Posts Tagged Physiological Measure of Emotion

VIOLENCE IT’S NATURAL LET IT BE.. Part 2

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.

These included:

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:

  1. The roots of criminality lie in the way people think and make their decisions.
  1. Criminals think and act differently than other people, even from a very young age.
  1. Criminals are, by nature, irresponsible, impulsive, self-centered, and driven by fear and anger.
  1. Deterministic explanations of crime result from believing the    criminal who is seeking sympathy.
  1. 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.

References

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

 

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Warriors Mindset

What we do in life echoes in eternity” From Ridley Scott classic film, The Gladiator (2002). Spoken by the film’s hero, Maximus who plays the Gladiator.

Warrior Tribes

Warrior tribes are traditionally egalitarian with no political hierarchy and no social pecking order; individuals as a result of a coup or a personal challenge form them where they have forcibly taken control of several groups that are organised together. In contrast, a state has a political hierarchy with a subordinate political group and power is transferred or taken by coercive strategies, any power obtained by a political group usually has a limited period of time that it can be held for, unlike a dictatorship that has no set time limit. A tribal leader that takes control usually has to fight or use deception to unseat the current ruler. In general, conflict between tribes or states are conducted for one very basic reason “predation” The act of predation involves plundering and marauding known today as ‘war’ in order to hunt, kill or gain resources, that in turn gave the victor an evolutionary advantage in being able to spread their genes into a wider population.

To some individuals today, the idea of war in any form is repugnant. However, evolutionary psychologists would argue that war is a necessary process to single out and eradicate weak genes in favour of the strongest gene. Warrior traits like those within the women warriors of Dahomey discussed above, would have been passed from generation to generation and in doing so ensured the survival of the gene.

In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976) clearly creates a difference between the gene and the human organism, his main theme is that the organisms are designed by genes for the sole purpose of enabling the genes to reproduce themselves. By creating this divide, between the human organism and the gene, he allows for an understanding that the gene is the dominant part of this relationship and has a ruthless selfishness that underpins the physical and psychological processes of homeo-sapiens and to this end, war is a clear and definitive way of ensuring natural selection.

Humans are, along with all animals on the planet, survival machines and when one individual comes upon another in competition over resources, one may well hit back. An idea to keep in mind while considering if human behaviour or some mental trait is an evolutionary adaptation that is being driven by genes and evolution, is a simple question, is it in the genetic interest of the human organism? For example, is it in the genetic interest of an individual to band together with another individual, creating a tribe, to make war on another tribe of individuals? It matters not if the tribes are the aggressors intending to expand their territory and resources or protect their resources.

On the question of rape, is it again in the genetic interest of a man to rape a women and spread his genetic blueprint? I am not for a second supporting this behaviour, however there is a clear difference between what we now know as evolutional behaviour and a moral code by which the majority of humans live. There is an argument that has been put forward by evolutional psychologist that this behaviour supports human existence.

Local groups banding together make up tribes. In the past, any small group that came together for the purposes of warfare would have been classified as a tribe and villages, settlements or large families could all have created this type of unit. A region that was being threatened by an aggressive tribe would have had good reason to form a tribe, based on mutual associations for the benefit of everyone. They would have been better aligned to protect their women, children, livestock, buildings, homes and farming produce, all of which supports their survival and reproduction. In some cases, a tribe may have consisted of a very large village that had a lot to protect. Tribes were a more effective way for a large population to be successful in warfare, with warriors within the group being escalated to high levels of status. The status of a warrior within a tribe gave them more access to resources, which would include women, food and shelter.

A warrior, although genetically predisposed for violence, would not engage another warrior just for the sake of it. As humans living within a social environment, all individuals have the capacity for violence. They have evolved in the same manner and warriors are not, as common belief would have it, blood thirsty or have a death wish. They do not go around indiscriminately attacking members of their own species for glory. How would any survival machine know that the survival machine that they are attacking is not as strong and mentally equipped as they are.

They have the same chances as any other individual, they may have the same weapons and be skilled in their use. This potential likelihood of injury or death by randomly attacking another member of your own species is a very strong natural selective process, which predisposes an individual to be careful and weigh heavily on the thought of combat and if the potential benefits are worth the risk and outweigh the expected cost. As a species, humans are among the most intelligent to walk the earth and therefore have the capacity to consider if their genetic inheritance will be enhanced by the use of violence, with the warrior who is at the sharp end of the stick taking all the risk.

