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Brains and Brawn: The Neuroscience of Violent Youth Behavior

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  1. Brains and Brawn: The Neuroscience of Violent Youth Behavior 2010 School Safety and Violence Prevention Conference Keynote Address Commerce City, Colorado Jonathan I. Cloud

  2. What We Will Cover • The Culture of Brawn • Deeper Views of Safety, Pain, and Victimization • Brain-Mind Processes for Safety and Nonviolence • Violentization Cycle: The Neuroscience of Violence • Peace-Making Cycle: The Neuroscience of Nonviolence

  3. The Culture of Brawn: Brute Force Employed to Subjugate Others • Became a primary factor in cultural evolution during the prehistory of Western civilization: “Dominator Model.” • Displaced mutual aid as a primary factor in cultural evolution: “Partnership Model” (i.e., connecting). • Misuse of Darwin’s theory of human evolution enshrined the “Dominator Model” (i.e., “Social Darwinism”). • Now in a shift in consciousness in which the “Dominator Model” is gradually being transcended. • Now many youth possess a new conscientious mind: acute sense of the “Partnership Model” (i.e., “Cultural Creatives,” “Creative Class,” “Generation WE,” “Guardian Class”). • Need to understand what’s blocking what they can create; thus we need deeper views of safety, pain, victimization. Source: The Chalice & The Blade: Our History, Our Future, by Riane Eisler

  4. Neurological and Developmental Aspects of Kids With Conscientious Minds A higher than average sensitivity of neural receptors (“overexcitabilities”). Reacts with surprise, puzzlement to many things; collides with things, persons and events, which in turn bring astonishment and disquietude. (Dabrowski, 1972) • They come into the world with a feeling of royalty. • They have difficulty with absolute authority (authority without explanation or choice). • They often see better ways of doing things. • They seem antisocial unless they are with their own kind. • School is often difficult for them socially. • They will not respond to “guilt” discipline. • (Carroll & Tober, 1999)

  5. A Deeper View of Their Safety or Well-Being • Physical Safety or Well-Being: security and protection of body, health, property, and basic resources. • Emotional Safety or Well-Being: security and protection of attachments with family, friends, and authority figures. • Social Safety or Well-Being: security and protection of opportunities and roles in family, school, and community; acceptance of others; sense of value or worth to society. • Psychological Safety or Well-Being: security and protection of self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others and by others. • Spiritual Safety or Well-Being: security and protection of sense of purpose, meaning; personal growth, spontaneity.

  6. Physical, Social, Emotional, Spiritual Safety Trends(Duke University’s Child Welfare Index)

  7. A Deeper View of Their Pain • Physical Pain: security of one’s body, health, property, and basic resources violated/threatened. • Emotional Pain: security of attachments with one’s family, friends, and authority figures violated/threatened. • Social Pain: security of opportunities and roles in one’s family, school, and community; acceptance of others; sense of value or worth violated/threatened. • Psychological Pain: security of self-esteem, confidence, achievements, respect of others and by others violated/ threatened. • Spiritual Pain: security of one’s sense of purpose, meaning; personal growth, spontaneity violated/threatened.

  8. A Deeper View of Their Victimization • Intrapersonal/Actual Self: victimization is registered by body’s five senses; undermines creating peace through personal goals; threatens self-regulation; restricts what I can do in connecting securely with persons. • Interpersonal/Expected Self: victimization is registered by intellect; undermines creating peace through interpersonal goals; threatens self-validation; restricts what I can achieve in connecting securely with school, community, society. • Transpersonal/Ideal Self: victimization is registered by heart; undermines creating peace through spiritual goals; threatens self-actualization; restricts what I can become in connecting securely with purpose, meaning, humankind.

  9. The Neurology of Connecting: Or Being SecureSource: Hardwired to Connect, The Commission on Children at Risk, 2006 • Risk-taking • Excitement-seeking • Novelty-seeking • Friendship-seeking About Age 11: An idealistic image of self begins to grow in intensity. About Age 14: Expects something tremendous to happen. About Age 16: Senses a secret unique greatness that seeks expression. Source: Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potentials of Our Intelligence, Joseph Pearce

  10. Safety Must be Realized Through Innate Developmental Striving or Thriving What the Youth Can Become (Senses a secret unique greatness that seeks expression.) What the Youth Can Achieve (Expects something tremendous to happen.) What the Youth Can Do (An idealistic image of self begins to grow in intensity.)

  11. Heightened Neurological Need for Risk-Taking : A Key Neurological Process in Striving It appears that alterations in levels of activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine in parts of the adolescent’s brain can produce in these young people a relative “reward deficiency.” Translation: For the adolescent, any pleasurable stimulus, from music to drugs, may need to be especially powerful and intense in order to pass the adolescent brain’s recently altered (“reward deficient”) threshold of interest, pleasure, or excitement. Thus, many teens’ quest for adventure, novelty, and risk may simply reflect their efforts [strivings] to feel good. Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, A Report to the Nation from the Commission on Children at Risk, Institute for American Values, 2003, p. 22 (addition mine)

