Nothing today attracts attention like bad news. Holiday stress has become as much part of the season as joy, and naturally the sharp businessperson is turning a buck. You can give your loved one a stress-busting chorale CD that "offers a concoction of joy to soothe the soul," or for the more extreme case how about a gift of an anger-management workshop?
So it seems like a good time to ask how biology might lend a hand by providing insight into (and, perchance, improvement in) human behavior. As life scientists look from molecular to systems biology for their inspiration, can we assist our colleagues in the social sciences in illuminating that most complex biological system of all, human behavior and social interaction?
Three articles in the Research section give a sampling of current thinking in the biology of behavior. One looks at the science of spite (
This might suggest that we are a long, long way from a predictive understanding of human behavior, but biologists are on a roll in tackling daunting problems. Consider the sequencing of the human genome. Fifteen years ago it was an overwhelmingly difficult task; today, we have that sequence and are beginning to discover the rules used to build biological systems from component parts.
Can the biology of behavior be tackled in the same way? Possibly, yes. It depends on whether behavior is endlessly complex or whether a circumscribed set of actions and reactions can be identified and cataloged. If so, then this catalog and its interpretation will be the key that unlocks the door to fuller understanding of behavior.
Another approach might come from studies of "man's best friend." As described by Clive Wynn in the Research Vision (
This is an area to watch. Over the next few years, the melding of life science and social science approaches will yield fascinating and valuable insights into what makes us and our society tick. And you can rely on
In the meantime, let's make the most of the season. From all of us at