In a remarkable book by Hobbs The Leviathan (1660) in the chapter “Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery” he talks about men being equal in faculties of body and mind, that on occasion some men can be stronger and quicker in mind. However, in general when taken together any man can claim what another has, the weakest of men has strength enough to kill a stronger man, this can be achieved by deception and entrapment or by association with others that may also be at risk of threat from the stronger man or tribe.

Hobbs goes on to also consider the strength of mind, which arguably is the more potent of traits when it comes to domination and war stating “I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share” Men therefore seem to have a trait that allows for violence and war, one which is inherited and shows itself when two men or an opposing tribe want the same thing, when this situation arises they become mortal enemies, locking onto a path that eventually leads to either one destroying or subduing another.

Tribes are the vehicles that allow men to obtain dominance and resources over other men and within tribes warriors arise; they step up to the challenge and grow in stature and character. Hobbs goes on to identify three causes of conflict between men and the effects of such a cause “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name” From these words we can gain a sense of the motivations, traits and character that define a warrior and the reasons that drive them into action, for competition, diffidence and glory.

 

Competition between humans has always been a part of the genetic blueprint and is also found in the majority of other animal species. Men compete for the right to take a women, to own land which is better than the next man, to obtain food, water or fuel from the earth, all of which enables the individual that owns these to out-produce his competitors, produce more healthy children and pass these traits onto future generations. Diffidence is not so well known, why would a warrior pit himself against something that he has a fear of or is unfamiliar with? According to Hobbs it’s safety! Defending one’s own family or others that help support your family against an unknown assailant is as natural as going to war to increase your resources, the survival machine has this defense automatically built into its genetic blueprint.

 

The idea that humans are genetically encoded for violence and war to some, will seem like some science fiction film depicting the invasion of earth by aliens, the logic is plain when viewed from the genes point of view, having only one aim for millions of years, replicate, replicate, replicate, at all cost replicate.

 

The behaviour of humans throughout history has supported the action of war and the development of the warrior spirit, it can be found in the architecture of our structures, the development of our technology, the words and language used to communicate with. One of the great wonders of the world today is the Great Wall of China, built to protect a people from invading warriors with no aim other than to conquer and dominate the lands and the people therein. Although this structure is vast, it is no different from the forts and castles of old or the doors we lock when sleeping for the night, left over behaviours from our ancient past.

Today it’s not the tribal band or warring village that invade our fears, although terrorism carried out by a few fanatical individuals has created an indulgence in the act of protection and the lengths that some will go to protect their borders in order to feel safe. No, today it’s states and countries, especially those ran by individual dictators who seem bent on gaining as much power as they can that we fear, what has been done to protect us from these countries? Humans have used their intelligence to develop technologies that can build weapons of mass destruction, satellites that orbit the earth to spy on their neighbours, a far cry away from the days of our past, but still this behaviour is imbedded in the way mankind has evolved and the mechanism that helped drive this evolution.

 

The ancient past of humans is a far cry away from where we are now, back then, nature had set in motion a behaviour that was to forever mould the future of mankind. In our ancient history men were wired for aggression and violence and to all intent and purposes were living in a perpetual state of anarchy, it is from this historical majeure that warriors were born.

 

Becoming a Warrior

 

War has been the ultimate mechanism in which a warrior learnt their path, the journey and the methods used to create warriors differed depending on the culture. The Maasai people of Eastern Africa are a Nilotic group that migrated from the Nile region, they are pastoralists, which is a social and economic system based on the herding and trading of livestock. Great value is placed on cattle that are used as a currency to settle most issues that arise in the community. They are also well known for their warrior men, who are raised with the sole intention of becoming a warrior. They live for the majority of their lives outside the main tribe and are not permitted to marry until they are older and have become an elder of the group.

References

Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. Publishers, Oxford University Press.

Hobbes, T. (1660) Chapter – Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery. The Leviathan. Accessed on 10-12-13 @ http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-contents.html

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Breathing for Life and Combat

A short extract from my last book Volitional Attention Training, hope you enjoy.

Sensory Acuity

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.

Tactical Breathing

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. 

References

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

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Pay Attention Gut is Talking

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.

