Thursday, October 18, 2012

More on the Critical Window

I have noted for decades now that there are  critical  windows when events have  their  major impact; windows that seem to open and close at specific biologic timeframes.  I have written about love and when it must happen. There is a new study just out that speaks more to the notion of the critical window.  It is found in Scientific American (Oct 1, 2012.  "The Story of a Lonely Brain."Read the Scientific American article here).  They start out the article  noting that we are social  animals, and when we cannot be social early on, we begin to suffer.    They use brain development as key example, demonstrating the difference between the evolution of our grey matter (the  thinking brain), and our white matter which lies below and has to do with connections between cells, and is  largely subcortical.  As white matter  becomes myelinated it develops into a  functioning cell that permits rapid  response where impulses travel at optimim speed. It is the fatty material that  covers  the cell that  allows it to become functional  spreading the message over long  distances  in the brain.  For some white matter the myelinization continues on into adulthood.    And we go on learning and evolving.    The authors point out that children who grew  up in orphanages had deficient myelin sheaths and  less  white  matter, which made learning more  difficult.  If they were soon put into a loving foster home  there was no such damage.  Their conclusion was that placement in foster homes when  early enough  and during a critical period avoided serious brain damage.  In short, they could "catch  up" neurologically.

  Part of what helps produce myelin are the oligodendrocytes.  Isolated,  non-social mice had stunted oligodendrocytes (OLIGOS) which were often  malformed and had fewer branches.  And worse, the nerve  cells connecting the right and left brains were fewer and thinner.  In other words, the ability to transmit emotional information from right to left brain is  diminished.  The  point of this was that mice that were isolated very early on had the greatest damage; those who isolated later on did not have this.  The damage had to be  during the critical  window.  That is when there is the greatest impact on the system.  Rhesus monkeys raised in  isolation had smaller sized corpus callosum.  They also had great learning difficulties.  All this to say what should be clear by now: that there is a critical period when love can have its maximum and  longest  duration; any love outside that period will have much less of an impact.  This is what they found with myelin sheaths that signal the readiness of a cell to fire.  If the mice were isolated outside the critical period, there is minimal impact.

  So to sum up: mice who were deprived of social contact  during a critical window had  lifelong damage  and learning problems.  So why don't they do good at school when they are fifteen? Maybe we should  look at much earlier times.


  1. Hi Art,

    The unculate fasciculus continues to develop after 30yrs.

    Can you say anything about that? I mean has that got something to do with access from 3rd line to 2nd and 1st?

    Paul G.

    1. Part 1.

      Knowing something about Primal Theory as a psychotherapeutic branch of the science of evolution makes us privy to a way of seeing that most of the researchers do not have. I mean, when the researchers say the myelin sheath around the connections between the amygdala and p f cortex continue to grow / develop past the age of 30yrs (when no other myelin pathways do) it beggars the question why? and how and, for what evolutionary purpose?

      If I had more time and energy I could do more of this research myself but I think this would lead to so many more questions that I would have to enrole on a neuroscience course and who but Art could I ask to get the answers I need for my sanity and mental health rather than merely more INFORMATION as a student? Currently, struggling as a carpenter and Grandad that's not going to happen; subsequently I am compelled to raise these issues here.

      So, Art has said that repression of trauma has a natural purpose in protecting our further development until we are older and more mature, mature enough to withstand the shock of re-living. The court's out on whether children can have Primal Therapy isn't it? I mean, how young can you go? It's obviously down to individual circumstances. . . there couldn't really be a hard and fast rule could there?

      I'm digressing, the question is: "does this continual growth of the myelin sheath around the uncinate fasciculus represent some evolutionary purpose in the history of the individual"? Though thwarted to an degree by neurosis our gradual maturation can offer the strength to address early trauma, that's an old idea and we all tend to go one way or the other don't we? I mean, as we age some of us get more repressed and some get to true feelings. The existence of real Primal offers us some informed choice too, doesn't it. . . ?

      Anyway, as planespotter suggested certain fats are more or less attractive in our diets, I like smoked salmon and mackerel. Even vegetarians find themselves going for fish occasionally and certain seeds and nuts have what's recommended by dieticians, I eat them too, I try to get my kids to develop a taste for all that.

      So what is in those special oils that gets into the myelin and how does that aid connection? Is repression also bolstered by the inclination toward food avoidance? I mean some people have aversions to certain foods which dieticians say are essential for our nerves. From the holistic viewpoint 'taste' and smell, our tongue and the appearance of food and what it looks like seems an external component of our psyche though the nerves go straight into the brain stem don't they?
      Where I live in England most peoples' diet is not good; I am presuming they're as repressed as their food intake is poor. I'm not suggesting you could unlock repression by improving diet but I am proposing taste for more complex and essential foods improves as neurosis is unlocked. They seem correlated. Typically, the marketing of good food includes the implication that peace of mind and mental power is improved by good diet though nobody knows how to prove that, perhaps Primal offers some new angles on diet.

