Saturday, October 17, 2009

Richard J. Davidson - Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain

Another nice talk I had missed the first time through.
Google Tech Talk
September 23, 2009


Presented by Richard J. Davidson

In this talk, Richard J. Davidson will explore recent scientific research on the neuroscience of positive human qualities and how they can be cultivated through contemplative practice. Distinctions among different forms of contemplative practices will be introduced and they will be shown to have different neural and behavioral consequences, as well as important consequences for physical health in both long-term and novice practitioners. New research also shows that meditation-based interventions delivered online can produce behavioral and neural changes. Collectively, this body of research indicates that we can cultivate adaptive neural changes and strengthen positive human qualities through systematic mental practice.

Ignoring the Evidence - Why do psychologists reject science?

This is a somewhat annoying article from Newsweek that suggests psychotherapy as practiced by most therapists is little more than voodoo. The author talks with the people a recent effort to make psychotherapy as evidence-based as any other hard science.

I disagree in part. I see the evidence-based practice as important, but there is also an art to therapy that can not be tested in a double-blind, placebo controlled experiment. The human mind operates in general patterns, but when you get down to the human individual, those patterns become very specific and unique, so that no one approach works for every client.

Anyway, here is the article.

Sharon Begley

Ignoring the Evidence: Why do psychologists reject science?

It's a good thing couches are too heavy to throw, because the fight brewing among therapists is getting ugly. For years, psychologists who conduct research have lamented what they see as an antiscience bias among clinicians, who treat patients. But now the gloves have come off. In a two-years-in-the-making analysis to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, psychologists led by Timothy B. Baker of the University of Wisconsin charge that many clinicians fail to "use the interventions for which there is the strongest evidence of efficacy" and "give more weight to their personal experiences than to science." As a result, patients have no assurance that their "treatment will be informed by science." Walter Mischel of Columbia University, who wrote an accompanying editorial, is even more scathing. "The disconnect between what clinicians do and what science has discovered is an unconscionable embarrassment," he told me, and there is a "widening gulf between clinical practice and science." (Click here to follow Sharon Begley)

The "widening" reflects the substantial progress that psycho-logical research has made in identifying the most effective treatments. Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments—the tools of psychology—bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe. Studies have also shown that behavioral couples therapy helps alcoholics stay on the wagon, and that family therapy can help schizophrenics function. Neuroscience has identified the brain mechanisms by which these interventions work, giving them added credibility.

You wouldn't know this if you sought help from a typical psychologist. Millions of patients are instead receiving chaotic meditation therapy, facilitated communication, dolphin-assisted therapy, eye-movement desensitization, and well, "someone once stopped counting at 1,000 forms of psychotherapy in use," says Baker. Although many treatments are effective, they "are used infrequently," he and his coauthors point out. "Relatively few psychologists learn or practice" them.

Why in the world not? Earlier this year I wrote a column asking, facetiously, why doctors "hate science," meaning why do many resist evidence-based medicine. The problem is even worse in psychology. For one thing, says Baker, clinical psychologists are "deeply ambivalent about the role of science" and "lack solid science training"—a result of science-lite curricula, especially in Psy.D. programs. Also, one third of patients get better no matter what therapy (if any) they have, "and psychologists remember these successes, attributing them, wrongly, to the treatment. It's very threatening to think our profession is a charade."

When confronted with evidence that treatments they offer are not supported by science, clinicians argue that they know better than some study what works. In surveys, they admit they value personal experience over research evidence, and a 2006 Presidential Task Force of the American Psychological Association—the 150,000-strong group dominated by clinicians—gave equal weight to the personal experiences of the clinician and to scientific evidence, a stance they defend as a way to avoid "cookbook medicine." A 2008 survey of 591 psychologists in private practice found that they rely more on their own and colleagues' experience than on science when deciding how to treat a patient. (This is less true of psychiatrists, since these M.D.s receive extensive scientific training.) If they keep on this path as insurers demand evidence-based medicine, warns Mischel, psychology will "discredit and marginalize itself."

If public shaming doesn't help, Baker's team suggests a new accreditation system to "stigmatize ascientific training programs and practitioners." (The APA says its current system does require scientific training and competence.) Two years ago the Association for Psychological Science launched such a system to compete with the APA's.

That may produce a new generation of therapists who apply science, but it won't do a thing about those now in practice.

Sharon Begley is NEWSWEEK's science editor and author of The Plastic Mind: New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves and Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves.

NPR - In Milliseconds, Brain Zips From Thought To Speech

Nice segment from NPR's Morning Edition on brain function - specifically some new understandings about how Broca's Area processes thought and language.
An X-ray of the brain showing electrodes that have been implanted.

October 16, 2009

An unusual experiment is offering some tantalizing clues about what goes on in the brain before we speak.

The study found that it takes about half a second to transform something we think into something we say. And three very different kinds of processing needed for speech are all happening in a small part of the brain called Broca's area, which lies beneath the left temple.

The area of the brain is named after a 19th century physician named Pierre Paul Broca, who became famous for his study of two patients who couldn't speak.

"They could see and hear. They could even understand what people were asking them, but they couldn't answer back," says Ned T. Sahin, a researcher at Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego.

Broca discovered in 1865 that both patients had damage to the same small area of the brain. Ever since then, scientists have been trying to figure out precisely what happens in Broca's area.

A Rare Opportunity

But they didn't learn much until recently, when three people with epilepsy agreed to participate in a dramatic experiment. The results appear in the journal Science.

These people were scheduled to have surgery to remove brain tissue causing their seizures. To plan the surgery, doctors made a hole in each person's skull and placed dozens of electrodes deep in their brains, including Broca's area.

That gave brain scientists a rare opportunity, Sahin says. Parts of the brain involved in speech are usually hard to study, he says, because "animals don't speak, and humans don't like wires in their head."

Also, he says, it would be unethical to place electrodes in a healthy person's brain.

So Sahin and a team of researchers welcomed the chance to do an experiment on the three patients who already had electrodes implanted.

The Brain At Work

They had the patients perform a simple language exercise that required them to recognize a group of words, make a grammatical decision and formulate a verbal response.

These three steps require very different cognitive processes in the brain, and many researchers have suspected they occurred in different parts of the brain.