2 PAY ATTENTION YOUR GUT IS TALKINGVolitional Attention Training_Book Cover_190515

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

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple ? Part 2

Part 2

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.

  1. Cognitive
  2. Associative
  3. Autonomous

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.

References

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

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Choice Reaction Time – are we really that simple?

 

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.

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References

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

 

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The age old problem Bullying Part 2

                                                                 
 
The age old problem that will not go away ‘Bullying”
 
It does not take a great leap of imagination or foresight to understand that children mimic behaviour that they see in both their peers and their parents, it is therefore vitally important that, parents modeling aggressive behaviour, understand that their children are in all likelihood going to learn that very same behaviour. Even the words that they use to convey information about how to deal with aggression and handle physical contact are going to impact heavily onto the child’s mind.
 
 
At such young ages any behaviour that a child exhibits is generally for a reason, we may however sometimes struggle to ascertain the reason why at the time. Young children will display and mimic behaviour well before they begin to mutter their first words, parents lead the way by touching their head and encouraging the child to do the same, attempting to get the child to understand ‘head’. Then ever so gradually they begin to develop curiosity and start to explore the world according to them. As the child grows older more complex behaviour starts to reveal itself, copying parental behaviour, using a knife and fork, trying to put on clothes or performing body and facial expressions, all this requires is an amount of attention and they are off. Play also develops with other children or substitute children in the form of dolls or that stuffed teddy bear, these are very early signs that children are beginning to imitate parental behaviour patterns.
 
Fast forwarding a few years we now find a child well versed in a set pattern of behaviour that can be traced  back to early experiences, they are now entering the social world of interaction and have a minefield of emotional and physical interactions to negotiate. One of the primary interactions of children from a very early age is that of negotiating a hierarchy and creating a status within their social group. It could be argued that the reason for dominant adaptive behaviour “bullying” is solely designed to elevate individuals to positions of dominance to create status within the group. The status of an individual can be linked to a better chance of survival, more food, better prospects, all ultimately leading to survival of the fittest.  A question should be ask at this point, is higher-archival and status developing behaviour universal? If it is, then just like the primate research in the previous blog, it could answer a great many questions, something for later. Lets look at a few thoughts that help explain why a bully bullies and why they continue to bully throughout life.
 
Once a bully inflicts pain and humiliation on their victim, they realise that they have power over others and like a drug, they feel good on it. This power also brings with it social status.
 
Nobody actually deals with them and tells them that it’s wrong to bully, so they continue to inflict pain, as the behaviour is left unchecked they think it’s ok to continue.
 
Bullies bully because they have low self-esteem, they feel insecure and are not like normal kids, as they do not have many friends and feel bad about themselves.
 
Bullies are psychologically damaged, either at birth or have become that way due to bad parental guidance.
 
Bullies have been made by their parents and have been exposed to violence and aggression within the family.
 
Not all of the above statements are an accurate representation of the facts “Research indicates, for example, that toughness and aggressiveness are important status considerations for boys, while appearance is a central determinant of social status among girls”  (Eder, 1995 cited by Espelage and Holt (2001).   They then go on to say, “Therefore, it is likely that this pressure to obtain peer acceptance and status might be associated with an increase in teasing and bullying to demonstrate superiority over other students for boys and girls either through name-calling or ridiculing” Research indicates that bullying behaviour is not about the bully fulfilling a need to harm and make afraid and in doing so satisfying a deep need for evil, although this may be the case in the odd child, instead it points to social pressures and peer group standing as one of the main causes for this behaviour “the analyses in the present study of 6th through 8th grade students quite clearly indicate that students who bully their peers on a regular basis share the same amount of popularity or peer acceptance (i.e., number of friends) as those students who do not bully their peers. This finding suggests that students who bully others are not necessarily socially rejected but do have friends” Espelage and Holt  (2001).  This would also lend evidence to contradict the claim that the bully is insecure, has low self-esteem or has been psychologically damaged by his/her parents. Instead the opposite is maybe true, they are intelligent, strong and have a clear identity and sense of self.  They are also supported and encouraged by their peers, they mix with children of similar traits, even though they may have been taught that this type of behaviour is wrong, as these are very powerful supporting groups that will continue to encourage this behaviour.  It’s not all about social states and peer groups, bullies can lack self-confidence, or they desire attention and these feeling will have been exaggerated through the lack of early parental guidance.

