Behavior OnLine Forums

Behavior OnLine Forums (
-   Evolutionary Psychology (
-   -   Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain (

ToddStark September 23rd, 2006 04:58 PM

Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
This BrainEthics blog entry describes recent research studying the neurology of attachment.

Along with a brief discussion of the experimental protocols, there are several good links to related background material.

Thomas Ramsoy, the author of the blog entry notes with surprise:


So having an insecure attachment style leads to higher activation to attachment-related primes. Taken together, this result demonstrates a role for amygdala in mediating attatchment relevant behaviour. Indeed, it is interesting to see how a phylogenetic “old” limbic structure is involved in an interpersonal psychological process, which is normally thought to involve more prefrontal cortical regions.

Fred H. September 24th, 2006 09:43 AM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain

Indeed, it is interesting to see how a phylogenetic “old” limbic structure is involved in an interpersonal psychological process, which is normally thought to involve more prefrontal cortical regions.
Nice going Todd; yet another example that MM will probably declare supports her so-called hypothesis (“people believe [only] what feels good to them - and use their brains to justify it”) . . . but then by her circular reasoning, pretty much everything supports her “hypothesis.”

Margaret McGhee September 26th, 2006 07:37 PM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
Todd, Rather than use this as evidence for my premise - I'd just ask a question that these types of findings always suggest to me.

The CNS of mammals was designed to allow greater flexibility in the choice of behavior - than the directly wired stimulus / response models that these new evolutionary models improved upon.

At the heart of such a system had to be a module that actually implemented the decision - between behavior choices that were not optimum and the one that was (hopefully) the best choice.

Where it was located is not so important but the amygdala or its evolutionary precurser seems likely.

What seems so improbable to me is that evolution would have created a cortex in just a few higher mammals - in order to replace that existing choice module with another one. What was wrong with the previous one - that in all mammals functions perfectly well to bring in emotional input tags from instincts, dispositions, memories of past events, etc. and resolve them to a beneficial behavior choice.

Here you have a module already capable of resolving multiple inputs in real time and initiating action - the exact function that is required to make informed behavior choices. A true gem of evolution.

So, did evolution then replace this module with the primate cortex? If so, how does the cortex incorporate inputs from those other areas - which we know affect behavior choices in humans beyond doubt. And, how do human infants make behavior choices before their cortex begins operating effectively? They cry, crawl, gurgle, wave their hands, swallow food placed in their mouth, place things in their mouths, etc. There are other questions along this line.

Would not evoultion simply provide the cortex as another source for inputs into the existing human decision-making module? (My premise is that it does. It provides results of intellectual conclusions - translated to appropriately weighted emotions for resolution in the existing decision module.)

Any other explanation seems totally ridiculous to me.


Margaret McGhee September 26th, 2006 10:24 PM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain

Added to above post: It seems to me that a possible source for misunderstanding of my premise lies with the insistence of many to view emotions as feelings - changes in our mental and body state that we become aware of. The distinction is crucial.

Of the thousands of small and large behavior decisions a typical human would make in a day I'm sure that only a very small number of those would be accompanied by feelings - an awareness of (some) of the emotions occuring within us at the time those decisions are made.

The emotions that mediate our decisions are experienced without our awareness of them in almost all cases. Those (usually subconscious) emotions represent the (emotional) strength of the beliefs that we consult in a behavior choice transaction.

Beliefs are not just the obviously emotional relationships that we accept about the universe - like politics, religion and morals. These include all those useful things that we believe to be true - and an emotional tag that represents how strongly we believe it to be true. We adjust those tags as time goes by to keep our belief system in good working order. I think this adjustment occurs subconsciously according to how frequently we use that belief successfully to mediate decisions - and how important that belief is to our survival.

Note that the results of immediate intellectual conclusions, not just stored beliefs, are also temporary "beliefs" by this definition.

To the extent that we are not ideological about the contents of the various belief compartments in our minds - we are free to use reason to edit our beliefs and tune them up to objective reality.

But we are not Vulcans and I expect that even the best scientists' minds will contain some beliefs that are there for non-rational reasons.


Fred H. September 27th, 2006 10:26 AM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain

[MM to Todd:] Any other explanation seems totally ridiculous to me.
Since Todd, as he’s noted elsewhere, feels that he and MM “seem to define: reason, belief, knowledge, and similar abstracts somewhat differently, and [that] we keep going back to arguments where those terms are central, it is tremendously difficult to discuss these things with you and I feel as if we most often talk past each other,” and therefore that “it costs more time and effort perhaps than it is worth,” perhaps I can provide how Todd might have responded if he had not already reached that inescapable conclusion:
Yes Margaret, I can see how it would seem ridiculous to you b/c that’s what you truly believe—you believe, Margaret, whatever it is you believe, b/c, as you explain in your “emotion theory of behavior choice,” “one can believe only whatever makes one “feel good,” and one then “uses [their] brains to justify it”; and, as you now elaborate here, a “decision module” then implements behavior based on those beliefs.

