpositive often foll by with)
    1. animated or impelled (by)
    2. imbued or infused (with)
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Word Origin for instinct

C15: from Latin instinctus roused, from instinguere to incite; compare instigate
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for instincts



early 15c., "a prompting," from Latin instinctus "instigation, impulse," noun use of past participle of instinguere "to incite, impel," from in- "on" (see in- (2)) + stinguere "prick, goad," from PIE *steig- "to prick, stick, pierce" (see stick (v.)). Meaning "animal faculty of intuitive perception" is from mid-15c., from notion of "natural prompting." Sense of "innate tendency" is first recorded 1560s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

instincts in Medicine


  1. An inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli.
  2. A powerful motivation or impulse.
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Related formsin•stinctive null adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

instincts in Science


  1. An inherited tendency of an organism to behave in a certain way, usually in reaction to its environment and for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need. The development and performance of instinctive behavior does not depend upon the specific details of an individual's learning experiences. Instead, instinctive behavior develops in the same way for all individuals of the same species or of the same sex of a species. For example, birds will build the form of nest typical of their species although they may never have seen such a nest being built before. Some butterfly species undertake long migrations to wintering grounds that they have never seen. Behavior in animals often reflects the influence of a combination of instinct and learning. The basic song pattern of many bird species is inherited, but it is often refined by learning from other members of the species. Dogs that naturally seek to gather animals such as sheep or cattle into a group are said to have a herding instinct, but the effective use of this instinct by the dog also requires learning on the dog's part. Instinct, as opposed to reflex, is usually used of inherited behavior patterns that are more complex or sometimes involve a degree of interaction with learning processes.
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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

instincts in Culture


Behavior that is not learned but passed between generations by heredity.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.