Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pamela Weintraub - At Home in the Liminal World (from Nautilus)


This is a wonderful article by Pamela Weintraub at Nautilus on the transformative power of living in liminal space, "betwixt and between." Living in liminal space is most obvious when we are between cultures or languages in a physical sense, but we can also experience this gap within ourselves if we are open to the experience (one of the premises of travel as a transformative experience).

At Home in the Liminal World

Living in transition, between cultures, we are discovering who we are

By Pamela Weintraub | Illustration by Chris Buzelli 
December 19, 2013

When Ruth Behar moved from Cuba to Israel and then to a middle-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, in 1962, she was shunted into the “dumb class.” There she met another challenged student, Shotaro, from Japan. Together the two friends, age 6, helped each other learn English while inhabiting what Behar, now a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan, calls the “liminal space,” that in-between place where what has been is no more and what will be is not yet.

Behar found that to pass from one culture to another, to traverse the chasm of the liminal, language was the bridge. As she mastered English, she was able to help her parents navigate a new country and achieve success herself in school. “I think, dream, and live much of my life in the English language,” Behar wrote in a 2011 article. Due in no small part to her mastery of English, she wrote the beautiful Traveling Heavy: A Memoir In Between Journeys, about her family’s peripatetic movement, over generations, from Poland and Turkey to Israel to Cuba, where her parents were immersed in the island’s Jewish community.

Today Behar, 57, who travels constantly, is a remarkable embodiment of the conclusions in her anthropological work: Home may not be within a family or even a single culture, but between cultures and communities and constantly on the move. Home as we have conceived of it since the agricultural revolution is nearing an end. Now we seem to be returning to the life of the nomad. Some of us wander by literally traveling the world; still more are nomads in place, navigating a string of temporary jobs or immersive online worlds. However we make the journey, we are redefining home. And that home is redefining us.

In recent years, anthropologists have spotlighted a new generation at “home in the diaspora,” in Behar’s words. For them the liminal is not life’s interlude, but life itself. While being uprooted results in lost jobs, broken relationships, and, as cultural anthropologist Anthony D’Andrea says, “displaced minds,” scientists are finding benefits to life in the liminal lane. The more time we spend in alien realms, they say, the more likely we are to perceive the world in ways we could never otherwise imagine, evoking a perfect backdrop for fevered creative work, learning, and personal growth. “When you thrust yourself out of your usual context,” Behar says, “you find out who you are.” 

The notion of a liminal period was introduced in the early 20th century by French anthropologist and folklorist Arnold van Gennep, who wrote about rites-of-passage ceremonies across cultures, from totem clans in Australia to Roman Catholic priests. Traditional rituals like baptisms, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, and weddings marked transitions between a prior identity, time, or way of living and a future self. Such rituals generally involved separation from the group, a period of transition (the liminal state), and reincorporation. The liminal space—for instance, the rite of passage called Walkabout, in which male Australian Aboriginal teens live in the wilderness for six months or so—leads to the threshold of the new identity or life. In the case of Walkabout, the liminal space leads adolescent boys to the threshold of manhood itself.

The concept of liminality was broadened in the 1960s by British anthropologist Victor Turner, who described a state of limbo replete with ambiguity, where things once held as certain were thrown into doubt. In that wider sense, we all know the liminal well: The questing that comes with puberty, for instance, or the period of chaos that ensues when a government is overthrown. When we enter the liminal zone, our identity is held in suspension. The neophyte in that space has no family, property, or even identity—all the better to be transformed, Turner said.

Now it is time to broaden the definition of the liminal again. Some of our new liminality comes from the rise of the global citizen, whose work and lifestyle takes them from culture to culture in service of multinational corporations, governments, and nonprofits aiding the developing world. With economies slowing in the West and heating up in places like Turkey, China, India, and Brazil, workers can expect to leave their culture of origin for foreign lands. That includes Americans themselves. American Wave, using data from a recent Zogby Poll, found that 0.8 percent of households had planned to relocate abroad in 2009; by 2011, the number had soared to 2.5 percent, or 7.5 million people.

One need not be a global traveler to inhabit the in-between. Our move across borders and into the liminal state has soared, thanks to social forces from economic and workplace upheaval. Even as the economy in the United States recovers, work itself has become increasingly insecure. More than 42 million Americans, about a third of the workforce, are currently freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, or otherwise self-employed. The new workplace is a space between a prior short-term gig and that phantasm known as a fulltime job.

Until recently, the scientific study of personal transition has focused on the interlude: The honeymoon after a wedding, the summer between high school and college, the time between jobs. But as transitional spaces and periods have expanded to include so much more of our lives, the nature of inquiry has changed: Now researchers want to know what happens when liminality lasts months, years, even a lifetime.

One thread of research comes from anthropologists studying so-called “global nomads,” who spend childhood abroad and as adults often live and work across borders themselves. Neither fully part of the old culture nor totally immersed in the new, they achieve something else—what researchers call a “thirdness”—in which the cultures merge. Modern nomads can live between three cultures, four cultures, and more.

No matter what their era and region of the world, nomads have always shared certain traits: The most enduring could be the need to travel light. Archaeologist Steve Rosen of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, has studied prehistoric nomadic societies between 4,000 and 1,000 B.C. Unlike settled communities, which collected possessions and generated refuse at a significant pace, the nomads who stayed put for just a couple of months accumulated very little. Without land ownership, the nomads were free to pick up and leave, only limited by the seasonal availability of resources.

The impulse to shed possessions continues today. Fleura Bardhi, professor of marketing at the Cass Business School, City University of London, who studies mobility and globalization, showed that unlike immigrants of old, the new global nomads don’t much care for possessions reminding them of home. To track their culture, she interviewed 35 transnational professionals, mostly global and regional managers who had relocated more than three times in a decade, and traveled at least 60 percent of the time. Such an individual might come from Sweden but live in Vietnam and travel throughout Southeast Asia for much of the year. All study participants chose the lifestyle and 15 were what Bardhi calls completely “deterritorialized”—they did not even have a specific home. “Our participants could not live without mobility,” she says, because they craved experience, not things.

Unlike the immigrant group, possessions did not define who they were. Instead, Bardhi’s subjects quickly detached from one life by embedding themselves in the liminal space, discarding possessions and even friends before moving on. One person in the study had lived in 12 countries over the course of nine years and only moved what could fit in carry-on luggage. The rest was discarded and purchased new in every new place. Another individual threw out good-bye gifts from colleagues. Like real-life versions of the fictional characters in Up in the Air, married participants eschewed possessions in their transient lives; one couple coordinated calendars and met at airports whenever they could. “They found learning new languages and working with different people on different projects in different places a great way to develop,” Bardhi says. The travelers were happily at home in the liminal world.

