Posts Tagged Mentality
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
This year has seen the publishing of my 2nd book Volitional Attention Training – Neural Plasticity and Combative Application – below is another exract from the book, enjoy the read.
Consider this very straightforward question, what is the difference between the mind and the brain? Which one of these is responsible for that feeling that, something is just not right? You know that thing that we call gut, our instincts, those that we believe have protected us at some time in our long forgotten history, allowing us to survive the predators of that time.
To enable an individual to commit to training, they have to be secure in the knowledge that what they are about to undertake will provide them with the desired outcome and in today’s environment, that is coping with the predators that walk our street, the thugs and petty criminals being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the professional that has to deal with these feelings on a day to day, month to month basis. I remember talking with a US ranger, retired special forces guy, you know the type of person that films are made of, one that has at every turn in the road stepped forward to go where most fear to tread, I remember clearly his words “I ignored my instincts nine times and each time, I was either shot or stabbed”. Any training that is maladaptive or does not contain procedures that tap into this long forgotten sixth sense may ultimately fall short. If your training includes an understanding of instincts, what they are, how to recognise them, what they are not, then you are again on the path to a personal understanding, that uses the most powerful tool in our armory, that which has been responsible for dragging us along that evolutionary road to today’s modern man, the human brain and the mind that lies within.
To start this process we first have to go way back, to the first society that proposed the hypothesis of two brains. The first people to propose this were the ancient Greeks. It’s obviously not two brains just two systems and for a change they are named system one and system two, they are also known as ‘Dual Processing systems’. In his book the Science of Fear Gardener (2008) used the term ‘head’ and ‘gut’ to explore the thought processes that are used by the two systems, as they are distinctly different. These terms are very appropriate to this discourse and so I will use them here as well. System two is labeled, “Head” and is responsible for reason, this is our conscious mind the one that we engage when we consider a situation, it works at a much slower pace than gut, taking its time to calculate, consider, working with logic and what it believes is the correct thought or answer.
System one is labeled “Gut”, this is our subconscious mind at work, which is directly linked to our evolutionary past and is responsible for our survival and development to this day. Unlike system two, system one is super quick, it creates thought and transfers this to our conscious mind in a split second, gut has no time for the slow processes that Head has to work with. Gut is the source for the feelings of fear, unease, it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck it triggers your fight or flight response.
The US ranger story above is an example of system one sending signals from the subconscious mind, warning you that there is something not quite right with the situation, Head then gets involved and considers the situation, allowing time for the Head to over-rule the Gut and in the case of my friend above nearly costing him his life. “The idea that System 1 cognition is ancient and System 2 cognition is modern, in evolutionary terms, is a recurring theme in dual-process theories. This is often linked to the assertion that while System 1 cognition is shared with other animals, System 2 cognition is uniquely human. The last idea arises from its association with uniquely human processes such as language and reflective consciousness and the apparent ability to perform cognitive acts (such as hypothetical simulation of future and counterfactual possibilities) that are assumed to be beyond animals” Evans J (2006). One thing is very clear, system one is linked to thoughts that are produced almost instantly and the evidence suggests that this system is part of the mechanism that our long lost stone age ancestors used to alert them to impending danger, or when they were the main course on the menu. This system would have been selected over and above system two as an evolutionary adaptation, to enhance survival. Now, modern man is the safest he has ever been and does not usually find himself being hunted for dinner, he now has more distractions for Head to think about and the need for system two is no longer a critical mechanism.
Head all to often interrupts Gut and provides a logical reason why there is no danger around the corner. However this does not mean that it will be lost, far from it, this is the system that kicks in when we walk down a dark ally, hear a strange noise in the dead of night, or maybe you are a professional officer and are about to enter a building that you know may contain danger and you feel uneasy. Understanding how these two systems interact with each other is another key in the process to protecting oneself and family. System one uses a quick and simple way of producing thoughts, which we usually refer to as instincts, the process is straightforward and super fast.