"But we found processing of all three within a very small space in Broca's area," Sahin says.

About 200 milliseconds (two-tenths of a second) after seeing the words, there was a spike in activity in the brain cells, suggesting recognition of the words on the screen.

At 320 milliseconds, "we saw evidence of grammatical processing," Sahin says. And at 450 milliseconds, researchers saw processing that indicated the brain was "cuing up what to say and getting ready to say it."

That timetable fits well with previous experiments showing that it takes about 600 milliseconds for a person to go from thinking something to saying something.

The Mysteries Of Speech

"This evidence will clearly help our thinking about the role of Broca's area in speech," says Peter Hagoort, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.

Not only does the experiment show that Broca's area is involved in several different aspects of speech, he says, it shows that the cells performing different speech functions were within a few millimeters of one another.

That raises the possibility that a single brain cell may be carrying out different speech functions at different times.

Scientists are still a long way from fully understanding Broca's area, Sahin says.

"Sometimes I feel like we're a colony of ants who've come across a cell phone," he says. "We can describe parts of it, but we really don't know what's fundamentally going on here yet."

But as scientific understanding of Broca's area improves, so should efforts to help people with speech problems caused by damage to that part of the brain.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rupert Sheldrake - The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence

Nice lecture - his "extended mind" is what others are calling the "socially embedded mind," but fie are willing to look at the field effects of mind that Sheldrake talks about here.
Google Tech Talks September 2, 2008 ABSTRACT - We have been brought up to believe that the mind is located inside the head. But there are good reasons for thinking that this view is too limited. Recent experimental results show that people can influence others at a distance just by looking at them, even if they look from behind and if all sensory clues are eliminated. And people's intentions can be detected by animals from miles away. The commonest kind of non-local interaction mental influence occurs in connection with telephone calls, where most people have had the experience of thinking of someone shortly before they ring. Controlled, randomized tests on telephone telepathy have given highly significant positive results. Research techniques have now been automated and experiments on telepathy are now being conducted through the internet and cell phones, enabling widespread participation.

Speaker: Rupert Sheldrake
Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. is a biologist and author of more than 75 technical papers and ten books, the most recent being The Sense of Being Stared At. He studied at Cambridge and Harvard Universities, was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society. He is currently Director of the Perrott-Warrick project, funded from Trinity College Cambridge.

Strange - but Sheldrake and Richard Dawkins kind of look and sound alike - maybe it's just that all those Brits look the same.

Introversion vs. Shyness: The Discussion Continues

This is an interesting article from Psychology Today's blogs - but I'm not sure about the distinction. I am a total introvert, but I am not shy.

Shyness implies being timid, and I am certainly not timid. But being social for too long with anyone other than my closest friends exhausts me, and then I need some time to recharge, preferably in isolation - that is introversion.

Seems the author of this post sees it the same way I do. What do you think?

Introversion vs. Shyness: The Discussion Continues

Sophia Dembling - The Introverts Corner

Teasing apart the difference between shyness and introversion.

Are introversion and shyness the same thing? When I interviewed Wellesley College psychologist Jonathan Cheek, he said it depends on who you ask. So I next asked Louis A. Schmidt, director of the Child Emotion Laboratory at McMaster University, who studies the biological underpinnings of personality, especially shyness.

"Though in popular media they're often viewed as the same, we know in the scientific community that, conceptually or empirically, they're unrelated," Schmidt says.

The two get confused because they both are related to socializing-but lack of interest in socializing is very clearly not the same as fearing it. Schmidt and Arnold H. Buss of the University of Texas wrote a chapter titled "Understanding Shyness" for the upcoming book The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal. There they write, "Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behavior when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort." This differentiation between motivation and behavior is consistent with the ability many of us have to behave like extroverts when we choose, whereas shy people cannot turn their shyness off and on.

In addition, when Cheek and Buss administered a questionnaire measuring shyness vs. low sociability to 947 college students, they found a very low correlation between shyness and low sociability--just because you're shy doesn't mean you don't want to be around people, and vice versa. (Subsequent measures, with additional items on the shyness scale, showed higher correlations, but the two were still very clearly different.)

In teasing apart various aspects of sociability and shyness, Schmidt and Buss describe introverts as "low on social approach and low on social avoidance." So although we don't pursue interaction, we're not afraid of it, either. Like we've been saying.

And, says Schmidt, "When we look at the interaction between shyness and introversion and treat those as two unrelated dimensions, it's as though each independent measure is adding unique variants to behavior." So someone who is introverted and shy will behave differently from someone who is introverted and not shy, who will behave differently from someone who is extroverted and shy, who will behave differently from someone who is extroverted and not shy. These distinctions help explain the range of behaviors and emotions people describe in the comments on this blog-some people sound bold, some timid, some are comfortable with their attitudes towards socializing, some long to be different.

Schmidt studies children from birth to age 12 and says that there are biological components to both shyness and levels of sociability, although shy children don't always stay shy. "There is a degree of malleability, although there are limits to it," he says. "We find that more shy children tend to grow out of their shyness than sociable children tending to become shy." He says introversion has not been studied in detail yet but says, "If I were to speculate, I think you'd see less change in introvert personality style."

So, I am convinced. My introversion is not shyness, although I do sometimes feel shy. (I'm not sure yet under what circumstances I become bashful-more to think about.) And I speculate that people who claim to have conquered introversion may instead have conquered shyness without actually becoming extroverts--if they were, in fact, introverts to begin with. Maybe they were just shy.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu - Pushing the Limits

Another great older article from Tricycle. Thanissaro Bhikkhu looks at the mysterious power of desire (attachment) and how we can loosen its grip through knowing the mind.

Pushing the Limits

Thanissaro Bhikkhu on desire, imagination, and the Buddhist path.

All phenomena, the Buddha once said, are rooted in desire. Everything we think, say, or do - every experience - comes from desire. Even we come from desire. We were reborn into this life because of our desire to be. Consciously or not, our desires keep redefining our sense of who we are. Desire is how we take our place in the causal matrix of space and time. The only thing not rooted in desire is nirvana, for it’s the end of all phenomena and lies even beyond the Buddha’s use of the word “all.” But the path that takes you to nirvana is rooted in desire - in skillful desires. The path to liberation pushes the limits of skillful desires to see how far they can go.

