Neurobiological approaches to a better understanding of human nature and human values
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The most important finding made in the field of neurobiological research during the last decade is the discovery of the enormous experience-dependent plasticity of the human brain. The elaboration and stabilization of synaptic connectivity, and therefore, the complexity of neuronal networks in the higher brain centres depend to a far greater extent than previously believed on how – or rather, for which purpose – an individual uses his brain, the goals pursued, the experiences made in the course of his life, the models used for orientation, the values providing stability and eliciting a sense of commitment. The transmission and internalization of culture-specific abilities and of culture-specific values is achieved primarily during childhood by nonverbal communication (mirror neuron system, imitation learning) as well as by implicit and explicit experiences (reward system, avoidance and reinforcement learning). Therefore the structural and functional organization of the human brain is crucially determined by social and cultural factors. Especially the frontal cortex with its highly complex neuronal networks involved in executive functions, evaluation an decision making must be conceptualized as a social, culturally shaped construct. The most important prerequisites for the transgenerational transmission of human values and their deep implementation into the higher frontocortical networks of the brains of subsequent generations are secure affectional relationships and a broad spectrum of different challenges. Only under such conditions, children are able to stabilize sufficiently complex networks and internal representations for metacognitive competences in their brains. This delicate process of experience-dependent organization of neuronal connectivity is seriously and often also persistently hampered or prematurely terminated by uncontrollable stress experiences. This danger ought be minimized by education programs aiming at the implementation of values of connectedness to others and to nature during the period of brain maturation.