Is behavior determined by biology?

I’ve taken a large leap from the normal kind of books I read, and am reading about science.  I am interested in science, and I think it’s good for pastors like me to keep on learning about science, even if some of the stuff in science books is over my head.  From one pretty complicated science book I’m reading now I gained some helpful knowledge that actually relates to our crossdressing struggles.

The book talks about “biological fatalism” a popular belief in our culture.  Our culture assumes that people do not have much freewill but really have to follow their preset biology.  So whatever behavioral problem a person has whether an eating disorder or someone who wants multiple sex partners or someone who gets angry a lot, they are told it’s not their fault.  Their genes, their brain, and their biology made them do it.  They can’t help it.  Their brain’s pleasure center turns on when they do it, so they can’t be held accountable.  (Sound at all like what people say about crossdressing?)

But this popular notion in our culture actually goes against the latest scientific and psychological research.  I have been reading about how when you change your way of thinking, you change the way your brain wires itself.  The book explains how this takes a great amount of work and can take a while.  But they say change is possible, and changing our brain patterns is possible too.  The book talks about how we must not give in to the belief that our biology determines our behavior, but realize we have the freedom to make choices.

For Christians then, this means that we do have the ability to go against temptations.  Whether the temptation is alcohol or crossdressing or being unfaithful to a spouse, we have a choice.  Some of our choices will mean losing out on pleasures.  Some of our choices will go against what our body naturally wants.  But the more we make the right choices, the more our body and brain will get used to making those right choices.  The more we get pleasure from the things we should get pleasure from, the more our brains will line up with it so that we will want what is right more and more, and want what is wrong less and less.

I take great hope from this knowledge.  And in fact, in my almost 1 year of not crossdressing, I think my brain has been starting to rewire itself.  Sex with my wife is easy and more pleasurable than its ever been.  I never have to worry about not being turned on by her anymore.  And crossdressing, while still surely a temptation deep down, is rarely an issue.  Most days I don’t think about it at all.  And I honestly cannot remember the last time I desired to do it.  My brain is relearning what it wants to get pleasure from, what it is used to getting pleasure from.   The brain is a complicated thing beyond my understanding, but I believe in some ways the circuits and wiring for crossdressing in my brain are being overwritten.

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11 comments on “Is behavior determined by biology?

  1. Imitations says:

    Sounds interesting Thorin. What’s the name of the books and it’s author?

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  2. Ralph says:

    That’s a completely ridiculous premise. Skinner et al proved decades ago that behavior is not only conditioned by the environment but can be modified by the environment. Unless you want to argue on the molecular level that even our emotions are biological impulses — I sing because it makes me happy; that is I sing because it causes certain neurotransmitters to release such-and-so chemicals which in turn cause a pleasurable euphoria in my body.

    SOME behavior is a biological imperative; that’s why steroids work and why boys are more aggressive than girls (generally speaking). Genetic traits can also make us more or less inclined to read and do well in school vs. athletic feats — or musical ability, for that matter.

    But environment clearly impacts the decisions we make. Do I stop and help that person on the side of the road? Do I befriend that fat new kid who sits by himself at recess? Do I play with that stray dog that walked into my yard or kick it? Things like that depend on how I was raised.

    Of course our interest in this question deals with the issue of whether crossdressing is “nature or nurture”, and I’ve long opined that it’s a little of both. But as you and numerous others have discovered, even if we do have a little something extra in our hormonal mix that makes us physically more inclined for the softer side of life, those biological impulses can still be brought under control. Much like the thousands upon thousands of unfortunate left-handed students who were forced to “change” to right-handedness before it was discovered how damaging that treatment is… the point is, they were still able to overcome a built-in genetic imperative.

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  3. thorin25 says:

    Ralph, I like you comment. One thing though, it’s not just nature versus nurture, not just biology or environment. Part of what makes us human is the ability to make choices, beyond just how we have been shaped by biology and environment. Don’t you think? It still takes away responsibility to say a person only did what they did because of how their environment has raised them, and what their biology is. Then everyone only behaves in a certain way based on those things. But I’d like to believe that two people could have the exact same DNA and exact same upbringing and environment and still make different choices.

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  4. John says:

    I think what is being discussed here is the neuroplasticity of the brain. From what I have read, research indicates that experiences (environmental training and parenting being one of them) can rewire the brain. Meditation and psychotherapy have been implicated as experiential activities which can rewire the brain. Thorin is discussing how his behavior is contributing to the rewiring.

