Posts Tagged mental-health
Its been a while and I need to get back on this…. here is part 2… lets see if we cant get a few more up in the coming months.. plus an insight into my new book….
VIOLENCE IT’S NATURAL LET IT BE.. Part 2
Yochelson and Samenow (2013)
A study of thinking patterns in criminals.
Aim: To understand the make up of the criminal personality.
Design: A longitudinal study using interviews that spanned over a 14 year period. The interviews were based on Freudian therapy techniques, which aimed to identify the root cause of the criminal behaviour.
Sample: 255 males from various backgrounds who had been found guilty by reasons of insanity and secured in a mental institution. Only 30 of the participants completed the interviews, and only 9 made any significant progress towards rehabilitation. Findings: Identified 52 thinking patterns that were common in the criminals.
External attribution they viewed themselves as the victim and blamed others for the situation. Lack of interest in responsible behaviour sees it as pointless. Closed thinking not receptive to criticism.
Conclusion: These ‘errors’ in thinking are not unique to criminals, but were suggested to be displayed more by criminals than law behaving citizens. They also put forward the theory of free will to explain criminal behaviour. This has five points to it:
- The roots of criminality lie in the way people think and make their decisions.
- Criminals think and act differently than other people, even from a very young age.
- Criminals are, by nature, irresponsible, impulsive, self-centered, and driven by fear and anger.
- Deterministic explanations of crime result from believing the criminal who is seeking sympathy.
- Crime occurs because the criminal wills it or chooses it, and it is this choice they make that rehabilitation must deal with.
Does the criminal mind of one parent transfer via inheritance to the mind of their offspring? This has been a question that scientists and researchers have attempted to answer for quite some time now and the above does not really point us in a direction that one can be confident in!
The Construct We Call The Mind.
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
To date the brain and it’s functioning process are still the subject of large amounts of research and, according to a popular myth, we only use 10% of its capacity! Wikipedia (2014) ‘the 10% of brain myth is the widely perpetuated urban legend that most, or all, humans only make use of 3%, 10% or some other small percentage of their brains. It has been misattributed to people including Albert Einstein.
By association, it is suggested that a person may harness this unused potential and increase intelligence. Though factors of intelligence can increase with training, the popular notion that large parts of the brain remain unused, and could subsequently be “activated”, rest more in popular folklore than scientific theory. Though mysteries regarding brain function remain e.g. memory, consciousness etc, the physiology of brain mapping suggests that most, if not all, areas of the brain have a function’.
The mind of humans is very closely related in structure and in some ways function to that of the ‘Rat’. Research by Smith and Alloway (2013) at the Penn State Centre for Neural Engineering and affiliates of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, detail their discovery of a parallel between the motor cortices of rats and humans that signifies a greater relevance of the rat model to studies of the human brain than scientists had previously known. “The motor cortex in primates is subdivided into multiple regions, each of which receives unique input that allow it to perform a specific motor function”
In the rat brain, the motor cortex is small and it appeared that all of it received the same type of input. We know now that sensory input to the rat motor cortex terminate in a small region of the motor cortex that is distinct from the larger region that issues the motor commands. Our work demonstrates that the rat motor cortex is parcellated into distinct sub regions that perform specific functions, and this result appears to be similar to what is seen in the primate brain.”
“You have to take into account the animal’s natural behaviours to best understand how its brain is structured for sensory and motor processing,”. For primates like us, that means a strong reliance on visual information from the eyes, but for rats it’s more about the somatosensory input from their whiskers.” In fact, nearly a third of the rat’s sensory motor cortex is devoted to processing whisker related information, even though the whiskers occupy only one third of one percent of the rats total body surface. In humans, nearly 40 percent of the entire cortex is devoted to processing visual information, although the eyes occupy a very tiny portion of our body’s surface. It certainly seems from this research that the cortical mapping that occurs in the brain of a human is very similar to that of a rat; the big difference is the inflated size of our cerebral cortex.
Primitive neuro anatomy of the brain include impulses of rage and fear, that are balanced by the operating functions of the orbital cortex, which is responsible for emotional controls, that we know as moralization and self-control. The brain is certainly complex. However, the boundaries of its operations are slowly beginning to fail, not least due to the unfortunate circumstances some individuals have had to endure when accidental damage occurs to regions of their brain.
Pinker (2012) recounts an unfortunate accident that happened to a man called Fineus Gage, a railway foreman responsible for dynamite placement, he tapped down some blasting powder in a hole in a rock, setting off a premature explosion that sent the blasting iron up through his cheekbone and out the top of his skull. A 20th century computer reconstruction of the damage to the brain based on the holes in the skull, suggest that the rod tore up his left orbital cortex, along with the ventral medial cortex on the inside wall of the cerebrum.
