Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Neuroscience

February 18th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

Neuroscience is wired. News reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience appear with increasing frequency, as shown by a Google Trends graph (bottom line) on the search term “neuroscience.”

With advances in medical technology, especially magnetic resonance imaging, developed in the 1970s, neuroscientists have been able to watch the brain in action and gain a much more detailed look at how the brain processes information. As a result, neuroscientists have gained insight into the overall structure of the brain and which areas are responsible for what functions and the biochemical processes through which the brain communicates with the body.

Since the mid 1990s, for instance, neuroscience researchers have been mapping the portions of the brain responsible for emotion. In 1996, researchers in England identified a tiny brain structure called the amygdala as the crucial bran area for the perception of fear (Trudeau, 30 October 1996). The amygdala isn’t logical. It just reacts. “Before we are even consciously aware of something the amygdala has activated the fight-or-flight reflex and activated the fear system,” said Kerry Ressler, a psychiatrist at Emory University and investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Hamilton, 4 September 2009). (Note: All references appear at the end of the post, with links.)

Indeed, of all the recent neuroscience research, perhaps the most relevant to learning and development is research on emotions: how they work to connect the brain and the body and their critical role in human learning and development. “The inextricability of thought and emotion is one of contemporary psychology’s most important discoveries,” wrote Winifred Gallagher. The Greek separation of “supposedly lofty cognition, which focuses on reason and absolute truth, and funky emotion, which centers on subjective value judgments” has been brought back into a whole over the last 10 years, as “scientists have discovered that thinking and feeling often have a chicken-or-the-egg relationship and are heard to tease apart” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 29).

One of those scientists, Dr. Candace Pert, pharmacologist and former Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, has done pioneering work on brain chemistry, communication between the mind and the body, and the biochemical nature of emotion. In her view, the mind is in the body’s nervous system as much as it is in the brain. “The body is the unconscious mind,” she wrote. The chemical mechanisms of communication between the brain and the body are short amino acid chains called peptides and receptors, and the information that they carry is experience, by both the brain and the body, as emotion. To Pert, “emotion creates the bridge between mind and body” (Grodzki, 1995). As Pert wrote, “Neuropeptides and their receptors thus join the brain, glands, and immune system in a network of communication between brain and body, probably representing the biochemical substrate of emotion” (Pert, 1999, p. 179).

The implication is that emotional awareness and expression is critical to learning and development. Indeed, both memory and actual performance are affected by mood, Pert’s research shows. Emotions are both the arbiters of what people remember and what people learn. The human brain is bombarded by sensory input. In order for the brain not to become overwhelmed, it needs some mechanism to decide what information is important to pay attention to and what information should be ignored. Pert concluded that “our emotions . . . decide what is worth paying attention to” (Pert, 1999, p. 146).

Researchers studying attachment theory and its role in parenting say something similar and take it a step further. “How emotion is experienced and communicated may be fundamental to how we come to feel a sense of vitality and meaning in our lives,” wrote Siegel and Hartzell (Siegel and Hartzell, 2004, p. 59). Their experience and research suggests that “emotions shape both our internal and our interpersonal experiences” and, as a result, allow us to integrate our experience within our selves, deepen our connection to others, and prepare our bodies for action. Emotional communication is especially important to how children develop and learn. “The experience of emotional joining helps children develop a stronger sense of themselves and enriches their capacity for self-understanding and compassion (Siegel and Hartzell, 2004, p. 68).

Couples therapist Sue Johnson goes so far as to call attachment theory the “science of love.” Listen to her explain the origins of attachment theory from pioneering psychoanalyst John Bowlby in “Hold Me Tight,” a February 2010 CBC “Ideas” interview  and title of her book.

