The Past Present and Future of Hormones

The activities of all living organisms are functionally dependent upon the biochemical reactions that make up life itself. Since the evolution of the first eukaryotic cells more than one billion years ago, hormones have been utilized in cell-to-cell communication. In vertebrate animals (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), endocrine systems have evolved into highly complicated nervous systems. These nervous systems are even evident in the invertebrate arthropods (crustaceans, spiders, and so on), especially among the social insects, such as ants. The endocrine and nervous systems are intricately interconnected in the control of animal physiology and behavior.

Psychologists are interested in the chemical basis of human behavior and therefore are interested in human and mammalian hormones. Such hormones control a variety of behaviors, such as maternal imprinting (in which an infant and mother bond to each other), courtship and mating, territori-ality, and physiological responses to stress and danger. Animal behaviorists and psychologists study the connection between hormones and behavior in humans, primates, and other closely related mammalian species. They identify similarities in behaviors and hormones among a variety of species. They also recognize the occurrence of abnormal behaviors, such as antisocial behavior and sexual deviance, and possible hormonal imbalances that contribute to these behavioral anomalies.

While the biochemistry of hormones and their effects upon various behaviors have been established in considerable detail, numerous behaviors that are probably under hormonal influence have yet to be critically analyzed. Among them are many subtle pheromones that affect a person's interactions with other people, imprinting pheromones that trigger attraction and bonding between individuals, and hormones that link together a variety of bodily functions. These hormones may number in the hundreds, and they represent a challenging avenue for further research. Unraveling the relationships between hormones and behavior can enable researchers to gain a greater understanding of the human mind and its link to the rest of the body and to other individuals. These studies offer potential treatments for behavioral abnormalities and for mental disturbances created by the physiologically disruptive effects of drug use, a major problem in American society. They also offer great promise in the alleviation of stress, another major social and medical problem.

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