Amy at Texas Faith: Brain & human behavior

TEXAS FAITH: Do we put too much emphasis on the brain to explain human behaviors?


Do we put too much emphasis on the brain?

That thought came to me after reading a recent New York Times piece that questioned whether kids who are being diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder may simply suffer from loss of sleep. Wrote Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine:

“I don’t doubt that many people do, in fact, have A.D.H.D.; I regularly diagnose and treat it in adults. But what if a substantial proportion of cases are really sleep orders in disguise?”

Don’t get me wrong. I am fascinated by how much more we know about the brain’s influence over our behaviors. Recently, I did an interview with Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman of the Center of BrainHealth at University of Texas at Dallas. She talked about how the brain’s development affects early learning. You can read more about her thoughts at this link.

Still, I have wondered whether the science of brain chemistry has risen to such a place that we may overlook other reasons for behavior. That includes whether the old-fashioned notion of sin could perhaps also explain the actions people take. Could it be that man’s rebellion against God is driving people to act the way they do as much as any influence their brain has on their actions?

We can never quantify the reasons for actions, but I would like to hear your thoughts about this issue:

Are we relying too much on the science of the brain to explain human behaviors?

Read the whole panel here.

Amy’s reply:

AMY MARTIN, Director Emeritus, Earth Rhythms; Writer/Editor, Moonlady Media

We overlook a myriad of influences that impact our behavior in our deluded love affair with the primacy of free will. For instance, the brain is not the sole repository of mind. Our gastrointestinal system is lined with neurological cells. A “gut feeling” is literally a gut feeling. Our sinuses and GI tract are rife with mast cells that when provoked release hormones and neurotransmitters such as histamine, which in large amounts can cause sexual aggression, and serotonin, which excessive amounts can calm to the point of inertia.

Humans are not a body that totes along a brain that is in charge. We are an intricate mind-body system. A depression I suffered for over a year dissipated when an incredibly low level of vitamin D was brought back to normal. Or consider the “angry drunk” phenomenon caused by liver damage. Chronic stress can cause cortisol levels to rise which leads to deep anxiety.

We must start thinking holistically about the mind, body and behavior, with consideration of emotions, environment and diet taking full part. Ours is a symbiotic world.