Scientific Explanations for Strange Human Behavior
Negotiating With Ourselves
Have you ever put off an assignment, promising yourself you would for sure do it later? Or have you skipped the gym and told yourself you would go the next day and workout twice as hard? When you negotiate and make a deal with yourself, you’re just talking to yourself, right? Well, your brain doesn’t quite see it that way. When you tell your future self that they have to do something, this triggers the part of the brain that lights up when you’re talking to other people. A healthy brain doesn’t literally interpret that you’re talking to an entirely different human being but it does make the distinction of you in the present and you in the future. It’s easy to put responsibility on others, which is why it’s so easy to procrastinate.
Procrastinating Mundane Tasks
Ever since the first humans settled down and started living in homes and the first chores needed to get done, they probably hated doing them just like us modern people. It seems like the most simple of these chores like sweeping, taking out the garbage and even replacing the toilet paper, we put off doing the most. The obvious explanation is laziness but scientifically it goes much deeper than that.
New York University psychologists, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, say that for humans to be properly motivated to perform a task, the activity must meet 3 psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The chore needs to be difficult enough that when a human completes it they feel competent. It needs to make the person feel they’re in control of what they’re doing. And it needs to give the person the feeling that they are making their relationships with their loved ones better by doing it. All mundane chores only meet one of these 3 criteria which is why we hate doing them.
Wanting to Bite Babies
Have you ever seen someone tell a baby, usually is a cutesy voice, “you’re so adorable I could just eat you up.” This phrase is then usually followed by them pretended to bite the baby. Maybe you’ve have done this yourself and never thought twice about it. From a totally neutral perspective this looks a little odd. Why would people want to bite babies?
There are 2 theories behind this weird behavior. One is it comes from our primal animalistic nature. It’s extremely common for mammals to play bite each other. It’s a form of social bonding and to build trust.
The other theory is that when people (especially women) smell a newborn baby dopamine is released in their brain, just like when they’re eating delicious food. Some scientists think that this dopamine inducing scent we get from babies makes us subconsciously also think about food. This overlap could explain why people intrinsically have the urge to bite babies.
Laughing at Inappropriate Times
Most, if not all kids are probably guilty of letting out a chuckle while being scolded when they get in trouble. It’s not because they find the situation funny, it’s because their body is under a lot of stress wants to relieve some tension. When humans laugh it’s usually not because something is funny. We developed laughing as a method of social bonding. When you laugh with someone you’re communicating subconsciously that you guys are cool with each other. Similarly, if your buddy trips and falls and you laugh, you’re not necessarily being mean, you’re signaling to everyone around you that he’s okay and not seriously injured. If someone is apologizing to another person and lets out a nervous giggle, they are trying to connect with the other person even though it’s an awkward situation. This is not to say that people don’t laugh at each other to be mean because we know that certainly happens.
Crying does not seem like a strange behavior, what’s strange is that humans are the only species that emit emotional tears. When a baby cries, it’s always accompanied by a shrieking scream. That’s to call out for help to their family. When most adults cry we tend not to scream out in pain, it’s done pretty quietly. Scientist think that tears were developed to signal to other humans in the tribe that something is wrong without letting predators know where you are by screaming. More evidence that crying originated because of danger is that it is linked to our flight or fight senses. While we cry our breathing is slowed and our heart rate is increased. Also, there’s a natural pain killer in tears called leucine enkephalin, which is why you could feel better after a good cry.
Why do humans have such an urge to gossip? Once you think about it, we’re just talking crap about each other and usually about things that don’t really matter. Gossiping could seriously jeopardize relationships with peers and friends and a lot of the time the people we gossip about we actually like and respect. It doesn’t make much sense when most of our behavior was developed to keep social bonds strong around us.
Gossiping actually is a method of social bonding. Humans have the urge and desire to connect with other humans immediately around them. And some studies have showed that talking about things we dislike actually forms stronger bonds than talking about things we like. Sure, discussing restaurants and foods we all enjoy is a great time, but talking crap about others not in the room and revealing secrets about them is much more interesting. Gossip always spices up the conversation and when you gossip you’re trusting the other people in the conversation not to rat you out.
From an outside perspective hugging could look kind of weird. You’re grabbing another human being and pulling them close to you. Most of the time you don’t even think about hugging someone, if you’re close enough with them it’s just instinctual. Which is why, if you don’t know the person you hug or they hug you, it gets awkward really quick. The reason why we hug our friends and loved ones is because when we make physical contact with people we like, a hormone called oxytocin is released, which builds attachment and trust. Oxytocin is released a lot during sex, to pair the couple for raising offspring. It’s also released when parents hold their babies. It’s even the chemical that’s bonds us so close to our pets when we pet them, especially dogs.
Distrusting People We Don’t Know
Oxytocin, the bonding hormone has a flip side. It also causes us to distrust or in the case of children fear strangers. An experiment was once done where psychologists gave each participant oxytocin or a placebo to inhale. They then all played game that encourage cooperation to win. When the participants who inhaled the oxytocin played with people they knew, the cooperation rose. But when they played with people they didn’t, the level of cooperation fell. We likely inherited the trait of not trusting strangers from our ancestors, who were always on the lookout for danger.