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How Hormones Affect Human Behavior

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"How Hormones Affect Human Behavior"
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Of all the facets of human anatomy, the endocrine system might well be the most fascinating and obscure from cognitive notice. And yet, there is no bodily function, no bio molecular manifestation, not even an instance of thoughtful sagacious endeavor, not a feeling, not an emotion, not a sensation, not a behaviorism the body can exhibit, without hormonal instigation.  

What are hormones? How do they come about? In simplest chemical terms, hormones are a type of proteins released into the blood stream which bring about an immediate change in bodily function and behavior. Hormones put us to sleep and wake us up, they control the delicate chemical dance of  cell metabolism in every one of the billions of cells that make up the composite being. They underwrite our feelings of  pain and passion, fear and blissful contentment, erotica, euphoria, self adulation and good feeling. There is not just one center of hormonal dispatch in the body we can point to, instead a beat counter-beat rhythm, a melodic theme entwined with harmonic nuance like a complicated symphonic arrangement played by a divers group of instrumentalists.

In response to the setting sun and darkness of nightfall, the pineal gland, a pea sized structure in the middle of the brain which has remained inactive during our waking hours, begins to release the hormone melatonin. In recent years, scientists have begun to realize more and more that sleep, in terms of biological processes, is the most important. It is during our slumber, when cognitive neural function becomes quiescent, that the endocrine system becomes most active. During a period of REM sleep, the pituitary gland releases a surge of growth hormone into the blood stream  which kicks our immune system into high gear and at the individual cellular level initiates mitochondrial ATP production setting in motion a cascade of protein synthesis. It is during this time that the greatest amount of cell division occurs and the body rebuilds and heals itself. The growth hormone stimulates the beta cells of the pancreas which begin to produce a hormone called insulin. In the liver this insulin causes a number of metabolic possesses to begin. The insulin is also a key chemical factor in promoting passage of glucose, the bodies fuel and structural building block, into the cell.

What would likely become a run away chain reaction of protein synthesis must be moderated. Again, the pituitary gland steps in, now releasing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) causing production of triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones by the thyroid gland. The hypothalamus also gets involved in this regulating process sending thyroid releasing hormone (TRH) to regulate the dispatch of T3, T4 and the other thyroid produced hormones into the blood stream. REM sleep usually last for only two hours. Over the following 2 to 3 hours hormonal activity begins to subside and humans eventually awake to take cognitive control of their faculties. But even during this awake time, hormones although subdued into a more subconscious background are not far away. They are always there just waiting to take control, leaving the cognitive selves to become no more than spectators to their own behavioral mannerisms.

The forgoing analysis illuminates only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the hormonal chemistry taking place during REM sleep, and there are new facets of it entering the repository of human bio-molecular understanding every day. In addition to THR (also called thyrotropin) the hypothalamus produces a number of other hormones which effect how our brains will function when our cognitive state reawakens,. Among these are a set of hormones that will have greater effect on human behavior than any other.  There expression does not occur until puberty, but for the rest of our lives these strongest of behavior influencing hormones will overrule any other sense of reason and judgmental fortitude the cognitive state of our brains can muster. In males, this hormone is called testosterone and in females progesterone. Beyond just sex drive, male testosterone will cause the individual to be more competitive and aggressive towards those of his gender while the female will develop mothering  tendencies and protective instincts with respect to her offspring. The complexities involved with these hormones is simply staggering and still not well understood beyond the simpler sexual behaviorism.

In part, the far reaching aspects of sex hormones, particularly with respect to cognitive brain activity, are not well understood because the brain itself is yet to be well understood. It is simply not known today how much of the brains synaptic wiring is a direct result of genetic disposition, and how much is a developmental product. It's not possible to look at any one individual entering puberty and adolescence and predict with any degree of certainty whether they will become an intellectual  genius or derelict criminal. At the same time, it can be stated today with assurance that the mechanism which drives all behavioral mannerisms apparent in out cognitive attitudes stems from hormonal interaction, and that the chemical choreography of our endocrine functions, be it within the brain or in any other facet of the human anatomy, is scripted by our unique genetic inventory. 

Learning has just begin into which hormones turn genes on and off and it is in the complexities underlying genetic preeminence and proclivity that the answers to behavior questions will ultimately be found. Most have heard the aphorism “ like father like son, like mother like daughter” and it is true, not only with respect to biological similarities, but in behaviorism as well. If you want to learn what the attitudes of that girl you want to marry will be like in twenty years, spend a little less time studying her anatomy and instead investigate and pay close attention to her mothers mannerisms. Likewise for those ladies who want to know what kind of husband and father your betrothed to be will become, pay close attention to his fathers habits and attitudes. No, it’s not going to be an exact approximation, but more often than not it will be a close one. If you think you can change your spouse or future spouses behavior, unless you have figured out some way to control their genetics and innate hormonal mosaic, think again.  

When it comes to behavioral effect, there is none which is not implicitly controlled by human hormonal chemistry. The notion that our cognitive state is somehow in control of our being is a delusion created by our sagacious enterprise and perhaps not one that serves us well. Hormones drive people to become obsessed habitual beings always seeking what they perceive as good feeling, be it sexual gratification, competitive accomplishment, or dietary abandon, just to name a few more prevalent facets. Their conscious state may try to warn them that such indulgences may ultimately lead to our demise, but their ever flowing hormones overrule our best attempts at moderation. They may think, or like to think at least, that they are in control, but in the end our hormones are the masters. Does this mean they are helpless victims when it comes to hormonal influence over behavioral traits? It might seem so on the surface of it, but in fact, there is a way cognitive resource can overcome the strong urges brought on by autonomic hormonal dispatch.

The key to overcoming hormonal behavior influence is to learn how to out-wait the effect of the hormone. Just as when the adrenal gland dumps a dose of what has to be the most powerful hormone into the blood stream, invoking an immediate sense of anxiety, mortal fear and auto-reflexive response, people can take control by just waiting for the hormonal effect to subside. If you want to quit smoking, and you can simply make yourself wait thirty seconds when you have the urge to light up, you can eventually overcome that urge and take control of the hormonal release that is telling you to smoke in the first place. Many smokers who have successfully quit, dieters who have achieved their goal and even dyslexic stutterers who have overcome but not escaped their genetically imposed hormonal phonemic memory dysfunction will attest to this fact. No its not easy to do, but its possible.

In summary, it is simply impossible to have a discussion about human behaviorism without considering the effect of hormones. But if there is one aspect of the human biological manifestation which offers potential for a minimum of hormonal effect, it must be the cognitive facility evolving within the cerebral cortex of human brains. No, humans will never be able to totally avoid the mandate of hormonal biological and mental impact, but they may learn, at least to some extent, to control and moderate the effect of these powerful chemical agents in so far as the ways they influence human behavior. 

More about this author: John Traveler

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