Compare and Contrast the Effect of Heredity and Hormones on Human Behavior
Of all of the things that effect human behavior, two stand out above the rest. Heredity and hormones have significantly different effects on human behavior in different people, but both play a profound role in shaping the way a person behaves. The study of genetics has not been around for very long, but in the time it has been studied, some great research has taken place. Similarly, the study of hormones is a relatively new idea, as well.
Though different cases have brought about different results, heredity seems to profoundly impact things like intelligence, whereas hormones have a staggering effect on both intelligence and other physical behaviors.
One of the first men to actively research the impact of heredity on human behavior was Sir Francis Galton, who did the majority of his best work in the late 1800s. According to Joseph McInerny (2007), “Behaviors are complex traits involving multiple genes that are affected by a variety of other factors” (p.
1). The fact of the matter is that scientists do not yet know as much about heredity as they would like. Though there is plenty of evidence that genetics play a huge role in shaping human behavior, it is unclear exactly how heredity interacts with other factors to produce the actions that people undertake. One thing that is supported by research is the interaction of heredity and certain environmental factors. This means that having a certain gene can cause a person to be more likely to develop any type of behavior. In his work, McInerny writes (2007), “Genetic factors also can influence the role of certain environmental factors in the development of a particular trait. For example, a person may have a genetic variant that is known to increase his or her risk for developing emphysema from smoking, an environmental factor. If that person never smokes, then emphysema will not develop” (p. 1). This is a very important distinction to make. With heredity factors, the chance that a certain behavior will develop is the primary consideration. This is much different from hormonal factors, where the hormones themselves can serve as stimuli for the problem.
Hormones have been in the news a whole lot with the recent baseball scandal. When they aren’t being used illegal for performance boosting, hormones can have a profound impact on human behavior. Whereas research shows that heredity only makes a person more likely to behave a certain way in a certain environment, similar research has also shown that hormones can act as their own stimuli for behavior. Medical Research News says (2006), “Among these are results of a clinical trial finding that a daily regimen of growth hormone pills helps increase muscle strength and fitness in the elderly; a preliminary study suggesting another hormone, oxytocin, can reduce the stress in couples who bicker; and research pinpointing the causes of aggression in men” (p. 1). Research has also shown that there is a much greater chance that hormones will have a substantial impact on human behavior for people in their early years. Particularly, those in adolescence are susceptible to being swayed by their own hormones. According to Judy L. Cameron of the University of Pittsburgh (2004), “Adolescence is a period in life marked by change, encompassing physiological changes associated with pubertal development, changes in social status and the social stresses that an individual faces, and changes in behavioral affect regulation. The interactions between activity in the reproductive axis, the neural systems that regulate stress, hormones produced in response to stress, and neural systems governing behavioral affect regulation are complex and multifaceted” (p. 1). According to this and other research, the relationship between hormones and human behavior is quite different than the relationship between heredity and human behavior, though they both share similarities.
The primary differences in the two have to deal with the stimulus for action. If someone is predisposed to act a certain way because of their gene pattern, then something will have to come along in the environment to prompt that behavior. For example, a person who has the hereditary tendency to be a compulsive gambler will be much more likely to indulge that trait in Las Vegas than he would were he sitting on a couch in Iowa. A person with a hormonal imbalance causing that type of urge, however, might find himself planning a trip to Las Vegas because of the hormone. This is one way of looking at the difference that scientists have found successful in their somewhat limited research on the matter of human behavior.
Overall, both factors play a substantial role in dictating human behavioral patterns. The specifics of human behavior are still determined by all sorts of other factors, though. The combination of all of these things is what will eventually cause a certain behavior to occur. On the ground level, it would appear that heredity and hormones are two of the foremost factors in pushing a person towards a certain behavior over another, though.
Cameron, J. L. (2004). Interrelationships between Hormones, Behavior, and Affect during Adolescence: Complex Relationships Exist between Reproductive Hormones, Stress-Related Hormones, and the Activity of Neural Systems That Regulate Behavioral Affect. Comments on Part III. Retrieved February 22, 2008 from http://www.annalsnyas.org/cgi/content/abstract/1021/1/134
Medical Research News (2006). New Research on Brain, Hormones, and Behavior. Retrieved February 22, 2008 from http://www.news-medical.net/?id=18291
McInerney, J. (2007). What is behavioral genetics? Retrieved February 22, 2008 from http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/behavior.shtml
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