However Margaret, and although I certainly appreciate your efforts and patience in elaborating on your “emotion theory of behavior choice,” I now feel that since we seem to define reason, belief, knowledge, and similar abstracts somewhat differently, we’re going back to arguments where those terms are central, and it therefore remains tremendously difficult to discuss these things with you, and I feel as if we will continue to talk past each other, and therefore that it costs more time and effort than it is worth, although I still certainly appreciate your efforts and patience.

kind regards,

Margaret McGhee September 28th, 2006 11:57 AM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
Here's a recent 10 minute interview of Richard Dawkins where he discusses religious belief as the desire to believe what feels good - and he also discusses the ability for humans to compartmentalize their brain - to allow them to hold onto beliefs that feel good, without violating rationality.

I thought some here might find it interesting.


Fred H. September 29th, 2006 10:40 AM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
However, unlike MM, Dawkins doesn’t seem to believe that “rationality is not knowing,” that “knowing is an emotional process,” that “rationality is worthless in terms of behavior choice,” and/or that “only when rational conclusions become beliefs”—beliefs being, by MM’s reckoning, “the source of the most powerful emotions that guide our "cognitive" behavior”—“can rationality, imperfect as it is, influence behavior choice.”

And although Dawkins and MM both seem to be moral relativists, Dawkins doesn’t seem to believe, as does MM, that all “people believe [only] what feels good to them - and use their brains to justify it”—he certainly wouldn’t believe that about himself or other atheists that happened to see things his way; although, as MM indicates, Dawkins apparently does believe that it’s the non-atheists, those that don’t see things as Dawkins himself sees things, that “have the desire to believe what feels good,” and “the ability to compartmentalize their brain - to allow them to hold onto beliefs that feel good.”

And finally, since Dawkins himself is something of a true believer, albeit in the circular notion of “natural selection,” which Provine now acknowledges is not even a mechanism or an active cause of evolution, it seems that it’s Dawkins himself who compartmentalizes so as to hold onto his various beliefs, that apparently make him feel good. Is that irony?

But alas, MM will probably assert that even this is yet more evidence of her own circular notion, her so-called “hypothesis,” that all “people believe [only] what feels good to them - and use their brains to justify it,” since it shows how even the great Dawkins is like everyone else in that he too believes only “what feels good to him” (i.e. natural selection), and “uses his brains to justify it.”

Margaret McGhee September 29th, 2006 01:08 PM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
Fred, Your post wasn't quite as absurd as most lately so I will offer a reply. Also, there still seems to be a few persons "viewing" these threads so at least someone might find this of interest.

You have adopted several incorrect assumptions about my premise - no doubt because they feel good to you - regardless of the amount of distortion you have to apply to my meaning. Your misunderstanding of the place of belief and rationality in my premise is probably the most flagrant - though not nearly the only distortion you have appiled.

Among other things, you are suffering under the existing paradigm - that places rationality and emotion at odds with each other - in constant competition for our overt behavior. I am saying they are part of the same system. We wouldn't be human without our tightly-coupled emotionally-driven, intellectually-supported, behavior control system

I am proposing that a rich mix of emotions are constantly arising and diminishing in our minds - almost always subconsciously - and that these provide the "motive" forces in our minds that cause us to do the things we do. Also, that these emotions do compete for control of our inner processes (including intellect and cognition) and produce the overt behavior that is the result of those processes.

Only when emotions become noticeable enough do we recognize them as feelings. But I am proposing that they are pervasive, constantly at work guiding our behavior - and almost completely un-noticed. I am in no way saying that cognition and intellectual rationality are not part of this process - a very important part in humans.

One of the behaviors these emotions produce, one of the more significant tasks of these emotions, is intellectual activity. People differ in their emotional makeup - as to which types of problems will elicit their intellectual focus. Just as people differ in their skill of using that faculty. But, once an intellectual conclusion is reached, we will give that conclusion an emotional "confidence" tag - that will represent how much we trust our intellect in the context of that problem.

For example, watching a magician perform, it may seem completely logical that somehow the magician managed to pull a dove out of a hat that was shown to be empty moments before. As a child I remember seeing such a performance and I remember believing that there must be such a thing as magic - because I had just witnessed it and grownups seemed to be going along with it all. Today however, when I see such a performance I simply wonder which particular sleight-of-hand the magician used.

You could say that as a child I harbored a skeptical but temporary belief in magic - just as I believed in god for while. As I matured however, I modified that belief as better evidence became available.

The point is that we learn to be mistrustful of our intellect - because it is often wrong. The whole field of science is based on that fact - and provides an institutionalized method to test scientists' intellectual conclusions.

When we make behavior choices we are attempting to predict the future - which of course is not physically possible. That is the basic struggle of life for all living things. We are constantly predicting (emotionally) that every behavior choice will make us happier than all the alternatives.

In most cases we make behavior choices without using our reason. Driving a car is a good example. We can drive for miles down the freeway, listening to the radio, talking on our cellphone, etc. - all the while adjusting our speed and controllong the vehicle safely with almost no intellectual input.

In cases where we feel a greater risk, our emotional system elicits our intellect to double check on a course of action. We might check intellectually if the next offramp is the one we need to exit. We then might follow our original emotional conclusion - or we may negate it and follow a different intellectual conclusion - depending on the emotional risks and confidence we feel regarding those choices in that context.

