Brains Behaving Badly: Why Are We Hardwired for Transgressions?

It seems that our brains have an evolutionary predilection toward doing the wrong thing. From guilty pleasures to vicious vices, the brain has a tendency to land us in the hot seat.

This Sunday on Brain Games, host Jason Silva pays a visit to New Orleans, Louisiana, to explore the brain and bad behavior. Through a series of games and experiments, Silva demonstrates how we’re drawn to behaviors that get us in trouble.

Before this weekend’s premiere of Brains Behaving Badly, we invited some of our favorite neuroscience experts to shed light on this perplexing subject. We asked our professionals the following questions:

Are humans hardwired for transgressions? Why are some of the brain’s most basic instincts considered bad behavior? Why does bad behavior come so naturally to us?

Here’s what they had to say:

Shaheen Lakhan, associate professor of neurology and medical education at California University of Science and Medicine’s School of Medicine and executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, writes in Brain Blogger, “As a neurologist, when the brain goes haywire, I often witness the reversion of humankind to its primal self. The cortex of the human brain has evolved in such a way that it is often responsible for the differences between us and animals.” He continues, “Strokes, seizures, trauma, infection and degeneration of certain brain structures are fascinating to encounter in that they induce certain transgressions.” Lakhan goes on to share some fascinating patient cases he has handled in his neurology career, and concludes, “In short, our brains may have been very well hardwired for transgression, but evolutionary changes to certain neural structures, connections and social behavioral constructs have halted their manifestation.” Read the full article, Brains Behaving Badly – A Tale of Two Brains >>

Erik Driscoll, founder and editor-in-chief of, says, “I do believe average human brains have evolved in such a way that they may be considered to be hardwired to act contrary to social norms, laws, rules, or, as some religious people would say, ‘sin.’” Driscoll says, “Even aging can lead to some people committing bad behaviors they probably wouldn’t have committed when they were younger.” He continues, “I believe some of our behaviors are considered bad by societies because those societies came up with imperfect rules after our basic brain areas evolved over millions of years in tremendously variable conditions. Many of the rules would cause the downfall of a species if they were followed by all.” Read the full article, Our Bad, Bad Brains >>

Thank you to all of our participants for shedding light on this mysterious and complex subject. Tune in to Brain Games this Sunday, Feb. 28, at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.