The notion of a skillful desire may sound strange, but a mature mind intuitively pursues the desires it sees as skillful and drops those it perceives as not. Basic in everyone is the desire for happiness. Every other desire is a strategy for attaining that happiness. You want an iPod, a sexual partner, or an experience of inner peace because you think it will make you happy. Because these secondary desires are strategies, they follow a pattern. They spring from an inchoate feeling of lack and limitation; they employ your powers of perception to identify the cause of the limitation; and they use your powers of creative imagination to conceive a solution to it.

But despite their common pattern, desires are not monolithic. Each offers a different perception of what’s lacking in life, together with a different picture of what the solution should be. A desire for a sandwich comes from a perception of physical hunger and proposes to solve it with a Swiss on rye. A desire to climb a mountain focuses on a different set of hungers - for accomplishment, exhilaration, self-mastery - and appeals to a different image of satisfaction. Whatever the desire, if the solution actually leads to happiness, the desire is skillful. If it doesn’t, it’s not. However, what seems to be a skillful desire may lead only to a false or transitory happiness not worth the effort entailed. So wisdom starts as a meta-desire: to learn how to recognize skillful and unskillful desires for what they actually are.

Unskillful desires can create suffering in a variety of ways. Sometimes they aim at the impossible: not to grow old or die. Sometimes they focus on possibilities that require distasteful means - such as lying or cheating to get ahead in your job. Or the goal, when you get it, may not really keep you happy. Even the summit of Everest can be a disappointment. When it’s not, you can’t stay there forever. When you leave, you’re left with nothing but memories, which can shift and fade. If you did mean or hurtful things to get there, their memory can burn away any pleasure that memories of the summit might hold.

In addition, desires often pull in opposite directions. Your desire for sex, for instance, can get in the way of your desire for peace. In fact, conflict among desires is what alerts us to how painful desire can be. It’s also what has taught each desire how to speak, to persuade, to argue or bully its way into power. And just because a desire is skillful doesn’t mean it’s more skillful at arguing its case than the unskillful ones, for those can often be the most intransigent, the most strident, the slickest in having their way. This means that wisdom has to learn how to strategize, too, to strengthen skillful desires so that less skillful desires will listen to them. That way desires can be trained to work together toward greater happiness. This is how a mature and healthy mind works: conducting a dialogue not so much between reason and desire as between responsible desires and irresponsible ones.

Even in a mature mind, however, the dialogue often yields compromises that don’t really go to the heart: snatches of sensual pleasure, glimpses of spiritual peace, nothing really satisfying and whole. Some people, growing impatient with compromise, turn a deaf ear to prudent desires and tune into demands for instant gratification - all the sex, power, and money they can grab. But when the rampage of gratification wears itself out, the damage can take lifetimes to set right. Other people try their best to accept the compromise among desires, trying to find a measure of peace by not reaching for what they see as impossible. Yet this peace, too, depends on a deaf inner ear, denying the underlying truth of all desires: that a life of endless limitations is intolerable.

Both sorts of people share a common assumption that true, unlimited happiness lies beyond reach. Their imaginations are so stunted that they can’t even conceive of what a true, unlimited happiness in this lifetime would be.

What made the Buddha special was that he never lowered his expectations. He imagined the ultimate happiness - one so free from limit and lack that it would leave no need for further desire - and then treasured his desire for that happiness as his highest priority. Bringing all his other desires into dialogue with it, he explored various strategies until he found one that actually attained that unlimited goal. This strategy became his most basic teaching: the Four Noble Truths.

Most people, when looking at the Four Noble Truths, don’t realize that they’re all about desire. They’ve been taught that the Buddha gave only one role to desire - as the cause of suffering. Because he says to abandon the cause of suffering, it sounds like he’s denying any positive role to desire and its constructive companions: creativity, imagination, and hope. This perception, though, misses two important points. The first is that all four truths speak to the basic dynamic of desire on its own terms: perception of lack and limitation, the imagination of a solution, and a strategy for attaining it. The first truth teaches the basic lack and limitation in our lives - the clinging that constitutes suffering - while the second truth points to the types of desires that cause clinging: desires for sensuality, becoming, and annihilation. The third truth expands our imagination to encompass the possibility that clinging can be totally overcome. The fourth truth, the path to the end of suffering, shows how to strategize so as to overcome clinging by abandoning its cause.

The second point that’s often missed is that the Noble Truths give two roles to desire, depending on whether it’s skillful or not. Unskillful desire is the cause of suffering; skillful desire forms part of the path to its cessation. Skillful desire undercuts unskillful desire, not by repressing it, but by producing greater and greater levels of satisfaction and well-being so that unskillful desire has no place to stand. This strategy of skillful desire is explicit in the Buddha’s explanation of right effort:

"What is right effort? There is the case where a monk [here meaning any meditator] generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds, and exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful mental qualities that have not yet arisenĂ¯¿½ for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisenĂ¯¿½ for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisenĂ¯¿½ for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is called right effort." (Digha Nikaya 22)

As this formula shows, the crucial elements for replacing unskillful mental qualities with skillful ones are desire, persistence, and intent. Desire gives the initial impetus and focus for right effort, while persistence provides staying power. Intent is the most complex factor of the three. The Pali word here, citta, also means “mind,” and in this context it means giving your whole mind to the work at hand: all your powers of sensitivity, intelligence, discernment, and ingenuity. You don’t want your mind to be split on this issue; you want all of its powers working together on the same side.

These three qualities - desire, persistence, and intent - underlie every attempt to master a skill. So it’s useful, in undertaking the path, to reflect on how you’ve used these qualities to master skills in the past. The Buddha made this point in his many similes comparing the person on the path to a master craftsman - a musician, carpenter, surgeon, acrobat, cook. As with any skill, there are many steps to developing the path, but four stand out.

