“We send and receive messages from one another across a synapse—the social synapse.” (Cozolino 2014b)
Between neurons connecting, is the ‘synapse’ that functions as a signal and connects one brain cell to the next. When one individual is connecting with another through communication, even visual communication, there is a ‘social synapse’ between the brain firing of one individual and the reactive firing of the other. A social synapse is a way of saying that we are ‘almost’ physically and mentally connected to eachother. The following will focus on the impact on brain development as defined through ‘social connection,’ of two new areas of research, plasticity and mirror neuron systems. It will be demonstrated that the impact of the social environment is physiological. There is no denying that environmental influences impact brain development, and this brain development impacts the relative social, economic, intellectual and health outcomes of individuals. The social determinants of health (education, housing, social supports and healthcare) maintain that there is a direct physiological impact between the external world and the well-being of any individual(Embrett and Randall 2014). Using the neurobiology of attachment theory, mirror neuron systems, and plasticity, the following will demonstrate in physiological terms, this is true for human and even, mammal development. To nurture the social brain is no less important to providing the basic body nutrients to sustain lifespan growth and development.
In the social sciences, the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is deeply entrenched. Briefly stated, the debate concerns whether ourselves, pesonalities, genders, and so on, the outcome of ‘genetic’ or ‘biological’ determinism. Or, whether we are the products of our social environments. In the field of brain development, that debate is over. Human development is both. We are born with an instinct for survival, that instinct manifests in seeking behaviours, which a maternal care-giver will ultimate respond to(Wöhr and Krach 2017; Numan 2014). Conversely, the mother’s response to their developing child, impacts and changes the child’s brain development (Numan 2014). There is a reciprocal relationship – or, a mutually determining or forming relationship between a child’s development and likewise, the mother’s development. The child impacts the brain of the mother, and the mother aids the shaping of the brain development of the child. Further, there are instinctive behaviours with both mother and child(Numan 2014) that in general, expressed through the production of various hormones. The following will look at attachment theory and the ‘pleasure reward system’, to defend the necessary connection or mutually determining relationship between nature and nurture as it connects through all of brain development. In terms of the hormones that are significant to the pleasure reward, and significant because they aid survival, are dopamine and oxytocin. To begin with, a brief outline of the most recent areas of plasticity and mirror neurons will be presented in order to provide the empirical evidence for brain development.
The human brain only fully develops to a point of maturity at about eighteen years old(Feldman 2016) and the frontal lobes can sometimes only fully develope as late as the age of thirty (Healy 2011 75). Obviously, the brain development through that period is marked by a growing, and therefore, changing brain. Neuroplasticity is a relatively new area of neurobiology. It is a term that describes the process of measurable neurological change through the entire life-time. But, also brain change that occurs in a short period, and as little as a month (Wöhr and Krach 2017). This is a revolutionary evidence based observation, and is a very significant axiom of the neuroscience that supports brained based learning, and because benchmarks for neurological change can be co-equated with subject methods and teaching strategies (Healy 2011; Feinstein and Jensen 2013). They are effective because they are committed to the brain after a period reinforcement. Prior to the science of plasticity, it was largely maintained that once grown, the brain is a static entity. It was believed that it was like an empty vessel that became filled with the memories, self hood and personality of the individual(Cozolino 2014). In the past few decades, the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), have allowed scientists to see the brain functioning in ‘real time’. More importantly, MRI technology has allowed scientists to see very specific brain changes as a consequence of some activity or another(Feldman 2016). In a recent study conducted at Harvard, and with over multiple test subjects, a mindfulness meditation practice/regime or mindfulness based stress reduction program was implemented to see if there was brain change. What they discovered, did verify existing views on neurobiology. They found brain changes in all of the subjects as a consequence of this exercise(Hölzel 2011). Further, they arrived at an actual formula for neuroplasticity. With twenty-five minutes a day, a brain will noticeably/measurably change in just less than a month(Hölzel 2011; Tang 2015). Neuroplasticity means that we can modify and re-shape our brain. As Jensen notes, for the growing adolescent brain, it is not the case that the physical shaping of a brain only occurs with ‘positive’ input that becomes conditioned (Feinstein and Jensen 2013; Jensen and Snider 2013). This will be examined later on. For present purposes, neuroplasticity is a recent area of brain development that provides evidence for the plastic brain. And, evidence for a brain that is measurably impacted by an external social and even, economic environment.
