Monday, June 4, 2012

Psychology and Ideology. How Could Anyone (Except the Rich) Vote for George Bush? By Peter Prontzos (5/6)


As a result of our evolution, human beings have the most “social” brain of any mammal.  As Frans de Waal, one of the world’s leading researchers on primate behaviour, wrote:

There was never a point at which we became social: descended from highly social ancestors – a long line of monkeys and apes – we have been group-living forever… life in groups is not an option, but a survival strategy (de Waal, 4).

The evolutionary advantages of being able to practice complex forms of social cooperation are the primary reasons for the growth of the neo-cortex, which is central to our “higher” mental functions, and which is most developed in the human species.

One foundation of our social nature involves mirror neurons.  This discovery illuminates the very profound way in which people are connected to each other and also provides a neurological foundation for empathy, which is so central to being human that whenever we even think about hurting someone else, our brain automatically generates a negative emotion.  The mirror neural system also illuminates the profoundly social nature of our brains (Siegel, 2006A).

Another study demonstrated that empathy is a normal function of a healthy brain (de Waal believes that it developed out of maternal-infant bonding in mammals, op. cit).  It found that a person who has suffered an injury to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), were more willing to harm others than those whose brains were functioning normally.  As one researcher summed up: “Because of brain damage, they lack empathy and compassion” (ScienceDaily, 22 March 2007).

People are hard-wired for compassion and cooperation.  Not only is it natural to care for others, but nurturing relationships with family and friends are vital to our emotional and physical health.

Eric Fromm argued that we must consider how, in addition to the individual unconscious, cultures develop their own particular “social unconscious” in which political, economic, and cultural forces actively suppress certain “unacceptable” ideas and emotions, while promoting others (Fromm 1955).

There is wide agreement that the corporate media are a major factor in the construction of ideologies.  Kahneman notes that,

People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media (op. cit.  p. 8).

This view that one’s social unconscious plays a significant role in determining one’s political views has been receiving support lately, as new research sheds light on how these unconscious forms develop.

For instance, “there is evidence that life experience as intangible as culture can also reorganize our neural pathways”.  Research shows that both younger Asians, and Westerners in general, view the world differently than older Asians, who grew up with less Western influence.  Psychologists using fMRI scans showed people 200 complex scenes, such as an elephant in a jungle or an airplane flying over a city…”  The lead researcher summarized the results: “An Asian would see a jungle that happened to have an elephant in it...Meanwhile a Westerner would see the elephant and might notice the jungle” (Binns, 2007).  The differences between younger and older Asians support the view that these results stem from cultural rather than genetic causes.

The fact that most people usually hold the same religious and political views as their parents is a reminder of how profound such early influences are.  Most children born to Muslims remained Muslim, and the same is true for Hindus, Christians, Jews, and so on.  By the same token, most children of liberal parents are liberal, while conservative parents generally produce children who lean to the right.

The effects of one’s environment can interact in a number of ways with one’s “nature” to affect attitudes towards other people.  For instance, a recent large-scale study (N = 15,874) in England,

found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice (Hodson, Busseri, 2012).

There are many ways, as noted above, in which natural empathy can be lost.  After all, biology is not destiny, except in the sense that it underlies the wide repertoire of human behaviour, which is more varied than in any other species.  Consider the immense variety of cultures that exist, and that have existed, and it is clear that our behavioural flexibility is vast.  The question of which of our potentials and behaviours are actualized depends on our past experiences as well as our current environment.  Phillip Zimbardo (who ran the [in]famous “Stanford Prison Experiment argues in The Lucifer Effect that:

we are born with a full range of capacities, each of which is activated and developed depending on the social and cultural circumstances that govern our lives…the potential for perversion is inherent in the very processes that make human beings do all the wonderful things that we do (Zimbardo, 2007).


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  2. >escended from highly social ancestors – a long line of monkeys and apes<

    >The evolutionary advantages of being able to practice complex forms of social cooperation are the primary reasons for the growth of the neo-cortex<

    So,why did not apes grew bigger brains if that is the case.
    A central question in a program of discoverychannel.

    The series ´walking with cavemen´ gives also an idea of our evolution.
    (an ice-age plays a role too)


  3. Mirror neurons... from the little I've read about them, they are very fascinating. I need to read more about them.

    In the meantime, I'll put this out here:

    There are studies that show how money has an effect on empathy - and not in a good way. There's a good article about it here:

    The highlights:

    "Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, started working on the issue of “feeling rich” in 2006 along with coauthors Nicole Mead and Miranda Goode. In their research, subjects were given subliminal suggestions to think about money—a clue in a descrambling puzzle, a dollar-bill screensaver on a computer screen, a sheaf of Monopoly bills on a table—before being asked to make a number of decisions: How soon do you ask for help on an impossible drawing task? Do you help the clumsy lab assistant who just dropped all her pencils? Do you donate to a made-up charity? Do you choose to work in a team or alone?

