Posts Tagged Psychology of Confrontation
Its been a while and I need to get back on this…. here is part 2… lets see if we cant get a few more up in the coming months.. plus an insight into my new book….
VIOLENCE IT’S NATURAL LET IT BE.. Part 2
Yochelson and Samenow (2013)
A study of thinking patterns in criminals.
Aim: To understand the make up of the criminal personality.
Design: A longitudinal study using interviews that spanned over a 14 year period. The interviews were based on Freudian therapy techniques, which aimed to identify the root cause of the criminal behaviour.
Sample: 255 males from various backgrounds who had been found guilty by reasons of insanity and secured in a mental institution. Only 30 of the participants completed the interviews, and only 9 made any significant progress towards rehabilitation. Findings: Identified 52 thinking patterns that were common in the criminals.
External attribution they viewed themselves as the victim and blamed others for the situation. Lack of interest in responsible behaviour sees it as pointless. Closed thinking not receptive to criticism.
Conclusion: These ‘errors’ in thinking are not unique to criminals, but were suggested to be displayed more by criminals than law behaving citizens. They also put forward the theory of free will to explain criminal behaviour. This has five points to it:
- The roots of criminality lie in the way people think and make their decisions.
- Criminals think and act differently than other people, even from a very young age.
- Criminals are, by nature, irresponsible, impulsive, self-centered, and driven by fear and anger.
- Deterministic explanations of crime result from believing the criminal who is seeking sympathy.
- Crime occurs because the criminal wills it or chooses it, and it is this choice they make that rehabilitation must deal with.
Does the criminal mind of one parent transfer via inheritance to the mind of their offspring? This has been a question that scientists and researchers have attempted to answer for quite some time now and the above does not really point us in a direction that one can be confident in!
The Construct We Call The Mind.
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
To date the brain and it’s functioning process are still the subject of large amounts of research and, according to a popular myth, we only use 10% of its capacity! Wikipedia (2014) ‘the 10% of brain myth is the widely perpetuated urban legend that most, or all, humans only make use of 3%, 10% or some other small percentage of their brains. It has been misattributed to people including Albert Einstein.
By association, it is suggested that a person may harness this unused potential and increase intelligence. Though factors of intelligence can increase with training, the popular notion that large parts of the brain remain unused, and could subsequently be “activated”, rest more in popular folklore than scientific theory. Though mysteries regarding brain function remain e.g. memory, consciousness etc, the physiology of brain mapping suggests that most, if not all, areas of the brain have a function’.
The mind of humans is very closely related in structure and in some ways function to that of the ‘Rat’. Research by Smith and Alloway (2013) at the Penn State Centre for Neural Engineering and affiliates of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, detail their discovery of a parallel between the motor cortices of rats and humans that signifies a greater relevance of the rat model to studies of the human brain than scientists had previously known. “The motor cortex in primates is subdivided into multiple regions, each of which receives unique input that allow it to perform a specific motor function”
In the rat brain, the motor cortex is small and it appeared that all of it received the same type of input. We know now that sensory input to the rat motor cortex terminate in a small region of the motor cortex that is distinct from the larger region that issues the motor commands. Our work demonstrates that the rat motor cortex is parcellated into distinct sub regions that perform specific functions, and this result appears to be similar to what is seen in the primate brain.”
“You have to take into account the animal’s natural behaviours to best understand how its brain is structured for sensory and motor processing,”. For primates like us, that means a strong reliance on visual information from the eyes, but for rats it’s more about the somatosensory input from their whiskers.” In fact, nearly a third of the rat’s sensory motor cortex is devoted to processing whisker related information, even though the whiskers occupy only one third of one percent of the rats total body surface. In humans, nearly 40 percent of the entire cortex is devoted to processing visual information, although the eyes occupy a very tiny portion of our body’s surface. It certainly seems from this research that the cortical mapping that occurs in the brain of a human is very similar to that of a rat; the big difference is the inflated size of our cerebral cortex.
Primitive neuro anatomy of the brain include impulses of rage and fear, that are balanced by the operating functions of the orbital cortex, which is responsible for emotional controls, that we know as moralization and self-control. The brain is certainly complex. However, the boundaries of its operations are slowly beginning to fail, not least due to the unfortunate circumstances some individuals have had to endure when accidental damage occurs to regions of their brain.
