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Environmental Influence

Some people call the influence of environment on a person’s personality makeup social or cultural programming. In our Western culture, with its achievement orientation, there’s a strong sense of the need to become number one. In other cultures, being at the top is not nearly as important. India has one of the world’s largest populations, but one of the lowest number of Olympic winners because competition is not stressed as much as participation and cooperation.

Some Darwinists and others who view evolutionary patterns as illustrating a survival of the fittest believe that if humans didn’t have a basic desire, a basic emotional drive, we wouldn’t have conquered (some say exploited) the world as we have. If such a drive is in fact innate in humans, it makes sense, perhaps, that some may have a higher degree of the drive than others. Perhaps these individuals are predisposed toward striving for excellence in all facets of life, including athletic fields and arenas.

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The Hunter Mentality

Many anthropologists say that an arousal defense system, including the fight-or-flight response, is programmed into all humans and has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years, When we feel threatened physically, verbally, or professionally our mind- body goes through the same hormonal changes as it did when we lived in caves and warred against other barefoot tribes. Of course, we no longer have to fight for a daily existence in the wilds; instead, our battles are fought in the offices, on the assembly lines, and on the sports fields. In fact, athletics is one of the few areas remaining where it’s acceptable to be aroused, to battle, to have a killer instinct and tear away at your opposing tribe.

We were hunters for a million and a half years. It was a learned behavior, but it’s conditioned us all, says C. Loring Brace, a Neanderthal expert and a professor at the University of Michigan.

All our basic emotions and capabilities and reactions have been shaped by that. It has had an effect on our emotional and adrenaline aggression systems, but it isn’t focused. If we want it to, it can make us a professional scholar, or an athlete. That’s part of our heritage. We enjoy doing those things, so that’s where we focus. That’s what made Pete Rose so successful in baseball.

Will our emotional drive and arousal system change in our lifetime? Not according to Professor Brace. It’s going to take 150,000 to 200,000 years for that to change.

I expect we’ll lose some of that edge slightly, but our fight-or-flight responses are still sharp. Our hormonal reactions are probably the same as they were long ago.

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