    The mere hint of money, the researchers found, made people less likely to ask for help, less helpful in gathering the lab assistant’s pencils, significantly less generous to the made-up charity, and far less likely to look for teammates. “When people are reminded of money, they get better at pursing their personal goals,” Vohs said. “On the negative side, they become poor at interpersonal functioning. They’re not all that nice to be around. They’re not openly mean or disagreeable, but they can be insensitive.”

    Insensitivity can cover a range of sins, from the minor (being unhelpful) to the more serious—say, treating others like they are less than human. Further studies by Vohs and her colleagues have shown that prompting people to think about money—a technique known as “priming”—makes them less likeable and friendly, and more likely to agree with statements that support an unjust, social-Darwinist status quo (for example, “Some groups of people are simply inferior to others”). In a particularly disturbing part of one study, the team primed people with money, then gauged their empathy by eliciting reactions to a theoretical scenario involving a belligerent homeless person. The researchers offered the subjects a chance to agree with statements that dehumanized others (“Some people deserve to be treated like animals”). The money-primed group was more likely to agree.""


    "In 2009, Michael Kraus, Paul Piff, and Dacher Keltner, all then of Berkeley (Kraus is now at University of California, San Francisco), published research that divided up sample groups by family income as well as self-reported socioeconomic status. People of higher socioeconomic status were more likely to explain success or failure as a result of individual merit or fault; lower-class people, on the other hand, felt less control in their own lives and were more likely to blame events on circumstance. In other words, higher-status people were more likely to feel that they’d earned their high place in society, and that poorer people hadn’t.

    More recently, similar research—involving not just surveys, but heart-rate measurements —has found that higher-status people tend to be less compassionate toward others in a bad situation than people of lower-class backgrounds.

    “If your world is more unpredictable and threatening, and the police are more likely to arrest you, and you’re more likely to go to schools that don’t have the right kinds of resources, you’re going to be more attuned to the context around you,” Keltner explained. “And if [lower-status people are] more attuned to the environment and they’re tracking other people, it turns out they’re more compassionate, too, even at the physiological level.”"

    1. I must say that I can identify with that. I have not earned very much money in my life until recently and having designed something which sells very well I find myself at least for the present quite well off. It changes how one see's oneself and others. People change towards one as well. I find myself worrying that I will be patronising or a show off. I suppose being aware of this is half the battle. I have family members who are just plain unpleasant since they became more well off. What I would say is that there is also an underclass who are so poor and so disadvantaged and so damaged by their upbringing that they don't have empathy either.

    2. Planespotter: They are called lumpenproletariat. art

    3. I hope you did'nt think I was lumping such people together. When I see a Mother who is obviously struggling with little if any money also shouting and screaming and slapping her kids in public my heart sinks at how she is doing what she considers right and proper and yet is causing such damage to the next generation. Does that Mother have empathy for her child? I would suggest not because she probably has little real empathy for herself. It's a tragedy! And many of the Sure start schemes started by the last Labour government to help families like that get out of such a destructive cycle have been closed down by the Tory's. That is what I meant.

      I spent many days campaigning in the London majoral elections for the Labour party and visited people in conditions that animals would not be housed in and I found it very difficult to fight back the tears. I met one old guy who was using a Zimmer frame, living in 1 room in sheltered accomodation who had a filthy duvet and no sheets and pretty well nothing else. I walked out of his flat and had to go and sit down I felt so overwhelmed and sorry for him. It's so damned unfair. I count myself lucky in life even if I did have a shitty upbringing in some ways.

  4. The Betrayal of Intuitive Skills.

    Arts major contribution to humanity is the Primal Principals based on Evolution in Reverse. This principle will be a successful method if we can feel, relive the wordless pain (which at one time - before or shortly after birth - was unbearable) that evolution, using a variety of physiological and psychological filters, repressed. We may eventually become independent of the filter in the form of neurosis, drugs, phobias, anxity etc. and no longer be driven/ propelled by the unconscious pain..

    To dig and find information in the classical psychology leads almost always to dead ends because it is dealing with cognitive adaptation to the surroundings and not to our unique, individual needs. For my personal part, Art's unhesitating stance, in favor of evolution, has led him to his, although numerically limited, treatment successes, which in turn has given him an unwavering opinion toward the cognitive corps of therapists, who often led by their own pain “help”/push their patients to repress their pain even deeper. The evolutionary survival force is so strong that, also in its extension, the psychological literature, academic educators and the media watchers broadly denies Art's innovation / development work which, by its genius and by being excellently documented, is available to anyone.