      Paul G. (Part 2 follows).

    2. Part 2.

      Lastly but not least of all, I was prompted to write this having watched two documentaries on UK TV: Channel 4 called 'Drugs Live, the Ecstasy Trials'.

      This is available on 4 On Demand or: "4oD". Ostensibly the documentary is about the effects of ecstasy and documents MRI scans of people in double blind studies on the drug. Questions raised include whether ecstasy can be used to treat depression. What the documentary really exposes (if you know anything about Primal) is the ignorance of the various "learned beings" pouring from the empty into the void, on the subject. The presenters have supplied a very good plastic model of the brain which lights up to show various regions and so on but what is startling is the total lack of questions regarding causes: early trauma, PAIN. The entire problem of depression and other mental / emotional conditions is taken as a MECHANICAL / BIOCHEMICAL issue and ecstasy is promoted as a way of dealing with depression because it shuts down the connections between the amygdala and p f cortex. Thus deeper repression allows for good feelings!

      It gets worse; in California, illegally, some shrinks are experimenting with ecstasy as a therapeutic tool because it allows some patients to talk about previously taboo issues (LSD has been used similarly). In the documentary a drugged patient is filmed 'talking about' her problems. I was absolutely struck by the way the patients' talking seemed to satisfy the therapists' need (and any other casual 'voyeur' such as the audience) to 'rationalise' her problems and play the game of talking. Thus we (the audience) could all 'feel' better about 'problems' because we have all colluded in wrapping them up in words, conciliatory and empathic words maybe but nevertheless WORDS.

      I would appreciate other bloggers' feedback on this issue of the uncinate fasciculus and myelin sheathing.

      Paul G.

    3. Paul: Hey Please do research on it and let all of us know more. art

    4. Ok,

      I'll start with Wikipedia and if anyone else gets more info please input.

      Paul G.

    5. Hi Paul

      I wonder whether the avoidance of certain health giving foods is a defence? If someone stops eating so much salt, eats more vegetables and gets more exercise then their blood pressure tends to drop. A certain amount of positive benefits are gained though probably not so many as long as the person does not face early trauma. The Brain can perhaps make some recovery as science shows. I have started running again and I find it amazing how my body really pushes me to run and then suddenly I have to stop. I wonder whether I experience the parts of Brain fighting for control as I get oxygen coursing round my Brain.

      Look at all the new things pregnant women get cravings for when pregnant. There is the old joke about them eating coal. Probably for rare trace elements and minerals for the baby. Look at new research showing that a Mother can have her baby's cells in her blood decades after the birth and how some heart conditions in a pregnant woman are miraculously cured after a birth.

      Why then can't a really traumatised person avoid certain foods because part of the Brain does not want to recover because perhaps that would mean facing trauma. My sister in law smokes heavily. I suspect her childhood was not a good one. She stopped smoking last Christmas for a few weeks and then promptly developed bad flu. Early trauma breaking through and lowering her immune system?

      Avoid fish or green vegetables and stay ignorant and happy if that is the right word. So many people like being ignorant and being told what to do by a leader (Parent). (White) Bread and circuses.

      After all Adam and Eve were ignorant in their nakedness until they ate an Apple?

  2. I wonder about how much can be accomplished after damage/deprivation is done. I absolutely believe in critical periods, open windows of timing to accomplish certain things. But since learning is far more difficult and fess less likely after damage is allowed to “set,” how much of that can be reversed, over time? Anyone have suggestions?

    I wonder if it could be possible to slowly fix damage done in earlier life. Could an environment and careful structured learning program (with lots of patience and warmth) help a person to develop what had been denied development.

    Critical periods seem to be critical only because it is difficult to learn much while you are still in a figurative “war zone,” battling it out with “life.” Put in other words, Is it critical only because we do not know the solution to use later on?

    I know that people who have experienced incredible amounts of torture and abuse for years can still make recovery and grow. It is a testament to the resilience of the mind and will of the human “spirit.”

  3. Art!

    I'm probably in the best school of human development here in your blog. It depends on how I manage to understand what you are writing about. I face many brain gymnastics... incredibly stimulating cognitively in order for me to best achieve results to go forward in my therapy.
    Practically… it helps me to get into the feeling. If scientific content is presented and further considered for their scientific content it facilitates the process for further therapy.

    Art ... your blog means a lot more than what you "think"


  4. I wonder whether lack of social contact in adulthood also has an effect. Having been abused and told some so called friends I now find myself far more alone. Add to that my family not being contact and I am far more alone. We are a social creature and I for one am really feeling that aloneness and it hurts. Does this change the Brain even at my age of 52?

    On another note I am finding the whole Jimmy Savile Scandle in the UK quite incredible. Here was a man who abused both young girls and young boys who hid in plain sight. A national institution who mixed with royalty and had access many children in approved schools etc. It would seem that he manouvred himself into positions of trust so he could access these kids. My Father did the same thing. I am sure he abused kids other than myself. I hope that the UK becomes more aware of such abuse. It's a pity that as usual it is stranger danger which is raised whereas the majority of abuse takes place in the family perpetrated by both men and women.

