Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour University of Cambridge, High Street Madingley, Cambridge CB3 8AA, UK E-mail: email@example.com
King’s College, Cambridge CB2 1ST, UK E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Innate and the Acquired: Useful Clusters or a Residual Distinction From Folk Biology?
ABSTRACT: The idea of the innate and the acquired is a part of folk-biology butis also used by biologists, psychologists and cognitive scientists in their disciplines. Are they right to do so? Innateness is often deﬁned by appealing to the role of genes in development, to the role of Darwinian evolution in shaping developmental processes, to the non-involvement of learning during development, to developmental robustness, and to modularity. We argue that all such deﬁnitionsare unsatisfactory. Some are unsatisfactory because they are based on simplistic and empirically outmoded views of development. Others are empirically defensible but are unsatisfactory because they do not capture the full breadth of the use of the term ‘‘innate’’ and, due to this restriction, they can easily lead to inferential mistakes. The deﬁnition of acquired behavior has been used with greatersophistication and is generally regarded as being heterogeneous. Nevertheless, in as much as the overall category has been seen in opposition to the innate, it has been an obstacle to a thorough investigation of how behavior develops. We suggest that a useful way forward is to examine whether or not the empirically well-established properties often associated with the concept of innate and theconcept of acquired form theoretically useful clusters. This path leads to a much fuller appreciation of the view favored by Gilbert Gottlieb, according to which development involves the continuous interplay of the organism (and its genes) with its environment. ß 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 49: 818–831, 2007. Keywords: early experience; learning; plasticity; imprinting; languageINTRODUCTION
Despite many critiques of the practice of dividing up behavior into the innate and the acquired, the habit dies hard. In an earlier paper we examined the large number of different meanings of innateness and concluded that some were incoherent, having no place in science, or when their meanings were clear and empirical evidence was obtained, these characteristics did not necessarilycorrelate with each other (Mameli & Bateson, 2006). We argued that scientists often relied on the folk biology which cognitive scientists and anthropologists have started to study (Astuti, 2000; Atran, 1990; Atran et al., 2001; Carey & Gelman, 1991; Medin & Atran, 1999).
Received 1 August 2007; Accepted 14 August 2007 Correspondence to: P. Bateson Published online in Wiley InterScience(www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/dev.20277 ß 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The vernacular usage is reﬂected in dictionary deﬁnitions. These typically refer to innate characters as being present at birth (inborn or congenital), part of the essence of an individual, or not learned. If ‘‘acquired’’ is taken as being the opposite of ‘‘innate,’’ folk understanding would have it that acquiredcharacteristics are not present at birth (neither congenital nor inborn), not part of the essence of an individual, and (typically, at least in the case of cognitive and behavioral traits) learned. Gilbert Gottlieb was a life-long opponent of the innate/ acquired dichotomy and showed in his own empirical work how behavior is inﬂuenced by experience received before birth (or hatching in the case of thebirds on which he worked) and that experience, on which acquired behavior depends, has many different facets to it. In this tribute to him, we argue that the way the innate/acquired distinction is currently used in biology and psychology raises problems because the various properties that biologists and psychologists take to be constitutive or indicative of innateness may not form coherent clusters....