What’s happening within the brain?It’s only recently that researches have started to scan the brains of both those being bullied and the bully, with surprising results. When interviewed children who were on the sharp end of a bully’s tactics reported the same feelings and symptoms that were given by people suffering from depression, anxiety and fear. This would suggest that there would be a manifestation of psychological and physical  effects on the child. Researchers are now becoming aware of the true implications of bullying and how it affects children and their brains “using SPECT brain imaging, Todd Clements, M.D., Medical Director at the Clements Clinic in Plano, Texas, has discovered that the brain scans of bullied patients resemble the brain scans of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD report identical symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, inattention, flashbacks, etc. What this means is that the human brain is interpreting the trauma of bullying in the same ways a soldier’s brain interprets the experiences of battle or how a car accident victim’s brain interprets the accident (see images of normal and bullied / PTSD brain images). Humans have the ability to adapt to their environment which gives them, the best chance to survive. Unfortunately, a bullied child’s brain interprets the bullying as a threat and adapts to deal with the trauma” Divine (2010). It may well be the case that most of those that are bullied during childhood go on to be confident individuals in adulthood, however there are some that are severely damaged by acts of a bully, if anxiety is allowed to transfer itself to adulthood, then changing long-term ingrained behaviour will be even more difficult to alter. This behaviour is in all likelihood part of normal children’s behaviour patterns, its effect is exaggerated due to social and cultural changes throughout our evolutionary development. Knowing this should give parents and those that are in positions of authority in teaching children an advantage, to develop programs that can help both bully and victim.

Brain scans on the bully also revealed interesting results “that bully beats you up because he enjoys it. Healthy kids’ brains respond to other people’s pain with sympathetic twinges in their own pain centers. But bullies who witness pain show activity in their brains’ reward centers. Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain”Newitz, A. (2008). The activation of reward centres does indicate that some bullies derive pleasure from the activity of bullying.   However this is not the case with every person that bullies, or at least from some interviewers’ research, there are children that state that they do not get pleasure from it. Further research needs to be done to confirm this as, even though on one level a child may not think with their conscious mind that they enjoy it, something completely different may be occurring within the brain.

It is also the situation that a large amount of children that get bullied never find the courage to say anything to either parents or teachers, as they themselves feel that admitting this to peers is a sign of weakness.  It is therefore up to those that are in positions of authority with children to be mindful of the signs that a child is being bullied. , It’s also important to remember that this is abuse, it may not be as bad as sexual abuse, but it’s no less harmful and so the responsibility falls firmly at the feet of parents, teachers (martial arts instructors), friends anyone that has a child’s best interest at heart. The signs may be very subtle and these may include;

Signs of emotional distress – nervousness, anxiety

Withdrawn, tearful, aggressive, depressed, nervous habits

Lacking in confidence

Bruises or scratching on a young person or attempts to hide physical injury

Torn or damaged clothing, missing personal items

Unusual bed wetting

Fear of going to school – excuses of illness often made to avoid going to school

Coming home without money or belongings that they should have

Having trouble with school work or grades for no apparent reason

Lack of interest in doing things they would usually want to do

Behaviour clues are only as good as the person paying attention to the changes that are happening within the child, for a child to hide stress, fear, or anxiety and possibly physical injury, bruises and scratches for example will take a large amount of effort on their behalf and in the majority of cases they may not even recognise the change themselves.

A plan of action

It’s important that we all remember that fear, anxiety and stress create changes within the child, the brain adapts to the psychological threat, therefore any attempt to help the child, will need to focus on the mindset of the child , superficial patches that deal with outward behaviour will only create short-term results. To obtain long-term recovery the mind will have to be rewired back to a more stable setting. To help address these underlying deep issues, principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) should be part of your tool box, martial artist have been practising this for centuries, it’s know as meditation. Children will also need coping strategies and skills that will help them manage interactions with a bully.

Those that are in positions to help children need to have an idea of how to interact with the child, what they should do and say, there are some things that should not be said or done, especially if you want to avoid making a bad situation even worse for the victim.

1. Ensure that you remain calm at all cost, showing signs of anger or frustration will be seen by the child and focused on, they may believe that they should not have said anything.