Gage’s sensory, memory and movement were still available to him, although something about him had changed, he was no longer the same person, the damage that had occurred had caused an effect that was not just the loss of a capability that was controlled by the brain, this was more a change in his animal like behaviour.
Pinker quotes his doctor at the time saying “he is now fitful, uses the grosses of profanities, does not care about his friends, is persistently obstinate, plans future actions which are quickly abandoned, a child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, yet has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury he possessed a well-balanced mind and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in carrying out all his plans. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so much so that his friends would say, that he is no longer Gage”
This type of evidence points towards clues that the brain and the control of emotions are closely linked and interactive with each other, some parts responsible for holding other parts in check.
This leads to an understanding that the human brain has been wired for violence, it is not a random development and in our evolutionary past, it was required as part of human nature to ensure survival, by the use of predation, dominance and vengeance. We must also not forget that humans have a great capacity for self-control, seeking peace or loving thy neighbour. However it is these acts of violence that are really nothing other than a means to strip resources from another individual that we now term as criminality.
One particular region of the human brain that contains several different areas all linked together, and is believed to be responsible for violent acts, is a region called ‘the rage circuit’ The neuro scientist Yank Punck Cept describes what happens when he sent an electrical magnetic current through a part of the rage circuit of a cat! “Within the first few seconds of the electrical brain stimulation, the peaceful animal was emotionally transformed, it leapt viciously toward me with claws unsheathed, fangs barred, hissing and spitting. It could have pounced in many different directions, but its arousal was directed right at my head, fortunately a plexie glass wall separated me from the enraged beast.
Within a fraction of a minute after terminating the stimulation the cat was again relaxed and peaceful and could be petted without further retribution’. This rage circuit in the cat brain has a corresponding counterpart in the human brain cited by Pinker (2012) This region in our own brain, can also be stimulated in the same manner as the cat, eliciting emotionally enraged responses, the only difference is that the cat hisses whereas humans have a propensity to use in appropriate language and violence.
One of the distinct differences in violent behaviour is between violence that is being used for dominance and violence used for predation. Observe two cats who find themselves faced off against each other, their hair stands on end, they assume a hunched and erect posture and all manner of cat noises emanate from within, so much so that when some humans use noise as a means of posturing, we find the term ‘cat fight’. Yet when the same cat comes upon a mouse or bird the behaviour is markedly different, now the cat is silent, determined and single mindedly focused on taking the life of the poor creature in its path.
Humans display the same behavioural patterns, these are evidenced in the typical Saturday night encounter when two males face off against each other. They inflate their chest, clench their fists, use language that threatens and insults the other party, however in the majority of cases even when fights start they are usually all blown out very quickly, they may have a few bruises and maybe a bone or two broken but there is, in the majority of incidents, no lasting trauma and unless they are very unfortunate to sustain a fall, and strike their head in just the right place with just the right amount of force, then death will not occur. When a tool such as a blade is involved the percentages rise sharply in favour of death.
However, we also have the capacity for predation, which unveils itself in our ugly capacity to take the life of another human in such a manner as to cause disgust and outrage. We can stalk other individuals and subject them to all manner of depraved acts eventually taking their lives. Cannibalism is also evident in some tribes and was more commonplace in our history than many would like to admit.
Humans also have the capacity to switch from passive ‘I love the world and everyone in it’ to ‘temper enraged maniacs’ at the switch of a button. This behaviour is exactly like the electrically induced rage of the poor cat above. Then we have times when humans are out for revenge, during these times a cool calculating persona can be seen, stalking their prey and preparing for the sweet taste of payback, usually a blade or a gun in some parts of the world are used in a cold manner where death is a high probability. No words are used and the silent determination is like evil unleashed.
A good friend of mine was returning home one night when he came upon a group of young lads bulling another, he intervened, trying to calm the situation, the next thing he knew and remembers was one of them repeatedly striking him, he soon went down as a result of multiple stab wounds. One thing that sticks in his mind was the coldness of his attacker executing his assault in complete silence with the rage of a person possessed.
Scientists have been able to insert their electrodes into different rage circuits within the brain of a cat to elicit either hunting or attack mode behaviour Pinker (2012). It is therefore no great leap to see that humans have the same rage circuits within their brains and that different stimuli will bring forth the same behaviour patterns that the majority of our animal relatives also exhibit.
The rage circuit that is responsible for producing emotional responses that are linked to aggression, hunting and attacking can have very subtle effects that at first look the same. These circuits are organized in a hierarchy which emanate from the ‘hind brain’ where neuro mapping controls the muscles and behaviour actions of the animal. The hind brain is positioned on top of the spinal cord. However, the circuits that control these rage centres are situated higher up in the mid and fore brain. When the hindbrain of a cat is stimulated by electrical impulses the resulting rage is known by neuroscientists as ‘sham rage’ the cat hisses, bristles and extends its fangs, but all the time can be petted and stroked without fear that the individual will be attacked.
