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The Tipping Point: Explanations for Subconscious Social Behavior

Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point, attempts to uncover the environmental inputs and functions of the human mind that influence everyday social behaviors. He focuses on behaviors for which neurobiologists may not have concrete explanations. Through his analysis Gladwell discovers some general principles that may provide reasonable frameworks for predicting human behavior in certain situations. More specifically, he identifies environmental cues that influence behavior in ways that one might not expect. He also finds that the human mind has qualities and limitations that govern social interactions. The common theme uniting these findings is that they each one involves subconscious inputs and limitations of the mind in order to contribute to behavior. Among the principles Gladwell explains are the “stickiness factor”, the “Broken Windows theory,” and the “transactive memory system”. This paper will review each of these three principles in more detail in the hopes of linking them to neurobiological explanations of behavior.

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Anxiety Disorder and Perceptions of Reality

Anxiety disorders can take on many forms and can have multiple causes often acting together to create the neurological disorder. Among the different types of anxiety disorder are panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).(1) Life experiences, psychological traits, and genetic factors all play a role in developing anxiety.(2) Different forms of anxiety disorders receive different amounts of influence from each of these different factors. Panic disorder for example, is influenced more by genetic factors than other types.(2) Symptoms often include sudden attacks of terror accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness.(1) People who suffer from panic attacks are overcome by a strong sense fear that distorts their reality or distances them from it. They also have a fear of their inexplicable symptoms leading them to believe that they are very possibly about to die. This disorder blurs the lines of reality for many who suffer from it and serves as an example of how the human brain is capable of manifesting reality without being under control of the individual.

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ADHD: Learning Disability or Learning Difference

Many people are said to suffer from learning disabilities such as dyslexia or, very commonly, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Characteristic symptoms displayed by individuals with ADHD are impulsivity, hyperactivity, and lack of inhibition. Some people consider these types of conditions to be learning differences rather than learning disabilities. This paper argues that ADHD, in particular, is only a disability because society has been created in a way that caters to those who possess brain and social behavior that is closer to the average or the accepted norm. To do this I will start with an overview of the neurobiology of ADHD followed by a discussion of how the neurobiological differences contribute to the social construction of the idea of it being a disability. ADHD is more of a difference than a disability because disabilities are only socially constructed based on conditions that deviate from the norm. Individuals with ADHD have brains that function in different ways and at different speeds and intensities. As a result, they receive and process input differently than the average person but that does not necessarily have to qualify them as disabled.

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Addiction, Choice, and the I-function

It is widely accepted that addiction is the result of not only environmental and genetic factors, but also chemical imbalances in the brain. Certain activities such as smoking, drug use, alcohol consumption, and gambling can alter the neurobiology of the brain resulting in addiction. Interestingly, some of these activities cause unnatural additions and some cause natural addictions but both types have the same effect on reward pathways in the brain. Reward pathways in many cases determine human behavior. Many of the choices we make are guided by our reward pathways. Reward pathways are, therefore, arguably a component of the I-function which gives humans the ability to make choices and to act freely. This paper will argue that addiction, which has been described as a brain disease (Leshner 1997 and Wise 2000), is also an inhibition of the I-function.

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