Top 10 mysteries of human behaviour science can not explain
Top 10 mysteries of human behaviour science can not explain

Scientists have split the atom, put men on the moon and discovered the DNA of which we are made, but there are some mysteries of human behaviour which they have failed to fully explain. Why do we dream, kiss, blush or shy? These are the basics of human behaviour, scientists still don’t have a clue.

Here are the list of mysteries of human behaviour science fails to explain. But first, let’s understand human behaviour, and why scientists have a hard time explaining it.

What is Human Behaviour?

Photo: Textile Apex
Photo: Textile Apex

Human behaviour, the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life.

Humans, like other animal species, have a typical life course that consists of successive phases of growth, each of which is characterized by a distinct set of physical, physiological, and behavioral features. These phases are prenatal life, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (including old age). Human development, or developmental psychology, is a field of study that attempts to describe and explain the changes in human cognitive, emotional, and behavioral capabilities and functioning over the entire life span, from the fetus to old age.

Most scientific research on human development has concentrated on the period from birth through early adolescence, owing to both the rapidity and magnitude of the psychological changes observed during those phases and to the fact that they culminate in the optimum mental functioning of early adulthood. A primary motivation of many investigators in the field has been to determine how the culminating mental abilities of adulthood were reached during the preceding phases.

The behavior of humans (just as of other organisms) falls upon a spectrum, whereby some behaviors are common while others unusual, and some are acceptable while others beyond acceptable limits. The acceptability of behavior depends heavily upon social norms and is regulated by various means of social control, partly due to the inherently conformist nature of human society in general. Thus, social norms also condition behavior, whereby humans are pressured into following certain rules and displaying certain behaviors that are deemed acceptable or unacceptable depending on the given society or culture.

Human behavior is studied by the social sciences, which include psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology. In sociology, behavior may broadly refer to all basic human actions, including those that possess no meaning—actions directed at no person. Behavior in this general sense should not be mistaken with social behavior. Social behavior, a subset of human behavior that accounts for actions directed at others, is concerned with the considerable influence of social interaction and culture, as well as ethics, social environment, authority, persuasion, and coercion.

Theories Of Human Behavior

Photo: WIRED
Photo: WIRED

Of theories about human behavior, one of the most prevalent ones of all is that of conditioning. Conditioning occurs when someone is groomed into behaving in a certain manner. There are two main types of conditioning, and different people may be more impacted by one form over the other. Of course, conditioning human beings to behave in a certain way can have prompt ethical or moral debates, especially when someone is conditioned to act in a manner which fails to suit their best interests. Then, others maintain that human beings are all inherently programmed to behave in one way or another.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning occurs when someone comes to associate specific stimuli with various outcomes. In turn, this manner of conditioning often encourages people to behave in ways which will bring them joy and pleasure. For instance, if someone finds that they tend to do well when they follow their instincts as opposed to following the rules, they are likelier to be a nonconformist and take risks. Classical conditioning does not always have to occur from the actions or manipulations of a specific individual. Sometimes, this type of conditioning happens from society or from the environment in which someone is routinely exposed to.

Operant Conditioning

Quite simply, operant conditioning controls human behavior via positive and negative reinforcement. A person who finds themselves constantly in trouble with the law when they break certain rules typically learns to associate rule-breaking with legal issues. Likewise, an individual who regularly studies for exams and aces them comes to associate studying with positive grades. When it comes to human behavior, people tend to steer clear of what causes them pain and gravitate towards pleasure and personal satisfaction. These are some of how conditioning, both classical and operant, is theorized to impact human behavior.

Cognition

In the realm of human behavior, cognition is a very prevalent theory which maintains that human behavior is determined by an individual's thoughts, inner judgment, personal motivations, etc. This particular theory places great emphasis on people's internal states and maintains that what a person is feeling, thinking, or battling will eventually impact the behavior which the world sees. Of course, cognitive theories which pertain to human behavior are heavily supported by mental health studies, psychological studies, and more. Much of what exists within the tangible, external world today originally existed within an individual's mind.

Human Behavior And Self-Control

A more thorough comprehension of human behavior has positively contributed to society on so many levels. This is an undeniable fact, and yet, in spite of the definition, theories, and types of human behavior, self-control is still very much relevant. How you behave always makes a difference because when it's all said and done, you are accountable for your actions. Behaving well and controlling yourself is very easy when everything is going well, and your back isn't against the wall. However, behavior in the face of stress, worries, and challenges is often what turns out to be the most defining.