  12. Our Human Journey Involves Three Types of Strivings and Risk-Taking Prefrontal Cortex/Spiritual Brain transpersonal; reason I will do it; behavior maintenance; meaning-seeking, serving higher self; norepinephrine Limbic-Neocortex/Social Brain interpersonal; how I will do it; behavior regulation; reward-seeking, approval of others; serotonin Social Risk-Taking Spiritual Risk-Taking Physical Risk-Taking Safe and Nonviolent Risk-Taking is Rooted in Security, Not Insecurity. R-System/Movement Brain intrapersonal; what I will do; behavior activation; novelty-seeking; dopamine 12

  13. Takes Time for the Three Brain Systems to Integrate(Safety and Nonviolence are Phenomena of Healthy Brain-Mind Development) Prelogical Operational Logic Post-Operational Age 7 Age 1 Age 4 Age 15 Age 11 Age 21 R-System (instincts/physical security) Lower Impulses Limbic System (feelings/emotional security) Right Hemisphere (creativity/social security) Left Hemisphere (intellect/psychological security) Cerebellum (coordinates brain systems; coordinates attention; links a lower system with a higher one) Prefrontal Cortex: Later (transcendence/spiritual security) Higher Impulses Prefrontal Cortex: Early (unfolding of one’s genius; learning and growth; moral evolution) The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit, Joseph Pearce, 2002, modified

  14. The Prefrontal Cortex:Key to Safety and Peaceful Minds • “When a higher neural form in our brain completes its growth and begins its full function, a new form of reality and a larger world unfold to us and distinctly new behaviors and abilities fill our repertoire.” • “Evolution’s latest neural addition [prefrontal cortex] seems to lie largely dormant within us despite the fact that it seems it should offer a discontinuously new potential, a new reality – a whole new mind.” • “If a child’s environment does not furnish the appropriate stimuli needed to activate prefrontal neurons, the prefrontals can’t develop as designed.” The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit Joseph Chilton Pearce

  15. Darwin Theorized Prefrontal Cortex Would Become Dominant(Darwin’s Lost Theory of Love: A Healing Vision for the New Century, David Loye, 2000) MORAL AGENCY Human self-organizing pro-cesses of mutual aid; higher agencies than natural selection; the dynamo of conscience and conscious choice; love/self-transcendence Prefrontal Cortex and Cerebellum Moral Sensitivity Neocortex (right and left hemispheres) Sympathy Reason Higher Limbic System Emotion Social Instincts Pre-Human natural selection and random variation; survival of fittest; struggle for power Lower Limbic System Parental Instincts R-System Physical/Sexual Instincts

  16. Cultural Evolution is About Safety Becoming More Achievable Not Less Looking to future generations, there is no cause to fear that our social instincts will grow weaker, and we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, the struggle between our higher and our lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant. Charles Darwin The Descent of Man In a way, school safety isn’t just about “keeping things under control,” but about the kind of human beings we can become.

  17. But Here’s The Big Question Does What We do to Kids Furnish the Kind of Stimulation That Activates Their Prefrontal Neurons?

  18. The Violentization Cycle: Negative Stimulation Activates R-System to Hijack Higher Systems Brutalization Dominator Model Virulency Belligerency Violent Performance Source: Richard Rhodes as summarized by John Breeding, Ph.D. in True Nature and Great Misunderstandings: On How We Care For Our Children According To Our Own Understanding

  19. Brutalization:Course or Cruel Treatment • First Level: forced subjugation by an authority or more powerful person or system. • Second Level: personal horrification at seeing others of one’s group subjugated. • Third Level: violent coaching; assigned the role of violent novice by someone, usually older. Some Kids Remain at Second Level: Run Away (Flight) and/or Become Victims (Freeze).

  20. Belligerency:Fight Instinct Reaction to Coarse or Cruel Treatment • Brutalized, violated individual broods over questions: “Why have I not fought back?” and “What can I do?” • Defending self-concept from experiences of submission, powerlessness, shame, guilt, and humiliation. • Reaches an inner mitigated solution: “I will fight back!”

  21. Violent Performance:Belligerent Individual Becomes Violent • Chooses opportunities to do so; perceives provocations that “justify” doing so. • If Defeated: reevaluates violent action (can also be repeat of brutalization). • If Victorious: violent actions likely to continue, expand, and intensify.

  22. Virulency:Identity Shift from Victim to Dominator • Gains “violent notoriety” after being victorious in a violent action. • Gains power of “social trepidation;” being feared or respected. • Establishes “brutal” ways of establishing reputation and a feeling of pride.

  23. Virulency Violent Performance Belligerency Early Brutalization 23

  24. 5.Ideal Positive Adjustment self-actualization; working for the well-being of others; moral agency 4.Organized Positive Disintegration perception of higher versus lower values; what one ought to be 3.Disorganized Pos. Disintegration moral sense of “what ought to be;” higher impulses; meta-motivations Youth’s Developmental Potential: overexcitabilities gifts talents strivings 2.Positive Maladjustment discontent with self and society; non-conformity to “what is” 1.Negative Adjustment conformity to “what is;” no inner sense of “what ought to be” 0.Negative Maladjustment extreme egocentrism; ruthless realization of lower impulses A Model of Emotional-Moral Developmental Striving(Integrating the Theories of Dabrowski, Maslow, and Darwin) Environmental Conditions and Stimuli: Risk and Protective Factors

  25. Peace-Making Cycle: Neuroscience of Nonviolence Modeling: Powerful Acts of Moral Sensitivity Engaging: Activities of Moral Agency Mentoring: Implanting Moral Sensitivity Partnership Model Training: Habits of Moral Sensitivity