Cultural anthropologist D’Andrea, today an advertising executive taking the pulse of the global crowd, has likewise discovered modern nomads at home in the state of transition. While pursuing his Ph.D. at The University of Chicago, D’Andrea spent years studying a group of artisans, therapists, and “neo-hippies” who traveled back and forth between the community of Ibiza Island, Spain, and Goa, India. Members of this digital, techno music-loving international crowd embraced the goal of personal transformation, and they were always on the move. By moving “across spaces and within themselves,” D’Andrea says, they “embraced the global as a new reference point and home.”

D’Andrea’s nomads had an Einsteinian perception of relativity—a sense of placement in the displacement of their new, globalized world. “It was a new way to see the relative nature of culture and identity, one that is noticed by means of movement,” he explains. By wandering from place to place, the people he studied were able to see life through new eyes and ultimately question values their culture of origin espoused. The liminal experience of hypermobility was the key existential state around which they formed their identities. They chose freedom and autonomy over possessions. They valued change over stability. Once they started wandering, their lives and relationships changed. Those who came to Ibiza as a couple, for instance, transformed so much they often broke up after living there. The nomadic life has “a disruptive impact on individuals and invites experimentation,” says D’Andrea. “The consequence is that old interests and partners may not look as attractive as before.”

While the traditional immigrant might hope to fit in, D’Andrea’s group of expressive nomads decisively “rejected their own homelands” and the ethnocentric cultures they spawned. Detached from constraints in their liminal space, they sought “any practice that allowed for exploration of their personal capabilities in creative, pleasurable, and transcendent ways.”
D’Andrea’s neo-hippies and Bardhi’s globetrotters represent the rest of us less in numbers than in universal traits: the desire and ability to learn and grow. “Global nomads are a window into the future of trends on the rise that change people,” says D’Andrea. At the same time, they point to the displacement and insecurity that haunt the liminal world.

It’s no surprise, then, with the rise of the liminal have emerged special guides, people deft at telling us how to navigate the ambiguous spaces between the lines. Sheila Ramsey, a consultant who works in global leadership development, has spent years helping businesses navigate across cultures, especially the colossal gap between East and West. The experience, she says, enhances intuition. Ramsey offers the example of Americans traveling to Japan. While Americans are straightforward, focused on getting tasks done, Japanese move forward only by navigating the backstory and attending to the feelings of colleagues and friends. To navigate the chasm, “Americans must step back, slow down, and rely on intuition,” Ramsey says. Without your native compass, sometimes only a sixth sense can be your guide.

Barbara F. Schaetti, a specialist in intercultural communication who works with Ramsey in helping global nomads adapt, offers an example of an engineering class given pipe cleaners to build a toy bridge. Half the class was shown examples of bridges that had worked in the past. The other half was shown nothing. Time after time, the group shown nothing—the group left to wander the liminal unknown—designed the best bridge. “They are wide open to all possibilities and can get out of their own way,” Schaetti says.

That wisdom is not lost on Maggi Savin-Baden of Coventry University in the United Kingdom. “The liminal state has become chronic,” she says.

Director of research at Coventry’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Savin-Baden has found we are serial learners. And serial zones of transition—liminal zones set off from the workaday world—are especially effective in helping us think critically. Indeed, she says, we need to immerse in liminal space to master the knowledge most useful to our postmodern world of creative destruction and constant change—so called “troublesome knowledge” that appears, at first, to be alien, counterintuitive, and incoherent, making no logical sense. Learners need to fail first to make breakthroughs, says Savin-Baden, who creates liminal zones in cyberspace, such as the virtual world Second Life, to help her students. “There is a sense of knowing the world differently there, because you are living and working through change,” she says.

In the end, say the scientists, we might as well reap the benefits of our chronically liminal state, because there is no going back. We live in a global society powered by constant change. Long stints of transition are here to stay. They form the breadcrumb path to the future. If we can find some peace in the interstices, we can attain troublesome knowledge, reinvent our lives, and deftly find our way home.

~ Pamela Weintraub is consulting executive editor at Discover and a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter: @pam3001.

Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation - The Loss of Any Alternative Consciousness

A little wisdom for your Saturday morning.

Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation: The Loss of Any Alternative Consciousness
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Winter Solstice (Northern Hemisphere)

Seven Themes of an Alternative Orthodoxy
Seventh Theme: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (Goal).
The Loss of Any Alternative Consciousness (Meditation 43 of 52) 
Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) wrote that humanity was given three sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first set of eyes were the eyes of the flesh (thought or sight), the second set of eyes were the eyes of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third set of eyes were the eyes of true understanding (contemplation). They represent the last era of broad or formal teaching of the contemplative mind in the West, although St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) and Francisco de Osuna (1492-1542) are some rare examples who carry it into the following centuries. But for the most part, the formal teaching of the contemplative mind, even in the monasteries, winds down by the beginning of the fourteenth century. No wonder we so badly needed some reformations by the sixteenth century.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the loss of the contemplative mind is at the basis of much of the shortsightedness and religious crises of the Western world. Lacking such wisdom, it is very difficult for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into oppositions such as liberal versus conservative, with vested interests pulling against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.

Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 28-29

The Daily Meditations for 2013 are now available
in Fr. Richard’s new book Yes, And . . .

Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail), c. 1601-1602, by Caravaggio

Friday, December 20, 2013

RSA Replay: One Way and Another - Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips

This is an interesting talk about the current state of psychoanalysis in England, as well some discussion life, the universe, and everything.

RSA Replay: One Way and Another

Streamed live on Dec 2, 2013

Adam Phillips, one of Britain's most renowned psychoanalysts and literary figures, joins RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor for a conversation about life, the universe, and everything (and maybe a little Freud as well).

For more information about the event go to the RSA event page

After the event, this video will be available as a RSA Replay - the full video of the event including audience Q&A - an edited version of the video will be available in due course.
Our events are made possible with the support of our Fellowship. Support us by donating or applying to become a Fellow.

Shrink Rap Radio #382 – Healing Developmental Trauma with Laurence Heller

I read Laurence Heller's Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image and the Capacity for Relationship last year and found it helpful in understanding the challenges of self-regulation for survivors of early childhood trauma.