Self-control matters because it determines whether or not you stay grounded even in the face of adversity or tough times. Someone who lacks self-control will have a significantly harder time staying out of trouble than someone who knows how to manage themselves. Exercising self-control doesn't mean that you will never feel angry. It doesn't mean that your personality, interest levels, and attitudes won't come into play; however, when you have self-control, you can manage these factors instead of allowing them to manage you.

Consequences, whether positive or negative, are inevitable factors when it comes to human behavior. The choices you make and how you choose to behave determine whether or not you experience desirable or undesirable outcomes. Self-control is what allows you to manage your behavior and avoid negative consequences which you don't want to be exposed to. There are countless situations where people have looked back and either wished they'd exercised better self-control or felt thankful that they did exercise self-control.

The list of top 10 mysteries of human behaviour science fails to explain

10. Shyness

9. Art

8. Adolescence

7. Picking Your Nose

6. Superstition

5. Altruism or Selflessness

4. Kissing

3. Laughter

2. Blushing

1. Dreaming

What are the top 10 mysteries of human behaviour science fails to explain?

10. Shyness

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Shyness, that single emotion that encompasses so many different things—embarrassment, timidity, a fear of rejection, a reluctance to be inconvenient—is, despite its extreme commonality, also extremely mysterious. Is it a mere feeling? A personality-defining condition? A form of anxiety? While shyness is for some a constant companion, its flushes and flashes managed in the rough manner of a chronic disease, it can also alight, without the courtesy of a warning, on even the most social, and socially graceful, of people. It can manifest as the mute smile that appears, unbidden, when you’re alone with a stranger in an elevator.

Shyness, basically, is an inconsiderate monster. Or, as the cultural historian Joe Moran argues in his wonderful new book, Shrinking Violets: The Secret Life of Shyness, it is an inconsiderate monster that has been a reliable, if largely invisible, companion to human history. Today, in the United States, shyness is often associated with a broad jumble of related and overlapping conditions, from occasional timidness to general awkwardness, from stage fright to the DSM-recognized social anxiety disorder. This imprecision is, it turns out, fitting: Shyness isn’t a single situation or character, Moran suggests, but, instead, a regular but also irregular interloper in human affairs, affecting people across ages and countries and cultures. Shyness can be, sometimes, a curse. It can be, as Dr. Heimlich acknowledged, occasionally a deadly one.

But shyness can also be, Moran argues, a great gift, its impulse toward introversion allowing for the inventive thinking and creative genius that might elude the more talkatively inclined.

Shyness, so emotionally adjacent to shame, is often also regarded as a cause for it. Within a culture that so deeply values self-confidence—and that takes for granted that social skills are external evidence of one’s internal self-regard—shyness is seen with suspicion. Quietness, in a world that is loud, can make for an easy enemy.

It is on those social-evolutionary grounds, though, that shyness is sometimes suspected, and sometimes pathologized. Shy people, the sociologist Susie Scott argued, are not merely choosing solitude over companionship, or small groups over larger ones; they are conducting, each time they beg off or turn away, an “unintentional breaching experiment.” They are, in their very shyness, deviating from the broader social order.

9. Art

Photo: My Modern Met
Photo: My Modern Met

Art is all around us, and has been there since prehistoric times. People paint, draw, sculpt, dance, write, and perform music and plays. People enjoy doing artistic things. And, they also enjoy looking at, watching, and experiencing art, but nobody really knows why.

Artists often talk about using their art to express themselves. But that’s also hard to explain. Why do people have an urge to express themselves? Why don’t people just keep whatever they are thinking or feeling inside?

Of course, that’s not human. People want to express themselves—to let other people know who they are, what they think, what they are feeling, but it’s not clear why. What does self-expression really gain us that makes it such an important part of being human?

And why do people sometimes prefer to express themselves artistically rather than just telling other people what they are feeling and thinking in a more straightforward and less symbolic way? If we can figure out the answer to that question, perhaps we’ll better understand the mystery of art.

Artists often report getting lost in their work, writing or painting or composing or dancing for long periods of time. Flow is an exceptionally pleasurable experience, so some people may do art because it allows them to enter a state of flow. And likewise, some people may experience the pleasure of flow while experiencing art—getting lost in a moving musical performance, or while gazing at a beautiful painting, or while reading poetry.

