Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Disease theory for bad behavior

Scientists and physicians like to attribute bad behaviors to a brain disorder, which they label a disease. Alcoholism was among the first such "diseases." Now, all manner of inappropriate behaviors are labeled as diseases. The latest labelings include "Intermittent explosive disorder," which in less politically correct times referred to people who did not control their temper. Another "disease" recently identified is over eating, although a disease name has not yet been assigned.

Implicit in this labeling approach is that these people have a brain disorder. If you have a disease, you have all the excuse you need for your problem. You are a victim. It is not your fault. How convenient.

Hardly, if ever, do scientists or physicians consider the possibility that the faulty brain wiring that underlies such conditions might have been created by past experience. Often that past experience was under the control of the "victim," who made bad choices in behavior that reinforced the learning of bad behavior. Indeed, there is a school of science that holds that all addictions are learned. I discuss some of this research in my book on improving memory, Thank You Brain for All You Remember. What You Forgot Was My Fault.

Regardless of the degree of complicity that victims have in creating their disorders, the point still remains that people have choices. They can choose new behaviors. They can choose behaviors that will erase old learning and create new learning experiences that will create behaviors that serve them better. No more excuses, please.

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