If we follow our intellect in that case, and not our original emotional inclination, we will have developed a temporaray belief, that in this case our first emotional conclusion was wrong and we need to take a different offramp. In that sense, our beliefs are always in charge of our decisions. Every behavior decision is based on a temporary belief - an emotional prediction - that we will be happier (than otherwise) as a result.

Beliefs are simply relationships about things in the universe that we believe (emotionally) to be true. Belief is always an emotional process. We don't have to understand intellectually why our beliefs are true - although some will apply that standard wherever possible - or at least in some areas of their beliefs more than others.

We adopt beliefs for one reason, because they make us feel better - usually for the reliable conclusions they produce for us. But, we can derive good feelings from our beliefs for reasons other than that. Sometimes they make us feel good directly - just by contemplating them. Sometimes. we get approval from friends or authority figures for adopting (or at least saying that we adopt) some "preferred" beliefs.

Becoming a mature adult can be viewed as the process of populating our minds with a large set of useful beliefs about the universe - that will (hopefully) provide reliable emotional signals that will guide us to a long and happy life.

One way to do that is to intellectually recognize the difference between beliefs that feel good because of their predictive value in our lives and those that produce happiness for other indirect reasons.

Strong beliefs that provide secondary good feelings (apart from their predictive value) are like drugs - producing an illusion of happiness on the cheap - and many people allow their minds to become addicted to those drugs - actually, the neurotransmitters those beliefs produce.

By referencing a healthy belief system we will make better decisions that result in greater happiness. The more that happens with a belief, the stronger that belief becomes - and the more reliable are the subconscious emotional forces that it provides when we reference it in a behavior decision.

Our minds are correctly designed to make choices according to what works for us - what has made us happier in the past. The whole amazingly complex system of belief evolved for that purpose. For that reason, I don't believe in god and you do. That's cool. That works for you and it works for me. The main difference between us is that I have a hypothesis that explains why you believe in god and I don't - and how that affects our behavior.

Finally, the emotional system in our minds is like the CPU that regulates the flow of information in a computer. The information, the bits in our computer that are constantly being compared, added subtracted, etc. are our emotions.

Our belief system is a large decision data-base. Intellect is like a math-coprocessor. The emotionally driven CPU calls on it for some classes of problems, like where there are scant data-base entires available - or when our conscious mind notices a danger or risk and sends the CPU an emotional signal to engage our intellect - either to verify an emotional conclusion or perhaps to creatively find a new solution to an intractable problem.

But even then, the CPU makes the final behavior choice (output) - incorprating the math conclusions in its decision according to the algorithm embodied in the program code (a form of belief). The math coprocessor does not control the computer directly but it's results can be dynamically incorporated according to a set rule - that is if the emotional tag produced by that conclusion is stronger than any set of existing emotional tags from other sources in our mind at the moment that a behavior choice is requied.

That alogorithm, which is obviously based on a different set of beliefs in each of us - causes me to try patiently to explain my premise in a way that is understandable to others (and me). Your's causes you to reply with snarky comments and ridicule. You may now proceed. ;)


Fred H. September 29th, 2006 09:03 PM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain

MM: You have adopted several incorrect assumptions about my premise - no doubt because they feel good to you.
Sure, in MM’s mind there’s “no doubt,” but somehow MM can’t see, using her (circular) belief that all “people believe [only] what feels good to them - and use their brains to justify it,” that it therefore can be nothing more than her “belief” that I’ve “adopted several incorrect assumptions about [her] premise,” that apparently makes MM herself “feel good,” and that she supposedly used her “brains to justify.”

Too bad Todd now feels that discussing these things with MM “costs more time and effort than it is worth”—I think he was the only one that had a shot at helping MM see the circularity and uselessness of her “hypothesis.”

alexandra_k October 15th, 2006 05:55 AM

Re: Relationship with mother leaves its mark on the brain
I've been led to read some of the stuff on the neurobiology of attachment too... Fairly interesting. There is some stuff on the attachment styles of infants (secure, disorganised etc) and the neurobiology of those attachment styles. Kind of psychodynamic theory gone scientific.

It is especially relevant to developmental explanations of personality disorders. Borderline Personalilty Disorder, for example, had been characterised as a disorder of emotion regulation, and also as a disorder of attachment. I read something the other day on theory of mind and mentalization and about how when the attachment system is activated theory of mind / ability to mentalize seems to go out the window for these people.

One notion is that teaching the ability to mentalize while the attachment system is activated is the 'active' ingredient in mentalization, interpersonal, schema, dialectical behaviour, transference, and cognitive based treatments.

(i'm really sorry but i couldn't find free access so unfortunately you need individual / institutional subscription to access)

Journal of Clinical Psychology, Special Issue: Putative Mechanisms of Action in the Psychotherapy Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.

See in particular:

Mechanisms of change in mentalization-based treatment of BPD (p 411-430)
Peter Fonagy, Anthony W. Bateman
Published Online: 9 Feb 2006

Available from the above link.

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 04:03 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright © 1995-2004 Behavior OnLine, Inc. All rights reserved.