The first is to use your ingenuity to fight off the chorus of inner voices trying to dissuade you from making the effort to be skillful in the first place. These voices are like devious lawyers representing strongly entrenched interests: all your threatened unskillful desires. You have to be quick and alert in countering their arguments, for they can come from all sides, sounding honest and wise even though they’re not. Here are some of the arguments these voices may use, along with a few effective responses:

Trying to manipulate your desires like this is unnatural. Actually, you’re already manipulating your desires all the time, when you choose one desire over another, so you might as well learn to do it skillfully. And there are plenty of people out there only too happy to manipulate your desires for you - think of every advertisement you’ve ever seen, heard, or read - so it’s better to put the manipulation in more trustworthy hands: your own.

Trying to change your desires is an attack on your very self. This argument works only if you give your sense of self - which is really just a grab bag of desires - more solidity than it deserves. You can turn the argument on its head by noting that since your “self ” is a perpetually changing line-up of strategies for happiness, you may as well try changing it in a direction more likely to achieve true happiness.

To think of “skillful” and “unskillful” desires is dualistic and judgmental. You don’t want nondualistic mechanics working on your car, or nondualistic surgeons operating on your brain. You want people who can tell what’s skillful from what’s not. If you really value your happiness, you’ll demand the same discernment in the person most responsible for it: yourself.

It’s too goal-oriented. Just accept things as they are in the present. Every desire tells you that things in the present are limited and lacking. You either accept the desire or you accept the lack. To accept both at once is to deny that either has any real truth. To try to dwell peacefully in the tension between the two - in a “path of no craving” to be rid of either - is what the Buddha called limited equanimity, and what one Thai forest master called the equanimity of a cow.

It’s a futile attempt to resist such a divine and mysterious power. Desire seems overwhelming and mysterious simply because we don’t know our minds. And where would we be if we kept slapping the term “divine” or “cosmic” on forces we didn’t understand?

Arguing with unskillful desires is too much work. Consider the alternative: an endless wandering from one set of limitations to another, continually seeking happiness and yet finding it always slipping from your grasp, repeatedly taking a stance with one desire one moment and shifting to another desire the next. Right effort at least gives you one steady place to stand. It’s not adding a more demanding desire to the chaotic mix; it’s offering a way to sort out the mess. And the Buddha’s path holds open the hope of an unlimited happiness, preceded by increasing levels of happiness all along the path. In short, his alternative is actually the one that’s more enjoyable and involves less work.

Once you’ve silenced these voices, the next step is to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. This requires being willing to learn from your mistakes. Several years ago, a sociologist studied students in a neurosurgery program to see what qualities separated those who succeeded from those who failed. He found ultimately that two questions in his interviews pointed to the crucial difference. He would ask the students, “Do you ever make mistakes? If so, what is the worst mistake you’ve ever made?” Those who failed the program would inevitably answer that they rarely made mistakes or else would blame their mistakes on factors beyond their control. Those who succeeded in the program not only admitted to many mistakes but also volunteered information on what they would do not to repeat those mistakes in the future.

The Buddha encouraged this same mature attitude in his first instructions to his son, Rahula. He told Rahula to focus on his intentions before acting, and on the results of his actions both while he was doing them and after they were done. If Rahula saw that his intentions would lead to harm for himself or others, he shouldn’t act on them. If he saw that his thoughts, words, or deeds actually produced harm, he should resolve never to repeat them, without at the same time falling into remorse. If, on the other hand, he saw no harmful consequences from his actions, he should take joy in his progress on the path, and use that joy to nourish his continued practice.

Although the Buddha aimed these instructions at a seven-year-old child, the pattern they outline informs every level of the practice. The whole path to awakening consists of sticking to the most skillful desire; you progress along the path as your sense of “skillful” gets more refined. If you act on an unskillful desire, take responsibility for the consequences, using them to educate that desire as to where it went wrong. Although desires can be remarkably stubborn, they share a goal - happiness - and this can form the common ground for an effective dialogue: If a desire doesn’t really produce happiness, it contradicts its reason for being.

The best way to make this point is to keep tracing the thread from the desire to its resulting actions and their consequences. If the desire causes suffering to others, notice how their corresponding desire for happiness leads them to undermine the happiness you seek. If the desire aims at a happiness based on things that can age, grow ill, die, or leave you, notice how that fact sets you up for a fall. Then notice how the distress that comes from acting on this sort of desire is universal. It’s not just you. Everyone who has acted, is acting, or will act on that desire has suffered in the past, is suffering right now, and will suffer in the future. There’s no way around it.

Unskillful desires don’t really give way, though, until you can show that other, less troublesome desires really can produce happiness. This is why the Buddha emphasized learning how to appreciate the rewards of a virtuous, generous life: the joy in fostering the happiness of others, the solid dignity and self-worth in doing the hard but the right thing. It’s also why his path centers on states of blissful, refreshing concentration. Accessing this refreshment in your meditation gives you immediate, visceral proof that the Buddha was no killjoy. The desires he recommends really do produce a happiness that can give you the strength to keep on choosing the skillful path.

That’s the next step: patiently and persistently sticking with the desire to do the skillful thing in all situations. This isn’t a matter of sheer effort. As any good sports coach will tell you, hours of practice don’t necessarily guarantee results. You have to combine your persistence with intent: sensitivity, discernment, ingenuity. Keep an eye out for how to do things more efficiently. Try to see patterns in what you do. At the same time, introduce play and variety into your practice so that the plateaus don’t get boring and the downs don’t get you down.

The Buddha makes similar points in his meditation instructions. Once you’ve mastered a state of concentration, see where it still contains elements of stress. Then look for patterns to that stress: what are you doing to cause it? Find ways to gladden the mind when it’s down, to liberate it from its confinements, to steady it when it gets restless. In this way, as you learn to enjoy rising to the challenges of meditation, you also gain familiarity with subtle patterns of cause and effect in the mind.

The fourth step, once you’ve mastered those patterns, is to push their limits. Again, this isn’t simply a matter of increased effort. It’s more a rekindling of your imagination to explore the unexpected side-alleys of cause and effect. A famous cellist once said that his most exhilarating concert was one in which he broke a string on his cello and decided to finish the piece he was playing on the remaining strings, refingering it on the spot. The most obvious strings in meditation are the specific techniques for fostering stillness and insight, but the more interesting ones are the assumptions that underlie the quest for skill: lack, strategy, dialogue, your sense of self. Can you learn to do without them? There comes a point in your meditation when the only way for greater happiness is to begin questioning these assumptions. And this leads to some intriguing paradoxes: If desire springs from a sense of lack or limitation, what happens to desire when it produces a happiness with no lack or limitation at all? What’s it like not to need desire? What would happen to your inner dialogue, your sense of self? And if desire is how you take your place in space and time, what happens to space and time when desire is absent?