About the book
Witten for those working to heal developmental trauma and seeking new tools for self-awareness and growth, this book focuses on conflicts surrounding the capacity for connection. Explaining that an impaired capacity for connection to self and to others and the ensuing diminished aliveness are the hidden dimensions that underlie most psychological and many physiological problems, clinicians Laurence Heller and Aline LaPierre introduce the NeuroAffective Relational Model® (NARM), a unified approach to developmental, attachment, and shock trauma that, while not ignoring a person’s past, emphasizes working in the present moment. NARM is a somatically based psychotherapy that helps bring into awareness the parts of self that are disorganized and dysfunctional without making the regressed, dysfunctional elements the primary theme of the therapy. It emphasizes a person’s strengths, capacities, resources, and resiliency and is a powerful tool for working with both nervous system regulation and distortions of identity such as low self-esteem, shame, and chronic self-judgment.
I enjoyed this conversation and thought you might, too.

Shrink Rap Radio #382 – Healing Developmental Trauma with Laurence Heller

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D. 
Posted on December 19, 2013

Laurence Heller, Ph.D. is the founder of the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM™). He is the co-author of Crash Course: A Self-Healing Guide to Automobile Accident Trauma with Diane Poole Heller published in multiple languages and the recent book Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image and the Capacity for Relationship. This recent book written with Aline LaPierre, Psy.D. has also been published in multiple languages.

He was the founder of the Gestalt Institute of Denver, is a Senior Faculty member of the Somatic Experiencing Training Institute and has been a clinician for over 30 years. He teaches all over the world and regularly in many countries in Europe.

NARM™ is a neuroscientifically informed, somatically oriented, and psychodynamically informed approach for working with developmental trauma and works both top-down and bottom-up. He is currently teaching NARM™ in the U.S. and throughout Europe.

Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Check out the following Psychology CE Courses based on listening to Shrink Rap Radio interviews:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Neurogaming: What's Neuroscience and Ethics Got To Do With It? - Exploring Ethics

Combing neuroscience and video games. What could possibly go wrong?

My god, people, does no one remember the lessons from Videodrome? Long live the new flesh!

Okay, seriously. This is an interesting topic and a nice discussion, as far as it goes.

Neurogaming: What's Neuroscience and Ethics Got To Do With It? - Exploring Ethics

Published on Dec 16, 2013

Steven Hyman, the founding president of the International Neuroethics Society and Harvard professor, leads an extraordinary discussion on rapid advances in brain research and the social implications of merging neuroscience and video game development with panelists C. Shawn Green of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Adam Gazzaley of UC San Francisco and game developer Jonathon Blow. This event is presented by the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology in San Diego. Series: "Exploring Ethics" [12/2013]

Below the Surface: How Our Unconscious Rules Our Lives

Neuroscience claims we have no free will - with Sam Harris now being one of the most adherents to this absolutist viewpoint (whatever cause he champions, he somehow always become one of the loudest voices - what's up with that?). However, more integrative approaches recognize that while a great many of our choices and actions, maybe 80-90% are preconscious (type I, fast thinking - before we actually think about it), of which the best example is voting, where we vote with our "hearts" and then create a "rational" justification for our choice; and the remaining 10-20% of our choices and actions are more conscious and deliberate (type II, slow thinking). For the full-length explanation of this topic, check out Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.

Until then, this introductory article and the longer explanatory article, both from Scientific American, offer a nice introduction.

Below the Surface: How Our Unconscious Rules Our Lives

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina introduces the January 2014 issue of Scientific American

By Mariette DiChristina

Image: André Kutscherauer

Driving home after a visit with a relative, you suddenly realize you have no specific memory of how you got there. Well, you've taken that trip so many times, you tell yourself, that you could just about do in your sleep. Tying a shoe later, you reflect again on how often you accomplish things while your conscious mind is barely paying attention. Of course, you're not wrong. We all have those moments.

At around three pounds, the gelatin-like tissue in your skull accounts for only a couple of percent of your total body mass, but it consumes a lot of energy—some 20 percent of the calories you eat every day. Conscious thought is “expensive” in energy terms. Is it any wonder the brain tends to shift its more costly processing tasks toward becoming more automated, “cheaper” routines?

That thought struck me during one of our weekly editorial meetings some months ago while we were discussing story ideas. How much of our lives is actually decided for us by our brain without our active awareness, I wondered? Naturally, when I asked that question out loud, longtime Scientific American senior editor Gary Stix was only too happy to explore the answer. The outcome is the cover story by Yale University psychologist John A. Bargh, “How Unconscious Thought and Perception Affect Our Every Waking Moment.

Bargh explains how decision making about such tasks as voting, making purchases or even planning vacations often occurs without our giving things much conscious thought. In matters small and large, we routinely arrive at automatic judgments, our behaviors shaped by embedded attitudes. Put another way, awareness about our relative lack of awareness gives us a new appreciation for how profoundly our unconscious mind steers our lives.

Two other articles take a look below the surface, from different perspectives. “Superpowerful X-ray Laser Boils Atoms in Molecules, Nanosystems and Solids and Explodes Proteins, All in the Name of Science,” by physicists Nora Berrah and Philip H. Bucksbaum, describes a microscope of unprecedented power, which can create exotic forms of matter found nowhere else in the universe. The x-ray laser, powered by the world's longest linear accelerator, subjects atoms, molecules and solids to high-intensity x-ray pulses. The resulting exotic states of matter last only a few femtoseconds—but nonetheless give us useful glimpses of an extreme environment that has no parallels on earth.

In “Life under the Microscope: Stunning Photographs from the BioScapes Competition,” by Scientific American associate editor Ferris Jabr, we take a microscopic look at the surprisingly intricate minuscule creatures that inhabit our planet, as well as the tiniest features of larger organisms. The photography reveals startling details, from the internal symmetry of a lily bud to a dinosaur bone that has transformed into sparkling crystal. We hope you will enjoy using some of your conscious mind's bandwidth to contemplate the many wonders brought to light by the process of science.

This article was originally published with the title Below the Surface.

* * * * *

How Unconscious Thought and Perception Affect Our Every Waking Moment

Unconscious impulses and desires impel what we think and do in ways Freud never dreamed of

By John A. Bargh | Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Image: Tim Bower
When psychologists try to understand the way our mind works, they frequently come to a conclusion that may seem startling: people often make decisions without having given them much thought—or, more precisely, before they have thought about them consciously. When we decide how to vote, what to buy, where to go on vacation and myriad other things, unconscious thoughts that we are not even aware of typically play a big role. Research has recently brought to light just how profoundly our unconscious mind shapes our day-to-day interactions.

One of the best-known studies to illustrate the power of the unconscious focused on the process of deciding whether a candidate was fit to hold public office. A group of mock voters were given a split second to inspect portrait photographs from the Internet of U.S. gubernatorial and senatorial candidates from states other than where the voters lived. Then, based on their fleeting glimpses of each portrait, they were asked to judge the candidates. Remarkably, the straw poll served as an accurate proxy for the later choices of actual voters in those states. Competency ratings based on seeing the candidates' faces for less time than it takes to blink an eye predicted the outcome of two out of three elections.