If the rage circuit higher up is stimulated, then the resulting emotional effect is much more significant, the cat becomes as mad as hell and instantly attacks the head of the nearest person.
Evolution has, over time, taken advantage of these different modes of reactions, animals use different body parts as offensive weapons, including, jaws, fangs, and antlers, with primate’s hands and feet. The hindbrain circuits that drive these peripheral actions can be reprogrammed or swapped out as a lineage evolves. The central programs that control an animals emotional state are remarkably conserved, including the lineage that leads to humans.
Neuro surgeons have discovered a counter part to the rage circuit of other animals in the brains of their patients. Pinker (2012) It would seem from these types of experiments and the discovery that human brains are not that different in their mental processes, that behavioural actions are not all under the complete control of the conscious mind and that mechanisms within our brains are pre wired for violence. Pinker goes on to describe the position and links to other systems of our brain.
The rage circuit is a pathway that connects three major structures in the lower parts of the brain. In the mid brain there is a collar of tissue called the ‘periaqueductal grey’, grey because it consists of grey matter, a tangle of neurons lacking the white sheaths that insulate output fibers, periaqueductal because it surrounds the aqueduct, a fluid filled canal that runs the length of the central nervous system from the spinal cord up to large cavities in the brain.
The periaqueductal grey contains circuits that control the sensory motor components of rage, they get input from parts of the brain that registers pain, balance, hunger, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and hearing, particularly the shrieks of a fellow rat, all of which can make the animal irritated, frustrated or enraged. Their output feeds the motor programs that make the rat lunge, kick and bite, one of the oldest discoveries in the biology of violence is the link between pain or frustration and aggression.
When an animal is shocked or access to food is taken away it will attack the nearest fellow animal or bite an inanimate object if no living animal is available. The periaqueductal grey is partly under control of the hypothalamus, a cluster of nuclei that regulate the animals emotional, motivational and psychological states including hunger, thirst and lust. The hypothalamus monitors the temperature, pressure and chemistry of the blood stream and sits on top of the pituitary gland, which pumps hormones into the blood stream and amongst other things, regulates the release of adrenalin from the adrenal glands and the release of testosterone and estrogen from the gonads, which are part of the rage circuit.
In humans the Amygdala modulates the hypothalamus, as you will remember from earlier the Amygdala is responsible for memory, it also affects the emotional feeling that occur especially when fear is present and will encode these memories into our mind to remind us exactly what fear we should be tuned into. An angry face, aggressive posture, clenched fist, will all trigger neural activity in the Amygdala, this in turn sends a communication to our conscious mind with the message ‘remember the last time’
At the beginning of this chapter, I laid out two categories of violence, social violence and A social violence. It is now reasonably clear that structures and mechanisms within our brain produce two basic behavioural patterns, that of predation and domination and it is these two categories that link themselves to social or A social violence. Social violence being the path to domination and the attaining of resources, A social violence the path to predation, the killing of our own species, to also enhance the attainment of resources to survive and propagate, but not always.
The reasons we construct to explain why these behaviours are enacted are our minds attempt to civilize the moral code that many now live by, whereas in an age gone by, things were very different from what they are now, the rule of law and society supported aggressive, violent behaviour in a much more open and visceral way. Yes, we have also got the capacity for great acts of kindness and compassion, we are altruistic, cooperative, but let us not be deceived by this dichotomy, for humans have evolved complex structures to ensure survival, the showing of reciprocal lateritic behaviours is just another way of banking some credit for the possibility of future hardship.
Smith, J, B. and Alloway, K, D. (2013) Rat whisker motor cortex is subdivided into sensory-input and motor-output areas. Front. Neural Circuits doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00004. Published on 28 Jan 2013.
Wikipedia (2014) 10% of Brain myth. Accessed on 28-04-2014 @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_percent_of_brain_myth
Yochelson and Samenow (2013)Criminal thinking paterns and turning to crime. A2 Psychology revision. Accessed on 15/04/2014 @ http://psychorevision.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/criminal-thinking-patterns-and-turning.html
A short extract from my last book Volitional Attention Training, hope you enjoy.