The Buddha encouraged these queries by describing the awakened person as so undefined and unlimited that he or she couldn’t be located in the present life or described after this life as existing, not existing, neither, or both. This may sound like an abstract and unreachable goal, but the Buddha demonstrated its human face in the example of his person. Having pushed past the limits of cause and effect, he was still able to function admirably in this life, happy in even the most difficult circumstances, compassionately teaching people of every sort. And there’s his testimony that not only monks and nuns, but also lay people - even children - had developed their skillful desires to the point where they gained a taste of awakening as well.

So imagine that. And listen to any desire that would take you in that direction, for that’s your path to true happiness.

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An Interview with Allan Schore – 'the American Bowlby'.

I found this interview with Allan Schore almost by accident. He is one of the leading researchers in the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology - or more clearly, he studies the neuroscience of attachment.

His classic book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, looks at the ways in which an infant learns to regulate emotion (affect) through the attachment process, and it also looks at what happens when that goes wrong.

I found this at Thinking Through the Body.

An Interview with Allan Schore –
'the American Bowlby'.

Roz Carroll talks to the neuropsychoanalyst Allan Schore, a pioneer in integrating social, biological, psychological and psychoanalytic theory. In a telephone interview which precedes Allan Schore’s lecture for the UKCP on July 9th, ‘Neuroscience – why should therapists be interested?’, he talks about Bowllby, the development of attachment theory and the social and therapeutic implications of new research. This interview is also on the UKCP website, and a short excerpt is published in The Psychotherapist, Autumn 2001 issue.

This interview was a turning point in my relationship to neuroscience and many of the principles and research findings discussed by Allan have become central to my work on integrating neuroscience and psychotherapy.

Allan Schore has made an impressive synthesis of neuroscience (neurobiology, behavioural neurology, neuropsychology) with developmental studies, including the infant research work of Daniel Stern and Colwyn Trevarthen. Using attachment theory as an important over-arching model he has drawn widely on psychoanalytic theory, including object relations and self-psychology. Schore argues that “attachment theory has spawned one of the broadest, most profound and creative lines of research in twentieth century psychology” because it is a heuristic complete theoretical model which can “shift back and forth between the psychological and biological levels”. (see below)

In his landmark book Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self Schore argues in meticulous multi-disciplinary detail that the early social environment, mediated by primary caregiver, influences the evolution of structures in the infant’s brain. He shows how the maturation of the orbitofrontal cortex, the executor of the right cortex, is influenced by dyadic interactions of the attachment relationship. This is critical to the child’s future capacity to self-regulate emotions, to appraise others’ emotional state, and manage stress. He puts forward a comprehensive theory of affect which integrates neurobiology and psychology, and charts the development of emotional capacities in their increasing complexity. Schore has specifically recontextualised the study of development in terms of non-linear dynamic systems theory. This has enabled him to create an integrative model, which can embrace a wide spectrum of perspectives. (Schore 1997)

As a way of characterising your work and its significance, I described you as ‘the American Bowlby’. I’d like to look at this comparison in some depth. But first perhaps you could say who John Bowlby was and why he has a place in history.

Bowlby trained as a child psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst in the 30’s and the 40’s. From his earliest work, which was on juvenile delinquency, it became apparent that really what he was interested in was the process of development and why are the early events so critical to everything that follows in both normal and abnormal behaviour. This matter of early events also brought him into contact with other theoreticians, other people who had been interested in the problem of early events - Freud, Piaget, Erickson. He was interested in the connection between the infant and the mother, and why the formation of an attachment bond is so critical to later events. In a brilliant leap he realised that the mechanism was the same not only within humans but across the animal kingdom. Darwin had written the first scientific text book about emotions – The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (1972) - and a good deal of his ideas came from his observations of his own grandchild. He argued that bodily and facial expression were communications between mother and infant.

I think you’ve got to look at Bowlby in three ways. On the one hand he was a medical physician and that brought him into contact with the problems of stress and coping and the body. His psychoanalytic training gave him a window into the inner world of the unconscious. Finally psychiatry raised questions about early predispositions to psychopathology. As part of his work for the World Health Organisation, he started looking at some of the early studies showing that long term separations between mother and infant were having rather serious effects. He became intetested in the fundamental nature of the changes brought about by separations. Then he began to examine the phenomena of much shorter separations and the emotional communications between the mother and the infant. What has happened in attachment theory now is that the movement has been now towards studying even shorter and shorter separations.. From macro time periods to micro time periods.. He’s probably one of the three or four major psychological theoreticians of the 20th Century and in part that is because he has impacted so many fields in addition to the field of developmental psychology. His work also had an influence on social policy.

His training as a psychoanalyst was critical in highlighting the importance of the relationship between the mother and the infant. But there was a struggle within psychoanalysis - in particular between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein - about how much was really a creation of the infants mind., a phantasy. Bowlby began to fervently argue and bring in data from other disciplines to show that the real relationship, that the real events, not only were there but they were indelibly and permanently shaped there in a way that would affect the way that the personality would develop over the lifespan.

Bowlby brought biology into this equation via ethology, which is behavioural biology. He put together the different disciplines to create a developmental science more than developmental psychology. In this respect he picked up Freud’s project to integrate neurobiology with psychology,. Freud started out as a neurologist but then had to abandon the attempt to correlate psychological functions with the physical brain and body, because the scientifc models at that time were not sufficiently advanced.

There has been some hostility to the attempt to integrate across disciplines hasn’t there, I’m thinking, still today? People like Andre Green are very critical still of translating scientific observations into the domain of psychoanalysis.