For more than 100 years the role of unconscious influences on our thoughts and actions has preoccupied scientists who study the mind. Sigmund Freud's massive body of work emphasized the conscious as the locus of rational thought and emotion and the unconscious as the lair of the irrational, but contemporary cognitive psychologists have recast the Freudian worldview into a less polarized psychological dynamic. Both types of thought processes, it turns out, help us adapt to the protean demands of a species that survives by marshaling the mental firepower to hunt a Stone Age mastodon, face off in a Middle Ages joust or, in the new millennium, sell Apple's stock short.

Post-Freudian psychology has set aside the id and ego for a more pragmatic take on what defines our unconscious self. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has described the modern distinction between the automatic and the controlled. In his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman characterized automatic thought processes as fast, efficient and typically outside the realm of conscious awareness, making them devoid of deliberation or planning. They require only a simple stimulus: the words on this page, for instance, connect effortlessly in your mind with their meaning. Controlled processes are the opposite. They require purposeful and relatively slow engagement of conscious thought—picture the labored effort that goes into doing your tax returns.

Similar to Freud's primal id and controlling ego, the automatic and controlled systems complement each other yet also, at times, conflict. You need to react without reflection to dodge an oncoming bus but also need to check yourself from throwing a punch at the reckless bus driver.

Snap judgments—relatively automatic thought processes—abound in our daily life—and for good reason. Outside of the relatively small number of individuals any one of us knows really well, most people we interact with are strangers we might never see again—while standing in line at the bank, say—or others we come across in the course of their jobs—cashiers, taxi drivers, waiters, insurance agents, teachers, and so on. The default unconscious perception generates expectations about behavior and personalities based on minimal information. We expect waitresses to act a certain way, which is different from what we expect of librarians or truck drivers. These expectations come to us immediately and without our thinking about them, based only on a person's social place.

The unconscious way we perceive people during the course of the day is a reflexive reaction. We must exert willful, conscious effort to put aside the unexplained and sometimes unwarranted negative feelings that we may harbor toward others. The stronger the unconscious influence, the harder we have to work consciously to overcome it. In particular, this holds true for habitual behaviors. An alcoholic might come home in the evening and pour a drink; a person with a weight problem might reach for the potato chips—both easily casting aside the countervailing urge toward restraint.

Understanding the tug the unconscious exerts on us is essential so that we do not become overwhelmed by impulses that are hard to understand and control. The ability to regulate our own behavior—whether making friends, getting up to speed at a new job or overcoming a drinking problem—depends on more than genes, temperament and social support networks. It also hinges, in no small measure, on our capacity to identify and try to overcome the automatic impulses and emotions that influence every aspect of our waking life. To make our way in the world, we need to learn to come to terms with our unconscious self.

Gut Reactions

When we meet someone new, we form a first impression even before striking up a conversation. We may observe the person's race, sex or age—features that, once perceived, automatically connect to our internalized stereotypes about how members of a particular group are apt to behave. These assumptions about the social group in question—hostile, lazy, pleasant, resourceful, and so on—are often incorrect for the particular individual from that group standing in front of us, someone who usually has done nothing to merit any of these impressions, bad or good.

These reflexive reactions often persist, even if they run counter to our conscious beliefs. Many people who say they have a positive attitude toward minority groups are astonished when social scientists reveal contradictions using a simple test. The Implicit Association Test calls on test subjects to characterize objects on a computer screen according to qualities they possess—a puppy may be good, a spider bad. Afterward, the test taker sees a series of faces of people of different races and is asked to classify them as white, black, and so forth.

Here's the trick: the same buttons are used for the initial evaluation and the group classification tasks. The left button might be for making both good and white responses and the right one for both bad and black. In a later trial, the button labels are reversed so that the left button records good objects and black faces and the right corresponds to bad and white. A white respondent would reveal underlying prejudice if the task is easier—measured by a faster response—when the buttons are configured for bad/black than for the good/black condition. Many people who hold positive conscious attitudes toward minority groups and who think of themselves as being motivated to treat all people fairly and equally are nonetheless surprised by the greater difficulty indicated by a slower pressing of the good/black buttons.

These types of reactions complicate interpersonal relationships and fair treatment in the courts, the workplace and schools precisely because they originate in the unconscious mind. Because we are not aware of them, these feelings tend to get mixed up in whatever we are consciously focusing on at the moment. Instead of recognizing an unacknowledged racial bias, we divert our attention to some negative feature or characteristic about the person in question. A college admissions officer might zero in on a less than stellar grade in an otherwise solid medical school application from a prospective minority student without realizing those same negative features are not weighted so heavily for the other applicants.

Although research on unconscious social perception has often focused on stereotypes and prejudice, in reality the scope of this line of inquiry is much broader. In general, people have a hard time untangling the sources of various positive and negative feelings and are prone to misunderstanding their true causes. In a classic demonstration of this effect, the current day's weather affected how people being interviewed over the telephone rated how well their entire life had gone up to that point—they were more likely to characterize their whole existence as sunny when the weather was nice. Conscious awareness of this effect, moreover, brought about an immediate change. When the interviewers called attention to the weather outside, the feelings colored by the presence of either sun or clouds no longer had an effect.

Out of Control

Unconscious thoughts and feelings influence not only the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us but also our everyday actions. The effect the unconscious has on behavior has provoked debate among psychologists for decades. For a good part of the 20th century, B. F. Skinner and the behaviorist school of psychology argued forcefully that our actions were entirely under the control of what we saw, heard and touched in our surroundings and that conscious intent played no role. This idea was embodied in the classic experiment in which a rat learns through trial and error that pressing a bar results each time in the animal receiving a food pellet. In the Skinnerian worldview, most of what we do translates into a more sophisticated variation on the theme of pressing the bar with one's snout—we just need to press the equivalent of the correct bar—perhaps sliding the dollar bill in the candy machine—to get what we want.

Research in the 1960s debunked Skinner's behaviorism. Yet the opposite extreme, that behavior is always under intentional control and never directly triggered by environmental cues, is equally false. Merely watching or listening to someone else can make us behave in ways that we do not even realize.

People have a natural tendency to mimic and imitate the physical behavior of others—their emotional expressions, arm and hand gestures, their body postures. These impulses appear throughout the natural world in the fluid way that schools of fish, herds of antelope and flocks of birds coordinate group behavior so that they move almost as if they were a single organism. In humans, the tendency to spontaneously mimic and imitate what others around us are doing has been observed in very young infants and toddlers, and for nearly a century psychologists have argued that being a copycat helps us learn language and other behaviors from our parents.

