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Relationship Between Hormones and Behavior

Learn how growth hormones affect our behavior.

When endocrinology was an infant science, there were some who felt that all behavior is influenced by the way endocrine glands function. We know now that while the functioning of some endocrine glands is related to behavior, early investigators tended to overestimate their importance in this regard. Some of the endocrine glands and their specific hormones influence behavior directly. Others indirectly influence behavior through the role they play in determining characteristics such as physical size. Growth hormone, for example, determines how large we grow, and in our society a person 9 feet tall is likely to be regarded as freak. Thus, the way in which other people react to a person this tall may influence his personality and behavior. The excess of growth hormone, of course, does not have a direct influence.

Abnormal functioning of glands such as the thyroid can directly influence behavior, but there is some doubt as to whether there is a very close relationship between the functioning of these glands and behavior. Since the thyroid regulates the general energy level of the organism, the question has been raised concerning the influence of thyroid functioning and learning. Two experiments in the literature dealing with hyperthyroidism and learning present opposite results. In a later study this contradictory evidence is explained. This experiment demonstrated that there id no single relationship between hyperthyroidism and learning. Rather, the results of this latter study showed that a slightly elevated BMR facilitates learning or conditioning, while gross elevation inhibits or makes conditioning impossible. In all likelihood, the two earlier studies employed animals with different degrees of hyperthyroidism.

Hormones secreted by the gonads appear to influence behavior, but the evidence suggests that these hormones more directly influence the sexual behavior of the lower animals than of man. Female mammals, other than humans, show a cyclical behavior that is clearly dependent on ovarian functioning. Some animals are sexually receptive only at specific periods during the so-called estrus cycle. Female humans, on the other hand, do not generally show behavior so clearly related to the menstrual cycle.

As further evidence that human sexual behavior is less closely tied to gonadal functioning, we may examine and compare results of castration in lower animals and in man. Removal of the ovaries from a female rat results in an almost immediate cessation of normal adult sexual behavior. In the human female following a hysterectomy, or following menopause, sexual behavior may decrease, remain the same, or increase. Human sexual behavior clearly is not as closely related to gonadal functioning as is the sexual behavior of lower animals.

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Comments (1)
Bervy

Terribly interested in whether a hormone inbalance in a 72 year old man can cause rather emotional 'explosions' with yelling and throwing himself around sort of, saying unreasonable things when he gets a bit frustrated, or when he wants to do other things and some things just need doing. There has to be a reason, cause it happens occasionally and is very hard to live with. Thank you.

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