Yeah, I think that right now we’re seeing some struggles within psychoanalysis, but I perceive, from my reading of the major psychoanalytic journals in the last year or two especially, a real push of attachment theory into the base of developmental psychoanalysis and may be it’s stronger here in the US than it is in Europe. Some years ago Mono Cooper(?)**** who is [was, I think] the editor of the International Journal Psychoanalysis wrote that psychoanalysis is anchored in the scientific base of developmental psychology and in the biology of attachment and affects.

Historically there has been a territorial dispute between psychiatry and psychoanalysis - those with more of the medical and biological understandings still are holding onto their authority, whilst psychoanalysis claims knowledge from a different vantage point. Bowlby’s work emerged from this conflicted context, and the work that’s happening today still takes place against that political/ideological backdrop.

*** [off or on the record?]In terms of the totality of what attachment theory is moving towards, and in terms of all of the sciences themselves, psychoanalysis and as you know I’m part of that establishment, is really not one of the major forces at this point in time. Not as strong as it used to be. The amounts of money that are going into research and training, the amount of validity that the public gives means that its not such a major voice.

Meanwhile attachment theory, because it is so over arching has been picked up by other fields. And these other fields are now talking about unconscious representations, they’re talking about exactly what psychoanalysis has talked about. ***The other thing is that in the U.Spsychodynamic psychotherapy is much, much larger than classical psychoanalysis out of the institutes. A much broader group of clinicians are now using these terms and concepts. But yes, I think there is a recent infusion of philosophy which has into psychoanalysis which is counter to the scientific stream of psychoanalysis.

Attachment theory has very steadily – and perhaps uniquely - gained ground in the fields of psychology, the behavioral sciences, biology and neuroscience (and all their subsidiary disciplines). Why do you think this is?

.***Cassidy and Shaver(?) in Volume ****[which is the major statement in the field at the end of the 20th Century] say that “attachment theory has spawned one of the broadest, most profound and creative lines of research in 20th Century psychology”. Bowlby approached the the study of attachment as a science and put together a psycho-biological perspective that integrated a spectrum of different disciplines. The span of attachment theory research now includes psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, psychiatry, and many biological sciences.

Bowlby perceived that the mother is shaping the infants coping systems, and this has been taken up more recently by psychiatry. Psychiatry is now very interested in how the early positive and negative interactions effect the bodily systems, the coping systems. Psychiatry is using it to generate more powerful models of psychopathogenesis, in other words the generation of predispositions to later psychiatric disorders. Neuroscience has taken up the issue too and even at the level of neuro-chemistry is looking at imprinting and attachment, at changes at the cellular level. So again attachment theory is spanning the different levels at which science operates from the higher levels from sociology down through psychology down through biology, chemistry and even physics. Attachment theory is important because it is overarching and can move back and forth between many levels. Damasio, a key pioneer in neuroscience is even getting interested in attachment theory, so it’s really spreading now.

The second reason why I think the concept of attachment is so powerful and why it’s spreading is because it is not grounded in an atheorectical position. Much of science, even neuroscience and developmental psychology, are just purely observations without a theoretical model. Attachment theory has a theoretical model and that’s why it has been able to generate hypothesis that can be tested. It’s highly heuristic because its also a clinical model. This allows psychiatry, clinical psychology and clinical social work etc and other clinicians who are very interested in development to be able to incorporate it. Incidentally the kinds of information and evidences that come from clinical observations are now being seen as just as important as those that come from the scientific observations of experimental science. So you’ve got this double barrel *** [double edge??]here, you’ve got both scientific and clinical together operating synergistically to push it forward, especially now in terms of not only the etiology of psychiatric disorders but also the therapy, in other words, the pragmatic applications of the theory to clinical practice.

Lastly I want to point out that Bowlby was interested in was the process of development over the lifespan. Although he highlighted the first few years, he always moved forward and in attachment theory there’s always been the theme of moving forward. In essence it deals with how the personality grows and develops, which is the focus of psychotherapy. In the late 60’s when Bowlby was writing Attachment and Loss, psychology was dominated by behaviourism, then later by cognitive psychology and now perhaps we’re seeing the shift into affective psychology. Due to Bowlby’s psychoanalytic training he became very interested in not just the overt behaviour but the inner world. He focussed both on the outer social events and how the outer events impact the inner events and how this internal world then really drives nonconscious ***[unconscious?]motivation and behaviour throughout the lifespan.

Your work exemplifies integrative theorizing, bringing together diverse sets of data and perspectives from a wide array of disciplines to create a precise and detailed dynamic model of development. It results from and contributes to building bridges between psychiatry and psychoanalysis, neuroscience and psychotherapy, and between the social and biological sciences. Ik seems to spring directly from the nodal point where these disciplines are converging… do you define your work?

Essentially I see myself as a theoretician, who is integrating data and models from a wide range of different fields. Experimental studies in various sciences are now producing results data and as well clinicians are now writing observations of their contacts and essentially what I’m doing is I’m taking this data and integrating this into over arching larger, theoretical models which are testable and heuristic. My interest is in tying together structure and function, that is to not only talk about function which is psychology but also structure which would be the underlying biological structure. This is looking at the internal biology which is driving psychological functions and how the interactions between human beings also impact that biology. It’s not just biology moving up into psychology but also how the psychology between human beings alters their internal (biological/neurological/chemical) structure. In particular, how the early social emotional interactions between the primary caregiver and the infant impacts the development of the babies brain. This is partly determined by genetic factors and partly determined by early social emotional experience which means attachment therefore is the outcome of two factors, the infants genetically encoded psychological biological predispositions, its temperament and the nature of the caregiving experience. We have to now move on both sides of the equation. Biological reductionism is not giving us answers purely in terms of genetics. At the same time theories which are totally environmentally driven won’t do it either. I think we’re at the point here of describing nature and nurture and that nature and nurture first come together in the mother infant interaction.

As you’ve suggested my work springs from the nodal point where various disciplines come together but if there were one term to use for the area that I’m interested in it would be developmental affective neuroscience. The dominant model in neuroscience has been cognitive n but there are also now moves in what are called affective neuroscience and social neuroscience. It’s those two domains that I think are a key here. I also feel that the investigation not of formed adults but of infants – ie. human beings in the process of formation - can give us a much more important data about this process of development across a lifespan. I say this because most research now is done with adults but perhaps we’re seeing a change in this.