Imitation, moreover, does not disappear with childhood. In what is known as the chameleon effect, you might find yourself taking on the posture and other physical behaviors of someone you have just engaged in conversation at a party—the crossed legs, the folded arms, the same head scratching. The mimicry carries on until you decide to refresh your drink and seek out a new interlocutor whose stance and gestures you then take up, like a chameleon blending in with its environment. Conforming to the same behaviors of others would seem to make adaptive sense, especially when you do not yet know what is the appropriate thing to do in a given social situation.

The advice “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” makes sense because others are unlikely, in general, to be engaging in unsafe or socially inappropriate behaviors. And as is demonstrated in research by Paula Niedenthal and Robert Zajonc, when both were collaborating at the University of Michigan, a fascinating long-term effect of this propensity toward imitation turns up in couples coming to more closely resemble each other the longer they are together, presumably because on a daily basis they unconsciously assume their partner's facial expressions and postures.

Imitation fosters a social mind-set without the need for providing an explicit road sign that instructs people in what to do next: waiting patiently in a long line encourages others to do the same; holding a door for a neighbor, curbing one's dog and not littering put others in a frame of mind to do the right thing. Unconscious imitation fosters empathetic feelings toward others, a “social glue” that creates a sense of closeness even among total strangers. The strongest form of mimicry results when two or more people engage in the same activity at the same time: armies marching or churchgoers singing a hymn together. Research on behavioral synchrony has shown it has the effect of increasing cooperation even if the individuals involved have never met before.

Unfortunately, the natural tendency toward imitation cuts both ways. As psychologist Kees Keizer of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and his colleagues found in field research, one misdeed leads to another. The researchers placed graffiti on an alley wall, which led to an increase in littering of pamphlets that were placed around the handlebars of bicycles parked along the alley. Fighting graffiti and other small, nuisance infractions, it turns out, can have a large impact on improving the quality of urban life. This research supports the “broken windows” theory championed most famously by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in the mid-1990s promoted the strict enforcement of laws against minor infractions—littering, jaywalking and vandalism; the dramatic drop in crime during this period has been attributed, in part, to this policy.

A tendency to copy others often extends beyond the imitation of mere gestures and facial expressions to taking on facets of someone else's personal identity. When we meet or are reminded of an acquaintance, an unconscious mental process may begin that “primes” us to initiate behaviors characteristic of that individual. Some studies have shown that college students exposed to descriptions associated with the elderly—“Florida,” “gray,” “bingo,” and so on—subsequently walk down the hall more slowly after the experiment is finished, in line with the stereotype of the elderly as slow and weak. Similarly, “priming” words or images related to the stereotypical idea of a nurse leads to greater helping behavior, and cuing stereotypes associated with politicians results in more long-winded speeches. All these effects appear to occur unconsciously, without the participants being aware of how their behavior has been influenced.

Investigations into what social psychologists call stereotype threat have shown that merely bringing to mind a stereotype about, say, race or gender in a member of a group that is the target of such biases may affect performance in school or the workplace. Claude Steele of Stanford University has documented the negative impact on test performance when a minority student, before the exam begins, is asked to check off what racial or ethnic group the student belongs to. The late Nalini Ambady, then at Harvard University, demonstrated that even preschool girls at a Harvard day care do worse on simple math tests if they are first subtly reminded of being female. Widely held positive stereotypes have the opposite effect. In the same study with preschool girls, Asian-Americans did better than average if they were reminded of their ethnic background but faltered if the priming exercise emphasized their gender instead.

Recently controversy has emerged over an inability to reproduce the results of some priming studies. The reasons that the studies could not be repeated are complex and depend, in part, on the methods used to carry them out—subtleties explained further in the accompanying box.

Unconscious influences, in fact, are not always effective in motivating what we do. Many people are familiar with the idea of subliminal advertising in movie theaters—having the words “eat popcorn” flashing imperceptibly on the screen was once thought to cause concession stand sales to boom. Worries about subliminal advertising emerged in the 1950s with Vance Packard's best seller The Hidden Persuaders. As it turned out, these reports were mostly bogus, but many people still wonder about the possibility of subliminal messages influencing consumer behavior. Indeed, subsequent research has consistently shown that if a person is already motivated to take some action—quenching thirst, for instance—a subliminal message favoring one brand of beverage over others can be effective.

Regular advertisements, unencumbered by hidden messaging, are powerful influences in their own right. In one new study examining regular television ads, participants watched a five-minute segment of a popular comedy show and were given a bowl of Goldfish crackers. The presence of any food ads during commercial breaks substantially increased consumption of the snack by participants. The food ads primed snacking absent any subliminal subterfuge. The error we often make is to assume that we can control the effects an ad has on our behavior just because we are fully aware of its content.

Embodied Cognition

Some of the research on the unconscious and behavior focuses on the way the surrounding physical environment influences our psychological state of mind. In the 1980s a series of experiments by Fritz Strack, now at the University of Würzburg in Germany, and his colleagues showed that unconscious feedback from their own incidental facial expressions—smiles or frowns—sufficed to cause people to register the value judgment of liking or disliking an object that was in their field of view. Study participants held pencils in either their teeth—activating the smile muscles—or their lips—flexing frown muscles. The physical positioning of the facial muscles produced the corresponding psychological state.

Studies in this area of research, known as embodied cognition, have shown that a host of physical actions and sensations trigger psychological states that are metaphorically related to those behaviors and feelings. Remembering a past incident in which you hurt someone emotionally may cause you to have a stronger desire to help and cooperate with others in a friendly way—a compensation for the bad deed. In one well-known study, after being prompted to recall a guilt-inducing behavior, participants had to wash their hands, ostensibly to help prevent the spread of the flu virus within the room where the experiment took place. The physical act of hand washing seemed to “wash away” guilt. Any lingering friendly or helpful tendencies vanished in the group that had gone through the scrubbing exercises compared with others who had not washed up—a phenomenon dubbed the “Macbeth effect,” after Lady Macbeth's compulsive hand-washing rituals in the eponymous play by Shakespeare.

In similar fashion, protecting against disease appears to satisfy abstract social or political needs. In one study, politically conservative participants just inoculated against the H1N1 flu virus reported more favorable attitudes toward immigrants compared with those who had not received a shot, as if protection from invasion of the flu virus carried over to a perception that newcomers were well-meaning and not somehow invading and despoiling their adoptive culture.