2. Keep reinforcing that they have done the right thing by bringing this to your attention, let them know, that you know it must have been a difficult decision.

3. Take time to discuss how they feel, slowly getting around to the important questions, who, where and when?

4. Take it slowly, one step at a time, the longer that the child has been bullied the more emotional torment could have occurred.

5. Agree with the child the first steps, it should be their idea if possible and not yours, working together to tackle l the issues that are raised.

6. Are there simple ways in which avoidance of a person or place could stop the bullying, keep in mind that once a bully has identified a target they may go out of their way to find them and continue the abuse.

Do not leave it thinking that it will sort itself out, take action before things get any worse.  Tackling this behaviour needs to be with the support of schools, clubs or any event that your child attends. make sure that you meet with the person at the school who is responsible for their bullying procedures, they should have an anti bullying policy, make sure you see it. getting someone to take responsibility for monitoring interactions while at school. Remember recording meetings and agreed action in writing places a degree of importance on the matter, it’s not going to go away and needs to be dealt with. If you are not happy with the way things are going keep going up the line of accountability, board of governors, positions, you are the only person that can keep the ball rolling and protect your child’s long-term emotional intelligence. This all seems logical information and hopefully it’s not new to parents.

The martial arts

Any good  martial arts school will have a policy in place to protect the children that attend, however it’s not just the policy it’s the whole mental and physical training that is important. Good martial arts instructors will teach children non-violent solutions to bully avoidance, this will include strategies to talk and avoid a confrontation, it’s about confidence in yourself that you do not have to resort to physical confrontation to deal with the bully. The goal is to discourage bullies if the potential victim can resist the verbal assault, taking away the control and emotional pay-off, the bully will be less likely to choose them again, as with most perpetrators of violence or crime they are looking for easy individuals to attack. One that has the potential to fight back or is aware and not an easy victim will probably not be chosen. Tactics that are taught should include avoidance, appropriate verbal exchanges, neutral/confident body language and facial expressions, selective ignoring and self-control, physical confrontation is the very last thing on the list.  Bullies are looking for the nerve that makes any individual react, if a child can hide their emotions then they are well on the way to counteracting the bully. Once they discover a victim’s weakness they will do it again and again to see the same reaction over and over again.

Physical techniques are the last resort to dealing with a bully, the problem with any conflict especially with children is knowing were the boundaries are, when is it the right time to act, to fight back? is there a time? should you never resort to physical violence even when being beaten on? There are some that would support this, with words such as “if you use violence against a bully you are then no longer any better than the bully” we have  all heard this at some point I am sure and to be fair adults have the same problem, when to fight or when not to fight?   Should I use a pre-emptive strike? These are important questions and are beyond the scope of this  text and will be covered later. The most important point is should any child use violence to protect themselves? The answer to this question will be different for a great many individuals, ask an adult this very simple question, if you were being beaten by another adult and had the means to defend yourself would you? My thoughts on this is that everyone has the right to defend themselves and their family, should it be different because they are a child? Children will eventually come of an age where they can process this line and do the right thing at the right time, the main aim here is to convey knowledge of the bully and the victim, what they are and how to help a victim fight back, hopefully before too much psychological damage has been done. If you are dealing with a child who has already become a victim, then it’s no good just treating the behaviour of the child you have to get to the root cause of the problem,  the psychological effect on the mind.

Be mindful all the time!

 

Cyber bullying

 