You might wonder why it’s so difficult to answer what seems like a rather simple question such as “Why do people create art?”

Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to study spontaneous artistic activity under the kinds of controlled laboratory conditions that would allow us to dissect the experience and identify what causes it.

Once people know that they are in a research study, the normal psychological processes that underlie their artistic behaviors usually vanish. They’re no longer motivated to engage in artistic behaviors for the same reasons that they do art in everyday life.

Many of the mysteries that we have discussed remain mysteries for precisely this reason. Certain aspects of people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are difficult to produce on demand so that we can do controlled experiments on them.

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8. Adolescence

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Adolescence may be defined as that period within the life span when most of a person’s characteristics are changing from what is typically considered childlike to what is typically considered adultlike. Changes in the body are the most readily observed, but other, less definitive attributes such as thoughts, behaviour, and social relations also change radically during this period. The rate of such changes varies with the individual as well as with the particular characteristic.

The physical and physiological changes of adolescence do not proceed uniformly; however, a general sequence for these changes applies to most people. It is useful to speak of phases of bodily changes in adolescence in order to draw important distinctions among various degrees and types of change. Bodily changes affect height, weight, fat and muscle distribution, glandular secretions, and sexual characteristics. When some of these changes have begun, but most are yet to occur, the person is said to be in the prepubescent phase. When most of those bodily changes that will eventually take place have been initiated, the person is in the pubescent phase. Finally, when most of those bodily changes have already occurred, the person is in the postpubescent phase; this period ends when all bodily changes associated with adolescence are completed.

The dramatic physical and physiological changes characteristic of adolescence have an equally dramatic impact on cognitive and social functioning. Adolescents think about their “new” bodies and their “new” selves in qualitatively new ways. In contrast with sensorimotor and more limited spatiotemporal modes of thinking—which according to Piaget characterize infancy and childhood—beginning at about puberty, the formal-operational mode of thought emerges, characterized by reasoning and abstraction.

The adolescent’s social context is broader and more complex than that of the infant and the child. The most notable social phenomenon of adolescence is the emergence of the marked importance of peer groups.

7. Picking Your Nose

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Nose picking is a curious habit. According to a studyTrusted Source published in 1995, 91 percent of people who responded to the questionnaire reported they do it, while just 75 percent thought “everyone does it.” In short, we’re all stuffing our fingers up our schnozzes from time to time.

Why people pick their nose likely differs from person to person. Noses that are dry or overly moist may be irritating. A quick pick can relieve some discomfort.

Some people pick their nose out of boredom or a nervous habit. Allergies and sinus infections can increase the amount of mucus in the nose, too.

In rare situations, nose picking is a compulsive, repetitive behavior. This condition, called rhinotillexomania, often accompanies stress or anxiety and other habits like nail-biting or scratching. For people with this condition, nose picking can briefly ease anxiety.

But most people who pick their nose, including those who do it in the car, do so out of habit, not compulsion.

Nose picking may not be socially acceptable, but it’s rarely dangerous.

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6. Superstition

Photo: USC Dornsife
Photo: USC Dornsife

Although there is no single definition of superstition, it generally means a belief in supernatural forces – such as fate – the desire to influence unpredictable factors and a need to resolve uncertainty. In this way then, individual beliefs and experiences drive superstitions, which explains why they are generally irrational and often defy current scientific wisdom.

Psychologists who have investigated what role superstitions play, have found that they derive from the assumption that a connection exists between co-occurring, non-related events. For instance, the notion that charms promote good luck, or protect you from bad luck.

For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviours provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety – which is why levels of superstition increase at times of stress and angst. This is particularly the case during times of economic crisis and social uncertainty – notably wars and conflicts. Indeed, Researchers have observed how in Germany between 1918 and 1940 measures of economic threat correlated directly with measures of superstition.

Superstitious beliefs have been shown to help promote a positive mental attitude. Although they can lead to irrational decisions, such as trusting in the merits of good luck and destiny rather than sound decision making.

Carrying charms, wearing certain clothes, visiting places associated with good fortune, preferring specific colours and using particular numbers are all elements of superstition. And although these behaviours and actions can appear trivial, for some people, they can often affect choices made in the real world.

Superstition is also highly prevalent within sport – especially in highly competitive situations. Four out of five professional athletes report engaging with at least one superstitious behaviour prior to performance. Within sport, superstitions have been shown to reduce tension and provide a sense of control over unpredictable, chance factors.