Along with neuroplasticity, the ‘mirror neuron system’ (mirror neuron system) of the brain, likewise provides evidence for the brain change that occurs through brain development. Mirror neurons were discovered in Italy in the 1990’s. The discovery itself, provides a solid basis for describing the mirror neuron system. Lead by Dr. Gallese, a team of researchers in Parma were examining the gripping function in the brain of a macaw monkey(Cozolino 2014). The monkey’s brain was being monitored to measure electrical activity in a particular region of the lower brain or motor cortex. One day during the experiment, the apparatus was being setup for the day. The monkey’s brain was wired for monitoring, and as the researcher was adjusting the hand grip being used for observation, the monitor / computer began firing(Cozoloino 2014; Feinstein and Jensen 2013). The monkeys brain was firing as though it was handling the grip. But, it was the researcher setting it up, and the macaw’s arms or hand were not even moving. In short, the brain activity was the same as if the monkey was handling the hand-grip. Mirror neurons were discovered because plasticity had changed the monkeys brain so that the gripping activity was hard-wired. When the human manipulated the grip, the monkeys brain ‘mirrored’ what would have been going on in the brain of the human(Tager-Flusberg 2013). It was mirroring the activity, but only in thought alone.
Since the 1990’s, a lot of key discoveries have been made regarding the mirror neuron system. One recent study, suggests that mirror neurons function in a way that an individual can actually read the mind of another, or, the intentions of another. That is, not just mirror the physical actions of another, but mirror the actual thought processes without any visual cues or observation. In this experiment, two macaws were arrange side by each, but so they could not directly see what each other was doing. Both had computer screens, and while taking turns, each monkey would decide what image on the screen they would touch(Haroush 2015). Within an instant of one monkey touching the screen, the same images would appear to the second monkey. Finally, the monkeys were provided with a reward of oxytocin (a brain drug) every time that they chose correctly. What the scientists observed, was a remarkable transformation in accuracy. Both monkeys began to very accurately chose the same image as the other. The inference made, is that they were essentially or effectively mirroring each-others thought processes(Haroush 2015). They built the same mirror neurons that allowed one to follow another just by reading the emotion of the other, or, the brain being rewarded. Although a study needs to be done on humans, and use measurement tools like an MRI, this is an important discovery and advancement in mirror neuron system. Mirror behavior is an important area of research in education because it can contribute to a better understanding of the social reinforcement of a ‘group mind’, but also, how to change that in a positive way where negative pathways are transformed into productive ones (Jensen and Snider 2013).
Second, a recent study examined the very same gripping motion that the original discovery experiment had done. This time the brain being monitored (Electroencephalogram), was a human brain. Further, this time, the human subject was following the gripping motion/action of (a) a human, (b) an android (human looking robot), and (c) a robot that did not at all resemble a human. The findings were that the android produced the most mirror activity, followed by the human and then, robot (Saygin 2011). What is important to note, is that the mirror neuron system activity produced by interacting with the robot was only slightly less than the human. In areas such as education, physical development, or even learning a musical instrument, the suggestion that plasticity and the mirror neuron system are just as effectively produced by non-humans as humans, means considerations about who will be the teachers of the future. Both plasticity and the mirror neuron system are important new areas that are relevant to brain development. The two studies on mirror neuron system that are raised here, emphasize the importance of future developments, but also provide, solid empirical evidence for two discoveries in neurobiology that are relatively recent.
In the following, an emphasis will be posited directly on the key concepts of plasticity and mirror neuron system. It will be demonstrated that the social determinants of health are absolutely supported by the current science of brain development. Productive development of prosocial behaviours and self-motivated learning can be engineered, but also, negatively stressed or anti-social behaviours may likewise be re-wired (Jensen and Snider 2013).
Brain development and Attachment Theory.
