Biology of Behavior
The biology of human behavior is rooted in the fact that human beings are animals, in the sense that they are biological creatures and are the result of millions of years of evolution with a physical make up that forms us into creatures that are fitter and more suitable for surviving and adapting to the physical environment all together. Even though a human being is still an animal the biology of our human behavior is impacted by a wide variety of circumstances. One of these circumstances is the fact that we have something that no other animal has: an intricate social structure. “We gather in families, tribes, clans, nations. We have an incredibly sophisticated method of interacting — speech. We can communicate over time and distance through printing and broadcasting. Our memories are the longest, our interactions the most intricate, our perception of the world simultaneously the broadest and most detailed” (Tafflinger, 2011). Thus the biology of human behavior is continually influenced by society: biology continues to guide our reactions to situations as the manifestation of generations of ancestors surviving because of their responses and reactions (Tafflinger, 2011). However, the bottom line is that our social structure continues to dictate and place restrictions on how we engage in our biological responses. Thus, in order to better understand the biology of human behavior, one still needs to consider how human behavior is continually filtered through the lens of society; thus, it’s really not a question of nature vs. nurture as so many people like to think (Tafflinger, 2011).
However, before one tries to determine how the biological basis of human behavior impacts the human organism via the filter of society, it’s still important to gauge a strong understanding of the three main pillars which impact human behavior: self-preservation, reproduction and greed (Tafflinger, 2011). “Self-preservation is keeping yourself alive, either physically or psychologically. The latter includes mentally or economically healthy” (Tafflinger, 2011). The biological basis of self-preservation is rooted in the fact that the members of a species must have a strong desire to live long enough to give their genes to their descendants: “A species with a death-wish dies out rather quickly” (Tafflinger, 2011). Thus, one can aptly conclude that when it comes to the biology of human behavior, the desire to stay alive is an extremely instinctive one, which is built into the psyche of the organism, which means the human being will actively seek out parts of the environment that will bolster its chances for surviving and thriving — things like food, water, oxygen, rest, relaxation and other elements (Tafflinger, 2011). Likewise, this means that an organism will instinctively avoid elements which will threaten its chance of survival, via elements like predators, starvation, dehydration, and other hazardous situations which will negatively impact the human being from continuing on.
How does biology impact human behavior?
How does society impact human behavior?
Thus, these factors all coexist and comingle in an incredibly intricate and complex society. This paper seeks to examine the following problem statement: how are the biological mechanisms of the human being impacted by the complex social factors of being alive in the world today? Furthermore, this paper seeks to determine how one’s mental factors contribute to this unique situation.
One can’t dismiss the genetic biological factors which influence human behavior. As van Wormer explains in the book, “Human Behavior and the Social Environment” there is a clear and undeniable influence on genetic on the outcome and manifestation of human behavior. “Why is it that one person can drink and use drugs moderately over a lifetime while another person gets hooked over a short period of time?” (van Wormer, 2011). One cannot deny that the genes one inherits can have a profound impact on one’s actions and overall behavior. As van Wormer explains, the children of alcoholics are four times as likely to develop the condition as the children of non-alcoholics (2011). This book also takes a close look at how the psychological factors which are related to health and wellness can have an impact on one’s physical state. Thus, one element of the biology of behavior is connected to the health and balance of one’s general psychology.
As Tafflinger has demonstrated in his seminal paper, “The Biological Basis of Human Behavior” it is clear that both mental and behavioral factor influence human beings unlike any other animal. “The greatest example lies in the existence of amusement parks, where people deliberately subject themselves to stimuli that any other creature on earth would go to great lengths to avoid” (Tafflinger, 2011). The difference can be clearly seen in an amusement park: no dog or any other animal would participate on a roller coaster, but human beings go on such rides for enjoyment, with the human mind determining that the ride is safe, thus preventing any terror from being accepted (Tafflinger, 2011). Social factors have a tremendous impact on how human beings react to stimuli: societal factor dictate that a human being has to stay poised and listen when their supervisor might scream at them or otherwise bitch them out. This goes against some very strong biological wiring: biology dictates that there would be a strong fight or flight reaction, which society dictates that human beings can’t engage in. Thus, there is a theory which asserts that things like ulcers, headaches, nervous breakdowns and comparable reactions are actually the result of fight or flight symptoms at work and putting stress on the body — as the mind is under a form of stress that no animal would willingly endure.