Pinker (2012) recounts an unfortunate accident that happened to a man called Fineus Gage, a railway foreman responsible for dynamite placement, he tapped down some blasting powder in a hole in a rock, setting off a premature explosion that sent the blasting iron up through his cheekbone and out the top of his skull. A 20th century computer reconstruction of the damage to the brain based on the holes in the skull, suggest that the rod tore up his left orbital cortex, along with the ventral medial cortex on the inside wall of the cerebrum.
Gage’s sensory, memory and movement were still available to him, although something about him had changed, he was no longer the same person, the damage that had occurred had caused an effect that was not just the loss of a capability that was controlled by the brain, this was more a change in his animal like behaviour.
Pinker quotes his doctor at the time saying “he is now fitful, uses the grosses of profanities, does not care about his friends, is persistently obstinate, plans future actions which are quickly abandoned, a child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, yet has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury he possessed a well-balanced mind and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in carrying out all his plans. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so much so that his friends would say, that he is no longer Gage”
This type of evidence points towards clues that the brain and the control of emotions are closely linked and interactive with each other, some parts responsible for holding other parts in check.
This leads to an understanding that the human brain has been wired for violence, it is not a random development and in our evolutionary past, it was required as part of human nature to ensure survival, by the use of predation, dominance and vengeance. We must also not forget that humans have a great capacity for self-control, seeking peace or loving thy neighbour. However it is these acts of violence that are really nothing other than a means to strip resources from another individual that we now term as criminality.
One particular region of the human brain that contains several different areas all linked together, and is believed to be responsible for violent acts, is a region called ‘the rage circuit’ The neuro scientist Yank Punck Cept describes what happens when he sent an electrical magnetic current through a part of the rage circuit of a cat! “Within the first few seconds of the electrical brain stimulation, the peaceful animal was emotionally transformed, it leapt viciously toward me with claws unsheathed, fangs barred, hissing and spitting. It could have pounced in many different directions, but its arousal was directed right at my head, fortunately a plexie glass wall separated me from the enraged beast.
Within a fraction of a minute after terminating the stimulation the cat was again relaxed and peaceful and could be petted without further retribution’. This rage circuit in the cat brain has a corresponding counterpart in the human brain cited by Pinker (2012) This region in our own brain, can also be stimulated in the same manner as the cat, eliciting emotionally enraged responses, the only difference is that the cat hisses whereas humans have a propensity to use in appropriate language and violence.
One of the distinct differences in violent behaviour is between violence that is being used for dominance and violence used for predation. Observe two cats who find themselves faced off against each other, their hair stands on end, they assume a hunched and erect posture and all manner of cat noises emanate from within, so much so that when some humans use noise as a means of posturing, we find the term ‘cat fight’. Yet when the same cat comes upon a mouse or bird the behaviour is markedly different, now the cat is silent, determined and single mindedly focused on taking the life of the poor creature in its path.
Humans display the same behavioural patterns, these are evidenced in the typical Saturday night encounter when two males face off against each other. They inflate their chest, clench their fists, use language that threatens and insults the other party, however in the majority of cases even when fights start they are usually all blown out very quickly, they may have a few bruises and maybe a bone or two broken but there is, in the majority of incidents, no lasting trauma and unless they are very unfortunate to sustain a fall, and strike their head in just the right place with just the right amount of force, then death will not occur. When a tool such as a blade is involved the percentages rise sharply in favour of death.
However, we also have the capacity for predation, which unveils itself in our ugly capacity to take the life of another human in such a manner as to cause disgust and outrage. We can stalk other individuals and subject them to all manner of depraved acts eventually taking their lives. Cannibalism is also evident in some tribes and was more commonplace in our history than many would like to admit.
Humans also have the capacity to switch from passive ‘I love the world and everyone in it’ to ‘temper enraged maniacs’ at the switch of a button. This behaviour is exactly like the electrically induced rage of the poor cat above. Then we have times when humans are out for revenge, during these times a cool calculating persona can be seen, stalking their prey and preparing for the sweet taste of payback, usually a blade or a gun in some parts of the world are used in a cold manner where death is a high probability. No words are used and the silent determination is like evil unleashed.
A good friend of mine was returning home one night when he came upon a group of young lads bulling another, he intervened, trying to calm the situation, the next thing he knew and remembers was one of them repeatedly striking him, he soon went down as a result of multiple stab wounds. One thing that sticks in his mind was the coldness of his attacker executing his assault in complete silence with the rage of a person possessed.