    And Thorin, to second what Imitations wrote, would you mention the name of the book for those of us who might want to read it also. Thanks.

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  5. thorin25 says:

    Here is the book – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/061559039X/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=

    It’s written particularly for Christians. I’m not sure who the authors all are, it appears to be a book written by a lot of different Christian professors from various colleges and universities. Each chapter is by a different person, and this concept I wrote about was only talked about for a couple pages, it was a chapter about biopsychology. I don’t remember the author’s name. I’m sure there are better books out there that actually delve into that specific topic. This book is really broad, but still interesting to me. I don’t agree with everything in the book. I don’t really know the faith stance of the book and how the different authors were picked, but it’s been good so far.

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  6. Ralph says:

    Thorin, as the parent of two totally different children I absolutely agree that free will (take THAT, my beloved but stubborn Calvinist friends!) makes a difference. Both children have the same genes they got from me and Mrs. Ralph*, both children were treated the same and given the same benefits as they were growing up. But my daughter turned out submissive and whimsical and shy almost to a fault, whereas my son learned quickly how to lie, cheat, and steal to get what he wanted with an added bonus of a raging temper. I used to beat myself up wondering where I went wrong!

    Thankfully they both know Christ and now in their 20s their rough edges have smoothed out considerably… but certainly no thanks to me.

    * I used to joke that I didn’t believe she was the real mother of my children. Wow, that woman can throw a punch!

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  7. thorin25 says:

    haha Ralph, thanks for the great comment! I do want to point out though, (especially as I am a Calvinist), that calvinists believe in freewill. They aren’t determinists. God knows the future, but that doesn’t mean he makes us do all that we do. We still freely do it and he allows it in his plan. The freewill debates come out in the topic of salvation. Calvinists believe that all people, have freely chosen sin, and freely have rejected God. And that all people can only come to have faith in Christ if God works in our hearts first, because otherwise we would all just keep freely rejecting him. But he works on our hearts in an irresisitable way so that we freely accept Jesus. Freewill is still there the whole time, it’s just a different understanding of sin really. Calvinists believe we are so sinful we will always freely choose evil without God working in us in his mysterious ways, and others believe that we can accept God on our own without God working in our hearts first.

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  8. Robyn says:

    The brain can and does “re-wire” itself for many things. However, there are some things that are not “fixable” no matter how much we might try to “re-think”. I was born with a gene that scrambled my brain’s ability to grasp the concept of time and to measure time like most people. I am constantly late for appointments or for work. I procrastinate on completing things until the last minute. I think something will take 5 minutes to complete ends up taking 5 hours and things I estimate to take 5 hours take 5 days.

    Am I choosing to be late or am I late because I have a brain “deficiency”? Actually, I am choosing to be late. If I don’t want to be late, I would do whatever it takes not to be late. For all of my appointments, I have to create a schedule or plan with times and checkpoints for each appointment. Now I usually I arrive one or two hours early but I am not late anymore as long as I CHOOSE not to be late.

    No amount of re-thinking or behavior therapy will “re-wire” my brain ever so that I can manage my appointments without huge amounts of planning. All I can do is be hyper-aware of how my brain works and to implement coping strategies so I can fit in with “normal” people….

    I’d like to discuss this further but I have to go get ready for work that starts in about ten hours…

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  9. thorin25 says:

    Yes I like your point Robyn. If you really do have that gene condition, still , even though you probably can’t change it, as you said you can still make choices and don’t have to have your life controlled by that gene or biological predisposition. I think the same applies to crossdressing. Even if we can’t at all change our crossdressing desires (which I don’t think is the case), we can still choose to resist those desires for the rest of our lives. The same would be true for alcoholism, or being born with homosexual desires, etc.

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  10. John says:

    @Robin. not that I like using labels but that sounds like ADD to me, which is something I also deal with. I’ve been very interested in the relationship between ADD and compulsive behaviors such as crossdressing. With Thorin’s permission, I’ll mention 2 books worth reading by the same authors, Hallowell and Ratey- “Driven to Distraction” and the followup book, which is even better in my opionion, “Delivered from Distraction.”

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  11. thorin25 says:

    No problem John, thanks for the good resources.

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