What all this shows is that superstitions can provide reassurance and can help to reduce anxiety in some people. But while this may well be true, research has shown that actions associated with superstitions can also become self-reinforcing – in that the behaviour develops into a habit and failure to perform the ritual can actually result in anxiety.

This is even though the actual outcome of an event or situation is still dependent on known factors – rather than unknown supernatural forces. A notion consistent with the often quoted maxim, “the harder you work (practice) the luckier you get”.

5. Altruism or Selflessness

Photo: BetterUp
Photo: BetterUp

Humans often behave altruistically towards strangers with no chance of reciprocation. From an evolutionary perspective, this is puzzling. The evolution of altruistic cooperative behavior—in which an organism’s action reduces its fitness and increases the fitness of another organism (e.g. by sharing food)—only makes sense when it is directed at genetically related organisms (kin selection) or when one can expect the favor to be returned (reciprocal altruism). Therefore, evolutionary theorists such as Sober and Wilson have argued that we should revise Neo-Darwininian evolutionary theory. They argue that human altruism evolved through group selection in which groups of altruists were naturally selected because they had a comparative advantage over other groups. Wilson and Sober’s hypothesis attracted followers but is rejected by most of their peers. The heated debate between advocates and critics of group selection often suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity.

why do humans often exhibit altruistic behavior towards non-kin with no chance of reciprocation? From an evolutionary perspective, this is puzzling. The evolution of altruistic cooperative behavior—in which an organism’s action reduces its fitness and increases the fitness of another organism (e.g. by sharing food) only makes sense when it is directed at genetically related organisms or when one can expect the favor to be returned. The first kind of altruism is referred to as ‘kin altruism’ and was elucidated by Fisher (1930), Haldane (1932) and Hamilton (1964) who understood that the altruistic organism was in fact increasing its evolutionary success since it was helping genetically related organisms. The second kind of altruism is known as ‘reciprocal altruism’ and was elucidated by Trivers (1971) who understood that the altruistic organism was in fact behaving in an ‘enlightened’ self-interested way since it could expect the favor to be returned in the future (Ruse 1979, p. 49).

Explanations of human altruism are still the subject of much (and heated) debate today, but often the debate suffers from a lack of clarity. It is not always clear what exactly ‘group selection’ refers to and different scholars use it in different ways. As Maynard Smith (1998) rightly points out in his review of Sober and Wilson’s (1998) ‘Unto others’—in which they develop their group selection account of human altruism—the discussion has often turned semantic, with quarreling parties mainly disagreeing on the appropriate terminology rather than the underlying processes they describe.

4. Kissing

Photo: The Irish Times
Photo: The Irish Times

Humans pucker up for all kinds of reasons. We kiss for love, for luck, to say hello and goodbye. There’s also the whole ‘it feels so good’ thing.

And when you stop and really think about the act of kissing, it’s kind of strange, isn’t it? Pressing your lips against someone else and, in some cases, swapping saliva? It turns out there’s some science behind this strange but enjoyable behavior.

There are many theories about how kissing originated and why we do it. Some scientists believe that kissing is a learned behavior, since roughly 10 percent of humans don’t kiss at all and considerably fewer kiss with romantic or sexual intent. Others believe kissing is instinctual and rooted in biology.

You can thank the many nerve endings in your lips for their part in making kissing feel so very good.

Your lips have more nerve endings than any other part of your body. When you press them against another set of lips or even warm skin, it just feels good. Combine that with the chemical cocktail released during kissing, and you’ve got a recipe that’s sure to give you all the feels.

Along with the oxytocin and dopamine that make you feel affection and euphoria, kissing releases serotonin — another feel-good chemical. It also lowers cortisol levels so you feel more relaxed, making for a good time all around.

Kissing feels great and does the body good. It can help people feel connected and strengthen bonds of all kinds.

Just remember that not everyone wants to be kissed or sees kissing the way you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re greeting someone new, puckering up to peck a bestie, or going into a smooch sesh with a romantic interest — you should always ask before you smooch.

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3. Laughter

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Laughter is so normal and so natural that you may have never thought about how strange it really is. Most people think of laughter as an involuntary physiological response to humor. You automatically laugh when something’s funny, right? Well, not necessarily.

Not only do we not laugh at everything that we think is funny—sometimes we just smile or feel amused—but we also laugh at things that are decidedly not funny.