Metaphors also apply to the way we describe people we routinely encounter. Everyone knows the meaning of a “close” relationship or a “cold” father. One recent theory, conceptual scaffolding, asserts that we use these metaphors so readily because the abstract version of the mental concept is strongly associated with the physical world we inhabit. In experiments, people who clutch a hot coffee cup for a brief time form impressions of others as being “warmer,” more friendly and more generous than if they hold, say, an iced coffee. Related studies on the way physical experiences unconsciously influence judgment and behavior in metaphorical ways have revealed that having participants sit on hard chairs during a negotiation causes them to take a “harder” line and compromise less than do those sitting on soft chairs. And when holding something rough, they judge an encounter as more awkward and not having gone smoothly.

We tend to unconsciously evaluate nearly everything we come into contact with in a crude good-or-bad manner. The unconscious, automatic response even translates into our basic movements, our inclination to approach or avoid an object. Clinical psychologist Reinout Wiers of the University of Amsterdam recently developed a successful therapeutic intervention for alcoholism and substance abuse based on this insight. In treatment, patients had to respond to images that represented alcohol abuse in various ways by repeatedly pushing a lever away, without any further instructions about how to evaluate the meaning of the pictures. Compared with a control group of patients, those who responded by pushing away the lever showed markedly lower relapse rates a year later, as well as more reflexively negative attitudes toward alcohol. The unconscious connection between making muscle movements associated with avoidance caused the development both of negative psychological attitudes and of a visceral gut reaction that helped the patients forgo the temptation to imbibe away from the clinic.

Freud Redux

The most recent experimental work deals with unconscious motivations and goals—the basic question of “What do people want?”—which was, of course, a central theme of Freud's long career. The modern theories about what drives behavior differ from the one put forward by the Austrian neurologist because this thinking derives from studies on groups of average people instead of case studies of abnormal individuals. They also point to a single psychological system that we all possess that can operate in both conscious or unconscious mode, unlike Freud's unconscious, which plays by its owns rules, wholly separate from those that drive conscious activity.

In fact, in the modern psychology of desire, researchers have found that whether or not we are conscious of a particular goal we have set for ourselves, the way we go about pursuing that goal is very similar. In research on this phenomenon by Mathias Pessiglione and Chris Frith, both then at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College London, study participants were asked to push a lever as fast as they could when prompted. Before each trial, they received either a conscious or subliminal cue about the reward they would receive. Higher incentives (British pounds versus pence) produced faster pushes, whether they were consciously perceived or not. Moreover, brain imaging revealed the same incentive-sensitive brain regions switch on in both the conscious and the subliminal reward trials. This and other studies suggest that an unconsciously perceived stimulus may suffice to cause someone to actually pursue a goal without any awareness of how it originated—no conscious deliberation or free will required.

Our unconscious mind may not only nudge us to choose a particular option, but it may help muster the necessary motivation to actually achieve it. Psychologists have long known that people given power in a social science experiment often exhibit selfish and corrupt behavior, putting personal interests first. The urge to exert power within a group often reveals itself through a series of subtle, physical cues of which we are unaware. Participants in one study randomly assigned to sit in a professor's desk chair showed less concern with what other people thought of them and had less inhibition about expressing racist and other antisocial sentiments, compared with participants seated instead in a student's chair in front of the desk.

Fortunately, many people's goals are directed toward the welfare of others, as is the case for parents who put their child's interests above their own. If power has the general effect of unconsciously activating important personal goals, these “communally” oriented individuals should react by being more likely to help others and less apt to focus on themselves. Indeed, studies have shown that power causes these individuals to assume more of an altruistic perspective and leave less for others to do, all again without any awareness of their motivations. These individuals also become more preoccupied with what others think of them and display less of a tendency to hold racial biases.

Freud spent countless thousands of words in providing explanations as to why our unfulfilled wishes express themselves in the imagery and stories that populate our nightly dreams. The latest research provides a more pragmatic perspective on how thought and emotion just below the surface of our awareness shape the way we relate to a boss, parent, spouse or child. That means we can set aside antiquated notions of Oedipus complexes and accept the reality that the unconscious asserts its presence in every moment of our lives, when we are fully awake as well as when we are absorbed in the depths of a dream.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How Poverty Taxes the Brain


Periodically, I get emails from various websites that collect information on college degree programs - I get the ones focused on psychology issues because of this blog's focus. The one below is from a social work degree programs site - but the graphic they have created (for Poverty Awareness Month) is excellent, so I am sharing it here.

Poverty and the Brain
Source: SocialWorkDegreeCenter.comt


Mind Reading: Human Origins and Theory of Mind

From the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA), a joint project of UC San Diego and the Salk Institute, this is an excellent series of videos (each about 20 minutes) on Theory of Mind (the understanding that what you think and feel is different from what I think and feel, and to make inferences based on that awareness).
The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny* (CARTA) began as a collaboration between faculty at UC San Diego and at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, along with interested scientists at other institutions. CARTA became a UC San Diego recognized Organized Research Unit (ORU) in January 2008. 
As the word anthropogeny implies, the primary goal of CARTA is to “explore and explain the origins of the human phenomenon.” In other words, finding the answers to the two age-old questions regarding humans:
  • Where did we come from?
  • How did we get here?
CARTA is a virtual organization formed in order to promote transdisciplinary research into human origins, drawing on methods from a number of traditional disciplines spanning the humanities, social, biomedical, biological, computational & engineering and physical & chemical sciences. 
*Anthropogeny: The investigation of the origin of man (humans) Oxford English Dictionary, 2006. First used in 1839 edition of Hooper's Med. Dict. and defined as "the study of the generation of man."
I'm not sure I have the order correct, but they are order (and listed below) in what seems a logical progression.

Mind Reading: Human Origins and Theory of Mind

Part One:
CARTA Co-Director Ajit Varki welcomes the public and researchers to the CARTA symposium on Mind Reading: Human Origins and Theory of Mind. Recorded on 10/18/2013. Series: "CARTA: Mind Reading: Human Origins and Theory of Mind"

Part Two:
Ralph Adolphs (Caltech) provides an overview on how best to define Theory of Mind, how to relate it to other similar terms, and how to study it. He closes by speculating on what aspects of mindreading might be unique to humans.

Part Three:
For many years, Tetsuro Matsuzawa (Kyoto Univ) has studied chimpanzees both in the laboratory and in the wild. In this talk he presents several examples of "mind reading" in chimpanzees based on his research in the lab and observations in the field.

Part Four:
A key feature of human social interactions is the ability to make inferences about other individuals' mental states (e.g. others' knowledge, beliefs and desires). Juliane Kaminski (Univ of Portsmouth, UK) reviews studies which investigate whether the cognitive capacities underlying these skills are uniquely human or shared, at least to some degree, with other species.

