Noanxiety.com Homepage

Switch to english language  Passa alla lingua italiana  
Random quote
Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. Erich Fromm

The Benefits of Anxiety Counseling

June 21st, 2020 by admin | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 32 views | Print this Article

Anxiety is an issue that troubles millions of people all over the world. There are many different types of anxiety disorders and some people are more affected by them than others. However, no matter what kind of anxiety you’re dealing with, or the severity, your goal is likely to lessen it. One of the main ways you can do this is through anxiety counseling.

What is Anxiety Counseling?

Anxiety counseling is when you talk to a trained professional about your anxiety issues. Because anxiety is a mental condition, it is often helpful to discuss your issues with a neutral third-party. Just like you would go to a doctor for a physical problem, like a headache or broken bone, going to a counselor is often one of the best things you can do for anxiety.

According to Dr. Piper Walsh, a provider of anxiety counseling in Orange County, California, “Professional counseling offers a safe environment that allows us to explore our thoughts, feelings, and hopes with the advice, guidance, and insight of a professional.”

But what are the specific, concrete benefits you can expect to get from anxiety counseling? Below are just a few of the most common benefits.

Stress Relief

The first major benefit of anxiety counseling is stress relief. When we are dealing with difficult emotions, it can all become bottled up inside us. If you don’t have a healthy way of dealing with your stress, it can quickly take a heavy toll on you. Anxiety counseling gives you someone to talk to and air out everything that is stressing you. Many people find that after a counseling session, it feels like a large weight has been lifted off of their shoulders.

Confidence Building

For some people, their anxiety keeps them from doing things they would like. This avoidance leads to a feeling that they wouldn’t be good in a particular situation. For example, someone suffering from social anxiety may avoid going to parties with their friends. Their anxiety tells them that there is something to be afraid of at this party, and as a result, they don’t go.

Anxiety counseling can help individuals analyze these fears, then build up the confidence to overcome them. The anxiety counselor may give the client some exercises designed to build up their own self-confidence. After a few therapy sessions, they may feel better about themselves, and be able to attend that party.

Having confidence is an important part of progressing through life. You need it whenever you are looking to try something new, like get a promotion, start a new relationship, or begin a new project. Through anxiety counseling, you can slowly build up your confidence in key areas, so that you can finally start doing those things you’ve been wanting to do.

Improved Health

We often don’t realize it, but stress and anxiety, while mental conditions, can have a large impact on our physical health. It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from anxiety and stress to feel tired or sluggish throughout the day. Anxiety can also cause bad habits, such as smoking or over-eating unhealthy foods. By addressing the root cause of these problems, you can start to live a healthier lifestyle.

Develop Healthy Habits

To really deal with anxiety, it’s often about taking the next step, rather than just the first one. Many people are able to get a handle on things, only to slide back into bad habits a few weeks or months later. Keeping up with anxiety counseling sessions can help you to establish healthy habits so that you don’t find yourself in the same place somewhere down the line.

An anxiety counselor will give you the tools you need to establish these healthy habits, then check in with you to ensure you’re practicing. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve reverted back into bad habits and it takes a therapist to point it out to you. By taking the time to develop these healthy habits, you can set yourself up for long-term success.

Potentially Avoid Medications

Finally, anxiety counseling may prevent you from needing medications. While anxiety medications are helpful in some situations, they can also cause some side effects. If you are able to manage your anxiety without medications, this is usually preferred. Regularly attending anxiety counseling sessions is a great way to get to the heart of the problem, so that you can work on yourself without having to rely on medication. Then, if you’re still having trouble, you and your counselor can discuss medication options that work in conjunction with your therapy.

Get the Help You Need

If you’ve been struggling with anxiety, you owe it to yourself to consider anxiety counseling. There are numerous benefits that can change your life for the better. We all deserve to be happy, so if you think a counselor may help you, find one in your local area and set up an appointment.

PDF Creator    Send article as PDF   

Evolution and Information; A Theory of Origination

June 18th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 19 views | Print this Article

Evolution and Information:
A Theory of Origination

by Robert DePaolo

Darwin’s theory of natural selection comprises the most widely accepted scientific explanation of how organisms originated and evolved over time. While aspects of his theories in Origin of the Species were more complex than some modern characterizations suggest the idea can be whittled down to a kind of reverse causation. While science typically emphasizes the deterministic model – the notion that causes precede effects, natural selection holds that there is no cause, or central theme (biological or otherwise) in the origin and development of species. Instead the process unfolds as follows. First, comes the mutation – which is a function of probability-based errors in traits arising from genetic shuffling with each generation. Then comes the environment – both in terms of its existing state at the time of any give trait/mutation and in terms of its changes over time and impact on the future survival or organisms.
The term ‘environment’ was defined in a broad context by Darwin to include both inter species competition and what he called sexual selection; which refers to females’ preference for males with advantageous traits which they hope will be transmitted to offspring.
There have always been several problems with this theory. One has to do with the competition factor. It is very rare for one species to drive another to the point of extinction. Lionesses will never cause the extinction of zebras – indeed only succeed on a hunt one out of ten times. Arguably, rather than threaten the zebras’ existence, selecting the weakest zebras as prey actually enhances the species, making it more robust and attractive to one another, thus enhancing propagation. In that sense the hunt can ultimately increase the prey population.
Competition can be for resources but this results in extinction only in extraordinary circumstances. Lions, hyenas and vultures compete for the same food sources but the intelligence of each species enables it to obtain meat without directly competing. Vultures wait for scraps or move in when lions have left the vicinity unaware that there is a carcass on which to feed. Hyenas confront lionesses but much of this ends up in a standoff. If hyenas have the advantage of numbers they will feed first. If not, and if the male of the pride is in the area the lions will dominate. But as long as there are still prey in the hunting grounds each will find a way.
A similar caveat applies to sexual selection. No female on earth is prescient enough to determine what traits will prove adaptive in the future. They do not mate in terms of environmental vicissitudes. Rather they mate in terms of what they view as species norms for fitness. In that sense sexual selection is based more on present sense stagnation than future adaptability. While human females can and do change their preferences for males with changing times (in the fifties it was either large pecs or a college degree, in the sixties, a puerile “cute”look and the trappings of “social consciousness”) no other females have such attitudinal malleability. Those factors offer a challenge to natural selection as a prime model of evolution, particularly the basic components of random mutation and environmental selection.
That model assumes there is enough coordination between trait mutations and environmental shifts to keep the phenomenal volume of life on earth flowing. While it makes sense to assume mutations will either be A. irrelevant to survival B. advantageous to survival as juxtaposed on the environment, or C detrimental to the organism’s survival. Yet that hardly comprises a systematic process.
Considering the enormous disparity in timelines within which organisms mutate and the environment changes it seems possible that natural selection has little net effect on organic evolution – that genetics and the ecology are for the most part two ships passing in the night. In other words, like the lioness and the zebra, genetic change probably misses the environmental target most of the time. In that case even the reverse determinism inherent in Darwin’s theory seems hard to defend.
There is another possible explanation, based more on information dynamics than biology and perhaps coincides more closely, and systemically with the origin of life forms.

Systems and complexity…

An information system is one in which there are stabilizing codes to go along with some degree of variability. For example the letter sequence…. ffffff-g-ffffff-g-ffffff-g… has some repetition (the sequence of f’s) and some variability (seen in the letter ‘g’). If the ‘g’ occurred randomly it would not comprise a code, but since it occurs each time after 6 f’s it has variability that falls within the context of the overall information system. In other words variability within structure is the formula for any intact information system including a life form
For any information system to last it must have a central, versatile base of stability so that whatever variations occur will, while causing a slight drift from the main trend, not dissemble the system. When a system has variability it can more effectively deal with change. That is because it’s integrity does not depend on the sustenance of any one element. Thus the more complex the system (that is, the more its capacity to vary without unraveling into entropy) the more resilient it will be. With that in mind a different view of comes into play

