Neurologically, What Do Hard-wired and Soft-wired Mean?

In pop-science, in reference to the brain, you’ll hear the terms “hardwired” and “softwired”, hardwired means genetically programed and softwired means learned.[1][2]

What are the Differences Between Hard-wired and Soft-wired?

“Hardwired” and “softwired” are analogies for nature and nurture. Hardwired means “born with” and softwired means “learned from experience.”

Our brains are constantly rewiring based on thoughts and stimulus (neuroplasticity), this is referring to soft-wiring. Things like instincts, reflexes, or behaviors we are “born with” are hardwired behaviors.

Both terms originate in the applied sciences (like computing and engineering), and neither is a technical term in the biological or social sciences.

Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably in popular science in place of more complicated terms (typically “hardwired” is the most commonly used), so always refer to the context of the article you are reading for specific meanings.

This video asks, “are we hardwired for empathy?”, meaning, “are we born empathic?” We could also ask, “can we softwire ourselves for empathy?” (We answer those questions in detail here and here).

Are We Hard-Wired for Greed or Empathy?.

See: What does the word “hard wired” mean in scientific terms?


  1. Brain Mechanisms of Behaviour in Lower Vertebrates
  2. The Relationship Between Hardwired and Softwired Biological Systems

"Hardwired Versus Softwired (Brain)" is tagged with: Human Brain, Learning, Memory, Neuroplasticity

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