Knowledge obtained by Head can transfer to Gut, a novice martial artist learning to strike and kick or a policeman learning to handcuff or draw and shoot, first finds the moves cumbersome and slow, having to continually practice the moves, paying attention to each step in the process, secure one arm with my left hand, reach and find my cuffs with my right, flip them open, snap one side onto the wrist. Continued training and practice, for extended periods of time wires the mental and physical process into the brain, you then come to a point where conscious thought is no longer necessary, you are capable of flowing through the process with speed and accuracy, the process has been internalised, or to put it another way, it has become spontaneous. Interestingly, if at this stage, we were to apply volitional attention to the process, the now fast and spontaneous process would be interrupted and slowed, creating a possible choke point in the learned behaviour.
So system one “Gut” is intuitive, quick and emotional. Gut decides instantly while Head thinks about it for a while, and then finally after life changing seconds have ticked by makes a decision. Gut uses inbuilt settings that are simple rules of thumb, these are hard wired neural pathways that fire when certain stimuli are presented, which natural selection hard wired into our subconscious innate brains a millennium ago, this system does not allow Gut to adjust in any way; it does not give us time to think! These rules of thumb are known as heuristics and biases, they are the brain’s way of processing stimuli at lightning speed, insuring that Head does not get involved, putting at risk the survival of the individual.
Gardener, D. (2008). The science of fear. Published July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult.
Evans, J, St, B, T, (2006) Dual System Theories of Cognition. Centre for Thinking and Language, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK accessed on 20/07/2013 link, http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/proceedings/2006/docs/p202.pdf
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.
Recently I received a link to a post regarding Reality Based Self Defence (“RBSD”). The post covered areas that are usually used by this specific area of martial arts to support the techniques that they use, it also covered areas of science and how it relates to human movement and behaviour stating Ockham’s Razor, Hicks Law and Power Law of Practice (“PLP”) to support underlying technique. Having recently introduced a RBSD method myself I feel it appropriate to write something. This has been an intention of mine for some time. The book that I am currently writing delves into this topic in a great deal of depth. I would first like to clarify my approach to my own combative training vehicle, Volitional Attention Training (“V.A.Training”), as it is important that the reader can place the information into context.
V.A.Training is not a self-defence method, period. It was not conceived to be and does not in any way teach a defence form of tactics, quite the opposite, if asked to define it I would say, “it teaches a method of Self Preservation”. Although it has limited scenario based techniques it’s main aim is to develop stimulus-based responses. This method has been pitched at a very specific category of violence, that of A Social level and not the every day social violence that we encounter 98% of the time. I use this high percentage to get across my point that this is not for your every day classes that teach self defence, and therein lies one huge psychological problem, because the majority of RBSD methods believe that what they teach will allow an individual to manage and cope with A Social violence, using different situations in different environments to convince individuals that what they teach is the real thing! The “real thing”? according to whom?
Ockham was a 14th century English philosopher who first proposed the principle that “plurality should not be posited without necessity” and its from this very unobtrusive start that we later arrive at Hick’s Law and then subsequently we find RBSD instructors advocating that human movement, within a combat situation, should be trained only to a very limited amount of moves. According to Jeffery’s and Berger (1999) it’s unclear as to what was meant by this statement, as it can be interpreted in many ways. However, later versions were clear and here is an example given by Jeffery’s and Berger: “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or “it is vain to do with more what can be done with less” and finally, a more up to date rendering, “an explanation of the facts should be no more complicated than necessary”. Over the years, many noted individuals have used this theory to reduce complicated ideas to a simple more logical theory and this is all well and good when it relates to simple ideas and is used as a rule of thumb. However, humans have made great leaps forward since the 14th century, in our understanding of DNA for example, not a subject where corners could be cut to aid understanding and it’s therefore easy to see how those with a limited arsenal would want to use such terms to build a self defence system upon. This theory was then backed up years later by Hick and then followed by PLP.
In fighting and in sports, we all know action beats reaction. If you are reacting to an attack, as the good guys generally are, you are already behind the action curve. Just how behind scientists have labored intensely to discover over the last 60 years, and like splitting the atom, they have split the single second into one thousand parts to do it. So what did Hick prove and what was the benefit to human movement? Basically Hick experimented with reaction time and the decisions that occur during this process. To be very accurate his research centered on Choice Reaction Time (“CRT”) and it’s the “choice” which has been conveniently dropped from most of the writing surrounding this law, which according to Hick slows down as the decision variables increase. In other words, there is an increase in choice reaction time with the logarithm of set size, or put another way, the more choices you have the longer it takes to choose. There are some statistics around that state that it takes 58% more time to choose between two choices. That’s a staggering amount of time when real time life and death decisions are needed, right? Hick’s Law explores the interference that occurs during retrieval from declarative memory, it also goes on to state that there are occasional savings in response time due to stimulus response repetitions, this is covered in detail within my new book. Just looking at the words being used here will give a clue as to what is going on, ‘choose’ and ‘stimulus response’ are two examples that are key to understanding the implications of this Law when applied to behavioural based method s of self defence. The message that is relatively clear here is that there is a significant change in data, with practice and stimulus response repetition.