Recently in the UK a 14 year old girl took her own life due to Cyber bullying, if this tells us anything it should be that parents have to be vigilant all the time. This type of bullying is disturbing and it’s not the first time that young adolescent children have resorted to suicide. This type of bullying is perhaps the most dangerous type of bullying as it can be done anonymously and has a very powerful effect on the mind. Why would someone believe what they read on an internet forum or text message sent to their phone? The reason is how our brains work with regard to the law of similarity. If it looks like a tiger it is a tiger. Like causes like and the brain perceives this, if we see a person being sick just after eating a particular food, we ourselves will not want to eat the same food, this has an evolutionary benefit, as it would have protected the individual from consuming the same food and suffering the same fate. Experiments have shown that if we create a negative thought and feeling this will transfer to our conscious mind and become prominent, over the fact that we know it not to be true. For example take a glass of clear drinking water, apply a label to it that says ‘contaminated with radiation’ and feel the effects that this will have on thinking about drinking the water. This rule of like causes like, can be seen when we observe an individual that has in their past decided to ink their body with ‘tattoos’ for example, or someone who has worked out and is big and muscular, we link these individuals with bad behavior or crime and in doing so our minds automatically create a thought of, stay away from them, don’t talk to them, there is a threat there somewhere, even though in our mind, if we take the time to think about it, there is no real danger. These linked thoughts of similarity are ancient wiring processes within the brain that are automatically transferred to the mind and brought into conscious thought. In the time of our Stone age ancestors this process would have worked perfectly, there is a tiger, looking for food; we had better be on our way before we are the food! Children these days are exposed to constant stimuli input from the cyber world, over time this informational input which was once used to aid humans survival, has adapted itself to create the idea that what is read and spoken about on the internet is indeed “true and real” the mind uses similarity and adapts the belief within the individual that what they read is how it is. Cyber bullying is found in mediums such as email, text messaging, and social networks such as Face Book, MySpace and “ASK”, the last one it would appear being particularly unregulated as the bully can remain anonymous as they can create false names and profiles. Cyber bullying consists of the same threats that can be found in any bullying situation, with threats of violence, verbal abuse and the use of language that may not be normally said when face to face.

The bully who knows no right from wrong

There are a few bullies where no amount of therapy will help, the only explanation is that the bully is a cruel individual, they like to harm and inflict pain on others. What’s more,  these bullies have no understanding of what Is right or wrong, they feel no remorse, lack empathy and in most cases these individuals carry their behaviour with them through into adulthood. These type of individuals have predisposition to violence, aggression, manipulation and lying, they can also be very intelligent and in some cases very hard to spot, one in 25 adults have this type of character trait. Quite often people will use the term nature versus nurture, in the case of these individuals it is nature that has created the shortfall in the ability to understand and nurture will only have a very limited effect. understanding this particular type of character trait will require more text than this article allows.

Fear

 

From all the information above it would seem that we live in a world that is controlled by fear and to a degree this is the case, we are fearful today of so many things, we fear the sun, diseases, bad health, violence is everywhere, we do not let our children play freely due to predators, the risk of terrorism is ever-present, the list goes on and on.  The fact is that nothing creates a feeling more powerful within our minds than the risk of fear. Is it true? –  are we now living in the most dangerous times within our evolutionary history? Facts would argue otherwise, our life expectancy has increased generation on generation and statistically fewer people die today theatre they did 100 years ago. What we do have now is instant communication across the globe, when a horrendous event occurs such as the September 11 terrorist attack in New York, we are instantly dialled into the event and those survival mechanism within our brain are triggered, we become fearful.  This subject is not one that we like to dwell on long, but we must remember that the bully can be overcome, there are ways to combat their effects.

Conclusion

Bullying and the effects that this behaviour creates is a very serious issue, if they are not addressed than the psychological scars will continue throughout life. We will never eradicate this behaviour completely, acknowledging this gives us the tools to understand the behaviour, identify those that carry out the bullying and their victims. This in turn allows for real control and management for both parties. They are both victims,  the bully from exposure to cultural stimuli and a lack of nurture with the child’s best interest at heart and from a left over survival mechanism within the brain. The individual who is subject to the bully’s behaviour, is also a victim of cultural stimuli, lack of understanding, support, love and nurture.  My hope is that this information will at least help a few, if it does, then at least a few will grow up without the foreboding baggage given to them by a bully.

 

References

Divine, M. (2010) Bullying Hurts: How bullying takes our brain’s ability to adapt and turns it against us. Posted on 07 September 2010 by admin. accessed on 04/08/2013 @ http://www.michaeldevinecounseling.com/blog/bullying-hurts-how-bullying-takes-our-brains-ability-to-adapt-and-turns-it-against-us

Espelage, D,  L.  and Holt, M, K. (2001) Bullying and Victimization During Early Adolescence: Peer Influences and Psychosocial Correlates. Howarth press, Inc.

Newitz, A. (2008). brain scans reveal that teen bullies get pleasure from your pain. Accessed on 05-08-2013 @ link. http://io9.com/5079234/brain-scans-reveal-that-teen-bullies-get-pleasure-from-your-pain

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