Scientists have been able to insert their electrodes into different rage circuits within the brain of a cat to elicit either hunting or attack mode behaviour Pinker (2012). It is therefore no great leap to see that humans have the same rage circuits within their brains and that different stimuli will bring forth the same behaviour patterns that the majority of our animal relatives also exhibit.
The rage circuit that is responsible for producing emotional responses that are linked to aggression, hunting and attacking can have very subtle effects that at first look the same. These circuits are organized in a hierarchy which emanate from the ‘hind brain’ where neuro mapping controls the muscles and behaviour actions of the animal. The hind brain is positioned on top of the spinal cord. However, the circuits that control these rage centres are situated higher up in the mid and fore brain. When the hindbrain of a cat is stimulated by electrical impulses the resulting rage is known by neuroscientists as ‘sham rage’ the cat hisses, bristles and extends its fangs, but all the time can be petted and stroked without fear that the individual will be attacked.
If the rage circuit higher up is stimulated, then the resulting emotional effect is much more significant, the cat becomes as mad as hell and instantly attacks the head of the nearest person.
Evolution has, over time, taken advantage of these different modes of reactions, animals use different body parts as offensive weapons, including, jaws, fangs, and antlers, with primate’s hands and feet. The hindbrain circuits that drive these peripheral actions can be reprogrammed or swapped out as a lineage evolves. The central programs that control an animals emotional state are remarkably conserved, including the lineage that leads to humans.
Neuro surgeons have discovered a counter part to the rage circuit of other animals in the brains of their patients. Pinker (2012) It would seem from these types of experiments and the discovery that human brains are not that different in their mental processes, that behavioural actions are not all under the complete control of the conscious mind and that mechanisms within our brains are pre wired for violence. Pinker goes on to describe the position and links to other systems of our brain.
The rage circuit is a pathway that connects three major structures in the lower parts of the brain. In the mid brain there is a collar of tissue called the ‘periaqueductal grey’, grey because it consists of grey matter, a tangle of neurons lacking the white sheaths that insulate output fibers, periaqueductal because it surrounds the aqueduct, a fluid filled canal that runs the length of the central nervous system from the spinal cord up to large cavities in the brain.
The periaqueductal grey contains circuits that control the sensory motor components of rage, they get input from parts of the brain that registers pain, balance, hunger, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and hearing, particularly the shrieks of a fellow rat, all of which can make the animal irritated, frustrated or enraged. Their output feeds the motor programs that make the rat lunge, kick and bite, one of the oldest discoveries in the biology of violence is the link between pain or frustration and aggression.
When an animal is shocked or access to food is taken away it will attack the nearest fellow animal or bite an inanimate object if no living animal is available. The periaqueductal grey is partly under control of the hypothalamus, a cluster of nuclei that regulate the animals emotional, motivational and psychological states including hunger, thirst and lust. The hypothalamus monitors the temperature, pressure and chemistry of the blood stream and sits on top of the pituitary gland, which pumps hormones into the blood stream and amongst other things, regulates the release of adrenalin from the adrenal glands and the release of testosterone and estrogen from the gonads, which are part of the rage circuit.
In humans the Amygdala modulates the hypothalamus, as you will remember from earlier the Amygdala is responsible for memory, it also affects the emotional feeling that occur especially when fear is present and will encode these memories into our mind to remind us exactly what fear we should be tuned into. An angry face, aggressive posture, clenched fist, will all trigger neural activity in the Amygdala, this in turn sends a communication to our conscious mind with the message ‘remember the last time’
At the beginning of this chapter, I laid out two categories of violence, social violence and A social violence. It is now reasonably clear that structures and mechanisms within our brain produce two basic behavioural patterns, that of predation and domination and it is these two categories that link themselves to social or A social violence. Social violence being the path to domination and the attaining of resources, A social violence the path to predation, the killing of our own species, to also enhance the attainment of resources to survive and propagate, but not always.
The reasons we construct to explain why these behaviours are enacted are our minds attempt to civilize the moral code that many now live by, whereas in an age gone by, things were very different from what they are now, the rule of law and society supported aggressive, violent behaviour in a much more open and visceral way. Yes, we have also got the capacity for great acts of kindness and compassion, we are altruistic, cooperative, but let us not be deceived by this dichotomy, for humans have evolved complex structures to ensure survival, the showing of reciprocal lateritic behaviours is just another way of banking some credit for the possibility of future hardship.
