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The 4 main primary impulses: what they are and what they are for

The 4 main primary impulses: what they are and what they are for

May 7, 2024

The human being moves and acts moved by different reasons and goals. These can be multiple, often based on the fact of supplying a lack or need or preventing its appearance. It is in this context that we will probably have heard of primary impulses as something that is impossible to evade and that sometimes they are used as justification for different types of actions, even committing criminal acts.

But... What are the primary impulses and why are they considered as such? In this article we propose to make a brief comment about it.

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What is a primary impulse?

We can consider as primary impulses the set of motivations that induce the action in order to respond to the most basic needs of the subject, being its fundamental fulfillment in most cases for the survival of the subject.


These impulses are aimed at getting the subject to increase their energy level if it is insufficient to maintain its operation or survive, or reduce if it is excessive and poses a risk to your health. It also allows maintain a state of homeostasis or balance that keeps us alive .

Primary impulses have a biological or organic basis, being and arising innate in all living beings. This implies that the impulse is not learned culturally, although the means to achieve them (hunt, cultivate or flirt for example) are. In fact the primary impulses they are shared by a large number of animals, not just human beings .


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The main primary impulses

There are different types of primary stimuli, highlighting four main. While usually speaking of three, usually based on the definition of these have decided to add a fourth primary impulse that in fact is essential for our survival. Let's see them below.

1. Hunger

The urge to feed is one of the most basic that exists, and allows survival through the intake of different nutrients. In this way the individual can maintain or increase their energy levels . This type of primary impulse oscillates between two main types of signals or poles, the hunger or impulse to look for food or the satiety as an impulse to stop the intake.

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2. Thirst

Thirst is another of the fundamental primary impulses, which allows us survival. The objective of this impulse is to recover the levels of fluids or body fluids in such a way that body homeostasis can be maintained. We must bear in mind that throughout our lives we lose fluids continuously with our behavior , so that not recovering them would end up leading to death. Thanks to thirst we can recover fluid levels and maintain the proper functioning of our body.


3. Sex

Probably one of the most well-known primary impulses and which is considered as such, sex is the mechanism through which we perpetuate our species , generating new individuals that will carry a large part of our genetic code. Within the primary impulses, however, we are facing one of the most particular, since it has unique characteristics.

In the first place, it is the only one of the primary impulses that in reality does not suppose an activity that alters the possibilities of survival of the individual organism, not assuming neither an increase nor a diminution of the level of energy that is necessary to stay alive. Also another particularity of this primary impulse is that it is the only one of the most primary that necessarily requires interaction with another member of the same species , promoting a certain level of socialization.

4. Dream

Although sleep or rest is not always added as one of the primary impulses because it supposes an absence of behavioral activity, the truth is that we could include it within them. In fact it is one of the most important vital needs whose total absence would lead us to death. The reasons why the dream can be considered a primary impulse happen in the first place because it is something imposed by our biology which allows us to survive.

This impulse to want to sleep leads us to optimize energy levels and physical activation throughout life, avoiding the state of lack and discomfort that would not have this need covered.

Other fundamental primary impulses

Although when we talk about primary impulses we usually think about the previous four, the truth is that we can think of many others that we do not usually take into account and that are even largely unconscious. Among them we can find the following.

1. Maternal or paternal impulse

This kind of impulse It arises in an innate way when we are fathers or mothers . Although in some species both mother and father seem to feel it, in others it is only found in one of the parents. Generally this parent is the mother (although for example in the seahorse the reverse happens).

This impulse shares with the sexual one the fact that at the physiological level it does not imply any benefit at the level of individual survival , although yes for the propagation of the species, and that is linked to the presence of a being of the same species.

A distinctive element is the relationship of kinship that usually exists between progenitor and progeny (although it also appears before adopted children). It refers to the need to be close, protect, nurture, care and be aware of the offspring. This impulse can even push the animal or subject to self-destructive acts in order to protect the children.

2. Breathing

It is an impulse that is semi-conscious in humans, but that is not so in other species (like dolphins). It supposes the impulse of open the airways in order to allow the entry of an oxygen supply (which allows our cells to stay alive) and the excretion of residues from cellular functioning.

3. Excretion

Defecation or urination are fundamental processes, which suppose a primary impulse aimed at eliminating all of the body those organic waste that could harm our operation to stay inside of us. If salivation or sweating is not included, it is because it is unconscious processes, not requiring a conscious action or a motivation to action.


Cicero, on the Ends bk 3 | Primary Impulses of Human Nature | Philosophy Core Concepts (May 2024).


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