Sensory acuity Acuity occurs when individuals train certain senses and behaviour to a degree of expertise, defining what makes an expert in a certain activity is difficult as the parameters for measuring expertise are vague. Time and experience, might be one measure, however I have already discussed the possible errors that can occur in teaching and training behaviours that could be seen as maladaptive to your field of expertise. In general, sensory acuity requires training in a particular field and can involve all five basic senses within the human body. A chef hones his ability to define taste and can distinguish the difference between many different ingredients; a perfumer has the nose to sniff nuanced fragrances and a superlative sense of smell, providing the individual with the ability to identify scents with precision. A musician has the ear to create orchestral masterpieces; a blind person the ability to decipher a closely arranged multitude of dots on the surface of paper and interpret them into words, and an artist has the ability to see colours and composition, to create a visual masterpiece. Today, modern scientific understanding of the human body and the 5 basic senses has expanded the number of senses within the body, there is now no longer just the big 5 and depending upon what you read, the new number of senses range from the standard list of 5 senses to 14 and 20 different senses. A short definition needs to be understood in order to provide us with an understanding of why this number has now been significantly increased. To be able to sense something both within our bodies and in our environment requires a sensor of some description and depending upon its function, will mean it has either one specific job to do or it gathers a multitude of incoming stimuli. For example, your eyes detect light through two different types of sensors, ‘rods’ work in low-light and detect light intensity ‘cones’ require intense light and detect colours, there are three types of cones, one for each of the prime colours. So although sight falls under one category, there are two senses that make up the one and one of those is subdivided into three. Our skin is the barrier between ourselves and the world around us and as such is one of the main sensors to incoming stimuli and has five different types of nerve endings that are independently sensitive to heat, pain, itch, cold and pressure, they are responsible for providing us with a sense of temperature, pain, touch and itch. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories that effect our emotions and moods also known as our olfactory system and is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area associated with memory and feeling. Smells can evoke strong and vivid memories that are capable of activating the body’s reflex system to protect itself, it’s just like the wild cat with its nose in the air detecting its prey and any potential danger from smelly humans. Within your muscles and joints, there are sensors that provide you with awareness information as to where your body parts are within space and time. These sensors also allow control of movement and tension that enables complex locomotion and co-ordination skills, this internal sensor system is discussed in greater detail within the chapter on Neuromuscular Programming. Having the ability to be mindful of your internal and external states will provide a degree of self-regulation over your body, training particular sensory acuities will also allow for a heightened awareness in certain situations. As a professional, either in the field of security, police or the military, training a heightened sensory acuity that enables faster responses to potentially life threatening situations should be on the list of required skills to perform your job effectively. This method of training will help enhance your ability when exposed to real time encounters. Volitional Mindful Attention is a skill that should be trained alongside any practical skill set, the difference is that you need to pay attention to sensory acuity to help you survive and respond to violent and aggressive encounters and not, as with most meditation practices, relax you to a state of stillness within the mind and your body, although this is not a bad thing, as long as it’s done within the correct context, going into a relaxed state may not be ideal when having to deal with an armed aggressor.
Training our attention
There are specific regions of the brain that research has shown to be active during meditation. “Buddhist monks who do compassion meditation have been shown to modulate their Amygdala, along with their Temporoparietal junction and Insula, during their practice. In an FMRI study, more intensive Insula activity was found in expert meditators than in novices. Increased activity in the Amygdala following compassion-orientated meditation may contribute to social connectedness” Wikipedia (2013) Amygdale. Here we find evidence that science has been able to bridge the gap between mystic meditation by monks and the actual effects that this type of self-regulation has on the brain, let’s look at some of the practical methods of meditation. Methods of Practice, Pranayama. Certain types of meditation and yoga practices use Pranayama breathing; they advocate the practice of volitional breath control. This type of breathing requires a practitioner to inhale, retain and exhale quickly or slowly. Yoga experts consider this type of breathing to be an “intermediary between the mind and body”. Previously I identified the word ‘prana’ and referred to it as the ‘life force’ or energy that all humans and indeed many would argue, all living organisms have. Breath is responsible for the intake of oxygen, which then via the blood stream disseminates this energy containing substance to all parts of the body, depending on the consumption requirement. The brain requires approximately 20% of the total energy of the human body which compared to its size is a very large amount. There is a direct connection between the ‘prana’ or energy of breathing and its effects on energy in the body. Cellular metabolism (reactions in the cell to produce energy) for example, is regulated by oxygen provided during breathing”. Yoga practices a slow control over the breathing process in order to generate a greater feeling of energy and relaxation throughout the body, to control the body states, to focus and clear the mind and to become aware of the internal working of the mind and body. “Pranayamic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to contribute to a physiologic response characterized by the presence of decreased oxygen consumption, decreased heart rate, and decreased blood pressure, as well as increased theta wave amplitude in EEG recordings, and increased parasympathetic activity accompanied by the experience of alertness and reinvigoration” Jerath (2006). Jerath also states that pranayama breathing has been shown to positively affect immune function, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders. Investigations regarding stress and psychological improvements support evidence that pranayama breathing alters the brain’s information processing, making it an intervention that improves a person’s psychological profile. This evidence points to a clear process that can be trained, enabling individuals who are exposed to difficult fear producing situations, to control both psychological and body states that could severely impact on performance.