Smith, J, B. and Alloway, K, D. (2013) Rat whisker motor cortex is subdivided into sensory-input and motor-output areas. Front. Neural Circuits doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00004. Published on 28 Jan 2013.
Wikipedia (2014) 10% of Brain myth. Accessed on 28-04-2014 @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_percent_of_brain_myth
Yochelson and Samenow (2013)Criminal thinking paterns and turning to crime. A2 Psychology revision. Accessed on 15/04/2014 @ http://psychorevision.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/criminal-thinking-patterns-and-turning.html
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 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.
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
Here is the first preview of my new book Volitional Attention Training. Over the coming months I will upload a few more samples.
1 TO THINK WHAT HAS TO BE THOUGHT
What is attention or mental force, how does it create neural activity and what are its benefits? “The task is not so much to see what none have yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees” Schrodinger, E.
The hardest attribute to relay to any student of the martial arts is not found in the physical realm, but rather the mindful application of “mental force” Schwartz and Begley (2002), which all humans are capable of harnessing. This mental force comes in all manner of forms and descriptions, indominatable spirit, warrior mind and attitude, are all examples of these. However, a more important question should be, how is this state of mind achieved, and what processes occur within the mind and the brain? To help answer these questions will require an understanding of an area of science and physiology not often explored, namely that of mental thought processes that create will power or volitional effort. “Volitional Effort” is effort of attention, the function of the effort is to keep affirming and adopting a thought, that if left to itself would slip away, effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will” James, W. (1890). There are a few individuals in whom this type of mental force seems to be present in abundance, then there are those, and these are in the majority, that do not possess this mental force in any way. They have been molded over their lifespan through behaviour and an exposure to either a physical experience of violence or a thought process that never required them to engage in what could be termed aggressive thoughts or the ability to use will power to overcome a stressful situation.
In essence, psychological skills are required to help support physical skills. Mental toughness, mental force and attitude of mind need to be explored and defined. This involves two specific areas: – 1, the actual processes that are taking place within the brain; and 2, the mind’s ability to channel attention and mental force. There are individuals that seem to possess these abilities in abundance, if this is the case, important questions would be, how did this attitude of mind develop and is this the product of behaviour and social identity created by circumstance? Children, directly as a result of significant caregiver roles within the family unit, often inherit behaviour habits. Having a parent with aggressive tendencies could lead to transference of aggressive behaviour to any child, male or female. Equally, an over aggressive caregiver could cause a complete lack of self esteem, leading to withdrawal of that individual, who also lacks the ability of mind to be confident, and bring forth the mental will power required to create mental force. If behaviour habits are so important, what constructs and processes are affected within the brain?
Evolution also plays a part in our understanding of mental force and the benefits derived from possessing it, with a direct link to Darwin and the survival of the fittest. Imagine a history where humans did not possess these types of abilities, would we have ever dragged ourselves out of the primeval world that we occupied? There are mental processes that have to be overcome in order for any individual to live a life, to find a mate, reproduce, to survive! To enable this process, the mind as well as the physical body, has to be mentally healthy and fit.
As humans, we are constantly under threat from our mind’s activity, we therefore have to understand what is happening when certain moods take over the dominance of our minds, or when we create thoughts that are not congruent with our mental direction. Maintaining the physical body has to form part of this process, ensuring that the body is kept in a state of physical wellbeing will result in a positive attitude, if an individual suffers from a physical impairment, is obese, sleep deprived, lacks nutritional balance, inputs substances into the body (drugs), then the consequence of this is a human organism that is not in balance, the body and mind do not work as one. If the mind was mentally tough and capable of survival and the body was not, it would not take long for one to adversely affect the other, or vice-versa. Therefore physical conditioning should be equally as important as mental conditioning.
There is an element of mindful control that has to happen, in order for attention to be exactly that “attention” The brain has to fire its neurons, creating action potentials in the particular part of the brain that is receiving the stimulus; these mechanisms are focused on by the brain and in turn create attention. The amount of sensory input that the brain receives every second of every day is staggering. We see, hear, smell, touch and feel, yet we do not pay attention, until something draws our attention towards a stimulus event “ attention defines the mental ability to select stimuli, responses, memories or thoughts that are behaviorally relevant, amongst the many others that are behaviorally irrelevant” Corbetta, (1998). What is relevant will wholly depend upon the current situation and incoming stimuli, if this happens to be a high stress and emotional one, then attention will be directed in such a way that the bodily responses are congruent with prior thought processes. If there is no link to positive mental processes of mental force then a degrading of attention may occur. While all this is occurring the body’s internal control mechanisms are also working at full tilt, providing even further stimulus input that the brain is having to deal with, without any cognitive awareness.