Through out this interview I refer to ‘your work’ but of course one of the fundamental contributions you have made is to weave into a coherent tapestry the multiple threads of many, many scientists’ and theorists and clinicians’ work…. For so long there’s been incredible amounts of data being produced but without sufficient integration of theories into neighbouring disciplines.

Exactly. We’re moving to more complex, dynamic systems, and holistic models of the organism adapting to the environment and the changes that it makes as it adapts to stress etc. It is now time to put together not just a piece of the mind here and a piece of the body there. When you focus in on an affect as opposed to cognition you can’t help but then turn it to the body because you can’t talk about affect purely in terms of a cognitive state. You’re also talking about changes in heart rate, respiration, muscle tension etc. Affective neuroscience is now moving us more into the body and people like myself and Damasio etc are now becoming confident that the mind-body gap – the Cartesian problem - can be bridged. By putting together these psycho-biological models of infancy and adulthood these will lead to more powerful models incidentally in the treatment of psychosomatic disorders.

It seems to me that, like Bowlby’s, the direction of your work – despite its incredible breadth of reference and scope - is very unified. Is there an organising principle which grounds your insights?

I’ve come to the conclusion that concept of regulation and self regulation, now being used in all of the sciences and in developmental psychology, is the organising principle. Attachment is now thought of as the dyadic regulation, the interactive regulation of emotion. Also, in developmental psychology it’s now thought that the capacity for attachment originates during these affect regulation experiences. In the psycho-biology of attachment, it’s thought that the mother is acting as a regulator of not only the infants behaviour but of its covert physiology. What I’m suggesting is that this social experience is impacting the development of the regulatory systems in the brain that regulate all forms of cognition, affect and behaviour. In fact, it’s been said recently that the attempt to regulate affect to minimise unpleasant feelings and to maximum pleasant ones is the driving force in human motivation. So, again, in psychiatry regulation is now being seen as the work of any intimate pair. In adult psychiatry the loss of the ability to regulate feelings is seen as the most far reaching effect of trauma etc.

Can I just ask you, because it’s coming into my mind, what role you think a group of people has in regulating emotion?

Yeah, definitely, I’ve been asked this quite a bit. The group also, not only the group, but the culture acts on and via these regulatory principals. But I would suggest that the regulatory effects of groups and cultures are much more powerful than on the rules that cultures give. The regulatory effects are at the psycho-biological level. And the way that the group does that is through these diadics ***[dyads?] through these interactive mechanisms. These are the ways in which human beings can pick up the emotional communications of others and can send them back out and that capacity is fundamentally affected by the early attachment relationship that is not genetically encoded. Group processes, social processes all would be acting through these and acting through the limbic system that part of the brain which regulates emotion.

I have been convinced that these essential regulatory mechanisms - fast acting events occurring at levels beneath awareness - are the ones really which move us in and out of relationships. This is very compatible with Freud’s concept of the unconscious.

So, when you say fast acting are you talking about the subtle exchange of gesture, eye contact, tone of voice etc?

Yes, I’m talking about a face can be picked up within 40 milliseconds and appraised within a 100 milliseconds. So a person is walking down the street right all of a sudden sees a particular face and for reasons that are purely intuitive and non-conscious starts moving away. These are glances that are being picked up and processed very quickly. It allows us to detect features, signals of safety and danger in the world but it also means much of this information is responded to on an unconscious level.

In recent years neuroscience has been refining maps for the neurological substrates of basic emotions such as fear, joy, anger, etc. You have made particular contributions to the mapping of the more complex emotion of shame. What is the current focus of your research?

My focus is now on psychobiological state which is the underlying internal state on which affect cognition and behaviour swing. In other words think when you’re in a depressed mood things seem darker, time moves slower, cognition is more negative, the body is more restricted, there is more pessimism, so there is a whole host of the self systems that snap together in place with that depressive state. While in a more positive elated state the colours are livelier, time is moving at much different pace, a much quicker pace, the cognitions are much more positive about the self and the emotions of course are more joy and interest there.

One of the big changes that has occurred in the last few years and partly my work is interested in this change too is that most theoreticians who have talked about emotion theories have focussed their ideas on negative emotions. For example Cannon with fight and flight, or LeDoux with fear being the central emotion etc . What I have concluded as a result of the most recent infant research is that positive emotions are much more central than we thought. Positive affects are key to early development, they’re key to growth, they’re also key to not only positive psychological states but physical health. So now as much of my work is now not only swinging around trauma and negative but also the positive emotions of interest, excitement and enjoyment. Joy has something to do with the quality of life and the pole or opposite of joy would go to shame. My interest is in social emotions and how they develop and how they’re influenced by the attachment relationship and how social emotions, such as shame, regulate the ongoing interactions between human beings.

Bowlby’s development of attachment theory was radical in its integration of psychoanalysis, ethology and systems theory, and his focus was very specifically the mother-baby relationship, especially the phase between 6 months and 3 years. Your work has extended and deepened his. What have been the most significant additions to or developments of Bowlby’s model?

Bowlby – like Freud - believed that the reason why the attachment was there was that the mother was a regulator of distressed state. As he saw it, the child would come back from being out in the world in a state of stress and the mother would be a regulator of those negative states. Neuroscience now indicates that play experiences, which we now know start at the end of the second month, and which is also associated with an intense growth spurt in the brain, are central to development. The attachment to the mother is therefore not only minimising negative states but she’s maximising positive states. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, we can take Bowlby and move him along in this disciplinary perspective because in the 25 years since then we now have more science available. In the last two decades we’re seeing the evolution of sciences that didn’t even exist before, like molecularbiology, moleculargenetics, affective and social and neuroscience. Even advances in ethology have been there in terms of radio telemetry(?) in animals. Pharmacology and infant developmental psychology has moved forward so the model’s expanding because these fields are now coming in.