In the Beginning…

The first task of life forms was molecular. While protein synthesis, DNA and RNA replication were necessary components of life, it is likely that macro-molecules similar to or the same as those were probably floating around in the methane-based environment of early earth. Back then the days were hot, the nights extremely cold and such drastic changes in temperature would have broken up molecular bindings rather frequently. That means life did not simply appear with the advent of amino acids, proteins and DNA but instead came and went for millions of years without actually forming anything resembling a life system.
If that is true, it seems the crucial factor in the advent and evolution of life might have been the makeup and resilience of the internal organic components (featuring a “threshold stability/variance” information system) that gave the macro molecules via increasing complexity and made them more resilient. With more molecular (integrated) diversity the organic information system could more effectively resist environmental vagaries. This means instead of evolution depending on adaptation to the external environment, it could have arisen in the first instance from a proto-organic insulation capacity: in other words, by developing increasingly separate but interdependent cells and organs that could share and support each other and dilute the effect of environmental intrusions. As the proliferation of cells continued the cellular structures developed a resistance capability and became more “environmentally immune.”
One aspect of this model that seems plausible is that while adherents to natural selection typically think in terms of traits such as coat color, size, strength, the length of fangs, the position of the eyes or tensile grip they seldom consider the complexity of cellular interactions and increased redundancy of organ systems as comprising the prime survival mechanism.
Perhaps having multiple systems work cooperatively to provide nutrition to the cells and keep the organic entity intact – in a way similar to the brain losing cells via post adolescent tissue loss without loss of memory or general intelligence post is the prime physiological function.
In that context the cells of the heart, lungs, digestive system, muscle system, kidneys etc. really are sub components of a general physiological information system, that is, more than “organs’ also encoding mechanisms serving to prevent environmental factors from undoing the information content and systemic integrity of the body. The question is, why such a complex – arguably abstract process exist in the concrete world of biology?
One possible answer lies in the most frequent and insidious cause of extinction for all organisms – disease. Lions won’t extinguish zebras and great white sharks will never drive seals to the brink. But bacteria and viruses can kill millions at once and perhaps that has always been the driving factor in evolution. To the extent that integrated cellular variability deflects the impact on any foreign agent among numerous cells and organs the impact will be less. The target that is moving is hardest to hit and the more information any one entity contains the more resistant to harmful impact it will be. Indeed that very cellular diversity/integrity does something extraordinary for the health and survival of any organism. By redirecting the target of disease it gives the immune system more time to engulf and destroy the intruder.
Because of its ties to information dynamics i will refer to this concept of evolution as a theory of ‘progressive encoding.’ In the course of time the internal organ and bodily transport systems became more diverse, also functionally redundant. Cells with some variety gathered and something held them together – most likely carbon which has the capacity to meld together a variety of molecules. That led to the first step in organic evolution – integrity; so that temperature changes and other factors could not dissemble the original molecular conglomerates. That resiliency/internal protective factor led to a proliferation of complexity (increased information content”worked”) so that while death by predation, earthquake or famine were still possibilities, the real competitor (the bacteria and viruses) were coming under increasing control. This is a speculative notion but perhaps offers a less random alternative to natural selection.

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

The Cybernetic Personality; A Gauge Conception of Human Behavior

April 17th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 12 views | Print this Article

The Cybernetic Personality:
A Gauge Conception of Human Behavior

Abstract

This article discusses a model of the personality that functions in a way that is similar to a feedback system. It is a synthesis of personality elements as described by psychoanalysts. client-centered, behavioral and existential theorists in a way that coincides with physical laws, specifically systems that are regulated by feedback information.

The Coherent System…

While nature is obviously complex. a fairly narrow and specific process can be used to describe its functions, including the behavior of organisms. It is the cybernetic system – the word ‘cybernetic’ meaning capable of error correction (Ashby 1957). Whether in reference to climate, the earth’s atmosphere or the behavior of organisms, the process involves three main components.

1. The presence of a gauge. This is essentially the normal state of the system. It is not a fixed state, rather a range within which the state can vary without losing its internal stability. While it has tolerable levels of variability it can only deviate so far beyond point zero (the point of absolute normalcy before instability (disequilibrium) sets in.

2. A corrective function; meaning a capacity to recognize errors and deviations that exceed the normal range of variability and utilize corrective action to restore stability.

3. A feedback/recognition system that can register a return to stability through some type of signal system..

4. A series of strategies and actions that can be effectively used to make the corrections

5. An ergonomic gauge that can determine whether the energy expended in the corrections process has exceeded the system’s energy reserves in the course of the corrective action.

The Personality as a System…

Many of the classic personality theories contain references to systemic phenomena. Indeed almost all describe the personality as a dynamic consisting of many components, with multiple interactive influences that can either contribute to or threaten the overall stability of the system. Freud viewed his triadic model of the psyche in those terms; specifically regarding the apportioning of libidinal-derived energy to the ego and superego (Siegfried 2010 ). He was heavily influenced by the field of physics in developing this dynamism. Physics, of course, addresses almost all aspects of nature in terms of fields and systems.
Adler’s notion of the compensatory actions modulating the polarities of inferiority and superiority also entails systemic elements: his ultimate point of stability being centralized social interest. By this scenario the individual restores balances to his psychic equilibrium by becoming altruistic – thus ameliorating the tension between feelings of failure and feelings of grandiosity. (Hoffman 1994 )

Harry Stack Sullivan also wrote about the ‘self-system’ in dynamic terms, (Levenson 1992) as did Carl Rogers, who put at the center of his model, the conflict between the ideal self and the real self (Thomas, Sanders 201). All of these (and most other) models of the personality pivot around the idea that imbalance….or some form of instability, produces tension that can only be resolved through systemic adjustments or corrections that bring the system back to within normal ranges.

The word ‘cybernetic’ refers to any system that can remain intact by utilizing a capacity to self-correct. Because that model applies clearly to bodily functions like the immune system, discussing the personality in that context places it in the category of a medical model.

While that comparison gives the personality a familiar ring – and would presumably lead to a more fluid interplay between mind and body, it is not without snags. One of which is that while the lungs, heart and immune system are structurally and functionally delineated, the personality is not. It is a bit more interwoven, and frankly, an ambiguous concept in both its structure and function. Therefore, in order to discuss its parameters; that is, its ranges of tolerable variation – one first has to define exactly what it is. Once that is done – and it’s not an easy undertaking – it becomes possible to describe the personality as a coherent, definable system by which to make diagnostic and therapeutic determinations.
In order to define the personality requires some way to encompass all its features, including temperament,(for example extroversion, introversion), social orientation, language style, attitudes, interests and motivations in one prime entity, so that the aforementioned traits and attributes can be seen as tethered extensions of what amounts to a ‘personality singularity.’

A possible solution to that problem might be found in an element that is distinct from, yet inclusive of all those features, and could give rise to those derivative traits. That solution can perhaps be found by considering all behaviors, feelings and conceptions as fundamental reflections of the self.

Why begin with that premise? For two main reasons. First, in early childhood a sense of self runs parallel to the accumulation and interpretation of experience (Miller, Church et.al), thus serves as a general frame of reference. If a child is scolded, he or she will interpret that as having to do with “my behavior.” He cannot completely externalize the experience as though looking at bacteria under a microscope. Second, since each experience registers on the person’s sensorium it would necessarily be registered in memory. and since memories (and almost all inputs) are internally manipulated to become assimilated into prior conceptions those inputs will, over time, be reshaped to become congruous with the ‘self’ that filed them away in the first place.

In that sense, one can view the self as a kind of a psychic holograph. Turned in one direction it looks like a feeling, or perhaps a fervent belief in helping others. Turned toward another angle, it looks like a political belief, maybe leaning conservative. From still another angle, it looks like a favorite football team or rock band Then again, perhaps a specific goal or motivation. However, despite the various angular variations, the governing view is the self.

Rise of the Self…

The Self might well develop in a way that parallels brain development in an infant. The first year of childhood features a fundamental neurological process in which vertically arranged fibers devoted to basic sensory and motor capacities line up. This is followed by brachiation, i.e. neural branching off in peripheral, interconnected arrangements. (Webb, Monk, et.al 2001) The latter mechanism facilitates experiential comparisons, which in turn potentiate integrative cognition and enable the child to see both figure and ground of sensory and social experience. The interconnectedness arising from that second stage of cross circuitry is largely a function of learning.

A similar process seems to occur during the development of the self. In the first months of life the infant has no sense of self. He cannot distinguish between himself and his mother, in what amounts to a carryover from the womb. Then, as sensori-motor skills develop, the child comes to realize he can respond in a way separate from anyone or anything else. It is a phase of development when control begins. Movement, initiated by the child begins to secure feedback; for example crawling to places in the home where he covets some object or person’s attention.
The satisfaction derived from self-initiated behavior becomes a stimulus (and gradual understanding) leading to a psychological separation of self from the environment. That onset of physical freedom becomes a first step toward a psychological sense of self.

As the child gets older, this separation experience becomes more prominent in his thinking and behavior. From a capacity for movement and independent goal attainment he moves on to linguistic, cognitive and emotional independence. He is now becoming a self-advocate – one who can tax the patience of his parents due to his newly formed oppositional tendencies.
Once that sense of self takes hold, it will serve as a frame of reference (a personalistic holograph) by which to, not only evaluate various experiences but also synthesize them into a whole. At this point, the self is not yet fully developed and won’t be until early adulthood. Along the way, the child will receive input from parents that shapes his feelings, attitudes and beliefs. However, because self- development unfolds as a function of time and maturation, the influence of external input will wane as the child grows older.