For example, sometimes people laugh when they have embarrassed or humiliated themselves in public. And sometimes people laugh at things that are awkward, or dangerous, or even tragic. People even laugh involuntarily while recounting a horrible story in which someone is badly hurt or even killed. So, laughter isn’t just a natural reaction to things that are humorous.

Some theorists have suggested that laughter is fundamentally about releasing stress, and others have offered the related idea that laughter may reflect an expression of relief after some danger has passed.

You may have experienced that kind of laughter yourself when you nearly had an accident, or a mishap. As soon as it was clear that everything was alright, you laughed. And laughing seemed to reflect your relief that things had turned out OK. And, likewise, laughter certainly does help people cope with stress and other negative emotions. But this doesn’t explain why we laugh most often when we are happy rather than when we are upset.

One important clue in trying to understand laughter is the fact that laughter almost always occurs in encounters with other people. Research shows that people are about 30 times more likely to laugh when interacting with other people.

Even humorous events are much more likely to make people laugh when they’re with other people. This observation suggests that laughter may be a social signal of some kind rather than just an expression of emotion or a release of tension. But what does laughter signal?

Research shows that people who are engaged in a conversation are much more likely to laugh after they say something themselves than they are to laugh at what other people say. So, perhaps laughter conveys playfulness or is designed to promote social bonding. Perhaps laughter signals an openness or a receptivity to being connected with other people.

After all, we usually don’t laugh—I mean genuinely laugh—around people we dislike. And furthermore, research shows that laughing together brings people closer and improves social relationships. So, maybe laughter is a signal that indicates a desire for social connections.

2. Blushing

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Called “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions” by Charles Darwin, blushing is an involuntary reaction that seems to serve no purpose beyond making an embarrassing situation even worse. However, scientists can’t seem to definitively explain this phenomenon, which is completely unique to humans.

AsapSCIENCE explains blushing as a reaction of the sympathetic nervous system and part of our “fight or flight” response. When you’re embarrassed, adrenaline is released, speeding up your heart rate and dilating your blood vessels to improve your blood flow and oxygen delivery. In humans, facial veins react to this adrenaline by blushing. But this response doesn’t happen anywhere else in your body, which is why you don’t blush all over.

Science may not be able to figure out why this reaction is so specific, but recent studies suggest that blushing has a functional purpose in social relationships. A team of Dutch psychologists discovered that people are more likely to forgive and view favorably someone who has committed an embarrassing act if he or she is visibly blushing. A test of 130 undergraduate students at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands provided each subject with the face of a blushing or non-blushing woman and a corresponding story about her “embarrassing mishap” or “social transgression.” Reliably, the blushing faces scored higher in likeability and trustworthiness.

According to these results, the act of blushing “serves to signal the actor’s genuine regret or remorse over a wrongdoing,” showing that the person recognizes the “social or moral infraction” and will probably endeavor not to repeat it. Blushing can help others predict your future behavior, assuming that you, like many others, do not enjoy being embarrassed and have learned from your mistakes. They are appeased by the involuntary act of contrition, and while you may never forget your most embarrassing moments, you can rest easy knowing that your blushing tendencies help neutralize their impact on your social relations.

1. Dreaming

Photo: Chloe Cushman
Photo: Chloe Cushman

For centuries people have pondered the meaning of dreams. Early civilizations thought of dreams as a medium between our earthly world and that of the gods. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were convinced that dreams had certain prophetic powers. While there has always been a great interest in the interpretation of human dreams, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud’s theory centred around the notion of repressed longing -- the idea that dreaming allows us to sort through unresolved, repressed wishes. Carl Jung (who studied under Freud) also believed that dreams had psychological importance, but proposed different theories about their meaning.

Since then, technological advancements have allowed for the development of other theories. One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the “activation-synthesis hypothesis,” which states that dreams don’t actually mean anything: they are merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories. Humans, the theory goes, construct dream stories after they wake up, in a natural attempt to make sense of it all. Yet, given the vast documentation of realistic aspects to human dreaming as well as indirect experimental evidence that other mammals such as cats also dream, evolutionary psychologists have theorized that dreaming really does serve a purpose. In particular, the “threat simulation theory” suggests that dreaming should be seen as an ancient biological defence mechanism that provided an evolutionary advantage because of its capacity to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events – enhancing the neuro-cognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and avoidance.

So, over the years, numerous theories have been put forth in an attempt to illuminate the mystery behind human dreams, but, until recently, strong tangible evidence has remained largely elusive.

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