    1. Hi planespotter,

      -"Having been abused and told some so called friends I now find myself far more alone. Add to that my family not being contact and I am far more alone. We are a social creature and I for one am really feeling that aloneness and it hurts. Does this change the Brain even at my age of 52?"-

      I feel the same way, really, I could rant about it. I feel our isolation doesn't so much change our brains as limit the extent of it's further potential development. I sort of assume that one gets to the stage where the isolation becomes so intense we want to share it with others in similar condition (!)

      I think that's called group therapy. . . I for one am far from ready for that; I'm not finished with my isolation, actually until I arrive at the clinic I think it hasn't properly begun.

      I take a lot of pride in my limited relations in construction, my work. I enjoy the company of the few colleagues I have who share mutual respect and planning & executing our joint projects. I'm so glad I learned a trade. It's no replacement for a family (mine's all broken up) or really understanding and supportive friends but it's better than nothing.

      I'm glad you brought up the J. S. issue because it exposes the repression in English Heirarchy / Class system. Tony Bliar said we now live in a classless society in UK but really even John Prescott his (then) deputy didn't believe him. I always felt J. S. was a weirdo and I always knew the English establishment were into 'cover ups' because the private boarding school education I had, allowed the same selectively "blind eyes" to all sorts of crimes against us pupils. Maybe I'll get to write a really good documentary on the subject one day. . . the thing is though, I know for sure that the one reason why I wouldn't bother is fear of even deeper isolation from my community for "whistle blowing". . . what community I ask?

      Paul G.

  5. Dear Dr. Janov,

    Reading “Life before Birth” for the second time, I came to the conclusion that your book must become a lecture for pregnant women and young women before they become pregnant – before damage is done to the next generation.
    I have sent the newly published German version to some pregnant woman who might have read the English version, but did not understand. The main belief is, the child in the womb is protected by the embryonic fluid and nothing can harm it. One woman was still riding her horse up to the sixth month of her pregnancy, not considering the possibility of an accident. Her proof, that the child is not harmed by the riding motion was that she gave birth to a 4300 gram, over 9 lb. boy - delivered by C-section.

    Rarely anybody I discussed the book with asked the question – how was MY gestation period – do I suffer from any mentioned symptoms?
    From the professionals I send the book to (English and German) is no response at all.
    My question is, is denial or bad tradition or medical praxis (C-section) so deeply ingrained that science cannot break through so much ignorance and most of all, religion?

    I know you have done your part by writing the book.
    If we cannot convince the young generation to change, to understand the importance of their health, how very damaged/neurotic will humanity be in several generations from now...

    1. Sieglinde: I leave it to all of you to do the lectures and speech. I cannot art

    2. Hi Sieglinde,

      A while back in earlier posts Art said that the major difference between his therapy and everyone elses' is the 1st line.

      It's that simple really. Somehow we (on this blog) have come to sense & feel some of that truth; it's not easy to grasp. Until others begin to feel their pain, anxiety and craziness as coming from deep within their own cellular self then it's all just words to them.

      They can agree or disagree with Life Before Birth and it's all the same to them, no sensations and few feelings connected to their outer cortical perception. You once said it felt like a conspiracy and yes I notice that too because repressed unconscious people club together, buy into each others' lies and close ranks. That is how my former family and peer group behave. It's no conspiracy though, it is like water molecules pouring over the lip of a jug, the one in front tugs on the one behind and gravity is transferred until the jug is empty. . . there is no human will in gravity but there is in feelings.

      Paul G.

    3. Hi Paul G.

      This is the problem – 1st line. They can’t understand because they need to preserve cognitive “wisdom” and, in my opinion, they had a first-line experience. Nevertheless I’ll divide “Life before Birth” in two sections (if I can gather all science material plus graphics about Thalamus, Hypothalamus, Pituitary, neocortex, brain stem, neurons/receptors, plus the explanation and the function of hormones etc. and turn it into a lecture especially for the maturing young women considering motherhood.
      I think it is time to ignore the willfully ignorant and teach, in a simplified way, what science provides.

  6. Dr. Janov,

    Thanks for the trust.
    Are you sure we would get it right?
    Passion is not enough: we need more. How about teaching us first extensively (including existing scientific references) about womb life?
    I’m serious!!

    1. Sieglinde: the best I can do with references is found in Life Before Birth. I looked over several hundred references. art

    2. Dr. Janov,
      I know about the references in Life Before Birth, but it is allot of work to find the original research publication plus retyping section of Life Before Birth to create a well founded lecture.
      I'm trying to create it in Engl and German at the same time. Huuuuhh lots of work.
      My left brain is coming back slowly because I have less pain. However concentration over more than one hour is not possible yet.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.