By the time the child reaches young adulthood he will be anchored down by a self-system. (Incidentally, this is also the period in his life when the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex reach maximal growth), While he can still be influenced by external events, his general take on experience will pass through an internal filter.

That is the point (roughly speaking) where self-systemic regulation becomes most important as a psychological function. While the adolescent might feel rebellious, and purport to cast aside the “old values” he is actually an unwitting conduit of those values. His rebellious behavior merely represents variations on a theme. That will become clear when he enters the period of adulthood. (Daniel, Benest-Weisman, M 2018 ) At that point, he will tend to operate like a mirror of eccentricity.

While many clinicians view egocentricity as a pathological state, here it is seen as a psychological constant that can be manifest in various ways, but continues as an interpretive mechanism throughout life. As a result, all experience will be evaluated and felt in terms of how it coincides with his self-system.
There will be parameters involved. The most efficient, long-lasting cybernetic systems in nature have flexibility, and a capacity to accommodate deviations while still remaining intact. But there are limits to this process. For example, the question becomes, how much ‘deviance,’ in terms of cultural input, others’ behavior or his own behavior can be accommodated before his self-system is rendered unstable.

The person with a flexible, but intact (elastic) self-system will tend to enjoy better mental health than the person who has an extraordinarily rigid self-system. That obviously has implications for childrearing and indeed for self-development. That process was a cornerstone of Carl Rogers’ notion of the flexible self-concept.
This notion has implications for both normalcy and pathology. With regard to the latter, all pathology that is not due to endogenous factors, i.e. neurochemical, or organically caused disorders, would be viewed in the context of how experiences affect the self-system. In that context, the core of all pathologies could be whittled down to either self-rigidity, or self-disintegration – the pathognomic self being either too rigid or too loose.

However, those two elements can actually be combined into one That is because, rather than simply enduring frequent episodes of self-instability the individual will typically convert the input into a state of extreme certainty (rigidity) through a compensation process. Just as the body’s immune system recognizes and engulfs foreign bodies in the organ systems. so too would information foreign to the self- system be engulfed and redirected into rigidity and impulsiveness.

That also has clinical implications. Specifically, if one view the personality as a cybernetic phenomenon, it would have to be assumed internal regulation is an ongoing process, rather than, as Freud suggested, a process employed only in times of psychological duress.

If that argument has merit one very important factor in psychotherapy would involve helping clients maximize the effective use of defense mechanisms as part of an ongoing, regulatory mechanism, rather than trying to get them to a point where they no longer need them.

Another clinical implication arises from this model which puts the central focus in the cognitive realm. Concepts like the self and the personality are somewhat abstract and would seem to exclude some of the concrete behavioral aspects of diagnosis and treatment. For example, practitioners of cognitive behavior therapy encourage clients to modify their habits as well as their interpretations of experience in the course of therapy.

However, while there are some distinctions to be made between cognition (and its derivative, the personality) and overt behavior, there are also significant commonalities. Indeed the two elements arguably derive from the same source – the self-system. The reason for this assertion is that behavior must coincide with the self-system in order for the individual to avoid the pitfalls of cognitive dissonance (Cooper 2007). For example, coaching a client to become more assertive as a means of alleviating social anxiety and more effectively meeting his needs will only work if the self-system of that individual can accommodate the change in behavior.

One of the drawbacks to behavior therapy is that giving clients homework assignments and behavioral prescriptions without evaluating whether the prescribed actions fit in with the client’s personality structure will not always be successful. In such instances the client might come to feel the therapist’s advice actually creates instability, requiring a “correction” by the client that ends up sabotaging the therapeutic process. If the self is the fulcrum of the personality and if the personality can be viewed as a cybernetic system it would mean the self-system would have to be factored into any treatment modality for counseling to be effective.

REFERENCES

Ashby, W.R (1957) Introduction to Cybernetics Chapman and Hall, London

Cooper, J. (2007) Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory, London SAGE Publications

Daniel, E. Benest-Weisman, M. (2018) Value Development during Adolescence; Dimensions of Change and Stability,Journal of Personality 87 (1)

Hoffman, E ( 1994) The Drive for Self; Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading,Mass. Welsey.

Levenson, E.A. MD. (1992) Harry Stack Sullivan: From Interpersonal Psychiatrist to Interpersonal Psychoanalyst..Contemporary Psychoanalysis Vol. 28 (2)

Miller, S. Church, E.B Poole, C. (2016) Ages and Stages; How Children Develop Self Concept, Scholastic Teacher

Siegfried, Z. MD. (2010) The Libido and Psychic Energy – Freud’s concept revisited. International Forum of Psychoanalysis Vol.19 p. 3-14

Thomas, B. Sanders, P.(2002) Carl Rogers. SAGE Publications 3rd Ed. p 119-120

Webb, S.J. Monk, C.S. Nelson, C.A. (2001) Mechanisms of post-natal neurobiological development and implications for human development. Developmental Neuropsychiatry (2) 147-171.

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

Lateral Inhibition, Language Deficits and Autistic Development

January 9th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 16 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses a pervasive brain function that has implications for language development, arousal modulation and autistic symptomatology. It revolves around the phenomenon known as the Mach band – which is a hypothetical description of an actual neural process known as lateral inhibition. It is this process that facilitates perceptual accuracy, prevents noise/uncertainty build up in the brain and prevents random uncontrollable excitation.

A Distinction Machine…

it is generally assumed that the evolution of a large brain was a watershed event in man’s ascendancy in nature. A large brain does provide obvious advantages. For example, vast neural connections allow for more associations, expansive memory and greater cognitive flexibility, all of which have enabled homo sapiens to adapt to more varied environments and circumstances than any other creature.

However there is an equally obvious disadvantage to having a large brain. It is a drawback that pertains to any highly complex, vast information system; a greater probability of noise interference. The more neurons and interconnections, the greater the potential for info-chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps that is why, despite our pan-adaptability humans seem to be the only animals with substantial degrees of mental illness and cognitive dysfunction . *

Fortunately, in most instances, there is a built-in mechanism that operates as a noise buster and enables humans to negotiate around a highly complex brain. It is called lateral or “surround” inhibition and it allows us to distinguish relevant inputs from irrelevant, peripheral inputs that would otherwise create interference patterns, prevent efficient response selection and accurate perception (Yantis, 2014). Without this mechanism a large brain would actually prove disadvantageous since the search for adaptive perceptions and behaviors would involve an excruciating needle in the haystack scenario.

Beyond preventing mass interference (noise) lateral inhibition provides the benefit of emotional equanimity, because it also modulates arousal levels. Just as an influx of visual and auditory stimuli are chaperoned by this mechanism for perceptual and behavioral clarity so too does it facilitate emotional control and specification. In both instances the impact of lateral inhibition on perception, behavior and emotional arousal levels is profound.

The Autistic Conundrum…

Questions have arisen as to why,some autistic individuals have exceptional (if somewhat narrow) skill levels in certain areas while others have more severe limitations. Lack of diagnostic accuracy might be one reason; bearing in mind that the autistic spectrum encompasses both those with fine motor deficits so profound as to render the use of eating utensils problematic and those whose fine motor and cognitive skills are intact enough to enable them to write lengthy auto-biographies.

However there are other possible explanations for what might be termed ‘autistic narrowness.’ It would appear both higher and lower functioning autistic individuals operate in an experiential tunnel and that deviation from this narrow vantage point comprises an aversive experience. This has relevance with regard to the question of why autistic individuals engage in self stimulatory behaviors, rely so heavily on routine and demonstrate task avoidance tendencies.

It is well established that one facet of autism is the “kindling” process – the tendency for neural activity to spike fairly chronically (Krista, Gilby et al 2013 ). One can assume the jolt resulting from spiking is aversive to the autistic individual, Since he or she is easily overwhelmed by spreading, unmodulated inputs and since all learning, particularly involving motor skills is accompanied by heightened arousal levels autistic learning deficits are not solely due to cognitive limitations but also in large part to arousal intolerance and task avoidance (Iverson 2015), (Liss, Saulnier et al 2006).

No one sits still with the impingement of aversive stimuli. Instead one responds adaptively to terminate or override the aversion. If true, it follows that self stimulatory behaviors (rocking, humming, finger play) are not awkward manifestations of neuro-pathology or lack of cognitive ability per se but arousal modulating, adaptive behaviors that conceivably substitute for defective lateral inhibition functions. In that context the narrow skill learning style of the higher functioning autistic individual could be considered a compromise learning style pitting personal tolerance vs. environmental vagaries.

