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Is all human behavior based on experience?

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Camila Helbling
Camila Helbling Sep 15, 2020
Is all human behavior based on experience?

As a very old question, it enjoys the reputation of being approached from many sides during the passing centuries. So, before we engage in discussing it at length, let’s remind ourselves of some brief history. Here, I will focus on Western history for the time being. Feel free to contribute with all of the uncovered aspects.

Historical intro

This debate starts as early as the time of Ancient Greece, wherein Plato we can witness this problem discussed in general and on the account of virtues. So basically, when we ask is behavior, virtue, or anything else, based only on experience, we are at the same time tacitly assuming there are no innate instances of our knowledge. So, in the foundation, balancing between innate and experiential is what gets this debate going.

As turning to divination migrated from paganism to Christianity it followed without a doubt that there is something innate in us making us able to grasp divine existence, attributes, and even virtuous behavior. The rest is developed in experience. However, in the late Middle Ages, this debate continued much further and related primarily to the questions of God. However, the Modern Age brought the first development of this issue we can most directly link to the contemporary line of thought. Descartes with his Cogito principle opened another a couple-of-centuries long discussion, assuming there is an innate aspect of us, reason itself, bringing us far from doubt firstly in its own existence, and then some other instances, like the external world. (again, guaranteed by the Divine) Those in the Anglo-Saxon tradition completely embraced this tabula rasa principle and voted only on the experience which forms all our being. Kant made the first significant ground break here, claiming a person relies on both, in a specifically ordered manner. 

Nature and nurture

In the form of this pair of notions, the debate is long and ongoing, today spreading mostly in the fields of psychology and biology, and finding its summary in epigenetics. This branch demonstrates how genes inheritance happens not only in a fixed and never-changing order, but directly depends on the environment which stimulates or dissimulates certain genes. Before epigenetics, many positions developed on the specter from nature to nurture, I will mention only the extreme ones. The extreme nature position, known as Nativism, had its proponents in those like Freud and (early) Noam Chomsky. This doctrine sets everything from eye color to behavioral and physical patterns into the “innate pool”. On the other hand, the doctrine of Empiricism, the extreme nurture position, claims the formerly mentioned tabula rasa outlook. Behaviorism started developing under the wing of it, as we know if in its 20th-century pioneers John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner.

However, although mainly in psychology today we can find different therapeutic practices spanning in the innate/acquired field, it seems we are in almost all fields getting nearer to the truce position. What are your opinions and intuitions on the matter?
Creative contributions

Second-hand experience and instincts

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Sep 16, 2020
A major chunk, but not all, of the conscious and also the subconscious human behavior is based on personal experience. Experience gained by others is shared and that, too, contributes to human behavior. The extent to which these second-hand behaviors contribute to a person's total behavior is based on the person's ability to learn and understand, their nature, and their relation with the person sharing the experience. The third significant contributor is the instinctive behavior - things that are in the "biology" of human beings. The most common examples of instinctive behavior are sexual attraction and the "hangry" (angry when hungry) phenotype, both of which are governed/ manifested by a cascade of hormones in that body. There are numerous other instinctive behaviors that humans perform in day-to-day life. The answers to why these behaviors might have developed are provided by evolutionary biology and observational experiments on other animals.

Experiencing Vs Remembering: which one is more influential?

