Monday, 10 September 2012

Did Your Brain Make You Do It?

There seems to be a phenomenon prevalent across much of Western society. People don't like to accept responsibility for their own actions when they've done something wrong. They'd much rather say it that their actions were due to "a complex sequence of chemical reactions within my brain", over which they, supposedly, had no control, and therefore it's not their fault - they're innocent. Of course, the premise is true - we, and all our actions, are the result of various biochemical reactions throughout our bodies. However, that doesn't mean that they're not in our control. That's loosely analogous to saying, "Oops, my car lost control and killed someone - but it was the road conditions; there was nothing I could do." (Yes, it makes no sense)

But what about if our driver had lost control, but instead of killing someone, had collided with another car and changed it's course, when that other car would otherwise have hit a pedestrian? It's unlikely then that the driver would attribute the events to road conditions out of their control. No, they would claim it was their own fast thinking, bravery and heroism that saved the pedestrian's life.

It's nothing new, this phenomenon. It's part of a standard sixth-form psychology course, dubbed 'situational factors' vs 'dispositional factors', or 'self-serving bias'.

However, this likely only applies to Western societies - more collectivist societies would likely attribute their errors to themselves (that is, if they knew that their every move is the result of the workings of the brain). That is because they have a more utilitarian approach; they care more about the good of the society than the consequences they themselves may face. 

My point is, it's a cultural phenomenon, not a neuroscientific one. It's about whether people see themselves as a living being forming a part of a group of living beings for which they are partly responsible; or as an individual biological organism reacting with other individual biological organisms. Of course, both views are true - thus, neither are valid as an argument. You can never say "my brain made me do it" and you can never say "it was my fault, not my brain's", since both are equally true. It just depends how you look at it. 

Pointless argument, really. 

(N.B. I'm referring to adults here, not adolescents whose brains may or may not have fully developed self-control abilities. But this poses a further question - who decides what "fully developed self-control abilities" are? All brains are different, ergo, people have varying "self-control abilities". Do people turn 18 and suddenly reach a baseline level of self-control?)


  • Jack Gugel says:
    20 February 2013 at 01:31

    Very interesting. I like the way you look at this topic!

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