Nuts and Bolts…

Lateral inhibition entails the capacity of excitatory nerve cells to suppress surrounding nerve cells. One of its purposes is to create contrast in facilitating sensory perception so that edges in the visual domain and details in other sensory areas can be accurately detected. Most of this process originates in the higher center of the brain – the cerebral cortex (Coppola, Parisi et al (2013) but extends to a mid brain structure called the thalamus (Lavallee, Deschenes 2014). It is an encoding mechanism that, as mentioned above prevents noise from overwhelming the brain and has parallels to the “slow potential wave micro-structure” regulatory, memory-encoding process referenced by Karl Pribram (1991).

Lateral inhibition is usually associated with sensory systems such as touch, vision and hearing but since this mechanism is permeates the cortex and thalamus (the latter of which acts as a relay station transmitting neural signals to a variety of brain sites) it can be presumed to be widespread around the brain. As discussed above, since it dampens surrounding interference patterns, making sure that relevant inputs are highlighted, it must operate reciprocally with memory. That is because deciding on relevant vs. irrelevant inputs involves learning in the first place. While some sensory phenomena are built in to the central nervous system – for example perception of angles, edges and perhaps the human face,(Cowen, Chun et al. 2014 ) there can be said to be a reciprocal interaction between memory and the “noise busting” aspect of lateral inhibition. That has implications for autism.

For many autistic individuals anxiety is a central problem; not just because of specific fears but, also because they have difficulty consolidating memory and anchoring experiences to the point of comfortable familiarity, either for lack of adequate lateral inhibition, or because they do not have the perceptual and/or emotional clarity to readily establish memories in the first place. While they can certainly memorize information. memory entails two processes; consolidation and retrieval. Problematic lateral inhibition could create noise within neural interactions and prevent memory from functioning smoothly – thus the need for repetition and routine as adaptive/compensatory measures.

Expression, Comprehension and Cadence…

Deficient lateral inhibition could also have implications for language development. Language is a vast encoding process that might well be dependent on lateral inhibition. It is not just a social-communicative skill. It also allows us to separate one experience, event or object from another. The minute we label a color “red” it automatically creates a distinction between “red” and “blue.” In that context superior human social perception might ultimately derive from what Spence called discrimination learning (1936). As an aside, this implies a connection between language and the hyper-social nature of our species. For example, to be as social as we are requires a greater capacity to distinguish one person or group from another categorically.

While lateral inhibition is a natural byproduct of neural development it can only function effectively by being able to sift through neural interference patterns at variable rates in the course of child development. In child development vertically arranged pathways are followed by horizontally arranged pathways resulting in a cross grid morass of vast interconnections. As inter-connectivity expands noise levels increase in the child’s brain with age (which might explain why, prior to decline around the age of two some autistic children appear normal). As a result, in the course of child development, lateral inhibition would have to keep pace. Just how this occurs is unknown but one key might lie in the regulatory functions of a site often referred to as the brain’s central computer.

Posterior Stability…

The cerebellum is an interesting brain structure located above the hind brain with a unique cellular topography. It has extensive connections to various other parts of the brain, which speaks to its functional influence. it is also the most uniform of the major brain sites, with only two types of cells – Pyramidal and Purkinje cells – which has led some to liken it to a computer (Ito 1979). That comparison is based on the fact that its smooth, uniform structure has a programmed, regulatory topography apparently designed to anchor other parts of the brain – particularly with regard to motor and cognitive memories. It appears to be a low noise structure, providing the luxury of automatic responding. In other words, once stored in the cerebellum, a behavior or cognitive memory no longer requires sifting and retrieval – an enormously helpful function, not only because it enhances stability but because by ameliorating the search for memories it conserves energy in the brain.

There seems to be evidence of dysfunctional development in the pathways of the cerebellum of autistic individuals, specifically fairly consistent signs of cerebellar hypoplasia (lack of cellular maturation) (Hampsom,Blatt 2015).

Developmental deficiency in the cerebellum would mitigate against automaticity. which coincides with the autistic child’s tendency to behave as though each experience is new and in many instances threatening. In not being able to store experiences in automatic memory the autistic individual would appear to be subject to an excruciating, chronic level of hyper-vigilance and anxiety.

The Pleasure of Specificity…

With regard to questions on language development, and in a larger context, the evolutionary origins of human language no clear answers have been provided. Numerous theories abound but the closest thing to an empirical sense of human language development has typically been derived from infant/toddler observations. One typical observation noted by parents and linguists is that children tend to develop simultaneously the skills of pointing and speaking. Some have surmised that this indicates a primarily social aspect to language development; more specifically a ‘theory of mind’ capability that allows toddlers to approximate what others might be thinking. In other words, the child purportedly seeks to know if: “What I see is what you see” as a sort of interpersonal confirmation ( Korkmaz 2011).

Certainly that is an important aspect of language development but perhaps not the core factor. For example one could just as readily assume the child points and speaks not because he is wondering what another might be seeing or thinking but because he has so many neurons in his brain (most of which are not quite interconnected – an infant’s brain has as many neurons as an adults but early on the wiring is not meshed) that the act of identifying an object is a noise busting, information attaining experience that gives him great joy- just as closure and resolution might please an adult at the climax of a who-done-it movie. In this scenario the child is not asking for confirmation of his observations but instead communicating his joy over neuro-experiential resolution (closure) as a kind of aha experience.

If “closure theory” has any merit than it would tie in with the importance of lateral inhibition in the developing brain and In part resolve the conflict between the nature and nurture theories of language acquisition – particularly regarding the question of why children can learn language so quickly (a phenomenon that tends to favor nature theorists).

If, built into the brain is a noise busting mechanism, reinforced by a persistent closure/pleasure experience (internal feedback) then both the nature and nurture theories of language acquisition could be accommodated. In that sense instinct and learning might be seen as two sides of the same coin because for lateral inhibition to operate effectively, the process must rely on learned memories in determining what are relevant vs. peripheral pathways – lateral inhibition being bio-natural while specific words, dialects etc. are learned.

On the other hand if noise busting was not fluid due to defective lateral inhibition then instead of being pleasurable, language reception and expression would be aversive. That would mean that part of the reason autistic individuals have trouble speaking is because they find both listening and speaking too overwhelming, the search for phonics, words and phrases too difficult. That would mean language and learning deficits are caused in part by an emotional (noise) avoidance reaction.

Observations of autistic individuals would seem to indicate that the auditory channel in particular is effected by this deficit (Leekam, Nieto et al 2007 ). Not being able to effectively parse (laterally inhibit) various sounds would make learning of language and other skills difficult. By the same token the auditory stimulus of music – which is synthesized by melody and cadence (both can to an extent compensate for deficient lateral inhibition via rhythmic encoding) might be more tolerable, even enjoyable.

It all suggests autism is largely a stimulus avoidance disorder, requiring chronic, adaptive (albeit limiting) noise remedial behaviors, including extreme adherence to routine, over reliance on specific learning styles, use of stimulus control behaviors to override chronic CNS exhaustion (because of the endless sifting and sensory contrast demands placed on the brain) a need for brain/body rest due to that exhaustion and opportunities to control their sensorium by being able to terminate tasks prior at the point of intolerable arousal (analogous to what Goldstein called the “catastrophic reaction”(2012 ). It is a life style characterized by a ‘less is more’ paradigm that necessarily sacrifices integrative/conceptual volume learning for neuro-functional equanimity.

REFERENCES

Coppola, G. Parisi, V. Di Lorenzo, C. Magis, D, Schoenen, J. Pierelli, F. (2013) Lateral inhibition in visual cortex of migraine patients between attacks. Journal of Headache and Pain: 14 ( 1) 20

Cowen, A.S. Chun, M.M. Kuhl, B.A. (2014) Neural portraits of perception; reconstructing face images from evoked brain activity. Neural Image 94 12-22

Goldstein catastrophic reaction reference… (2012) Medical Eponyms – retrieved from Medical Dictionary – The Free Dictionary

Hampsom, D. Blatt, G. (2015) Autism spectrum disorders and neuropathology of the cerebellum. Frontiers in Neuro-science 9: 420

Ito, M. (1979) Is the cerebellum really a computer? Trends in Neuroscience Vol. 2 122-126

Iverson, P. (2015) The sensory impact of arousal levels on attention in autistic children. Children’s Disability and Special Needs. On line article www.come unity. com.

