“When tempers are raised in family fights and peer-group conflicts, the rage that is experienced, and the aggression that inevitably follows, may stem from unconscious ancestral drives.”
— Dennis Lines
NEUROSCIENCE and physiology may explain why we — in our default communities of proximity — end up displaying aggressive behaviours toward others, even at times when we apparently do not wish to.
Take, for instance, the neural process — the thalamus receives an image, which is promptly shunted to the pea-sized amygdala in the bottom-centre of the brain, and more slowly to the visual cortex. The amygdala does its work: emotions are put on high alert. A fight-flight-freeze response is generated. Lagging behind, yet now finally there, is the neocortex (the conscious brain) sees a more accurate (and less emotionally-tainted) image to process a more calculated response.
What this describes is the mental-emotional war that goes on inside our brains when rage or fear strike. Our emotions tell us one thing, and our rational minds tell us another. Unfortunately for too many of us, the emotions often win out, and we react with a flash of rage or run in fear — and the true stimulus may not be anything at all harmful. We’re fighting our physiology.
These are important factors in understanding aggression as responses, not simply to the environment, but to the science that explains our base animalistic nature. Bullying may not always be as intentional as it often seems. Explanations may be attempted through understanding many factors. But, what is clear is that human beings have motives and intentions that animals clearly don’t have.
Humans have the capacity of a higher, rational mind. And this is our hope; that the virtues of patience and self-control might be engaged with and learned in order that the neocortex might catch up, so our conscious thinking might powerfully correct the original (and flawed) emotional response.
What does all this mean regarding bullying behaviour?
It means we all have the capacity to bully people. It means some of our aggression we may not be able to explain, and some of it we may not even mean. Some of our aggression will be justified, because we have no need to doubt our intent. And that’s where aggression that becomes bullying becomes a problem; it becomes justified when aggression is never really justifiable. All through an apparent lack of awareness or acceptance of our animalistic drives or because we feel we have the right to respond aggressively.
What is important, in human systems of communication, is that people everywhere have access to knowledge and training on how the neuroscience and physiology works.
It’s important that we understand the role of the parts of the brain that inhibit a mature response, just as it’s vital we understand why rational behaviour is not our default.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.