Here is an extract from my next book concerning memory, which will help spread some light on the confusion that has occurred;
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 memorise 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.
Its important to understand the context in which the original research was conducted and to also get a grips on what is happening when the human brain is being programmed by the type of reactions that it will default to in times of stress. I know that some of the research and the terms used are a little complicated, but bare with me, in order to support the information here, it is vital that I validate the theories, so apologies in advance for some of the writing….
There has been plenty of research into the area of reaction time; one particular piece was done by Schneider and Anderson (2012). Their research explored past research on Hick’s Law and its interpretation in terms of information theory, which they based on the Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational. Their model produced a set-size (number of stimulus response alternatives) that closely resembles Hick’s Law. They also account for changes in the set-size effect with practice and they explain the stimulus response repetition effects, which together challenges the information theoretic view of Hick’s law. The original research conducted by Hick was carried out in 1952, he used a computer test, to measure the time it took to decide between options and came up with the equation RT=a+blog2 (n). In basic terms his research confirmed that when faced with choices it takes longer to choose and the more choices that you have the longer it takes and it is from this very simple thought process the up to date reality based methods of teaching were born. Are we humans so very simple? Is the way the human brain works so simple? Does it take a long, slow, encumbering amount of time to make decisions that could, put life at risk, for example? For some, the answer is a resounding YES and as a consequence they misinterpret this information or worse, still do not have the knowledge that allows for an intelligent exploration of human behaviour.
Research by Schneider and Anderson (2012) found that when practice was allowed the slope of Hick’s Law tends to decease as the number of trials increase. There have also been mathematical calculations done that estimate that after about one million trials the CRT will be independent of any set size. So there it is, one million repetitions and your reaction time will be down to zero! Lets remind ourselves what Hick found. Using CRT experiments, response was proportional to log (N), where N is the number of different possible stimuli. In other words, reaction time rises with N, but once N gets large, reaction time no longer increases so much as when N was small, as the number of stimuli rise so the RT decreases.
Kosinski (2010) created a literature review on reaction time. Within the review he discussed practice and errors and what he found would at first seem to support Hick’s Law in that, when participants were new to a choice reaction test, they were predictably slower. Once they had time to practice, the reaction times increased. Again very predictable, and too most a logical progression. The results also found that when errors were made, RT slowed, they also noticed that practice time stabilized the reaction time for up to three weeks. If a system was teaching a limited amount of moves, it would certainly see results based on these facts as the practice that was repeated would have embedded itself for a reasonable amount of time and if further practice was undertaken then the results would bounce themselves on for another period of time. There is no distinction here with complicated routines, if volitional practice occurred, reactions and movements would soon start to get faster with less mistakes.
Now here is the real important part Stimulus Response and Hick’s Law! What Schneider and Anderson (2012) also found is that the slope of Hick’s Law can be close to zero for highly compatible stimulus-response combinations. The type of responses that were researched covered vocal and manual responses to manipulated stimulus types. Without going into the detail, the explanation given for the close to zero stimulus-responses combinations were highly compatible and that much more pre-experimental practice had occurred prior to test as a control less compatible combinations were also tested (Brainard et al., (1962); Davis et al., (1961); Fits and Posner, (1967); Longstreth et al., (1985); Teichner and Krebs, (1974); see Morin, Konick, Troxell, and McPherson, (1965) cited by Schneider and Anderson (2012). This evidence supports the age old adage of practice makes perfect or a more up to date term might be, perfect practice done slow and accurately programs the brain to respond fast! In the above tests the stimulus responses were chosen for their compatibility with natural behavior. However, the real point is that it’s not a good idea to take what seems to be a logical statement, warp it out of all context and then sell it as the answer to all the problems. It takes long enough to get to grips with any movement, let alone maladaptive ones.
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.