Korkmaz, B. (2011) Theory of Mind and neuro-developmental disorders of childhood. Pediatric Research 69 (5) A2 101R-8R

Krista, L. Gilby,S. O’Brien. J. (2013) Autism and neuro-development; Kindling – a shared vulnerability? Science Direct Vol. 26 (3) 370-374

Lavallee, P. Deschenes,M. (2014) Dendroarchitecture and lateral inhibition in thalamic barreloids. Journal of Neuroscience 24 (27) 6098-6105

Leekam,S.R. Nieto,C. Libby,SJ. Wing, L. Gould,J. (2007) Describing the sensory abnormalities of children and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders Vol. 37 (15) 894-910

Liss, M. Saulnier, C. Fein, D. Kinsbourne, M. (2006) Sensory and attention abnormalities in autistic spectrum disorders. Autism 10, 155-172

* Mental illness – animal reference…Article in Leviathan Process references observations by various field researchers and zoologists that while animal psychopathology does occur in captivity it has not been observed in the wild. and only because the animals are not able to exert natural behaviors- rather than having psychic conflicts.

Pribram, K. 1991) Brain and perception: holonomy and structure in figure processing, Hillsdale N.J. Laurence Erlbaum Associates

Spence,K.W. (1936) The nature of discrimination learning in animals Psychology Review 43 (5) 427-449

Yantis, S. (2014) Sensaton and Perception, New York.NY Worth Publishing p. 77

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

From Introversion to Autism: A Speculative Model for a Diagnostic Continuum

November 26th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 49 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article presents a diagnostic model to encompass not only differing functional levels of autism but also extreme introversion and psychopathology rooted in social aversion and anxiety. The model is based on the idea that specific structural, genetic and functional (i,e, neurological and neuro-chemical) research results and theories of these disorders leave certain questions of causation and remediation unanswered and that a factor underlying all of these processes – energy production orchestrated by mitochondrial functions – could be considered a root causative element. The fact that mitochondrial influence is broad and influential, affecting genetic assembly, protein synthesis and brain development gives it the advantage of being “graded”, thus capable affecting various functions differentially.

The Vagaries of Pathology…

One problem in diagnosing autism, particularly those said to be on the “spectrum” is that the variations in cognition, intelligence, language and perceptual ability can be so wide as to render the diagnosis uninformative. For example some autistic individuals lack language capacity while others travel around the world giving public speeches and writing lengthy books. Some are unable to tolerate or understand social relationships for lack of what Adolphus et al have called a “theory of mind” ( 2018 ) while others resort to introspection in describing their idiosyncratic behaviors. Some autistic persons join aerobics classes, run marathons while others lack the energy to engage in even normal daily activities (conceivably out of fear that the unmanageable arousal levels resulting from stimulus inputs will lead to catastrophic hyper-arousal).

At face value such functional discrepancies would seem to contradict the notion that all these individuals and skill levels could possibly reflect a single diagnosis.
There are similarities within this general population, however, which makes the picture rather confusing. Aversion to eye contact, tactile hyper-sensitivity, perceptual intolerance, fragmented social perception, repetitive behavior patterns and other traits seem common to those on the spectrum and also among schizophrenics, persons with social anxiety disorder, social phobias, extreme introverts (the so-called “tender-minded” groups) and even some with attention deficit disorder.

That raises obvious questions. For example, it seems apparent that a language deficit would lead to a lack of control over one’s environment. Still, if language is an experiential buffer, enabling us to categorize, marginalize and dampen the influence of input sensations and emotions, why can’t anxiety prone individuals with normal language capacities self regulate more effectively?

Language Regulation…

With respect to language/self regulation, it is often assumed that non linguistic autistic persons experience chronic anxiety and social confusion because they cannot interpret experiences or communicate with others to make their needs met and feelings acknowledged. As to why some have no language, the reason has yet to be determined. Autistic individuals have a hyoid bone (necessary for tonal and oral fine motor expression) and they do not lack the FOX 2 gene that is a factor in language acquisition. Nor do they typically have hearing impairments. That raises the question of why they can’t put all the functional packages together to enact a skill so quintessentially characteristic of the human species. We all talk, regardless of intellect, emotional disposition, in many instances irrespective of neurological impairment.

There are various explanations as to why they cannot speak. As research by Gow (2012) has shown language is not a specific function but a broad encoding system that spreads among virtually all brain areas – particularly the cerebral cortex. As such, language expression would seem to require a broadly integrative capacity, in other words a search and retrieve capability dependent on network interactions and neural cooperation. To search around a voluminous human brain requires effective coordination between inhibitory and excitatory neural circuits to avoid severe noise. To resolve that noise requires neurological work – which requires adequate energy. The fact that chronic spiking, often referred to as “kindling” occurs in the autistic brain (Gilby & O’Brien, 2012) suggests an uneven distribution of neural activity whereby: for example, when circuit A does not provide a fluid neuro-experiential check on circuit B. Lacking such neural fluidity would interfere with pan-cerebral access needed for normal language expression. If so, that would mean the autistic individual experiences pervasive noise in the CNS. Being unable to override that cacophony, while enduring an inevitable increase in brain arousal as per the word finding search would comprise an aversive experience for the autistic person – making he or she not just unable to speak but fearful of the effort as well.

With regard to the CNS noise factor, some research has shown that whereas normal brains stop expanding at some point in development, and actually shed tissue (Courchesne 2012), a process referred to as “pruning” (presumably enabling thought and cognition to be more conceptual and streamlined) the brains of many autistic individuals continue to expand beyond the pruning process. That means there are more neural circuits, thus more potential for noise within the CNS. Also, in typical brain development two systems become aligned sequentially. Vertically arranged neurons come first, possibly to allow for simple stimulus associations to ensue. This is followed by cross sectional, horizontally aligned circuits which interconnect (merge with vertical circuits and allow them to talk to each other across the brain). In a perhaps overly simplistic analogy, it seems the ability to interact with others depends on the ability for neurons to first interact with one another in a fluid, (low noise) manner. In other words, social interaction depends on rhythmically efficient inter-neuronal communication. That corresponds to what Pavlov, (Dance 2006), Alexander Luria (Kostyanaya, 2013) and Richard Lazarus (1984) described as an internal speech capability, i.e. a dual language skill that is both external/communicative and internal/self regulatory.

Some have surmised that this cross sectional connectivity is problematic in the brain development of autistic children. (Tye & Bolton 2013). That night explain why, in early development, some autistic children seem initially to have language of an associative nature only to lose it as the brain veers off course and integrative cognition is compromised.

While interesting and logical as per typical autistic features, this still leaves some questions unanswered; most notably why high functioning autistic persons are able to communicate. Is it a question of inter-connective proportion rather than an all or none process, whereby a higher percentage of fluid inter-connectivity allows the higher functioning individual to speak while the lower functioning autistic individual, with more involved cross cortical diffusion, cannot.

Anecdotal Diagnostics…

One way to broach this question is to ask, what are the first signs of abnormality in the autistic child? Rather than referring to research and clinical findings, this writer will resort to something more basic – parental anecdotes.

While developing an autistic program with the Easter Seals foundation decades ago,this writer and the head teacher brought parents in to discuss their observations of their autistic children. When asked: “when did you first notice something was wrong,” some of the answers were fairly typical, referring to lack of language or motor skills at between 9 months and 2 years. Others noted what is called “W sitting” a sign of immature motor development along with a centralized gait – for example difficulty climbing stairs using a left-right rhythmic leg alternation. Still others referred to lack of eye contact and social interest – especially in comparison with normal siblings. Since many of these signs came well after birth, when child to child comparisons could be made, we probed deeper, by asking about the very first, subtle signs of oddness. Parents thought a bit and many came up with interesting observations. It seems all of the children appeared swept up by outside stimuli; for example their heads being swayed by the direction of the wind without an apparent muscular anchor point, or being unable to orient to stimuli for even a few seconds. They also noted that the child did not have enough strength or resilience in his or her ocular/head/neck musculature to maintain a focus on other people. While their normal infants would stare endlessly at people a department store line the autistic child did not have enough “oomph” – in the words of one parent – to maintain such a focus. It was as if the social aspect of an autistic brain (presumed to be compromised) was really peripheral to, a strength deficiency in the head, neck and eyes, that would otherwise enable the child to attend to social stimuli. The idea that what we typically refer to as social interest is to some degree a function of neuro-muscular and perceptual “strength” – or stamina provided an interesting twist on what Piaget referred to as perceptual constancy.

