I turn on the TV and find a commercial informing me that I should Blame Biology rather than french fries for an outbreak of acne. It is true that biologic factors involved in acne include excess sebum production caused by increased hormones, outlet obstruction of sebaceous follicles and inflammation. Further, research has shown that greasy foods and chocolates won't worsen acne. However, excessive manipulation and rubbing, hair gels, medications, stress and certain foods such as refined sugars and starches will increase oil production and probably the pimple population. In other words, you do have some control over your complexion.
This Blame Biology message is not new, nor is it limited to dermatology. We are always looking for something or someone to blame; allowing us to shift responsibility. An article from CNN described circadian rhythms and additional sleep requirements as the biological reasons for teenagers arriving late to school, nodding off during class and getting into more car accidents. Recently a National Public Radio show explained how unruly and disrespectful teen behavior should be blamed on biologic changes not just in their hormone levels, but in their rapidly developing brains. Similarly, the Boston Globe printed an article which discussed how anorexia is not primarily a psychological, but a biological disorder and how we should blame the appetite regulation mechanism in the brain, rather than parenting or altered self-perceptions. An article in Newsweek attempts to clarify how antisocial behavior should be blamed on brain development rather than on poor choices or deviant personalities. Unfriendly and detached? There's no reason to invoke personal responsibility; look no further than gray matter density in the brain.
Are there other brain blames? Sure, an article by John Tierney in the New York Times has argued that differences between the sexes in aptitude for math and science is biologic in origin. To believe this, there is, however, an abundance of evidence that must be ignored, showing that gender biases may affect brain development; and social and cultural biases signicantly influence aptitude.
Of course, we do have some obvious biological blames such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and glaucoma to name a few. Does that mean that we don't have any control? Heck No! Acknowledging that I may have a genetic predisposition to incur some disease is different than Blaming Biology and removing myself from any personal responsibility. The truth is that you and I do have control. Having a genetic predisposition does not mean that a disease or aberrancy will be phenotypically displayed (i.e. you have the gene but it is not expressed or seen). Genetically predisposed simply means that you have an increased chance of exhibiting some specific characteristic or disease. Whether you actually get that disease or demonstrate that trait depends on several other factors for which you are responsible, including your choices, behaviors, and actions.
Are you too short, obese, lethargic, stubborn, anxious? Do you have poor eyesight, thin hair, bad knees, sweaty palms, insomnia, depression, or fits of anger? We can Blame Biology for each of these physical or emotional traits, but in the end, we lose not only our responsibility, but our control and the ability to make positive changes.
Copyright Neil Farber, 2010