Stimuli from our external senses are not the only way in which attention can be created, close your eyes and imagine something that brings to your mind a vivid picture in your minds eye, a bright red rose, waves from the sea crashing upon a sandy beach, or the face of a loved one. Each time focus is attended to, through conscious will power, attention can be maintained and your neural network jolts into life. Meditation uses just these processes to produce physical changes within the body. For years, before the invention of machines that could measure and record brain activity such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), Computerized Tomography (CT) or Positron Emission Tomography (PET), meditation was viewed as some kind of mystical activity, with no real substance or evidence of the processes that were taking part in the brain.
Now we have evidence of the regions of the brain being engaged, when the mind takes control of attention and focuses on internal or external experiences “several studies have investigated the functional anatomy of covert visual orienting to simple unstructured peripheral stimuli. These studies have shown that a specific set of frontal parietal regions are consistently recruited during visual orienting” Corbetta (1998). Covert and overt visual orienting according to Corbetta are two distinct ways in which we explore our visual environment, by saccadic eye movements that happen naturally “overt” or by volitional attention or reflexively when a stimulus appears in our visual field “ covert”, the latter being the process when a sudden unexpected threat arises. A simple example of this could be an incoming punch; attention has to occur focusing mental force to deal with this threat.
Corbetta, M. (1998) Frontoparietal cortical networks for directing attention and the eye to visual locations: independent or overlapping neural systems? Proc. Natl. Acad Sci. USA, Vol. 95, pp. 831 – 838, Febuary 1998 Colloquium paper.
James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Autherised Dover edition published (1950), first published by Henry Holt & company (1890).
Schwartz, J. M.D. and Begley, S. (2002), The Mind and The Brain. Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
By exploring the theory of psychological speed, I do not mean speed of thought, however that is a symbiont part of the theory. What I want to explore here is how an understanding of speed can help with a physical application of movement. The key to moving fast is to understand how the human body engages itself in this process. In previous writings I have looked at Bilateral asymmetrical movement, now I want to introduce the thought process, that which is termed psychological speed.
The first determining part of any movement is the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, from these all human movement is initiated, controlled and monitored. The next step in controlling movement is the peripheral nervous system, which constitutes every nerve outside of the central nervous system. This system itself has several sub-systems; the one that I am concerned with here is the autonomic nervous system. This system is the one humans use every second of every day of their lives and without any cognitive thought. It controls functions such as heart beat, breathing and initiates many of our reflexes. It is used when we run, drive, swim and many other normal everyday activities, this is the one system that takes an effort to become aware of. The control of this system and movement undertaken by it can all be categorised as spontaneous actions. When we use our minds to interact with this system, introducing a conscious thought process, the moves produced by this interaction are faster than any other conscious movement, as they are embedded in the subconscious mind and controlled by the automatic nervous system.
Can you recall a time when a stressful situation occurred and time seemed to slow down? Your mind is working so fast that you are able to think many moves in front of the next. This is the same type of experience that I am exploring here. The body and mind can be trained with certain moves in such a way that speed of movement can be increased. The key here is the ability to take a specific movement out of your subconscious, put it into your conscious mind, analyse it, practice it slowly, and then over time return in back into your subconscious, so that it becomes spontaneous. This type of spontaneous movement is the highest skill level of any martial artist, regardless of style. This is where the essence of true psychological speed exists.