Each of the parents asked why their son or daughter could not resist the influence of external stimuli. One parent believed his son simply wasn’t strong enough to do so – a suspicion supported by the child’s physical therapy evaluation. Based on this discussion we surmised there might be some correlation between a problem with stimulus orientation and strength in the perceptual-motor system and, more broadly, the central nervous system

While some of the children seemed less affected than others the strength factor became a seedbed for subsequent discussion, as well as a focal point in therapy – the point being that if one could strengthen the child in various sensory, motor and auditory areas a generative effect might occur.

Some of the children made significant gains, others did not. The factor we all overlooked was encompassed in the definition of “strength”- which is ultimately a function of energy production. Energy (in all bio-functional systems) comes from one prime source – cellular mitochondria. Mitochondria are energy packets fueled by adenosine tri-phosphates situated in each cell and in the nucleus of each cell. A deficiency in mitochondrial structure or function could affect various systems and lead to the general deficiencies in language, cognition and sustaining a social focus, as seen in autism.

Some research provided a degree of verification for these assumptions. For example Tang (2014) found a correlation between autism and mitochondrial dysfunction. Many clinical studies point a strength deficits in small and gross motor skills. If a fundamental diagnostic variable is an energy deficiency that could have significance not only for autism but for related psychological disorders that, while not including all the symptoms of autism exhibit more than a few.

For that argument to make sense one has to assume the presence of a “fragility factor” in those afflicted, analogous to Eysenck’s notion of tender mindedness” (1975) that prevents the CNS from controlling noise, irrespective of any given point on the fragility continuum. It is perhaps not an outrageous assumption, particularly because it encompasses children with varying abilities and lends itself to other diagnostic categories. In that context, anxiety disorders often feature obsessiveness, self stimulation behaviors, social avoidance, withdrawal, and even mood swings ranging from extreme sadness and isolation to outbursts of rage.
While extending the energy depletion-causation/noise interference model to include not just autism but other diagnostic categories might seem overly broad there is research lending a modicum of support. For example in studies on autism Packer (2012) found that the main activation center in the brain (the reticular activating system) sends signals to the cerebral cortex and other brain sites, helping those functional centers process the relevance of inputs so as to select efficient responses to those inputs. However that study showed that the pathways are rather noisy. Many do not send direct and clear signals. Some R.A.S pathways drift off into branches with no information content comprising what one might call “junk arousal.”

It is almost as if in designing the human brain, nature selected a brain founded on mandatory neural confusion. That creates noise and the way in which the noise is reduced is by an influx of nor-epinephrine, (which through neuro-chemical “oomph” can override the noise and establish signal clarity.

This is an example of strength overcoming uncertainty, acting as a shield against input diffusion. More specifically; neuro-chemical strength as a noise buster. A deficiency in that mechanism could lead to mood instability, depression, anxiety and social phobia: all positions on a continuum of neuro-functional fragility as well as autism, depending on the level of involvement.

A look at introversive (fragility-based) pathologies points to some interesting parallels with autism. For example neuroticism- with apologies for using a very old term – has been equated with an extreme state of (high noise) uncertainty (Mineka & Kohlstrom 1998). A state of prolonged confusion, precluding closure or efficient response selection will tend to result in repetitious, vicious cycle behaviors similar to those seen in autism

Another comparison can be drawn to depression, which is viewed as a state of learned helplessness (Seligman 1975 ). In this model the client lacks a capacity or access to behavioral resolution to an impending problem or state of mind. Once again this is reflective of uncertainty, possibly an endpoint whereby psychic defenses are finally depleted and anxiety (which can be more a adaptive emotional state because it at least fosters a state of readiness and vigilance) is no longer operative.

A depressive state of mind is reflected in the inter-neuronal connectivity within the brain. That has a cognitive correlate. Continuity in neural interactions keeps the thought and emotional sequence running. which sustains hope, futuristic concerns, planning and adaptation to current stressors. When, through energy depletion that neural extension fizzles out, so too does hope and resilience-sustaining cognition. Here too the energy depletion factor could be involved.
The root of these various fragility-based pathologies can be presumed to lie in mitochondrial dysfunction, because it is the latter that fuels neural transmission, allows for the neuron-to neuron connectivity in the brain needed to sustain experience and thereby establish hope, build language concepts, sustain the attention span, facilitate mood readiness, create resistance to noise, build task-learning tolerance and in general override the uncertainty of various perceptions and experiences.

Correlations Across the Board…

Although there is some evidence of a correlation between mitochondrial dysfunction and anxiety (Filiou & Sandi 2019) this idea is speculative. Establishing a link between autism and less involved disorders in terms of a mitochondrial-based fragility would require an analysis of several correlated factors. One would be family histories. There is some evidence that depression runs in the families of autistic individuals, as do Attention deficit disorder, anxiety disorders obsessive-compulsive disorder and extreme introversion. (Akdag 2003) Could it be that these are all incremental variations of an energy-based pathology rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction? Much work would have to be done to make that determination, including genetic assessments, learning history reviews, sibling comparisons, twin studies and more. Yet since energy seems to be the ultimate source of all actions (and actually, everything in the universe) results of such inquiries might prove useful.

To embark on such a quest would require a new deterministic framework, with neuro-psychology borrowing from the field of physics, by seeking a central (graded) etiology of a wide range of high fragility (extreme introversive) disorders based on an apparent energy summoning deficiency which prevents the afflicted from handling social demands and set backs, attending to tasks, developing coherence between thoughts and emotions, acquiring language concepts, shielding against dissonant or intense inputs, providing motor strength and resilience and adapting to changing stimulus conditions.

REFERENCES

Adolphus, R. Davis, L. Davis A. Autism: Theory of Mind. Current Biology. Jan. 4. 2018.
Akdag, S.J. Nestor, P.G. O’Donnell, B. Niznikiwicz, M. Shanton, M. McCarley, R.W. (2003) the startle reflex in Schizophrenia: personality correlates. Schizophrenia Research, Nov. 15 2003 64 (2-3) 165-173
Courchesne. E (2012) Abnormal early brain development in autism. Anatomy and Neuro-biology of Autism. July 30, 2012
Dance, F.E.X. (2006) Speech Communications Theory and Pavlov’s second signal system. Journal of Communication Vol. 17 (1) 13-24 March 1967
Filiou, M.D. Sandi, C. (2019) Anxiety and brain mitochondria: A bidirectional crosswalk. Trends in Neurosciences. Vol 42 (9) 573-588
Gilby, K.L. O’Brien, T.J. (2012) Epilepsy, autism and neuro-development; kindling a shared vulnerability? Epilepsy and Behavior Vol. 26 Issue 3
Gow, D.W. (June 2012) The cortical organization of lexical knowledge: a dual lexicon model of
Kostyanaya, M. Rossiuw, P. Oct. 2013. Alexander Luria, Life, Research and Contribution to Neuroscience: The Neuro-psychotherapist (2) 47-55
Lazarus, R. and Folkman, S. (1984) Stress, Appraisal and Coping. New York, Springer.
Mineka, S. Kohlstrom, J.F. (1998) Unpredictable and uncontrollable events: A new perspective on experimental neurosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87 (2) 256-271
Packer, A. 13 March, 2012. R.A.S. pathway: a potential unifying theory of autism. Article in Spectrum.
Seligman, M.E. P. (1975) Helplessness: on Depression, Development and Death San Francisco. W.H. Freeman.
Tang, A. Mitochondrial dysfunction as a neuro-biological sub-type of Autism Spectrum Disorder from brain imaging. J.A.M.A. Psychiatry 2014 71 665-671
Tye, C. Bolton, P. (2013) Neural connectivity abnormalities in autism: Insights from Tuberous Sclerosis model. B.M.C. Med.

PDF Printer    Send article as PDF   

The Politics of Eustress: A Synthesis of Government, Psychology and Experience

September 26th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 20 views | Print this Article

The Politics of Eustress
A Synthesis of Government, Psychology and Experience

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses the concept of an “ideal state” in terms of behavioral science, emphasizing the importance of a core motivational factor known as eustress. The point is made that while the Utopia ideal seems at odds with the functions of the human mind (which is a closure-seeking, noise reducing mechanism requiring ongoing conflict as a learning prompt)), there might be an optimal, culturally imparted state of mind that can produce the closest thing to a human-consonant social system.

A Brief History of Utopia…

For all its blissful connotations the idea of a Utopian state is hard to define. Some of the Utopian ideas and ideals of the past have revolved around on the whims of writers railing against the political systems of their time. Marx and Engels wrote in opposition to rampant capitalism. They sought to rescue workers from exploitation by property owners, noting (not inaccurately) that without labor there could be no production, profit or general wealth.