In current childhood developmental psychology in relationship to brain development, the dominant paradigm is Attachment Theory. Attachment theory is a hybrid in the sense that it is developed within two different psychological schools of brain development. The cognitive / behavioural model and the psychoanalytic model are two theories that intersect in Attachment Theory(Feldman 2016). The theory of childhood and brain development that first defined Attachment Theory, was initially the outcome of decades of research by Bowlby who was a child psychiatrist. In London England, Bowlby worked primarily with James and Joyce Robertson. Their work with children began during the war, and both during, and after ward they integrated their therapy with research into ‘attachment, separation, and loss’. Bowlby published a three-volume work with that title in (1969) and it was his cumulative or life-time research that had begun in the 1940’s when he was dealing with trauma caused by bombing raids that were happening. There was a wide practice of sending city dwelling children into the country(Juffer 2014), and Bowlby and other child psychologists were noticing a high prevalence of children with this background in their practices, and institutions. What the Robertsons and Bowlby began to witness, were stages that a child who has experienced separation or loss go through various developmental phases. In terms of research that inflicted or allowed pain for the sake of science, the Robertsons and Bowlby have left a stark legacy in the form of a film. The film titled ‘A Two Year Old Goes to the Hospital’ depicts a child going through those very stages(Alsop‐Shields 2001). The idea of allowing, and worse, filming for the purposes of research, a child who they knew would wind up in a dissociative state, is morally reprehensible. At the same time, that film and the work of Robertson’s/Bowlby is credited with a very significant transformation in the practice of pediatric medicine. Through most of the British Commonwealth countries, and the US prior to the mid 1950’s, best practice medicine of the era, maintained that visitation by parents for a child in the hospital should be limited to Sunday afternoons only(Aslop-Shields 2001). We now know that minimizing stress, increases or improves the recovery outcomes of almost any health conditions. However, prior to that transformation in hospital visition policy, it was erroneously believed that continual or more frequent parental visitation stressed the system more than if the parents stayed and visited. What their research demonstrated, is how the dissociative state is the mental outcome of extreme stress caused by parental separation. In current practices, it is not uncommon to have sleeping accommodation in pediatric wards and that positive change is informed by what would become Attachment Theory. The beginnings of Attachment Theory are psychoanalysis as its ‘theory’, but the observation of children who were separated from caregivers, and children who had been separated from their primary caregivers.
In the mid 1970’s, a student of Bowlby’s named Mary Ainsworth designed a test that verifies his key child development research (Ainsworth 2015). The test she developed became termed as ‘The Strange Situation’. The engineered situation involved a mother, a child in varying ages (1 1/2 to 5), and a stranger. A mother and child would be engaged with one another in a controlled setting, and at a certain point when it is evident that the child is at ease in the situation, a stranger would enter(Ainsworth 2015; Cozolino 2014). After a varying degree of time with the stranger present, the mother would leave and then the interaction between the stranger and the child would be observed. A child who is termed someone with ‘secure attachment’, is observed to interact with the stranger in a manner that is almost indistinguishable from the interaction observed with the child’s primary care-giver(Marrone 2014). A securely attached child is someone who expects the world to mirror their expectations. We now know that the ‘mirroring relationship’ adds brain mass to the infants and their mothers. The stranger is no different to the child because there is no reason for the child to think that the stranger would not respond to their expectations. A securely attached child will also seek the comfort of a stranger when they are stressed.
Attachment Theory in the Strange Situation experiment, also observed two other major types or forms of bonding behaviours. Bowlby/Ainsworth described ‘anxious attachment’ and ‘avoidant attachment’ as the other patterns of behaviour. In recent years, the work of Mary Main has brought about a fourth form that is called ‘disorganized attachment'(Ainsworth 2015). An anxiously attached child displays a number of distinct behaviours. One of the main ones, is the re-connection they make with the mother when they re-enter of the situation. An avoidant as it says, will be aloof and distant when the mother returns(Goldberg 2014). Further, the same behaviours are displayed when they are alone with the stranger. Again, they expect the world to ‘mirror’ their expectations in those years. Attachment Theory presumes an egocentric infant beginning that gradually differentiates itself in distinct stages. In the process of differentiation, the infant starts with an undifferentiated self(Troutman 2015). In the first few months to a year, the child learns to distinguish herself from the outside world. But, an attachment is formed neurologically and conditioned that in includes a sense of self(Andersen 2014). As distinct from another. However, that early expectation of ego-centrism, shapes the child in a way that they do expect what is external to them, as an extension of them. The extension becomes a reflection as the social behaviours take over from the body behaviours(Feldman 2016). The child begins to want to be recognized in the same way that they recognize themselves. At the age of 18 months to three years old, children negotiate their relationship between dependence and Independence(Cozolino 2014). A mother is going to either mirror the needs of the child in those years