Learning about elearning, m-learning, eportfolios and topics relevant to my work in curriculum development. Also meanders into research, into workplace learning, apprenticeships and apprentice learning, trades tutors and vocational identity formation. Plus meanderings into philosophy and neuroscience as I learn about how we learn.
Usual disclaimers apply. This blog records my personal learning journey, experiences and thoughts and may not always be similar to the opinions of my employer.
This book tries to and mostly succeeds in bringing together,
the many threads of neurobiological, developmental, along with the evolutionary, and social
and cultural contributions to how we behave.
The book is pitched at interested lay people, but requires
background in human biology to understand.
The 3 appendices provided are
therefore extremely useful overviews of neuroscience (i.e. how the brain
works); endocrinology (i.e. the contribution of hormones and biochemical) and
proteins (i.e. the genetics basis of life).
The book also has extensive notes for the keen to follow up
(50 pages) and a thorough index.
There are 17 chapters with short introduction and epilogue
bracketing the content.
The book begins with a behaviour, then proceeds to uncover,
over time, layer by layer, the many influences that allow the said behaviour to
The first 2 chapters focus on the neurobiology and
biochemistry which drives behaviour. Appendix 1, covering the basics of
neurobiology, is recommended as a prerequisite. The three chapters cover the
brain areas relevant to understanding behaviour. The amygdala which is where
reward, anticipation arise; the role of dopamine; and the frontal lobes contribution
to regulation and restraint of behaviours.
Then follow 3 chapters which overlap between physical
neurobiology and the biochemical interactions which contribute to behaviour. In
particular, details on testetorone (on aggression), oxytoxin and vasopressin
(on the mother-infant bond), adaptive female aggression through estrogen,
progesterone and oxytoxine, the effects of sustained stress and the caveat that
hormones do not determine, command or cause behaviours but make us more
sensitive to triggers from emotionally charged behaviours. The effects of these
hormones on memory and discussion on neuroplasticity are also included. Chapter
6 provides application of the precepts from the previous chapters by exploring
and discussing the adolescent brain – ‘or dude, where is my frontal cortex?’
Then follow 3 chapters focusing on human development. Summarising
the various behaviours’ development from birth and the genetic/ epigenetic
causes of some of these behaviours. Also the contribution of mother’s behaviours
while baby is in the womb and the wider social issues which cause behaviours
which are distinct in various populations. Chapter 8 has a good overview of
epigenetics and argues that genes are not autonomous. Instead, they are
regulated by the wider environment. Epigenetics can allow environmental effects
to be lifelong or even across generations. So it is now not so much important what
your genetical heritage might be but the environment in which those genes find
themselves and how many other environmental factors contribute to how genes
manifest, or remain dormant.
Chapter 9 synthesises the biological with aspects of the
social-cultural. For example, the role of culture in contributing to why there
is a gender gap in mathemathics testing. There is overview of the salient
foundations of social theories, including collectivist vs individualist
cultures; pastoralism (e.g. what agriculture has contributed); stratified vs
egalitarian cultures; the effects of population size, density and
heteriogeneity; and origins of religion and war.
Evolution's contribution is then discussed in the next three
chapters. The premise is that evolution can shape behaviour, but with caveats.
The usual foundations of evolution are discussed, including why there is
reciprocal altruism, as it does not favour genetical transfer of the altruistic
individual. The nuances of selection are proposed and critiqued – as in
individual, group, kin selection etc.In
short, brain neurobiology, genes, hormones, social contributions etc.provide not so much causes as propensities,
potentials, vulnerabilities, predispositions etc.
Chapter 11 provides a good overview of why we are ‘tribal’
and why it we are drawn to ‘us vs them’ reactions. Discussions follow on the contribution
of this concept to a whole host of human responses. Chapter 12 follows with
extension of chapter 11 with discussion on the social basis of hierarchy,
obedience and resistance. Why we crave status, its roots in biology and the
social and cultural bases that support and enhance status. This chapter covers
much ground. Importantly, the ways we make decisions are founded in our biology
(i.e. how we make decisions, our approaches to reflective thought and how we
resolve cognitive dissonance). Our social systems have ameliorated some of the
predisposition to just look after ourselves and those close to us. For
instance, we invented democracy and social welfare. However, we are also
conformists and this may lead us to follow pathways which disadvantage ‘the
The implications on behaviour are then presented in a couple
of chapters. Chapter 13 summarises morality and ethics and how they contribute.
Chapter 14 is on empathy, why do we feel the pain of others? And especially,
why are we neurobiologically primed to have empathy.
Chapter 15 follows up behaviours at the other end of the
continuum from empathy. Why do we kill? How do we circumvent the inner
biological and cultural reinforcements of disgust etc. to kill others?
Chapter 16 is an interesting chapter which discusses whether
we have free will. The criminal justice system is used as the basis for
examples. In particular, how snippets of neuroscience research have been used,
without deeper study of the actual implications. Hence, neurolaw, as an
emergent science has to counter misconceptions and provide more studied
The penultimate chapter ‘war and peace’ brings the various
themes together. It presents the behaviours which have improved (i.e. we
have mellowed and are less likely to go to war); discusses how to move forward
and improve our behaviours as a species further; and summarises the best of
In short, things are complicated. We may understand some of
the underlying biological basis for behaviour but there are many contributing
factors beyond the biological. There is never one factor or cause, but a
multitude of interactions, concurrent shifts, biological and social coevolution
etc. Understanding this means we need to read the literature critically and not just take things at face value.
All in, a really good synthesis, written in readable prose.
Best read if you are interested in the topic as there is a lot to take in (over
600 pages including the appendices).