In trying to extend this idea -which Engels termed “scientific socialism” – to create a vast governmental system their theory exhibited a number of significant flaws. For example, they presented scientific socialism in a moral context based on a vague notion of pan-equality, the idea being that is wasn’t fair for workers to be paid substantially less than capitalists and that advantages afforded the wealthy such as inherited family resources and wealth could be naively construed as “unfair.” That would imply that even if status was earned by the first generation, coming from a well-to-do family would have to be deemed somehow immoral. That in turn would mean parents trying to do right by their children were actually doing wrong.

Still another flaw was reflected in their historical ignorance. The inequity argument had been addressed more rationally in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, written more than half a century before Das Capital. Smith deftly provided a moral and functional regulation by which to level the playing field. While his tome was voluminous, his resolution rested on a single word – competition. He felt if govenment disallowed monopolistic business practices (pervasive in the times and places in which Marx and Engels lived) consumers could choose where to shop (thus lowering prices) and where to work (thus raising wages and improving working conditions). Though not in a straight line trajectory, Smith’s vision turned out to be more prescient. In effect with the advent of competition capitalism evolved into neo-capitalism. That rendered scientific socialism (aka.communism) at best unnecessary and at worst rather pointless.

Neo-capitalism tends to work better than socialism for two reasons. First it allows for aggressive product improvement and distribution (making more goods available to more people). Second, because of its breadth, it rewards businesses for being consumer and worker-friendly. In somewhat paradoxical, yet very real terms it both restrains and frees up companies; like democracy itself functioning within a populist, consumer-controlled context.

Another aspect of Marxism is even more questionable because it is based on Hegel’s speculative notion of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. (North 2006). This Hegelian triad proposed that a kind of social algorithm orchestrates all of human history. More specifically that an existing social system would always encounter its antithesis (often via revolution), then would be replaced by a new synthesis, or social system. Ironically, Hegel saw this as a spiritual inevitability; as though God, or some transcendent entity was behind the transformations. Marx and Engels were hard core atheists, so it is difficult to discern what transcendent agent they had in mind. Perhaps they were also referencing Immanuel Kant’s notion of a ‘categorical imperative,’ which was highly abstract, involved a built-in inevitability but was not quite deistic. It does appear Marx and Engels held Kant in high regard as well.

Other versions of Utopia revolved around religious themes. Most involved some form of socialism. The Labadist movement in Maryland and in prior locations around Europe espoused a communal society with relative deemphasis on the core family. While their community attracted some very bright clerics and intellectuals its rejection of notoriety and individuality led to its dissandonment in 1730. (Saxby, 1987).

Other systems were similarly communal, thus deviating from the notion that individuality matters and that mom and dad were crucial to the moral, intellectual and educational development of sons and daughters whose behaviors and dispositions would, generation after generation determine whether any given society would sink or swim. Among the most notable was Robert Owen, an English textile merchant who came to America to found a socialist community in New Harmony, Indiana. His societal foundation was also religious (though he was a deist – believed in a world loosely created by a deity but left to run on its own rather through periodic divine intervention. Owen espoused many humanitarian ideas. Much of his writing had an egalitarian tinge, with allusions to “human nature being the most basic and necessary constituent in an evolving society”…and references to a “New Moral World” (Claeys 2011). On the other hand his theories, despite advocating for a society designed around human nature had the same flaws as all socialist systems. Among the most prominent being his refusal to accept that human beings have and require a sense of self – of individuation, not just to attain wealth and status but to use as a reference point in all experiential endeavors. Owen’s ideas fizzled out by 1846.

The historical failure of socialism seems to continually repeat itself. It can last for as long as emotionally galvanized believers can overcome their primate/hierarchical instincts with threat and persuasion but can never settle comfortably into the every day life of identity-driven mankind.
Thomas Moore was probably the first to try so systematize a theory of Utopia. While he was influenced by the Christian/humanism movement his egalitarian concepts took things to a different level. His ideas, spawned in the context of rather inequitable 16th century English society (which issued the death penalty to thieves, placed all wealth in the hands of a monarch and contained many long-debunked tyrannical policies) have been obviated by the advent of purer forms of democracy and populist rule, (Sullivan 1983). In other words his complaints have been addressed and to an extent resolved through simple socio-political evolution.

The idea of Utopia is considered passe’ in modern times, simply because a perfect society could not exist without absolute uniformity of opinion, need and sentiment backed by cultural consensus. Getting a democrat from New York and a republican from Texas to agree on policy is hard enough. Asking 300 million people to do so would be inconceivable.

Still it seems thinkers cannot scrap the idea. Philosophers, candidates and theorists speak constantly about “ideals”, that is, policies and actions universally sanctioned by some alpha-entity to make sure that authority will not derive from mere, flawed humans. The framers, rather brilliantly, put this in God’s hands which made final authority both eternal and unattainable by tyrants.

The fact that true Utopia cannot exist even as humans are inclined to seek it out creates an ongoing problem. Since protests, complaints and revolutions abound in every society on earth that problem would seem difficult to solve. It raises the question of whether the quest for ideals and a perfect society should even be broached; or whether mankind would be better off letting society evolve of its own momentum as a function of stresses, strains and moment to moment problem solving.

The obvious counter-argument would be that without the drawing power of an ideal the quest to improve society would lack direction. It would be a bit like hippies in the sixties protesting against the “system” without offering alternative solutions (other than, ironically, donning Mao jackets). Interestingly, Jefferson’s belief in the need for constant vigilance – which seems to derive loosely from the idealistic teleology of the Greeks seems to have fostered a kind of Utopian-developmental mindset. Yet frustration resulting from conflict between the desirable and the possible seems to have persisted throughout history.

Anthropolitics…

One way to address that problem might be to view society not in purely philosophical or political terms but like Owen (albeit in a different context) in terms of human nature; more specifically from knowledge accrued in the field of behavioral science.

Some might argue that such a task would be pointless. This author would disagree, for two reasons. First what we call “sociopolitics” is nothing more than a broad, conceptual view of human individual and group behavior patterns. These patterns have been studied with some rigor over the past century by behavioral scientists and clinicians. Second, to reiterate, abandoning the quest for a homo-consonant society could mean abandoning any hope of finding one. Clearly human society is not yet perfected. While only a handful of socio-political theories have emerged over time the study of human behavior is rich with ideas and proven facts regarding habits, attitudes, motivations and temperament. In that context perhaps theorizing is worth a shot.

The Political Psyche…

Many theories on human behavior and the personality exist, and there is no point in discussing them here. However one element common to all is the idea of the self. With a substantial brain, and exceptional linguistic ability humans can and will label things (including themselves). It is not a whim, or happenstance acquisition from experience but a mandate. Labeling invariably leads to drawing distinctions between and among things. To label the color “blue” is to automatically know that another color is not blue. This is to due to the unavoidable process of perceptual differentiation that characterizes our species. This rule is responsible for everything from unity to discrimination, from discovery to ignorance. In a political context that means n pan-eqalitarian society that disregards differences in terms of traits, assets, accomplishments, status, and skills etc runs contrary to human nature. We are, after all genetically close in makeup to primates whose social groups are typically hierarchical. They engage in social differentiation – so do we.

In that context an egalitarian society would be difficult to sustain. That brings to mind two essential tasks of human society. On one hand it is necessary to enlist the efforts and commitment of the many in common cause, based on a vague notion of equality. On the other we must enable and support individuality, including differentials in skill, status and wealth in what amounts to an ideological co-existence. Groups use products. Individuals create and invent them. Interestingly, while such modulation might seem a lofty pursuit Jefferson discussed this eloquently in a letter to John Adams on natural aristocracy (2018).
Where does that leave us? In addressing the question of a human-consonant society the first question to ask is whether there exists an ideal state of mind which if imparted culturally through experience and (incentive-driven) policy, would produce the greatest degree of pro-social contentment. In other words is there a scientific premise by which to fulfill the vague promise of pursuit of happiness. As a corollary, is there something about western democracy that is quintessentially rooted in human psychology?

Eustress in the Lab…

The obvious place to begin looking for an ideal mental state is of course the human brain with its vast and complex neural connections. Just how it orchestrates holistically all the functions of mind has yet to be determined but one of its most essential functions is ongoing noise reduction. Once aroused the brain tends toward mass action (Lashley 1930) rather than immediately summoning only the stimulus-relevant circuits. That is a benefit in terms of associative accessibility. It can also be a detriment because it can draw in all kinds of peripheral distractions, moods and demons. To sift through that complexity to find memories and ressponses it must operate as a closure-seeking machine. In other words like a homeostat that reacts to uncertainty by seeking restoration of stability.