Part Five:
Jessica Sommerville (Univ of Washington) reviews evidence to suggest that, within the first year of life, infants develop an understanding of transient mental states (such as goals and desires), enduring personal dispositions (such as preferences), and socio-moral norms (such as fairness norms), that is driven by their own actions on the world, as well as their interactions with other people.

Part Six:
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (Univ College London) discusses how the social brain, that is, the network of brain regions involved in understanding others, develops during adolescence. Adolescence is a time characterized by change -- hormonally, physically, psychologically and socially. Yet until fairly recently, this period of life was neglected by neuroscience.

Part Seven:
Over the past two decades, research investigating the neural basis of social abilities suggests that the human brain has dedicated systems for understanding other minds. Jason Mitchell (Harvard Univ) reviews this brain imaging work and discusses the implications for the unique aspects of human social cognition.

Part Eight:
Wrap-Up: Terry Sejnowski

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Connectome Update (Brain Science Podcast 103) with Olaf Sporns

On last month's Brain Science Podcast, your host, Dr. Ginger Campbell, spoke with neuroscientist Olaf Sporns, author of Discovering the Human Connectome, to get an update on connectome research.

Connectome Update (BSP 103)

November 22, 2013
Ginger Campbell, MD


The Human Connectome is a description of the structural connectivity of the human brain, but according to Olaf Sporns, author of Discovering the Human Connectome, this description must include a description of the brain's dynamic behavior. I first talked with Sporns back in BSP 74, but BSP 103 gave us a chance to talk about recent progress in connectomics.

Sporns sees the study of the brain's connections as fundamental to understanding how the brain works.

"It will allow us to ask new questions that perhaps we couldn’t ask before. It will be a foundational data set for us, just like the genome is. We will not be able to imagine neuroscience going back to a time when we did not have the connectome, but it will not give us all the answers.”

In his first book, Networks of the Brain, Sporns described how Network Theory provides important tools for dealing with the large data sets that are created by studying complex systems like the human brain. In BSP 103 we discuss both the challenges and the promise of Discovering the Human Connectome.

The Mind at Rest (All in the Mind) - On Sleep and Dreams

Nice conversation on this week's All in the Mind podcast, hosted by Lynne Malcolm.

The Mind at Rest

Sunday 15 December 2013

The surprising science of sleep and daydreaming. Letting your mind wander involves complex brain activity and facilitates problem solving, creativity and even enhances our sense of identity. Also, scientific sleep studies are showing that our memory can be enhanced and we can learn new things ... all while we’re quietly snoozing. This program looks at the benefits of zoning out.


Dr Muireann Irish, Senior Research Officer, Neuroscience Research Australia
Penelope Lewis, Neuroscientist, University of Manchester


The Secret World of Sleep, by Penelope A. Lewis 

Further Information

Monday, December 16, 2013

Documentary - Vanishing Point (Inuit Culture)

Via documentalka, this is an excellent documentary about the efforts of two Inuit communities to maintain connections to their traditional culture. Official site for the film is here - this is their synopsis:
Navarana is a Polar Eskimo elder who lives in the most remote corner of the planet, the northwest tip of Greenland. She is connected by blood to a group of Canadian Inuit because of a shaman’s migration journey across the frozen Arctic in the 1860s. Today, despite rapid technological and social changes, her people in Greenland proudly maintain and covet age-old customs. But Navarana wonders what life is like for her distant cousins in Arctic Canada. Setting out on hunting journeys in both her homeland and on Canada’s Baffin Island, she discovers that while these two isolated groups of Inuit share much in common, they also present strikingly different lifestyles and practices. At a time when her people are up against vast and inescapable challenges, Navarana looks for the way forward and considers what has been lost and what has been gained. 
Vanishing Point is a POV documentary filmed in an observational, cinema vérité style. Its spoken languages are dialects of Inuktitut. 
Release Date: May, 2012

Vanishing Point

Published on Nov 30, 2013

This feature documentary tells the story of 2 Inuit communities of the circumpolar north one on Canada Baffin Island, the other in Northwest Greenland that are linked by a migration led by an intrepid shaman. Navarana, an Inughuit elder and descendant of the shaman, draws inspiration and hope from the ties that still bind the 2 communities to face the consequences of rapid social and environmental change.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bessel van der Kolk - The Body Keeps the Score (Part Two)

The title of this talk is the nearly identical to that of a new book from Bessel van der Kolk due out in June, 2014 The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (pre-order at Amazon). I will be excited to see this new work - his research in the recent years has focused on yoga, tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique), chi gong, and neurofeedback, among other body-centered modalities for healing trauma.

What follows are my notes, as best as I can make them sensible from yesterday's 3 hour talk. This is part two - part one is here. This second installment is more than half of the talk and it gets into the neuroscience a lot more.

The Body Keeps the Score, Part II

Mental illness is now conceived of as a dysfunction in brain wiring or function. However, 80-90% of our brain function is outside of our conscious control (fast thinking, or Type I), and only 10-20% of our brain function is consciously controlled (slow thinking, or Type II). [I am including the references to Daniel Kahneman's work, BvdK didn' t make these references].

Our brain stem does the basic housekeeping in the brain - controlling arousal, sleep, breathing, food/elimination, and chemical balance, among other things. In working with trauma, these core regulation functions must be stabilized BEFORE we can do any kind of deeper work. All of these functions, however, are outside of our verbal influence - we cannot talk our way to better sleep or out of hyper-arousal. Traditional talk therapy is helpless to reset these physiological regulatory functions.


The limbic system comes online at birth and develops extensively through about age six, after which the primate brain is more the developmental focus. The limbic system controls right brain function (see Allen Schore), including affect regulation, interpersonal skills, and the core map of our self in relation to the world. [When Schore writes about affect dys/regulation and the development of the self, he is basically outlining the ways trauma impacts this core self map.]

Survivors of incest or molestation, and/or extreme neglect often talk about how they are evil or damaged or worthless. When we tell them that is not true, it can make them feel even worse, more alone and misunderstood - despite our good intentions, we have just told them again how wrong they are, even about their own reality. They need for us, as their therapists, to get how ugly they feel about themselves, how ugly their core self map really is.

We need to help them go inside themselves with an adult ego and notice what happened to them without dissociating or avoiding. There is no need to relive the memories, only to witness them as an observer (the reliving of a memory is known entering the memory field). If they bring adult awareness to wounded child-part of themselves, it becomes easier to regulate the core brain stem functions. [This is the foundation of self compassion training.]

Brain Anatomy

According to Antonio Damasio, fear is held in the cerebellum and brain stem (including the amygdala), but these systems are not accessible by the cerebral cortex or the prefrontal cortex. In addition, the insula (which plays a major role in sense of self, acting as an integration point between body systems and higher order functions), is nearly always damaged in trauma survivors.