This method of breathing is not unlike any other, its name however “tactical breathing” is synonymous with combat and high stress situations, Asken (2010) talks about tactical breathing as being useful in managing the arousal or stress of a mission, he cites Siddle (1995) ‘ we would argue that breath control should be a mandatory component of survival stress management”, powerful support for the activity of mindful meditation. There is no real big secret here, it’s just paying attention to breath, meditating, being aware of your own body and mental state. One method of tactical breathing is described by Grossman in his book On Combat (2004), this he describes as the ‘four count’. Begin by breathing in through your nose to a slow count of 4, which expands your belly like a balloon. Hold for a count of 4, and then slowly exhale through your lips to a count of 4, as your belly collapses like a balloon with its air released. Hold empty for a count of 4 and then repeat the process. Remember that part of this whole process is to create a more focused mindful state, to control any stress or fear that may well be beginning to take hold of your thought process. This is not about taking five minutes to calm yourself and relax, it’s about creating an anchor mechanism attached to a thought process that allows you to manage the high emotional situation you find yourself in and do not think for a moment that this can be done ‘just like that’! It’s going to take some time and effort on your part to train this type of mindful breathing. It’s important that we remember that what we are doing here is taking control of our autonomic nervous system and using this control to self regulate our mind and body states, for the majority of the time our bodies are on auto pilot, the reason for bringing meditation into this subject is due to the fact that you cannot be at your best unless you have control over your self, breathing is your bridge between the somatic and autonomic nervous system, Grossman (2004) puts it well “ Tactical breathing is a leash on the puppy. The more you practice the breathing technique, the quicker the effects kick in, as a result of powerful operant and classical conditioning mechanisms” One thing is for sure no longer is meditation relegated to the realms of the Buddhist monks.
Asken, M, J. PhD & Grossman, D Lt. Warrior’s mindset (2010) Warrior science publications.
Wikipedia (2013). Amygdala. Accessed on 09/07/2013 @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala
Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.
Jerath, R. (2006). Paranyama breathing. Published online at PubMed.gov. Accessed on 01/10/2013 @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497
Here is the first preview of my new book Volitional Attention Training. Over the coming months I will upload a few more samples.
1 TO THINK WHAT HAS TO BE THOUGHT
What is attention or mental force, how does it create neural activity and what are its benefits? “The task is not so much to see what none have yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees” Schrodinger, E.
The hardest attribute to relay to any student of the martial arts is not found in the physical realm, but rather the mindful application of “mental force” Schwartz and Begley (2002), which all humans are capable of harnessing. This mental force comes in all manner of forms and descriptions, indominatable spirit, warrior mind and attitude, are all examples of these. However, a more important question should be, how is this state of mind achieved, and what processes occur within the mind and the brain? To help answer these questions will require an understanding of an area of science and physiology not often explored, namely that of mental thought processes that create will power or volitional effort. “Volitional Effort” is effort of attention, the function of the effort is to keep affirming and adopting a thought, that if left to itself would slip away, effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will” James, W. (1890). There are a few individuals in whom this type of mental force seems to be present in abundance, then there are those, and these are in the majority, that do not possess this mental force in any way. They have been molded over their lifespan through behaviour and an exposure to either a physical experience of violence or a thought process that never required them to engage in what could be termed aggressive thoughts or the ability to use will power to overcome a stressful situation.
In essence, psychological skills are required to help support physical skills. Mental toughness, mental force and attitude of mind need to be explored and defined. This involves two specific areas: – 1, the actual processes that are taking place within the brain; and 2, the mind’s ability to channel attention and mental force. There are individuals that seem to possess these abilities in abundance, if this is the case, important questions would be, how did this attitude of mind develop and is this the product of behaviour and social identity created by circumstance? Children, directly as a result of significant caregiver roles within the family unit, often inherit behaviour habits. Having a parent with aggressive tendencies could lead to transference of aggressive behaviour to any child, male or female. Equally, an over aggressive caregiver could cause a complete lack of self esteem, leading to withdrawal of that individual, who also lacks the ability of mind to be confident, and bring forth the mental will power required to create mental force. If behaviour habits are so important, what constructs and processes are affected within the brain?
Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and the survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, the mind as well as the physical body, has to be mentally healthy and fit.
As humans, we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, ensuring that the body is kept in a state of physical wellbeing will result in a positive attitude, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequence of this is a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.
There is an element of mindful control that has to happen, in order for attention to be exactly that “attention” The brain has to fire its neurons, creating action potentials in the particular part of the brain that is receiving the stimulus; these mechanisms are focused on by the brain and in turn create attention. The amount of sensory input that the brain receives every second of every day is staggering. We see, hear, smell, touch and feel, yet we do not pay attention, until something draws our attention towards a stimulus event “ attention defines the mental ability to select stimuli, responses, memories or thoughts that are behaviorally relevant, amongst the many others that are behaviorally irrelevant” Corbetta, (1998). What is relevant will wholly depend upon the current situation and incoming stimuli, if this happens to be a high stress and emotional one, then attention will be directed in such a way that the bodily responses are congruent with prior thought processes. If there is no link to positive mental processes of mental force then a degrading of attention may occur. While all this is occurring the body’s internal control mechanisms are also working at full tilt, providing even further stimulus input that the brain is having to deal with, without any cognitive awareness.