There are two facets to brain activity. One is in the realm of experience which causes us to “feel good” post-closure. The other is a systemic process that while reflected in experience is concerned with resetting the inter-neural guage, much as a thermostat restores a pre-set home temperature. That dual dynamic is responsible for everything from the discovery of Relativity Theory to paranoid delusions.

In that context any socio-political system that provides opportunities for as many individuals as possible to engage in closure seeking (meaning a reasonable chance to convert uncertainty to closure across circumstances (i.e. poly-control) could arguably contain one crucial element of a human-consonant society.

However it doesn’t end there. Closure requires a prior state of uncertainty, because in terms of information dynamics there is no point in finding an answer unless a question is first posed. In the field of behavioral psychology this controllable transition from uncertainty to closure is often referred to as a state of “eustress” – which is a combination of the words ‘euphoria’ and ‘stress.’ It refers to the fact that no individual or group can be in a psycho-socially optimal state without experiencing stress as a prelude to closure (i.e. successful completion of tasks and/or confirmation of anticipations. Just as closure is preceded necessarily by uncertainty so is closure preceded necessarily by work and duress according to the eustress model.

The research in this area has yielded interesting results. If the stress/impetus is too harsh and prohibitive, closure unattainable, individuals will tend to incur a state of learned helplessness which often leads to lethargy and depression as well as fostering anti-social attitudes. It is as if the conflicted individual has declared the social contract null and void, reverted back into a state of nature and no longer feels bound by social norms. An internalization of that anti-social attitude outcome can lead to inner turmoil and psychopathology (Ackerman 2018).

The interesting flip side of that process is that when there is reward/closure without exertion – in other words there is “eu” but no preliminary “stress” i.e. reward without work, a similar outcome occurs. Receiving reward without exertion deemed proportionate to the reward can also lead to depression and an anti-social mindset. That is because with no behavior to equate with the outcome no associative or emotional bond is established between effort and reward,. In that case, behavior, mood and motivation become inconsequential Thus a soft socio-political climate (where everything comes easy can actually lead to a dys-national mindset. In effect giving people what they want does not work. Enabling them to earn what they want does work.

In that sense a psychologically ideal (homo-consonant) society would be one with a close ratio between effort and reward, i.e. stress and closure spread among the populace. Some research suggests values, policies and/or customs making life neither too easy nor too hard, could produce a broad contentment leading to a creative, pro-social, environment (Nelson,Cooper 2005). That could produce enormous benefits that resonate throughout the culture.

Implications, Questions…

While that idea might have validity, four problems come to mind. First, the tendency is for societies to modernize constantly in order to make things easier and more convenient. Over time that could skew the stress/closure ratio. By virtue of our neural software and its effect on experience, closure must be “earned” to take effect. In that sense the quest for convenience can be counterproductive over the long run no matter how much it boosts an economy or expands leisure time.

A second problem is that in order to foster a eustress-driven culture would require some kind of regulatory process. To an extent this happens now – for example programs moving people from welfare to work. But on a larger scale this would require a super-meritocratic philosophy translated into the language of law or at least prompted within the education system, emphasizing the important relationship between effort and reward.

Because democratic systems tend not to impose life style changes on the public this would be difficult – though anti-smoking ad campaigns have been successful. Once upon a time it wasn’t so difficult because family was the core. Can this influence be re-established? If so, such a goal could be reached and eventually translate, child by child, family by family into a broadly accepted custom.
The third problem (and undoubtedly the most difficult) revolves around the question of individual talents. Despite its negative connotations, there is such a thing as the normal curve, that is, a dispersion of skills and traits. This has little to do with intelligence per se – simply because most people hover around the average to high average range (if not, society could not possibly rely on the reasonable person standard to render verdicts, vote or abide by laws. Rather it has to do with the highs and lows of skills and interests.

For example some people are mechanically inclined, but not terribly interested or gifted in abstract, philosophical areas. The opposite is true as well. Some people are highly social, others introverted, some abstract and artistic, others practical and concrete. For the eustress dynamic to work society would have to emphasize vocational and educational skill diversity to match the normal curve. Rather than advocating that all students should go to college (a preposterous idea since it would ultimately render college graduates less valuable via the supply/demand dynamic), it would involve an advocative (if not legislative) policy by government and education systems to facilitate a skill-diverse system.

One main barrier? The prideful assumption that lack of a college degree diminishes one’s worth. Such a change in the American weltanschaung would require a shift in attitudes, not only in terms of the worth of laborers (perhaps beginning with an overview of human evolution, which was enhanced and sustained primarily by the efforts of toolmakers – not poets (Stout 2011) but by challenging the worshipful attitude toward “intellectuals.”

How to re-value the worker, inventor and mechanic? One way is via simple capitalism. It is well known that many types of laborers, mechanics and hands-on workers make more money and are often more functionally necessary than students with a B.A. in liberal arts. Attention paid to that by high school guidance counselors and other advisers would help foster vocational diversity. Of even greater assistance would be greater diversity in school programs, including high schools and post secondary programs.

The net effect of such skill diversity could be greater control of rewards and in terms of the eustress dynamic, a closer correlation between efforts and closure/reward for a larger segment of the general population. That is because a round peg-round hole vocational topography not only ameliorates fervent competition for jobs (which does happen when students all go into one field or another based on trend or fad) but also makes it more likely that workers will be successful.

Snags…
A still greater challenge results from a pervasive idea entrenched in the American ethic – the idea of pan-equality. The USA is unique because of its promise of upward mobility. Ours is a nation nurtured by the framers but born in the womb of an idea fostered by John Locke – the notion of tabula rasa…or “blank slate.” (Walker 1996) It proposes that all talents and skills are a function of experience. In that context, thinkers following the framers interpreted their writings to mean that anyone can accomplish whatever they set their mind to once the playing field was leveled -that anyone could be an Einstein or a Picasso. That is a mis-perception (Turkheimer 2000). We are not all equal- which does not mean some are superior. others deficient. It means that success in any endeavor has to do with so many variables such as temperament, intelligence, motivation, and attitudes as well as simple experience. One person’s strength is another’s weakness. That’s life, and if we built a culture based on a model espousing “good fit among the many” rather than valuing more highly those with higher abstract, verbal ability the resulting social stability could ameliorate the anti-social behavior and some of the psychopathology that too often occurs in social systems lacking proportion in terms of the eustress dynamic.

Does that mean we cease to talk about equality, and if so, what do we replace it with? First of all, despite Locke’s tabula rasa concept, the term equality initially meant equal before the law. In other words, all people were to be granted the rights and privileges inherent in the judicial process. With that in mind, one can imagine adding to the words…”We live in a free society where all men are created equal” with “before the law” further adding…we hold that ‘all people are different, with varying interests, abilities and motivations and we aspire, not to render everyone the same but to foster the growth of a society by creating opportunities for as many of human traits and abilities as possible.

While much of the history of human politics can be described as an attempt to override our primal urges and traits such a congruence-based socio-political model would, like human evolution itself, end up favoring trait variety over trait uniformity in the quest for survival and adaptation. Rather than two straight lines rubbing against each other in a high-friction interaction, the eustress society would be analogous to an inverted and external angle fitting together to create a whole, congruent and complimentary structure.

REFERENCES

Ackerman, C. 2018;Learned Helplessness; Seligman’s Theory of Depression (+ Cure) Positive Psychology.com

G. Claeys (ed) (1993) The Selected Works of Robert Owen London, Pickering and Chatto. Routledge.

Lashley, K. 1930 Basic Neural Mechanisms in Behavior. Psychological Review

On Natural Aristocracy: (2018) – Article in The Imaginative Conservative: derived from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Adams Oct 28

Nelson, D , Cooper, G. (2005) Stress and Health: A Positive Direction. Stress and Health 21 (2) 73-75

North, D. (2006) Hegel, Marx and the Origins of Marxism World Socialist Website. Mehring Books

Saxby, T.J. (1987) “Chapter 6″ Quest for the New Jerusalem. Jean de Labadie and the Labadists 1610-1744, Dordrecht-Boston-Lancaster

Stout, D. (2011), Stone Toolmaking and the Evolution of Human Culture and Cognition. Philosophical Transactions B Royal Society Publishing.

Sullivan, EDS (ed) (1983) The Utopian Vision: Seven Essays on The Quincentennial of Sir Thomas More. San Diego State University Press, San Diego Calif.

Turkheimer,, E. (2000) Three Laws of Behavior Genetics and What They Mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science 9 (5) 160-164

Walker. K. (1996). (ed) Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1813 p xix and 33-36 Book II Chapter 1, 1-9 Hackett Publishing Com. Indianapolis, IN 1996

PDF    Send article as PDF