Neuroscientific Explanations for Five Everyday Behaviors

28 June, 2020
The neuroscientific explanations for these five everyday behaviors show that mind and body have an unbreakable connection. Read on to discover them!

The neuroscientific explanations for some of our everyday behaviors serve to remind us of the complexity of our species. Although science has made impressive strides in understanding the biological mechanisms of human behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, there’s still a lot to learn.

More specifically, from a physiological standpoint, some of the behaviors you consider “normal” are actually very complex. Also, they account for the most elevated expressions of the human brain. That’s why this subject is so fascinating and has drawn the attention of many scientists the world over.

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

-Jeffrey Eugenides-

However, the neuroscientific explanations for everyday behavior don’t stop at biology. The human body is biological, but also symbolic. The brain is what makes us more than pure anatomy. That’s because it consists of a highly elaborate nervous system that leads to something more than pure, hard material. This idea is very clear in the explanations science provides regarding the following behaviors.

1. Blushing

There’s a neuroscientific explanation for blushing, at least from a physiological standpoint. And we say “at least” because, as of yet, science hasn’t been able to figure out why we blush. We’re the only species that blushes, which is why Darwin considered blushing “the most peculiar and most human of the expressions“.

Science says that when you’re in an embarrassing situation, your body releases adrenaline. That makes your blood vessels dilate in order to facilitate blood flow and the circulation of oxygen. The veins in your face also dilate and let more blood flow there than usual. That’s blushing. From a psychological standpoint, it corresponds to a sense of being exposed.

The neuroscientific explanations for behavior like blushing.

2. Kissing

Kissing isn’t a universal expression. Although it isn’t present in every culture, it’s very common. Some primates, such as chimpanzees and bonobos, also kiss each other. However, for those primates, they only resort to it for reconciliation. In addition, they don’t press their lips together nor exchange saliva.

For humans, it’s a different story. Masculine saliva has a protein that depends on testosterone. The presence of this protein allows females to identify which male is better for reproduction. At the same time, menstruation and ovulation change women’s breaths. During a kiss, a male can perceive those changes and know which female is best for procreation.

3. The neuroscientific explanation for being generous

A study conducted by the University of Lübeck in Germany tried to establish which brain mechanisms were related to generous behavior. They based their study on the idea that altruism isn’t solely a product of someone’s upbringing and education. They believed it was also related to some kind of biological mechanism.

After conducting an experiment with volunteer participants, they were able to identify two characteristics in more generous people. Firstly, they had more activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Secondly, generous people have a strong connection between their TPJ and the corpus striatum, an important area of the brain for feeling happiness. In other words, human beings are genetically equipped to be sociable.

4. Biting your nails

Biting your nails is another everyday behavior that has a neuroscientific explanation, although it might seem irrational. Scientists estimate that about 30% of adults bite their nails. Among children, the percentage is even higher. This habit relates to a tension-release mechanism. That mechanism generates a large amount of extra tension that nail-biting seems to release.

Scientists discovered interesting data from studying mice and the effects of habits on tension and stress. After running through the same maze a few times, these mice found a way to get through it and learned the way. After they figured it out, they always used the same path. As they repeated their familiar route, the brain waves in their corpus striatum were actually slower. In other words, the habit soothed them and helped regulate available energy.

A woman biting her nails.

5. Crying

Researchers still don’t fully understand crying. There are neuroscientific explanations for tears, but only partial ones. Firstly, you have to understand that scientists differentiate between physiological tears and emotional tears. The former come out of your tear ducts when you cut an onion, for example. The latter occur when you’re experiencing certain emotions.

According to William H. Frey, a biochemist at St. Paul Family Medical Center in Minnesota, emotional tears contain manganese, potassium chloride, prolactin, endorphins, adrenocorticotrophin, and leu-enkephalin. Shedding some of these components helps the body reduce emotional stress and tension. Nevertheless, Dutch expert Ad Vingerhoets believes that crying is a form of expressing helplessness. It’s an instinctive cry for help.

As advanced as our technology and understanding of the human body and mind are, scientists have yet to unlock many mysteries of the brain. Although we now have partial neuroscientific explanations for many human behaviors, we’re still far from a comprehensive understanding.

  • Benedet, M. J. (1997). Evaluación neuropsicológica. La evaluación psicológica en el, 2000, 135-147.