There’s many fleeting questions that enter and leave the mind, and some that linger like an itch of curiosity. I recently discussed plans to expand this site beyond music with a touch of science, a place for me to share my science thoughts with the world and maybe develop communication and feedback. So, what’s on my mind?
I’ve been wondering recently about how psychology plays into physical effort, when and why it is perceived as “difficult” or “challenging.” There’s little mystery how the body works as a machine. We take in calories and convert the food mass to usable forms of energy for us (metabolize). Of course there are different sources and types of food mass, like carbohydrates, protein, and fat, and I’m sure that plays a role in the answer of the question. But I don’t think that gives a full explanation and proposes a hypothetical scenario: two athletes of practically identical physical specs undergo the exact same diet, amount of sleep, etc. and after an appropriate length of time in these settings are asked to perform an activity, running or rowing or whatever. It seems there will be a point where the endurance of one of the athletes is challenged more severely than the other, where the voice inside of one’s head is begging to stop while their competition’s inner voice is just asking politely. If we remove all the physical variables, the difference would be in psychology. So what factors affect the psychological perception of effort? How much is it self-confidence? Does being happy help motivate you? Anger? Jealousy? These emotional character traits can be viewed short-term or long-term. An otherwise happy person could have an angry day, adding to the original question, how much is time a formative factor in psychological conditioning of physical endurance? I’ve obviously just scratched the surface in the potential factors explaining the answer to this question, but it seems a challenging one for experimentation.
I’ve also been wondering recently, and I’m not the first person to, genetics’ role in psychology. Genes give directions to your body like what color your hair will be or where an arm should go. But where are the instructions on how to think? Of course this is a nature/nurture question, the way we approach thoughts are largely determined by our upbringing and how we learn to think in our young life. But there’s clearly more than nurture determining whether someone grows up to be artistic, or conservative, or lazy, or good at solving math problems. How do genes instruct this behavior?
A quick search demonstrates there is an entire field dedicated to the topic, behavioral genetics. My preliminary reading on the topic gives the answer, “it’s complicated.” Genetic factors undoubtedly play a significant role in psychological development, and all traits are heritable. This notion extends to the animal kingdom. While the research is still young, there is a similar correlation between genes and mental traits the same way there is with genes and physical traits, however physical traits often have an identifiable single gene causation while mental characteristics typically result from multiple genes, making the study much more complex. On top of this, environmental factors play a major role as well. It’s a fascinating, young field of study I plan to watch but don’t hold out much hope of them finding genetic explanations of wtf happened to our generation any time soon.