Welcome to the Decade of Behavior!

Welcome to the Decade of Behavior!

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The leading causes of death, disability, accidents, traumas, and accidents are not caused by external forces; they are firmly rooted in our behavior.

The last decade of the 20th century was dedicated to the understanding of the brain. The first decade of the 21at century is dedicated to the understanding of the behavior. Many of the terrible outcomes we encounter today become easier to accept if someone explains them in terms of brain and other physical problems. The problem with such explanations is that untreated behavioral problems continue to cause massive harm in our lives.

Six of the 10 leading causes of death are not because of some out-of-control bacteria or virus but because of individual behavior.

More than 80 % of accidents, be they on roads, or in the homes or skies, are the consequences of human behavior.

50 % of the money spent on health in U.S. is avoidable. These costs are incurred because people don't comply with medical instructions. If we dimply comply with medical instructions, the U.S. can save half its medical costs!

Human beings by their nature, focus on what happens to them rather than on what they do. But, what happens to us is often a result of what we do. When we think of such problems as a "disease," "chemical imbalance," "accidents" or "injury" or "violence," a patient's or victim's behavior is often overlooked. But, we know that the treatment or remedy of these conditions is often speeded up when we take relevant behaviors into account. Even recovery from such conditions is largely achieved by changing specific behaviors.

The relationship between behavior, health and happiness has already begun to be noticed. Therefore, let's take an example of something where the influence of behavior is not so well known such as the national economy. What causes an "economic boom" or a recession? Answer: predictable human behavior! Here is how:

Americans tend to get into a "saving spree" between the ages of 35 to 44 years, then a 5 to 6 years of "spending spree" between the ages of 44 to 49 years, settling back into a saving phase for the remainder of their earning years. This predictable human behavior of spending and saving turns into an "economic boom" or a "recession." Whenever, a large section of the population enters the spending spree, we experience an economic boom. When another large section enters the 49 and plus years age group, we experience recession.

At present, research on human behavior is in its infancy but as it begins to grow, relationship between many causes and effects will become clearer. Take for example, the relationship between depression and smoking. It was believed that depression causes an increase in smoking behavior. So, we treated depression hoping that relief in depression will lead to reduction in smoking. That's not always the case.

Current research is showing that depression and smoking is a two-way street. Sometimes smoking itself may increase depression. For example, nicotine itself may affect the central nervous system causing the increased risk for depression. Smokers beware!

Let's take another example. For almost half the century, it is believed that the natural response to stress (or threat) is "fight or flight." Guess what? It turns out that we have been looking at only one side of the stress coin, that is, the male response to stress. But, what about the other side of the coin, that is, the female response to stress?

Females, in response to stress, instead of fighting or fleeing, may do something totally different. They, tend to turn to their loved ones for comfort and relief. They emotionally connect with their partners and focus on nurturing their young ones. Such behavior of relating and tending and nurturing releases their stress.

How come we didn't know about this female response to stress before? Because, in the past, research was mainly directed by males and they generally used male participants. Even when they conducted animal studies, they picked male rats. As a result they knew much more about testesterone, a male hormone involved in fight and flight response, than about oxytocin, a female hormone involved in loving and nurturing behavior.

No subject is too sacrosanct for behavioral research. Even the sweet little piece of candy has recently received close scrutiny. One study tested the effect of candy on mood. Researchers compared the effect on mood of eating a candy bar or taking a ten-minute walk. Both the candy and the bar improved mood within a few minutes. I know many of my readers, especially candy lovers, would want me to stop at the good news. Alas, it's one of those "good news, bad news" things.

According to the study, a candy bar and a 10-minute walk both improved mood, but an hour later, the candy eaters were more tired and tense than they had been before, while the walkers still felt good.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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