Number Three. I have moved Bowlby ‘s focus back from six to birth and actually prenatally. The brain growth spurt is from the last trimester of pregnancy through the second year. I’m now beginning to tie together how these extremely early events give us an idea about what kinds of social and emotional experiences are needed at what points. The idea of ‘developmental stages’ has been superceded by the more precise concept of critical periods or sensitive periods. These are times of intensified growth – ie. incresed synaptic production – and differentiation. In these critical periods of brain growth the infant needs certain types of social and emotional experiences. The attachment relationship provides the ground and the modulation for various high energy states. At these points the caregivers receptivity to the infant’s cues are crucial. (Assessing infant development from the paediatric point of view now means assessing not just the infant per se but the nature of the infants relationship with the mother. The quality of their communication will be seen as being as critical to the infant’s growth as other factors)

Finally, there is the matter of pathology, it was Main who in the late 80’s began to look at the attachment patterns of abused and neglect infants. This brought a new category of insecure attachment- the insecure disorganised disorientated attachment. I became extremely interested in how the abuse and neglect would impact the brain. My interest in the first two years of life is not generally how social experience in an abstract way impacts the brain but very specifically how it impacts the emotion generating limbic system and the right hemisphere of the brain which connects into the body . The left hemisphere does not come on line into a growth spurt until a year and a half when the child has learned a few words so all of these early experiences, I’m suggesting, are specifically impacting the non-verbal right brain. In the last two years only, because of the neuroimaging, the amount of research on the right brain finally is now picking up steam, especially because of face processing etc.

I’m now focussing not just on long term separations but on moment to moment separations because these attachment and separations are going on on a micro scale and this is now moving us down again, as I said before, from a temporal dimension on the macro scale to the micro scale and then shifting back and forth. How a fleeting perception of a state then becomes an emotion which then becomes a mood which now can linger for a while etc.

The focus now recently is on coping mechanisms and drawing out Bowlby’s idea that the mother shapes the babies coping mechanisms. The detailed models of psychopathagenesis are essentially immature or dysfunctional or disregulating coping mechanisms. The most severe forms of this would be in abuse and neglect, these would lead to the more severe forms of psychopathology. The earlier the mother infant dyad goes off track, the more problematic that going to be for development down the line. There is evidence too that the attachment relationship also impacts the connections between the brain and the immune system, which will give us new insight into psychosomatic disorders.

We’re at the point now whereby a new type of brain research can be done which literally observes brain to brain interaction between a mother and infant. There are newer very sophisticated, dense array EEG 256 leaves(?) which are bonnets(?) so to speak which could be used with the infant and one on the mother. We can then look at the synchronized changes or a synchronized change between them as they are in the process of let’s say going into a high joy state, or as they’re in the process of going through a stress state. At the same time we’ll have measures on both of them to see changes at the autonomic level. This new technology will provide more data for building precise models.

Much of your work has focussed on elucidating the functions of the right brain – and the orbitofrontal cortex – with other parts of the brain.

The right brain stores internal working models of the attachment relationship. It processes emotional social information – its functions are as diverse as enabling empathy, humour, and many of the capacities that are fundamental to human subjectivity.

And one key aspect of this is its direct involvement with the integration and analysis of information received from the body…

The mapping of bodily states – visceral, muscular, skin etc - is now seen as fundamental to the processing of emotion. Representations of the internal state are integrated with external stimuli or internal stimuli, such as the image of anothers face, and form the basis of our experience of the world. Further, we recognize another individual’s emotional state by generating somatosensory representations that match our perception of a certain facial expression.

In your talk on July 9th you will lay out some of these new findings in the context of their relevance to psychotherapy. Can you give us a flavour of some of the conclusions you have come to about the relevance of neuroscience to psychotherapy?

The newer ideas about how affect works have direct translations into psychotherapy and psychiatry. All forms of psychiatric disorders are marked by emotional disregulation. All forms of psychotherapy are forms of affect regulation. The therapist is a psychobiological regulator of the patients state. Although the patient is listening on a verbal conscious level, he’s also listening on another level and acting on another level. There is a movement now in all psychotherapies into the importance to really have any form of change of having an emotional experience in time with the therapist perhaps even directed towards the therapist. A key to that is that the patient must have a felt experience of his own body, as well as more of an intense reflective capacity about how he is emotionally relating to other people.

One other point is that much of psychotherapy is still geared towards the removal of symptoms and negative emotions and not towards the implication of positive states. Research on the mothers role as an amplifier and regulator of infant joy has yet to be digested fully in the psychotherapy world. I think we’re going to have to see a change in that too.

We haven’t time to go into this more now, but your research has insights to offer on the phenomena of countertransference and projective identification too….

You’ll have to come to the talk to here more about that..

As a psychotherapist, I find the insights from neuroscience fascinating because they crystallize into actual dynamic neurological structures and processes what has long been sensed more generally and intuitively. But this crystallization – the accumulation of ‘hard evidence’ - also provokes questions about its social implications, just as Bowlby’s work did. The most fundamental of these is that the success or failure of attachment relationships in early life has a profound and life-long effect. Can you very briefly comment about social implications of this and perhaps even the comment on fathers or something just to close up?

The social implications are profound. If it is true that these early events are critical for the psychological development of human beings, then this is where societies must now start putting its resources. The amounts of money that we spend to ensure security in terms of defence budget etc are huge but in a sense the future of our societies is early human life. What human beings learn in their first interactions with other human beings, in the mother infant relationship, are central to the formation of self concept, of positive and negative concept, of self regulation, of the ability to regulate internal bodily states, of the capacity for empathy, the ability to read the states of the mind of other human beings, these do not come out of later language forming situations, therefore, …

Are you worried about social trends and the implications?

Yes I am, but I’ll have to make my point brief. I am worried about the fact that in this country maternal leave is 6 weeks and in Britain it’s not too much longer than that. In other countries in Europe - Scandinavia and Germany - maternal leave as a Governmental policy is 30-50 weeks. In the U.S. we send mothers back into the work force at 6 weeks, which is the point whereby the face to face joy interactions just begin. Parents now have this terrible dilemma of how to face this problem without any social support at all, or any programmes at all. In addition the level of day care here is on the average is sub-optimal, the people in it are paid very poorly, they’re not trained enough etc. I’ve got to think of a word here, the first word that comes is scandal I don’t know. Let me put it this way I would use the word ‘it’s a shame’. I would say that we as adults in our society should definitely have some shame about how we are avoiding this problem and about how little attention we’re paying to our futures. That’s quick!

RC A powerful note to end on though.