Societal forces in some ways have improved the human chances for survival, and have enhanced human life as well: this has changed human behavior without a doubt. Societal forces have had an undeniable impact on the biological factors which influence human society. Self-preservation has become equally complex, as it’s no longer about finding proper growing food or any form of shelter. One of the major factors that is influenced by society, but which has its roots in biology is the phenomenon of greed. Greed is both a byproduct of society’s forces and the animal instincts of the human being. For instance, if one were to just treat the symptom of greed as being the act of simply getting a larger piece of one’s share, one can clearly see greed manifesting in nature as a form of survival. “For example, in the Amazonian rain forest, an occasional tree dies and falls. This leaves an opening to the sun in the continuous canopy of foliage. Plants and trees race each other to grow into that opening. The winners in the race fill the hole; the losers die through lack of sunlight. (Attenborough, 1990) The greed for sunlight means life” (Tafflinger, 2011). This means that when one is presented with potential resources that are needed, it is in the biological interest of the organism to take advantage of them, a decision which is not made consciously, but which is made instinctively, and which is aggravated by the circumstances of society. Survival in society today is largely an economic issue. For example, if one wants to not get killed while driving around (as an accident can happen at any time), one increases one’s chances of survival by driving the best car that one can afford. When human beings scorn greed, this is usually misguided, as being greedy is actually just a manifestation of the dual influences of both societal factors and instinct. Particularly so much of what appears to be “greed” is actually just the human organism ensuring the stability of his or her own self-preservation and reproduction
Ultimately, what can be concluded is that the development of behavior includes both genetic and environmental factors. Furthermore, “the interplay of genetic and environmental influences is not random in time, for there exist prescribed intervals during which the developing animal is particularly susceptible to specific external influences, and it is at these times that the developmental process can be tricked. Finally, the developmental processes are not random in character, for the developing animal may be much more susceptible to some external events than others” (Goldsmith, 1994, p.75). Essentially, not all animals adapt, learn and evolve with the same equal faculty: being able to survive depends on a variety of genetic and environmental factors which is not the same for all species.
One example of genetics impacting human behavior is how some people can gain weight eating the same amount of food, but one person might be genetically predisposed to gaining weight over the other. This impacts human survival in different ways, as a part of human survival depends on being accepted by others, and human beings tend to not gravitate to those who they consider to be inferior. An example of the need to survive is manifested in human beings who buy alarm systems for their homes or buy weapons to protect themselves. For most people, the number one threat to survival is other humans. Alarm systems and weapons in the home are ways to ensure survival. One could also argue that certain traditions and rituals help to ease human beings through difficult transitions in life which help again, to ensure the survival of the species. Human beings are thinking and complex organisms with emotions and thoughts which can impact survival: for example, the death of a loved one can be a devastating blow to one’s survival. Funerals are rituals which manifest as a form of organized human behavior which can help this transition be easier.
One real situation which occurred in my own life was manifested by a niece of mine who was going through a great deal of stress at home. Her parents were getting a divorce and neither parent was able to spend much time with her, unfortunately. She was attending a high-caliber High School of Performing Arts in New York City and was trying to become a ballet dancer. She was under enormous pressure from her ballet teachers at school and this was making her feel scared and uncertain most of the time. There was also a very heavy diet culture that pervaded throughout the school, and diets and diet programs were being passed along to students for much of the time. Eventually, this niece of mine developed anorexia-nervosa and lost 25 lbs, being unable to eat, and eventually unable to dance. She had to go into a part time program which sought to reverse the psychological conditioning she had undergone and which also attempted to help her feel more compelled to eat and rebuild her self-esteem.
Goldsmith, T. (1994). The Biological Roots of Human Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Grof, S. (2007). Consciousness Evolution and Planetary Survival. Retrieved from Stanslavgrof.com: http://www.stanislavgrof.com/pdf/consciousnessevolution.pdf
Taflinger, R. (2011). The Biological Basis of Human Behavior. Retrieved from wsu.edu:
van Wormer, K. (2011). Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Micro Level. Oxford:
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