Stimuli from our external senses are not the only way in which attention can be created, close your eyes and imagine something that brings to your mind a vivid picture in your minds eye, a bright red rose, waves from the sea crashing upon a sandy beach, or the face of a loved one. Each time focus is attended to, through conscious will power, attention can be maintained and your neural network jolts into life. Meditation uses just these processes to produce physical changes within the body. For years, before the invention of machines that could measure and record brain activity such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), Computerized Tomography (CT) or Positron Emission Tomography (PET), meditation was viewed as some kind of mystical activity, with no real substance or evidence of the processes that were taking part in the brain.
Now we have evidence of the regions of the brain being engaged, when the mind takes control of attention and focuses on internal or external experiences “several studies have investigated the functional anatomy of covert visual orienting to simple unstructured peripheral stimuli. These studies have shown that a specific set of frontal parietal regions are consistently recruited during visual orienting” Corbetta (1998). Covert and overt visual orienting according to Corbetta are two distinct ways in which we explore our visual environment, by saccadic eye movements that happen naturally “overt” or by volitional attention or reflexively when a stimulus appears in our visual field “ covert”, the latter being the process when a sudden unexpected threat arises. A simple example of this could be an incoming punch; attention has to occur focusing mental force to deal with this threat.
Corbetta, M. (1998) Frontoparietal cortical networks for directing attention and the eye to visual locations: independent or overlapping neural systems? Proc. Natl. Acad Sci. USA, Vol. 95, pp. 831 – 838, Febuary 1998 Colloquium paper.
James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Autherised Dover edition published (1950), first published by Henry Holt & company (1890).
Schwartz, J. M.D. and Begley, S. (2002), The Mind and The Brain. Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Following on from February’s blog here is part two, what I have attempted to do here is convey the understanding that some ideas should be thoroughly examined before we take them as fact.
If the above was not enough evidence there are some that take the basic idea of CRT and expand it to use a doubling rule. In citing this rule they believe that every decision over and above your first choice will double the time taken to react. A simple piece of mathematics will help us here. Choosing between two choices takes approximately 300 milliseconds (ms), add another choice and we get 600ms, another 900ms, another 1 second, 200ms etc – you get the concept I’m sure. What we have is 1.5 seconds to choose between 6 choices, if this were the case, then not only would we see a fantastic staggering effect when it comes to most highly skilled sports like motor racing, MMA, tennis, football, the list can go on and on, we would also in all probability not be the dominant animal on the planet today, as those 1.5 seconds to make a choice between 6 strategies and actions would have made us food rather than the hunter.
After Hick’s Law came the Power Law of Practice (“PLP”). In 1980, Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom published a paper that explored the subject of practice and the performance improvements that it creates along with the supporting mechanisms that allow the improvement to become embedded in the behaviour of the individual. This research considered the chucking theory of learning as a means to explain some of the outcomes of performance that relies on practice. They wanted to confirm the empirical reality that this law was applicable to learning in general rather than just being restricted to skill. The PLP is usually associated with perceptual-motor skills. Before I move on with their research it’s important to understand a little more about the processes involved in learning skills.
The development of perceptual-motor skills begins early in childhood and continues throughout life, providing that the adult individual continues to expand their skill set. There are three stages to this process of development.
The first stage looks at what is needed to perform a move or task. This stage requires a certain understanding of the action that is to be learned.
At the second stage, practice is required; another term for this could be “training”, where an individual trains a move or sequence of moves over and over again.
The final stage is embedding the moves into the subconscious so that they can be performed without having to pay attention to any procedures that need to occur. The aim here is to produce speed and accuracy, anything other than this would revert itself back to stage two.
Any hand eye coordinated movements fall into the category perceptual-motor skills, other examples would be body movement and control, which includes bilateral movement, postural formation and control, auditory language skills, visual-auditory skills and any martial based activity would fit into this category. Before any of the higher skill levels can be achieved or worked on an infant must first acquire the basics, which include rolling, crawling, standing, walking, running and so on until they have a good overall control of their body. Once this has been achieved, more advanced skills can emerge, such as running and jumping, catching and writing, these all involve motor skill practice. The next explanation needs to focus on the perceptual side of this equation. Perception is harder to define, as it’s the knowing of how to do something rather than the performance of the skill. Perception skill also has to be separated from intellectual skills, these are generally skills that can be written and defined to allow others to follow the instructions and gain an understanding of how a particular skill is performed. For example, a person could after some explanation write a manual on how to play chess. Now imagine trying to write a manual on how to ride a bike, the general principles could be written down, but the ‘how’ could not. It’s the performance of the ‘how’ part that relates to perceptional-motor skills which cannot be gained by simply reading a description of the act. Once these types of skills are internalized they become part of natural behaviour, in other words the skill becomes an ability, which is performed spontaneously without input from the conscious mind and it’s these highly developed perceptional-motor skills that can be learnt and developed with enough volitional practice. Here we can see the link between the PLP and the perceptional-motor skill ability as over extended periods of time the ability is learned and transferred from a simple motor skill into a perceptional-motor skill. The transference occurs and performance speed increase when practice becomes a habit and not just something that is trained a few times a week and that’s the biggest difference, if an individual is practicing as a result of habitual processes then the behaviour will soon become ingrained, becoming a perception-motor skill.
