Biology Makes Us Who We Are   Leave a comment


Of my four siblings, I considered myself the biggest chicken of the bunch, but one hot summer day standing at the end of the high diving board with my knees shaking and going over the worst that could happen to me from a dive at that height, and convincing myself that death was unlikely, I had an epiphany. Maybe I was the brave one, because if diving off the board did not scare my siblings then bravery was not a factor in their dive, but if I dove it meant something else.

Nurture was not a factor in why some things scared me more than it did my brothers or sister. The age-old question of nature versus nurture has reached a new level of discussion with increased studies of biology and behavior. Fascinating new studies on brain evolution give us more to consider in human behavior. For instance, one theory to explain the rise in numbers of children with autism is “assortative mating” or the “geek syndrome.”  The belief is that when highly analytical people marry they are more likely to produce children with autism. There is a disproportionate number of children with autism in Silicone Valley where there is a large number of computer programmers and engineers. The theory is that people with logical organized minds with the talent of pattern recognition prefer marrying people with the same talents, and the genes that produce these talents may also impair their social and communication skills, which may also be a reason for marrying because they feel comfortable with each other in their shared lack of social skills.

According to a survey of 1,000 members of the National Autistic Society, fathers and grandfathers of children with autistic spectrum conditions are twice as likely to work in a systemizing profession such as engineering. Students in the natural sciences have a higher number of relatives with autism than do students in the humanities, and mathematicians have a higher rate of autistic spectrum conditions compared with the general population. The theory that both parents of children with autism are strong systemizers is also evident from a study that shows both mothers and fathers score above average on a questionnaire that measures autistic traits.

If your parents seem like they are from different planets say Venus and Mars, maybe even different species, it may be the best thing for you.  It does seem that the most physically beautiful people are of mixed ethnic parentage, so diversity not only aids our chemical and biological makeup but it makes us easier to look at too.

What else does biology tell us about our behavior? Scientists often start with animals, not human animals but the furry kind whose biology is much closer to us then many people like to believe. It has long been known that women who live together such as in dorms without males soon have menstrual cycles that occur at the same time of the month. This was tested with hamsters that ovulate every 4 days. When just female hamsters lived together their cycles synchronized to the same time of the week but when a male was put in the mix, the female’s cycles separated and occurred at different times. When their noses were closed with little clothespins or stoppered up in a more scientific way their cycles did not synchronize, so the scientists discovered it was due to smells or pheromones. They even separated two females but pumped the air from the one cage into the other female’s cage and the same thing happened. The less dominant hamster is the one whose cycle synchronizes with the other female. This holds true for woman as well.

John Watson, known as the father of behaviorism, made the statement that if he was given a dozen healthy infants he could turn them into anything he chose with the proper negative and positive reinforcements. We know this to be ridiculous. For some, no matter the extent of music lessons, there is no chance of becoming a concert pianist, or no matter the physical training, not many have the body type, ability and determination to be an Olympic gymnast.  Biology makes us who we are whether we are discussing personality, or how we vote. Our brain chemistry controls everything from our sexual orientation to the foods we like and there are some things that we cannot change anymore than a bird that migrates every year to the same location. With all that is determined for us, we still possess free will and choice to make the best of our biology. The interesting facts of how biology effects our behavior, and the more we learn increases our understanding of such things as the propensity of criminal behavior and how best to help those with a brain chemistry that leads him or her towards violence.

For the past 12 centuries, society has co-opted with biological evolution first by domestication. We moved from caves to enclosures with corners – right angles is a completely human trait. We began to farm and enforce rules, and have aspirations and much later more and more of the population became educated by reading and writing, which causes experience in a different way instead of actually experiencing an event. Throughout this time we began to think more abstractly and imagine the future. Now we are developing characteristics that have been spawned by technological revolutions where a good deal of communication and experience comes from sharing through computers and institutional learning. As noted above by the increase in children with autism, technology and society are changing the make up of our population. Children’s brains undoubtedly form differently from their use of video games and computers compared to older generations. Most of us would not do well if we had to survive in the wild. Our sense of smell and sound are not sensitive to those odors and noises that meant life or death in another time. Our biology will continue to change in ways that we cannot control based on our ever-changing lifestyles.

One undisputed fact whether one is a child of the past, the present or the future; nurture, care and love from parents will always be the most important factor in our development.

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Posted August 15, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

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