Assume that you find yourself in a position where you are able to hammer-fist strike an attacker’s groin. Your next move from the hammer-fist is a rising elbow to underneath their jaw. The first consideration here is the reaction of your attacker after the hit to the groin. assume that your strike is perfect and it has caught them in the ideal spot, they are now entering a reflex action. If we study the action caused by the strike to the groin in this manner, what we will find is that the body does not travel backwards, also the hips are not forced backwards. What happens when a true reflex occurs to this stimulus? – the body collapses upon itself, the knees give way, and depending upon the amount of force, the body will drop to the ground. The initial strike and your attackers reaction are what is known as the ideal phase, everything is working perfectly. Your next planned move is the rising elbow, it’s simple to believe that this can be executed without any problem, however this is not the case if your attacker has innately entered a reflex to pain. They will be moving spontaneously and at a very high-speed. Your next planned move has to be equal to or faster than the attacker’s reflex reaction. At this point psychological speed can be employed. You have to know your next move, your attackers reaction to the move and already be thinking ahead of it. This is achieved by focusing not on the elbow rising or on the elbow returning down from the strike, but on the position of the hand before the move has even began. The point of origin of the elbow is the position at the point of contact to the groin. The elbow needs to move up and then down, returning to its original position in a split second. If you can train this thought process into the execution of the move, you will be able to move at a lightning speed, which is as fast as your attacker’s pain reflex. As the elbow is lower than the jaw they will meet and collide quickly. This type of collision can be termed an initiated collision. You are causing the attacker to move in such a way that they collide with your strike. The key here is that you understand how speed is developed. By inserting into the above move another asymmetrical movement with the other moving limb, bilateral symmetry will be achieved, imagine how fast you will be able to move!
There are a wide diversity of situations when psychological speed can be used, within the context of a martial application, my intention from the above is to introduce some ideas that will help the student discover circumstances when this can apply.
Startle Reflex and the surprise attack.
In the previous blog I discussed some advanced thought processes, with regard to some of the interactions of the mind and the body when engaged in a violent encounter. In this article, I want to look at some of the physiology that occurs as well as the psychology. By physiology I mean bodily reactions that can be predicted. Firstly I want to examine our body’s natural protection mechanism, the “Startle Reflex”. Startle Reflex is one of the body’s first physiological responses to a surprise stimulus “startle reflex, refers to bodily reflexes that occur involuntary in response to an unanticipated external stimulus” Chapél (1991).
We know from research and experiments carried out that the body has in-built protection systems designed to protect the body from harm. One of these is the Startle Reflex, also referred to as a “Flinch”. All humans will respond in a certain manner when a startling stimulus occurs, for example; blinking, upward movement of the shoulders, head tucking in and down, bending of the arms and their withdrawal into our core, bending of the legs and their withdrawal into our core, as well as several facial expressions and various twisting of the whole body and limbs. In the majority of Martial Arts schools there is no inclusion of this within the training of self-defence techniques. Techniques usually start from a punch, grab or kick scenario.
So why try to understand this type of reflex?
How is it produced?
What happens to the body when startled?
Firstly if you teach reality-based self-defence techniques and exclude this from your curriculum, you are not giving your students all the knowledge possible to enable them protect themselves. You must however remember that the startle reflex only occurs when you are startled, this may be an obvious statement, but it is very important that a clear distinction is made between: being caught off guard and completely by surprise with no awareness of the impending attack; and being attacked, responding in some kind of trained manner, to a confrontation that has already begun, a preamble or pre violence dance has occurred.
When you are startled it is due to stimulus being received via your eyes, ears or touch sensory system. These can be categorized as Auditory Startle, Visual Startle and Sanatoma Sensory Startle. The first thing to understand here is that this reflex cannot be trained out! The increase in our body’s reaction to startles is called “sensitisation” where as a decrease is called “habituation”. This means that the body will habituate to a certain point when it continues to receive startle stimulus. For example in the film “We are Solders” with Mel Gibson, when the journalist first appears on the battleground, the explosions startle him. However, during the end scene when others turn up after the battle, his startle reflex had been habituated, to explosions, the new journalist all startle. After a period of time the body will return to normal reactions to this stimulus and the habituated response will become extinct. What this tells us is that we can habituate being caught off guard when attacked and to a degree we can train down a startle reflex. However we would have to be continually training in a method that created a startle all of the time, as soon as we suspend this type of training the reflex will re-initiate itself.
When the body enters a startle reflex it moves in a manner that is faster than any other type of body movement. It simply cannot be reproduced by any conscious thought process. Any idea that you can train in a way that uses a flinch or startle response as part of your initial conscious thought process to respond to an attack is unrealistic. The reason is due to the physiology of the body.
Another factor to be considered with regard to being startled and the severity of the startle is the situation and environment that you are in at the time. If you are in a dark alley and are alone at night, then the intensity of the startle may well be greater than the same alley during daylight hours. The key areas to consider with regard to Startle Reflex and Martial Arts are; can we train a response that can be used? Can we move intentionally at a speed approaching Startle Reflex speed?