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Sep 18, 2020
Think about this for a while: You had always wanted to listen live to this particular band "XYZ" all your life. Finally, the band comes for a tour of your country and you get a ticket. You go to the show, the band plays awesome music and you enjoy it a lot. However, after the show is over when you get to the station to board the train back home, you realise that you don't have your wallet. You somehow manage to get back home with some stranger's help, but you lost your important stuff and cards and some money and had to later go at length to retrieve them again. Now after a year or so, when you listen to XYZ's music, you immediately de facto remembered your losing the wallet and all the trouble it brought you. You had, in fact, enjoyed the concert, but that experience got overrun by the 'lost wallet' memory. So, what happened here? Nobel Laureate economist and behavioural psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his influential book 'Thinking: Fast and Slow' aptly describes what goes on in situations as I mentioned above. Kahneman says, generally, the human mind operates in two very intricate modes when it comes to experiences and memories. We have the EXPERIENCING SELF that is intuitive, unconscious mode of thinking that operates in the present moment that entirely focuses in the quality of our experience in our life- the mode that is responsible for living IN the moment. On the contrary, we have the REMEMBERING SELF that is slower, conscious mode of thinking that tells the story of our experience. Remembering self tells us how we think ABOUT the experiences we have. To our experiencing self, each moment lasts about 3 seconds and most of the moments are fleeting. However, the remembering self registers in our mind the intense moments, the changes in the story, the endings, the unexpected turn of events. These intense moments tend to colour the entire story and when we have to make decisions in the future, we make these decisions based on these MEMORIES of experiences rather than the experiences themselves. This is why you will not feel like attending XYZ's concert the next time they come touring! Most of our decisions are derived by the remembering self, rather than the experiencing self, and this is why we are more anxious and stressed and irrationally unhappy more than we ought to be in life. How did Kahneman found this piece of wisdom? A simple pain study was designed in which the same set of participants were given two different pain experiences. In experience A, the participants were asked to dip their hands in cold water (around 14-degree celsius) for a stretch of 15 seconds before being told to take the hand off the container. In another set of experience, the participants were asked to dip their hands for a longer time, around 20 seconds. However, in this case, the water's temperature was increased by a degree celsius towards the end of the experience, i.e., the 19th and 20th second. Later on, when asked which set of experience would the subjects want again to go through, all of them chose the second one. What does this tell us about human behaviour? The participants chose the longer pain experience (note that in case A, the pain was shorter-15 seconds), but the ending was more pleasant in case B (one-degree rise in temperature can give a more pleasant sensation to the skin). Hence, the participants chose to repeat the second experience if they were given to choose. This means that the last two seconds of pleasant sensation mattered more than the whole experience, and the future decisions were driven by them. The REMEMBERING SELF-ruled over the EXPERIENCING SELF. This experiment can converse, and similar results deduced for other cases as well. If a painful experience ends with a mild spike in the pain stimulus, people will choose not to repeat it if they have the choice to go through the other option of rather longer painful experience without that mild spike. Participants f will choose to experience more pain for a longer amount of time if they can avoid the spike, thus the “bad” memory at the end. This exemplifies the negativity bias we all have in life. We hold more closely the memories of bad incidents more than that of the good ones, and we derive our decisions based on that. We are hard-wired to rather forget the subtle positive events in our lives which are in a way not fair for our own happiness. If we could really think through these and live moment-by-moment rather than in memories of the moment, maybe the entire world would be a much better, content place.

Behavioral Profiles based on Social Experience

Mohammad Shazaib
Mohammad Shazaib Sep 29, 2020
The comprehensive understanding of individual variation in behavioral profiles is a current and timely topic not only in behavioral ecology but also in biopsychological and biomedical research. Specific variations in behavioral profiles can be attributed to differences in genotypes. On the other hand, the environment in which the person lives can be deeply influenced[1]. In this sense, the social dynamic seems to be of particular importance: it can encourage security and health (e.g. through the influence of social support[2]), but it can also lead to extreme stress, inevitably leading to illness and even death (e.g. in the case of social defeat). The levels of anxiety, aggression, and stress reactions can also be significantly affected by traumatic and social interactions in adolescence[3]. Quite recently, it was argued that the forming of behavioral profiles by social stress during adolescence may also be an indicator of adaptive developmental plasticity[4]. From this perspective, for example, a high degree of aggressiveness induced by a lack of social interaction during puberty will not be seen as a behavioral condition or a behavioral byproduct of any influence on neural systems. Rather, it could be seen as part of a plan for the protection of resources that would be effective under particular ecological conditions in a low number of individuals.[5] we are still far from a comprehensive understanding of the developmental shaping of behavioral phenotypes. But the many research frameworks provide us with an excellent roadmap for successful future research on this critical and timely topic. References 1. Heiming RS, Sachser N. 2010. Consequences of serotonin transporter genotype and early adversity on behavioral profile: pathology or adaptation? Front. Neurosci. 4, 187.10.3389/fnins.2010.00187 2. Sih A, Bell A, Johnson JC. 2004. Behavioral syndromes: an ecological and evolutionary overview. Trends Ecol. Evol. 19, 372–37810.1016/j.tree.2004.04.009 3. Reale D, Reader SM, Sol D, McDougall PT, Dingemanse NJ. 2007. Integrating animal temperament within ecology and evolution. Biol. Rev. 82, 291–318 4. Sachser N, Hennessy MB, Kaiser S. 2011. Adaptive modulation of behavioral profiles by social stress during early phases of life and adolescence. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 35, 1518 5. Gross C, Hen R. 2004. The developmental origins of anxiety. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 5, 545–55210.1038/nrn1429

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