It’s a physical as well as an emotional process and becomes the equivalent of a dance between the mind and body. “Emotions are at the nexus between matter and mind, going back and forth between the two and influencing both,” Pert wrote (Pert, 1999, p. 189). Neuropathways are forged in the brain, though mechanisms that include attachment, and those pathways, along with the emotional tendencies that our individual neuropathways support, serve as a filter our experience. As a result, we cannot objectively define what is real and what it not. We are, in a sense, the product of our emotional experience and select information based on that experience, both past and present. Even so, the biochemical receptors in our brains and body can and do change. “Emotions and bodily sensations are thus intricately intertwined, in a bidirectional network in which each can alter the other,” Pert wrote (Pert, 1999, p. 142). Because that generally unconscious process can be brought into consciousness, “even when we are “stuck” emotionally, fixated on a version of reality that does not serve us well, there is always a biochemical potential for change and growth” (Pert, 1999, p. 146).

References

Gallagher, W. (2009). Rapt: attention and the focused life. New York: The Penguin Press.

Grodzki, Lynn (1995). “Approaching a theory of emotion: an interview with Candace Pert, Ph.D.” Retrieved from http://primal-page.com/pert.html on 20 June 2009.

Hamilton, J. (4 September 2009). “In the future, science could erase traumatic memories.” National Public Radio broadcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112531962.

Pert, C. (1999). Molecules of emotion: the science behind mind-body medicine. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Siegel, D. J. & Hartzell, M. (2004). Parenting from the inside out: how a deeper self understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Trudeau, M. (30 October 1996). “Brain and Emotion.” National Public Radio broadcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1041718.

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Host

February 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

One of the more profound experiences I have had in learning how to participate in and lead small groups is my experience joining a group of people I did not know in the role of host. The host role, as understood in etiquette, is the person who meets and greets people and makes sure that they feel comfortable. Typically, the host either knows everyone or represents the place, as in a restaurant.

As an assignment in a personal power learning laboratory at the Wright Leadership Institute, however, the host or hostess role is an assignment given to a new member of the lab, a small group for learning personal life and leadership skills. Assignments form a major part of the learning methodology at WLI and collectively make up the Assignment Way of Living, in which students do assignments in their daily life to master life and leadership skills and behaviors.

The idea behind the Host/Hostess assignment is to introduce yourself to a group. It’s a counter-intuitive assignment in some ways because most of us generally think of a host or hostess as someone who welcomes other people to a party or a restaurant and makes them feel comfortable with the place or with the other guests.

In the Host assignment, in contrast, it was up to me to make myself comfortable, to make myself part of the group. WLI assignments are rooted in the existentialist concept of authenticity. They allow an individual to discover, explore, and practice their own sense of self in relation to other people and to ultimately take responsibility for their own sense of well being. The host assignment is a perfect example.

As a host in this sense, you take responsibility for including yourself in the group. The assignment can be done quite literally, with the new group member greeting each person as they enter the group or serving refreshments before the group begins. Further, the group host may work to see that other group members include themselves in the conversation.

The assignment was quite profound for me. Like many people, I was used to having others include me in a conversation or see that I felt comfortable in a situation. I realized in doing the assignment that it was not up to others to see that I included myself or felt comfortable. It was up to me.

By extending myself to people I did not know and make sure that they felt comfortable with and knew me, I gained a greater acceptance of other people in the group–and of myself as a member of the group. This was a critical first lesson on group dynamics–that belonging to a group is a critical responsibility of the group member.

I belonged not because the other group members helped me belong but because I decided I belonged and, in effect, proved it to the other group members in my performance of the assignment by my welcoming behaviors, which, ultimately, showed them that I had made the effort to get to know them in some personal way. Therein lies a key skill in mastering groups, whether for task performance, business networking, or social interaction.

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Learning and Development

February 6th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

Humans learn and develop. How fast, how much, how far, and to what end is open to individual chance and choice, but learning and development themselves are not. Humans are learning beings that develop throughout their lives. How humans as individuals and as a species understand learning and development and harness that understanding to positive ends determines the course of our evolution and the legacy we in this time leave to those in future time.

That is my basic belief on learning and education and why I have placed so much importance on learning throughout life. It’s why I continue to participate in training groups and why I decided to get a doctorate in human potential at a relatively late stage in life.