Because of this, the core experiential self (Damasio's proto-self) gets hijacked by the trauma - yet this experiential self is essential in healing the trauma. The only way to heal this self through verbal approaches is to describe it in very precise sensory detail (smells, sounds, tastes, pressure on the skin, and so on). Again, this is a challenge because the left anterior prefrontal cortex (including Broca's Area) goes offline when the trauma system is activated, which limits the ability to talk about it.

When the trauma system is activated there is a shift to right brain function, including the amygdala, the insula, and the anterior temporal lobe. As this occurs, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (site of working memory, integrating past, present, and future) goes offline, which is why we get stuck in the trauma as if we are always in that horrific moment/experience. Negative cognition's are often a form of verbal flashback to thoughts we had while in the neurochemical soup of the trauma experience.

The thalamus integrates sensory and temporal data into a story explaining who we are, where we are, and what we are doing. This process is seriously compromised in trauma so any sense data similar to the original sensory data triggers a flashback experience.

People who shut down or dissociate during the trauma experience can often remain in that state even while retelling their story - unless we can get them to focus on their interiority (interception) as experienced in sensory data during the traumatic event. In these survivors, brain activity throughout the whole brain is two standard deviations lower than the norm.

Emotional Freedom Technique

BvdK uses "tapping" to get dissociated people back into their bodies. EFT, which is based on pressure points, causes a decrease in limbic system activity, making it a solid grounding technology even where the verbal system fails. He is currently researching EFT, qi gong, chanting, and "om-ing," which seem to offer similar benefits.


The following information is based on a graph based on the work of Joseph LeDoux.

There are two pathways for threats to follow when they activate the limbic/amygdala (LA):
1. The threat can move from the LA to the basal ganglia, associated with movement, which leads to active coping (planning, action)
2. The threat can move from the LA to the central nucleus of the amygdala, which leads to passive coping (freeze, despondency). [BvdK did not mention this directly, but this what we often see in those with a number of adverse childhood experiences.]
Van den Kolk believes an amygdala stuck in these patterns can be rewired. Action resets the amygdala. Activities like boxing, tai chi, akido, and other martial arts are treatments, not simply physical activity. We need a visceral impact of something that felt bad (being connected to and in our bodies) now feeling good in order to rewire the amygdala. He is doing research on exactly this idea.

More information from Joseph LeDoux that supports BvdK's model:

As mentioned above, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex is where our working memory resides, as well as being the location of planning. It has no direct access to the amygdala and the limbic system, information out simply feeds back in.

However, the medial prefrontal cortex (and to a lesser extent, the posterior cingulate), which is where we process inner experience or interoception has a direct link to the amygdala and limbic system. This is the only system through which we can access and change our emotional self. This is the power of mindfulness practice, it's centered in the MPC. Dan Siegel is the current expert in this realm.

The moment of trauma often feels like forever because the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex is offline during the initial trauma experience. The fact that Broca's Area also is offline during the experience means we have no words or language associated with the experience. We have images and other sense data, but not language.

The Body in Trauma

Trauma survivors often can't tell us where they feel things in their bodies. The body is too scary of a place to go into for them. We need to be persistent to get them to go inside, to activate the MPC. However, the earlier the trauma the harder it is to get them to go inside because they have no experience of interception that is not terrifying.

Part of the healing process involves helping them to feel safe in their own interior world, possibly for the first time. However, when clients go into the images, sounds, scents - into the wounding - the arousal system is activated, so we must monitor their reactions to keep them in the experience and not retreating into the story.

Trauma Repetition

BvdK has a theory that part of trauma repetition might be due to the release of endogenous opioid chemicals (about 8 mg worth) during the original trauma experience. Replaying the trauma activates all of them same brain chemicals as the original trauma, but in the absence of pain, the opioid drugs alter consciousness and can also generate nausea (many clients describe feeling sick after a replay of the original trauma.

Part of trauma repetition may be self-medicating with our own brain chemicals.

Internal Family Systems

BvdK has done considerable work with Richard Schwartz on his Internal Family Systems Therapy model, including appearances at the IFS conference. In this final piece of the talk, he brings in IFS as a way to work with emotions "exiled" in the body.

Allowing ourselves to feel the grief or fear or terror of the trauma and then use our adult self to comfort that wounded part of us brings the medial prefrontal cortex into connection with the trauma. It's somatic, experiential, and nonverbal.

Incest survivors almost universally hate and/despise the child part that was the victim of the molestation, which is likely true in survivors of repeated physical abuse or neglect.

These hated and despised parts of ourselves are known as exiles in the IFS model. It is the exile that holds the trauma memories and sensory data.

[ME: The psyche, through manager parts (pleaser, perfectionist, inner critic, for example) try to keep the exiled part locked a psychological closet, preferably forever. Should the managers fail, there are parts called firefighters whose job it is to jump into action and prevent those pesky exiles from breaking through into consciousness, usually through addictive behaviors (and even the addictive behaviors will one day fail.)

Holding the Sun (A Family Deals with Schizophrenia)

Via Documentary Heaven, this is a disturbing and sad account of one family's struggles with how to support and cope with a schizophrenic son. I want to add, however, that Aaron's violence is not typical of schizophrenics or of any other form of non-drug-induced psychosis. It's sad, but it is not common.

Holding the Sun

In Holding the Sun we get to look into a Canadian family’s struggle to save their son from schizophrenia and cope with the consequences of the condition. The Millar family was torn apart when on May 30th, 1997, Ruth Millar’s son Aaron came calmly up behind her and stuck a sword through her heart. Earlier that morning Ruth wrote to her husband about Aaron’s schizophrenia. She said he was looking quite psychotic these days, not in a harmful way but simply because he lives in his own world. She explained that he would not let her show any affection towards him and had changed from the once warm loving Aaron into a person she hardly knew.

Ruth’s husband of 28 years, Ramsay Millar, says that above all people simply need to be educated about this disease. He says it is more important than money or anything that causes more fear and less compassion. Christine Millar, Aaron’s older sister discusses how she has had to cope with her mother’s death as well as caring for Aaron. It is difficult to balance the anger of what he did to her mother with knowing it wasn’t his fault and that he now has to live with that every day. Christine won’t leave him, as difficult as it is; she doesn’t want Aaron to end up on the streets like so many people do with mental illnesses. The documentary follows the Millars’ story of how they tried to access mental health care for Aaron and how his life has returned to reality once he gets the proper treatment they were seeking for him. The past two years brought devastation to their family and Holding the Sun shines a light on the difficult situation that many families who have a child with schizophrenia can relate to.