by Alphonsus Obayuwana M.D., Ph.D., CPC
The key to understanding humanity.
- Infants have the inborn desire (or primal demand) for food and comfort.
- Babies show a preference for one particularly “trusted person” in whose arms they prefer to be.
- Our in-born hungers serve as natural prompts nudging us to do what makes our survival and well-being possible.
If you allow me to define hunger as a compelling desire, it could then be said that every one of us—without any exception—has five inborn human hungers. These are
- Hunger for inclusion and acknowledgment
- Hunger for intimacy and a trusted companion
- Hunger for food and comfort
- Hunger for information and answers
- Hunger for continuity and certainty
These hungers are regarded as inborn because infants and young children naturally express them without ever being taught or prompted by adults.
These facts came to light when my students and I decided to chronicle what primal demands infants and toddlers universally make. The objective of the study was to observe and document what spontaneous actions and primal behaviors infants and very young children demonstrate without any prompting by adults—starting from the moment of birth.
The aim was to find out—based solely on observed behavior—what human infants and young children truly seem to intuitively want, demand, and persistently desire. To achieve this goal, we chronicled the primal demands of newborn infants and the natural desires of toddlers, including the behaviors of 3- and even some 4-year-olds—with the help and assistance of neonatologists, pediatricians, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, kindergarten teachers, babysitters, older siblings, nurses, and nannies.
We found, and concluded the following:
- During delivery (or parturition), every healthy full-term baby comes out of the womb in apparent discomfort and usually crying, kicking, and screaming. The crying came to a stop once the baby was wiped dry, kept warm, cuddled, and fed—suggesting that newborns perhaps desire food and comfort. This was further affirmed in the newborn nurseries, where infants were noted to cry only when they were wet or hungry. Again, crying stops once the infants are fed and their diapers changed—confirming the conclusion that infants have the inborn desire (or primal demand) for food and comfort.
- During infancy, babies show a preference for one particularly “trusted person” (often the mother, grandmother, a nanny, or an older sibling) in whose arms they prefer to be and cuddle. It was remarked that infants would often cry endlessly in “protest” until handed over into the arms of the preferred caregiver—suggesting a desire or a demand, on the part of the infant, for a particularly trusted and preferred companion.
- Once they can talk, children universally ask a lot of questions. “What is that, Grandma?” is followed by a “Why?” and then another “Why?” or “How?” or “When?” Even before they can speak and ask questions, infants reveal their curiosity by looking around, pointing to things, or reaching for a rattle or other objects that are placed in front of them. Verbalized and nonverbalized queries of children demonstrate beyond any doubt their strong “desire to know”—suggesting an in-born hunger for information and answers.
- Whether it’s time to play or do chores, children (unless autistic or not feeling well) love to be included. Often expressed are common complaints such as “Mom, they won’t play with me” or “They won’t let me help.” At school, they hate “time-outs” and protest any form of involuntary exclusion from other classmates. Also, children commonly crave acknowledgments—as in “Daddy, Daddy, see how strong I am!” or “Look, Grandpa, I did it all by myself!” because of their strong desire and hunger for inclusion and acknowledgment.
- Children love repetitions and frequently request encores, as in “Daddy, let’s do that again, please”—right after the second or even the third ride at the park. There is often “Grandma, tell me another story” after one, two, or three previous stories. A game of “peek-a-boo” with a child could go on forever if the adult participant would only fully cooperate—because children love continuity. Equally, children love the feeling of certainty and can be very “unforgiving” when promises are broken. “Grandpa … but you promised,” they would protest distressingly. In what amounts to open solicitations, children often ask, “Am I a good boy, Daddy?” “Am I a smart girl, Mommy?” or “Will I be strong like you when I grow up?”—all of which suggest children’s strong desire for reassurance, their love for continuity, and a hunger for certainty.
Our Five Inborn Hungers
Right from the moment of birth, through infancy, early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and until death—our in-born hungers persist and continue to serve as natural prompts, nudging and urging us to take those actions that make our survival and well-being possible. Accordingly, they are largely responsible for the stress and pleasures in our lives, as well as what we do and how we feel. These inborn hungers have existential value, but when they become severe and intensive, or overwhelming, happiness (or a happy life) is impossible.
Everything we do today, did yesterday, and will do tomorrow (individually or collectively), is provoked or inspired by our five in-born hungers.Our human institutionsand inventions, such as the internet, the radio, television, cell phones, schools, universities, hospitals, churches, religion, jurisprudence, space exploration, marriage, sports, entertainment, journalism, farming, agriculture, information technology, architecture, home construction, city planning, commerce, life insurance, scientific research, space exploration, architecture, engineering, conflict resolution, and civil rights—were all inspired in response to our five inborn human hungers.
When and if we become aware and truly mindful that others, just like us, have an inborn hunger for inclusion and acknowledgment, intimacy and trusted companionship, food and comfort, information and answers, and continuity and certainty—we become kinder, fairer, and more considerate employers or employees, supervisors or the supervised, teachers or students, colleagues, friends, neighbors, or strangers—anywhere we may be.
“Our desires define us more than any other aspect of our lives.”–Harrison Barnes