There are recorded accounts of people who have trained intensively reacting to a startle stimulus in a trained response manner, while under extreme emotionally charged situations. This would indicate that although the reflex cannot be trained out, it could be substituted for movements similar to self-protection moves that you have trained for. I am not talking about full on blocks or attacks. I am talking about shielding moves of reflex hand swipes across the face – i.e. programming a response that will help protect you if surprised.
With regard to moving at the same speed, we have to understand the physiology behind the reflex. The neurons that fire during the reflex action, never reach the conscious parts of our brain. The body has to switch off all the prime mover, fixator muscles and instead use the fast twitch muscles, known as our Antagonistic muscles. Typically the empirical evidence indicates that the body parts that are moving during this action first move back towards our core “The head retracts, shoulders hunch, arms bend and retract, knees bend and our legs withdraw to our core” Chapél (2006), briefly wanting to return to the fetal position. Knowing this and understanding the body’s natural reactions will allow us, as Martial Artist, to prepare our students for a stimulus based trained response to a surprise attack. What comes next is the dump of a chemical cocktail into the blood stream to enable the body to cope with the impending violence. At this stage we will also enter a state of mind that will either help or impede our survival. It’s also important to remember at this point that the attack is a surprise! Your attacker could be lying in wait for you, or stalking you ready to attack at a moment of their choosing, when they perceive you to be at your weakest. There is unlikely to be any verbal warning that the attack is coming, therefore coping strategies for a verbal encounter should not be much of a concern, with this method of attack. This is very much about prior knowledge of your body’s natural protection mechanisms and the simple fact that your only chance of a response during this surprise attack, is to train a stimulus based, programmed response. There is a distinct chance that you may even be shocked into a freeze state, one in which you are incapable of any response. Now we are entering the realm of our body’s physiology and the adrenal dump. What this will do is send the body into a high state of emotion, knowing what this feels like and understanding it, is the first step to coping with the effects on the body. To clarify, this is a surprise attack! First we enter a startle reflex and then the body goes into some type of fight or flight response, due to the adrenal dump. When the situation is changed to a perceived encounter first then the Adrenal dump will come first.
Early in this article I spoke about the need to have a very limited response against a surprise attack. We need to look at this in a little more detail here. How are we going to be surprised? As a martial artist, one of the first things that should be taught is awareness, awareness of your environment, the potential dangers and how to avoid them. Lets face it with today’s technology how many times do you see people walking down a street with ear phones in and music blasting out, or they may be totally engrossed in a phone conversation. Colour coding awareness levels has been put forward before (Cooper 1989), with awareness levels running from white to black, white being totally un-aware and black being in the middle of combat. It’s simply not possible to be totally aware at all times, we are all capable of being surprised. Even if we are expecting an assault we can still be startled. So what type of shielding moves of reflex hand swipes should we train.
As far as possible they need to mimic the movements that would be made during a startle reflex, it’s no good trying to programme in something that is far removed from the actual moves. We know that both hands will work in a symmetrical manner, this means that they will both retract together. This then can be used in our favour, bringing both hands in back, then up to cover the face, would be one example of a shielding movement. Another could be just one hand being swiped across the face, as if trying to swat a fly away. Both have to be programmed into the responses. We must remember here that these moves are only our initial reflex responses to being surprised; we have yet to respond in a significant way.
What I have done within this text is create a clear divide, between being surprised and going into an involuntary startle reflex. I have explained the reasons for this reflex. As our reflex’s are part of our body autonomic nervous system there is not a great deal that we can do, other than train it into an habituated state and one that will need constant re-enforcing to prevent extinction. In the coming chapters a lot of the above information will cross over into other areas, as we delve into the workings of our body and mind. The whole area of knowledge is contained within “Psychology of Confrontation” Chapél (2006). An area of training that I also mentioned above is stimulus training as opposed to scenario based training. This is where training a response to a stimulus takes priority over knowing what the attack will be, what’s key here, is how this type of training can be started and then progressed so that true un-known attacks can be handled effectively by any student, something for later.
Chapél R, phd, (1991) course book S-101 V-9.9.8
Cooper J, (1989) “principles of personal defence” Paladin Press
Chapél R, phd, (2006) seminar teaching notes