    After your first three articles, I had continued high expectations of the analysis that explains our policy choices and responses that are an important part of our social world and everyday life. Not least, I was encouraged by your reference to Kahneman, the psychologist who became a Nobel laureate in economics. His fascinating analysis of our lazy intuitive way to draw conclusions, I had hoped would be your leitmotif in the explanations, given where the articles are being presented, would dam up to a major accessibility of Art's principles. Unfortunately,  many of your confident examples confirm Kahn's investigations.

    When you say “that Kahneman notes that people tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory”. These people are, however, not the ones that scare me (they may have changed opinion tomorrow) at the same extent as the professional specialists. According to Kahneman: “ The clinical psychologist, the stock picker, and the pundit do have intuitive skills in some of their tasks, but they have not learned to identify the situations and the tasks in which intuition will betray them. The unrecognized limits of professional skill help explain why experts are often overconfident.”)

    To be continued...

    Jan Johnsson

    1. Hi Jan,
      -"but they have not learned to identify the situations and the tasks in which intuition will betray them. The unrecognized limits of professional skill help explain why experts are often overconfident.”)

      This is exactly the case with my current client who has now allowed summer storms to pour in through the roof of his cottage onto his family all because he does not know that he does not know trigonometry. He continues to refuse to acknowledge this and so he and his family must suffer (and my work schedule and earnings are seriously compromised).

      He does know how to operate the keypad of his electronic drawing machine which is how he earns his living working for another engineering company drafting provisional sketches for metal fabrication.

      These 'technician' types often assume that because the machine has an electronic 'protractor' inside its' software programming that a thorough working knowledge of trig is unnecessary for the operator. They believe the machine will somehow just 'do it'. Of-course, you have to decide what and where the constant is first, then the machine can automatically calculate the variables. . . Ho hum.

      Paul G.

  5. "Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice".

    There's no doubt that more simple people generally put others into simple categories. They form rapid, strong assumptions based on surface-level information. All their responses, private or overt, are more simplistic.

    But I think the function of categorising is natural and it only becomes "prejudice" when we refuse to update and develop from our assumptions. Or form initial assumptions that are irrationally too rigid to begin with.

    Also I think repression has a lot to do with faulty prejudice it too. When you can't 'feel' someone (which means getting natural information on the basic state of their brain-stem, etc) then you are not driven to look further - that is, you don't get the 'cognitive dissonance' that relates to the contradiction on how the person looks on one level, and how you sense them on another.

    1. I totally agree. Putting people into boxes is an easy and lazy unempathic way of dealing with people. If one is a damaged person as I know I am and then becomes aware of what the world is really like one suddenly finds oneself in a situation trying to empathise and interact with others with flawed and damaged tools. It's bloody frustrating and hits one's confidence all the time. I have completely lost my confidence in dealing with people and this is partly down to having been put in catagories all my life that were of no help to me at all and far more help to my Parents in that it allowed them to feel superior to me due to their own insecurities.

    2. Hi planespotter,

      I've become extremely wary of peoples' 'boundaries' in this respect. In some ways that's a good thing but getting feelings back is like learning another language and not very many people want to talk that language; the "lovies" are the worst, I have found.

      For about 4 years I have been saying nothing to some people because anything I say will be misconstrued. I can't win though, now I'm being 'uncommunicative'. . . I have found a way to 'play along' with some people and I catch myself reflecting internally on how two faced I'm being but only I notice!

      It's ok to lie, consciously for a good aim. Most people are lying unconsciously with no aim other than to rid themselves of the burden of feeling.

      Getting your feelings back is your own reward and your life can become richer for it. You can move forward. Nevertheless dealings with others can become more complicated, they would because your life is deeper and broader with feelings. The CBT therapies claim the opposite effect don't they? Life is so simple with CBT. . . Well they would make things simpler because cognition 'reduces' things to their simplest and most trite value.

      Paul G.

  6. Andrew Atkin: Good post. Prejudice and racism are not binary states where you're either an enlightened liberal or a neo-nazi. Like in so many things, there's a spectrum.

    I'm from Finland, one of the whitest countries on Earth. There were literally no people of color in my elementary school, middle school or high school when I attended them in the 80's and 90's. Finland signed the Shengen-agreement in 1996 and started applying the Schengen acquis in 2001. Since then there have been more immigrants, at least in the bigger cities.

    So I can't really pretend to be totally "color-blind" with regard to race, as some people claim to be. But what I can do is recognize my prejudices, and I feel that those prejudices are not a good thing.

    1. Hi AnttiJ,

      -"So I can't really pretend to be totally "color-blind" with regard to race, as some people claim to be"-.

      That's quite funny! "Colour Blind". . . Brilliant ambiguity there.

      Paul G.


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.