The research conducted by Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom (1980) into the ubiquity of the Power Law of Practice theory did not fit the simple power law. They concluded that there were systematic shape deviations in the log-log space, in their words “ There exists a ubiquitous quantitative law of practice, it appears to follow a power law. That is plotting the logarithm of the time to perform a task against the logarithm of die trial number always yields a straight line, more or less. We will refer to this law variously as the log-log linear learning law or the power law of practice”. To summarize their research they found that the law holds for performance measured as the time to achieve a fixed task. They looked at three learning curves; exponential, hyperbolic and power law. They found that there was a mechanism that was slowing down the rate of learning and those errors in practice decreased with practice and accuracy increased with practice. This was true for different types of learning, which included perceptual-motor skills, perception, motor behaviour, memory and complex routines. This provides evidence that simple basic responses like those that were tested in Hick’s Law, will, along with complex movements, all fall into the category of PLP. It is therefore a mistake to focus on simple movements to the exclusion of complex ones as both have the same learning capacity according to the law of power learning.
What is evident from the above is that humans have a capacity to learn complex movements and have protracted capability to remember data. This will help to explain the complicated skills that are involved in sports that have complicated routines like playing tennis, boxing, self-defence systems, or actions like typing, playing chess all involve the ability to learn, memories, practice and over time internalise so that the activity becomes a part of the perceptual-motor skill, no longer requiring complex thought processes to maintain the behaviour.
Lets take a look at some more up to date evidence that relates to this work, research by Silva, Cid, Ferreira and Marques (2011) into the attention and reaction time in Shotokan Athletes produced some interesting results. The aim of their study was to analyze the attention capacity and reaction time in Portuguese karate Shotokan athletes. The participants were physically characterised into weight, height, body mass index and body fat mass percentage and evaluated on Simple Reaction Time (SRT), Choice Reaction Time (CRT), Decision Time (DT) and Distributed Attention (DA). What they found was that both female and male participants, when tested for SRT, reacted near to the 300 ms mark and that there was no significant difference between the two gender groups. However both the CRT and the DT indicated a significant difference, which was higher in the Dan and 35+-year group than in any other group. The Dan 35+ group also showed a lower percentage of mistakes. The athletes who had more years of practice and were higher in grade needed more time to react to the stimulus than the younger less qualified individuals, however they made far fewer mistakes in their choices than the other group.
Reaction times have been the subject of study for many years, they were first studied by Donders (1868), the results that were obtained showed that a simple reaction time is shorter than a recognition reaction time, and that the choice reaction time is longest of all and it’s this CRT that Hick studied.
This brings me all the way back to those that blindly quote a small part of Hick’s Law to justify their simplistic approach to human movement and reaction times, knowing how the human body works and how psychology has helped to explain very complex abilities within the brain enables a logical system to be built. One that allows for the complex ability of the human brain and the highly coordinated ability of the body to move in space and time. Let’s not just sit back and pull the wool over people’s eyes. I have not touched too much on attention, fear or startle reactions that can, in the right circumstances and with the proper training, increase the body’s reaction speed, let alone symmetry or arousal based reactions. So it’s fair to say that we have come a long way since the early tests of Hick and certainly Ockham in the 14th century. Ultimately, simplicity will always be a part of any system, but it does not have to stop there, correct training on stimulus based reactions will get results, scenario based systems will get results, simple techniques, will get results, what matters is how they are trained and what mental processes are engaged in the practice. So let’s not try to rubbish other arts for the sake of another student and another pound, let’s push the boundaries instead and convey knowledge and skill the best we can.
Jefferys, W H. and Berger, j O. (1992) Ockham’s razor and Bayisean analysis. American Scientist. Vol. 80. No 1 (January-February 1992), pp. 64-72. Published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.
Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Darryl W. Schneider, John R. Anderson Cogn Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2012 May 1. Published in final edited form as: Cogn Psychol. 2011 May 1; 62(3): 193–222. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.11.001
Newell, Allen and Rosenbloom, Paul S., “Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice” (1980). Computer Science
Department. Paper 2387. http://repository.cmu.edu/compsci/2387
Kosinski, R, J. (2010) A Literature review on Reaction Time. Updated September 2013,. Accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://biae.clemson.edu/bpc/bp/lab/110/reaction.htm
Silva, C. Cid, L. Ferreira, D. and Marques, A. (2011) Attention and Reaction time in Shotokan Athletes. Published Revista de Artes Marciales Asiaticas (2011), vol, 6 issue 1, p141 16p. accessed on 17-02-2014 @ http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/eds/detail?vid=6&sid=389cb1f5-4638-440e-93a6-9a977afa7678%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4203&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#db=s3h&AN=62829617
Short extract from the material used as a structure for Volitional Attention Training, this provides information on memory, attention and the pitfalls that should be avoided at all cost.
Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, not only does the mind have to be mentally fit, also the physical body has to be healthy and fit. As humans we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequences of this, result in a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.
Bringing these ideas into attention earlier in this discourse creates an understanding that attention has to be thought about. A stimulus input into the brain creates a mechanism of mental processes, that in turn leads to an amount of mental attention being applied to that stimulus, how long attention is maintained will depend upon the amount of mental force that the individual is capable of bringing to bear upon the stimulus. A stimulus that brings forth an episodic memory will also bring with it the ability for the mind to pay more detailed attention to that particular thought. Episodic memories are those that are encoded into the mind, through an emotional experience, these experiences are capable of coding in the time, place, feelings and details of the event. They are far more real to the mind than attempting to memorize an event to which you are just a passive observer. Semantic memory is generally concerned with knowledge of the world that we live in, there is a difference between knowledge that is factual and personal experiences that have encoded knowledge and understanding with a greater grounding and meaning. Both semantic and episodic memory deals with long-term, rather than short-term memory, a key difference is that episodic memories encode the actual acquisition experience and the context in which the memory occurred. For any combative or martial art technique to become efficient and effective, the coding process will need to support the intended action, techniques will have to become linked to procedural memory. Declarative memory deals with facts and data gained from learning “declarative memory serves to “chunk” or “bind” together the converging processing outcomes reflecting the learning event, providing a solution to the “binding problem” for memory, Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1975). The sea is wet and the sun is hot are example of long-term declarative memories. Procedural memory is concerned with long-term memory including complex motor skills. These skills are first coded into the brain and over time become second nature; you do not have to use a cognitive thought process to access the skills. Playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or combative, martial art techniques, are all examples of procedural memory, “procedural memory enables organisms to retain learned connections between stimuli and responses, including those involving complex stimulus patters and response chains, and to respond adaptively to the environment” Tulving (1985). There is no defined limit to long-term memory, providing that the correct coding procedure occurs then complex motor skills that involve, combative and martial art techniques can be built up. Continued repetition of these movements will lead to a stable procedural memory, which ultimately leads to spontaneous movement, this is arguably the aim of any person engaged in this type of activity. It is important to remember here that any human movement can be learnt in a manner that is not congruent with natural movement, it is maladaptive. Continual repetition of techniques that do not follow this premise will eventually cause damage to the organism. Occupations that involve high stress and the potential for deadly force encounters are particularly exposed to incorrect episodic memory imput, and again, if continued exposure to this type of maladaptive behaviour, could have disastrous consequences, “in the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. No doubt this criminal was surprised and confused even more when the officer handed the gun back to him, just as he had practiced hundreds of times before” Grossman, D. (2004). This is a good example of incorrect coding of a maladaptive procedural memory, the officer involved continually practiced this disarm, until he had coded it into his mind, in doing so creating a spontaneous response, it had become second nature to him, I term this “negative loop coding” (NLC) which should be avoided for obvious reasons. The disarm in itself was never the problem, in fact over time several episodic events could have occurred in this officer’s life, for example he may have already been associated with lethal force encounters, he may have had colleagues die in the line of duty, any of these high emotional states would have led to an episodic memory. Once the officer had started to pay attention to this training loop and began to practice the disarm in all sorts of situations, both at work and at home, he had started to encode procedural memory, the only problem with the training was the handing back of the weapon! to do it again and again, and again! A key point in this behavioural pattern is volition used to pay attention. Once attention on the training pattern had begun his brain would have been firing neurons at a fast pace, to start the encoding, drawing with it greater amounts of mental force, enabling focused thoughts on the reasons for the practice to be thought about, in other words the officer was undertaking, mindful attention.
Cohen, N. Poldrack, R. Eichenbaum (1997) Memory for items and Memory for relations in the Procedural/Declarative memory framework. Psychology press, an imprint of Erlbaum (UK) Taylor & Francis Ltd
Tulving, E. (1985), How many memory systems are there? American psychologist, vol. 40, April 1985. Printed in USA.
Grossman, D. Lt. (2004). On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. Millstadt, Il: PPCT research publications.