The philosophies, education and technologies, and research on human learning and development are described in the overview paper linked to this post. The paper suggests that an individual’s immediate awareness of emotional experience is a principal determinant of that individual’s ability to learn and develop, connect with other people, and feel satisfaction and meaning in life. It is also apparent to me that biological and medical research over the last 15 years is providing an empirical, scientific basis of what philosophers and psychologists have theorized about learning and development for well over the past century.

Read why in “Foundations of Learning and Development: An Overview,” one of the papers I have written for my master’s degree at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential.

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Liberating

February 3rd, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Personal, Psychology

I’m stepping back tonight after completing the second part of a week and a half of the 2010 Men’s Leadership Development training, in which I and my leadership colleagues have been setting the themes and planning our goals for 2010. We’ve been using Dr. Judith Wright’s Evolating model for personal transformation as both a touchstone and tool to guide our ongoing planning.

Liberating is the fourth stage of the model, before rematrixing, which I wrote about on Monday. The Evolating model describes a process of “discontinuous change or transformation to a more advanced stage of being,” and as a result, it deals with ways of being and styles of attitude more than concrete goals.

Liberating is just that–a liberation in the form of new behaviors, attitudes, and ways of being. Liberating comes after the revelating stage, in which patterns of behavior or thinking are revealed.

Revelating is the insight that may or may not lead to change. In many cases, an insight into a faulty thinking pattern may remain an insight, and the faulty thinking remains. With liberating, you experience the freedom of breaking through, of trying new things, of experiencing new sensations and feelings, of thinking in new ways, or all of those and more.

My liberating experience started last week as I noticed some long-standing attitudes that have limited my firm’s growth for years. Many lie in the experiences I had in growing up in small businesses on both sides of my family, and I have seen both how those experiences have kept the firm going for 20 years but with a pattern of control that limited their size.

The pictures at the top of the page, of my 50th birthday celebration, are another example of liberation. I almost didn’t have a party at all, and instead I used the experience as an ongoing project of looking back in order to look forward.

Seeing what I have accomplished, as well as the gaps–personally and as a result of my family experiences–has been freeing, showing me what I have to draw on as well as where I need to retrain myself. Therein lie the seeds of liberating behaviors that lead to lifelong lasting change–and business growth in 2010.

m stepping back tonight after completing the second part of a week and a half of the 2010 Men’s Leadership Development training, in which I and my leadership colleagues have been setting the themes and planning our goals for 2010. We’ve been using Dr. Judith Wright’s Evolating model for personal transformation as both a touchstone and tool to guide our ongoing planning.

Liberating is the fourth stage of the model, before Rematrixing, which I wrote about on Monday. The Evolating model describes a process of “discontinuous change or transformation to a more advanced stage of being,” and as a result, it deals with ways of being and styles of attitude more than concrete goals.

Liberating is just that–a liberation in the form of new behaviors, attitudes, and ways of being. Liberating comes after the revelating stage, in which patterns of behavior or thinking are revealed.

Revelating is the insight that may or may not lead to change. In many cases, an insight into a faulty thinking pattern may remain an insight, and the faulty thinking remains. With liberating, you experience the freedom of breaking through, of trying new things, of experiencing new sensations and feelings, of thinking in new ways, or all of those and more.

My liberating experience started last week as I noticed some long-standing attitudes that have limited my firm’s growth for years. Many lie in the experiences I had in growing up in small businesses on both sides of my family, and I have seen both how those experiences have kept the firm going for 20 years but with a pattern of control that limited their size.

The pictures at the top of the page, of my 50th birthday celebration, are another example of liberation. I almost didn’t have a party at all, and instead I used the experience as an ongoing project of looking back in order to look forward.

Seeing what I have accomplished, as well as the gaps–personally and as a result of my family experiences–has been freeing, showing me what I have to draw on as well as where I need to retrain myself. Therein lie the seeds of liberating behaviors that lead to lifelong lasting change.

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