What are social and biological factors that influence human behavior?

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Some examples of social factors that influence human behavior include gender and race. Some examples of biological factors that influence human behavior include the drive to take care of one's own young and other genetic influences that impact how individuals respond to an environment. Here's more specific detail about those particular factors.

Social factors like gender and race must be examined through the behaviors of interaction. An individual's gender, which has more to do with how society interprets one's sex and less to do with one's biological descriptions, can impact behavior in significant ways. Society holds expectations of the male and the female gender, and even of gender differences that mark a person who identifies as transgender. Race operates similarly in a social context. A white woman walking down the street, for example, might have internalized society's messages that claim women are weak and vulnerable; this phenomenon may lead her to behave self-protectively when confronted with a black man, whose combination of social characteristics (black and male) has been interpreted by society as a threat.

Biological factors are ones that occur in an individual thanks to nature. The caretaking impulse, for example, is an easily identifiable behavior in humans that reflects one such biological factor. Even very young children experience that natural impulse to take care of something, human or otherwise, and their behaviors resemble those of adults in a parenting role.

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Biological factors that influence human behavior can consist of our drive to be warm, fed, sheltered, have companionship (with some humans having stronger biological drives to reproduce), and be free from harm and oppression. Our very genetic makeup, and the genetic makeup of most sentient beings, causes us to seek these factors. While humans can absolutely participate in self-destructive behaviors that go against these biological factors, these self-harming behaviors are usually a response to not having one of these basic needs met, or in some cases, from chemical brain inbalance(s). Trauma, social isolation, and lack of resources to have basic needs met are the main causes of self-harming behaviors that are in contradiction with these biological factors of human behaviors.

Socially, humans are partially shaped by our environments. This is the "nurture" part of understanding human behaviors, while biological factors can be considered the "nature" aspects of human behaviors. For instance, our society has deep rooted racism, sexism, and homophobia interwoven into many aspects of the dominant American culture. As such, for example, many white people living in America display some degree of racism (whether it be blatant like calling people racial slurs or committing acts of racial hared, or more subtle, yet just as damaging, like being surprised by a black man with dreadlocks who holds a doctorate degree), and generally have to consciously work to unlearn this social conditioning.

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This is often referred to as the "nature versus nurture" debate: is our behavior predetermined by genetic (biological) factors that we can't control or are we "blank slates" that can be formed by our environment? Most scientists agree that we are each a complicated product of both nature and nurture. However, an example of behavior influenced by nature would be shyness: while environment can play a role, scientists have discovered genetic factors that predispose certain people to shyness, particularly the serotonin transporter gene. On the other hand, social scientists have long understood that such social factors as an infant bonding with a caregiver or a child having at least one adult figure he or she can rely on is vitally important to curtailing high-risk behavior as the child grows into adolescence and adulthood. Factors such as childhood poverty, exposure to lead paint and lack of education can certainly mark an individual in ways that transcend genetics. In short, genes can predispose individuals to certain behaviors but so can social factors such as stable or unstable caregivers, poverty or wealth, and access or lack thereof to health care and education. 

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Human behavior is complex, being influenced by the fact that we are flesh and blood (biological influences) and our social relationships with other people. 

Biological influences include those arising from genetic makeup as well as those arising from the physical environment. The extra chromosome that creates Down Syndrome influences the behavior of people who have Down Syndrome. Buckley, Bird, and Sacks (2002, see reference below) note that those with Down Syndrome tend to be highly social and have skills in "reading" other people's emotions. Environmental influences that affect biology include exposure to certain chemicals. For example, a person taking an anti-depressant may become more active in everyday life due to the increase in mood level as a result of taking the drug. 

Social influences on behavior include those that took place historically in our lives, as well as those based on current relationships. People who suffered abuse as children may behave in a way that indicates fear and mistrust. People who currently have a loving relationship may act with a certain level of confidence. 

There is probably a continuum between biological and social factors. For example, certain mood disorders may have genetic influences but are exacerbated by living with a parent who has that disorder. 

Psychology has always grappled with the nature/nurture dichotomy. All behavior is influenced by both, although the degree of each factor likely varies across a person's full life scope.

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