People often wonder how our ability to choose and behave is affected by different factors in our lives; some of which we have no control over, like genetics. They want to know if a person’s agency can be is hindered by who they are. Some of the different factors that influence how humans make decisions are: evolution of the brain, biochemistry, early traumatic experiences, the frontal cortex, instinct, learning, and working memory.
Human and animal brains are both similar and different.
A similarity is that humans and animals share a similar brain structure. The biggest difference is found in the cerebral cortex, because the human brain has more corticalization (Revel). It is in the cerebral cortex where higher thinking and executive functioning takes place, such as information processing. By having an increased corticalization, the ability for the brain to learn and grow more also increases (Revel). This is an important difference, as it allows humans to have more agency, by giving them the capability to overcome natural instincts, by allowing them to learn and remember more information, and allow for higher thinking.
A person’s biochemistry influences their behavior and choices. Biochemistry includes neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in a synapse that impact other synaptic cells. When a person’s neurotransmitters are altered, their behavior can change, which affects their choices. One example of this is serotonin levels. Serotonin is responsible for regulating and adjusting people’s moods. While still unclear on the extent of their connection, lower serotonin levels are related to depression (Revel).
When a person suffers from depression, their behavior changes drastically, which then affects their choices.
Early traumatic experiences also affects a person’s behavior. When a person goes through a traumatic experience at a young age, such as being bitten by a dog, they can develop a fear of what caused them their pain and discomfort, in this case dogs. Most likely, for the rest of their lives they will fear dogs. They are not choosing to fear dogs, they have been conditioned to fear them, taking their agency away. One of the roles of the frontal cortex is decision making. The frontal cortex is one of the last areas of the brain to mature, so that those who have gone through puberty have an undeveloped frontal cortex (Stuss, 2011). This means their decision making is inhibited, and their behaviors are less in their control.
When a person is trying to have self-control, something they must overcome is instinct. Instinct is innate and biologically driven behavior. To overcome an instinct, a person must learn how to control the desired behavior. One such was to do that learning by experience. For the desired behavior to be learned, it must be stored in the memory, by being processed in the working memory. It is after something has passed through working memory that it is learned. For example, self-control is studying for an exam even though you really want to hang out with your friends.
In my life there have been times when my agency was limited. One example is when I suffered a concussion. I was not able to choose when I could return to my sports, my doctor and my health decided it for me. Even though I really wanted to return my sports, my doctor said I was not ready, and did not clear me to play until much later than I wanted. There have also been times in my life where my behavior did let me choose. For example, it was my decision to attend BYU. No one could make that choice but me, and I was not restricted in my decision, because I was accepted into every school I considered attending. I was the one who made the decision. Different factors in each situation affected the way I could or could not make a decision.