or not. By mirror, it is better implied in terms of being responsive. When a child is conditioned through plasticity to expect that their needs will be met, they follow through socially with the external world with greater confidence and positive self-image. (Wöhr and Krach 2017). If a mother is not able to mirror the needs of the child in this important phase of social/psychological development, an alternative to a secure attachment is the probable outcome. For Bowlby and Ainsworth, Attachment Theory is a measure of a mother’s availability, responsiveness and sensitivity (Bowlby 1969; Wöhr and Krach 2017). The responsiveness is contingent or dependent on the prior availability of a mother. When distressed, or in a state of physical/emotional need, a mother will respond to a child’s prosocial communication in either a consistent way, or, not. A consistent response, can be a sensitive encounter(Feldman 2016;Troutman 2015). When a mother sees that a child has soiled themselves, needs to be fed, or, needs to be comforted and so on, the child is conditioned to believe in their expectations. Emotional cues are quite subtle and attuned mothers can read these, but consider the condition where there are mothers who cannot even read the child’s communication about a basic bodily function, such as soiling themselves. If a child cannot expect that their needs will be made, they will discard the expectation itself(Wöhr and Krach 2017; Levine 2012; Troutman 2015; Cozolino 2014; Tager-Flusberg 2013). As a consequence, they will ‘avoid’ caregivers or anyone who might present themselves as an emotional attachment. De-activation occurs when an avoidant disengages from a potential threat in the form of an emotional connection, and when an anxious individual faces the same experience, they go through a neurological process termed as ‘activation’ (Levine 2012). By contrast, an anxious attachment occurs when sensitivity is not effective. When a child is not having their needs met, when the protest or communication persists, they are described as anxious. And, there is a sensitivity or reflection formed that is a shared emotional dependence. When an avoidant individual ‘deactivates’ the significance of a responsive outside world, they have been the outcome of inconsistent availability and responsiveness.
Current neurobiology and brain development uses Attachment Theory theory as the ‘cognitive framework’ to explain the corresponding biology. As we shall see in the following, there is a mutually determining relationship between the cognitive model defined by attachment theory, and the brain development in terms of the brain chemistry’s associated with developmental phases. Finally, this current neuroscience will be demonstrated to intersect with brain based learning theory.
Attachment Theory has become paradigm of both human and mammalian neurobiology(Numan 2014; Andersen 2014; Cozolino 2014). In mammalian development, the childhood development period has a significant impact on psycho-social development, and the very evolution of a species as well. Human brain development is not complete until eighteen years old. Consider the comparative period of differences between humans and other mammals. Calves are born almost ready to walk, and for humans, it takes years. As a brain that is underdeveloped, it is important to stress that a parent is optimally the compensation(Numan 2014). Judgment, the capacity to reason at peak ability, hormonal imbalances, and greater impulsivity and risk behaviours are known causes of health problems and fatalities. Until the brain is fully developed, a parent at least ‘should’ function as a frontal and pre-frontal cortex for a child. In the limbic system of the brain that mammals share, there are three levels that include the frontal and pre-frontal cortex, the sensory motor cortex, and the motor cortex(Feinstein and Jensen 2013). Motor functions include automatic systems like heart regulation, breathing, and hormonal secretions. Sensory motor functions are the physical actions that involve voluntary movement, but also involve perception and communication. In the early phases of development, a parent is involved with shaping the sensory-motor behaviours where later on it is the frontal and pre-frontal cortex areas that need the greater focus. Therefore, a parent is effectively working as a frontal and pre frontal cortex for a child until they are fully developed(Feldman 2016; Numan 2014). The very same condition is true for any other developmental phase. Until a child is capable of walking independently, a parent is effectively functioning as an extension of the sensory motor cortex and motor cortex that is not co-ordinated enough to function independentantly. Likewise, feeding and attending to needs according to relative independence. A parent is compensating for the lack of walking ability by providing support through the crawling to standing transition phase. Likewise, when the brain is at completion and there is a brain ‘compensation’ needed from a support that is external to the child. As noted, there are evidence based deficits that are ‘frontal and pre-frontal’ in scope. Brain development is bottom up and has to view the entire development of central nervous system as a series of stages(Feldman 2016; Healy 2011; Tager-Flusberg 2013; Cozolino 2014). From bodily function independence, to motor co-ordination/movement independence, to emotional maturity and social independence, and finally, human physical maturation which is life independence. To support the care of the brain development of the child, is to also support that of the parent given that they are the ‘compensation’ or completion of a mirror in an optimal sense of parenting(Keefer 2014). To not do so, is to have the impact of placticity result on a brain that is prone to risk behaviours, including addiction problems and various other anti-social behaviours (Feinstein and Jensen 2013). For example, for children who start smoking at a young age or using narcotics, their lifelong addictions rates will be significantly worse, and because of brain connections/formation that establish negative pathways (Feinstein and Jensen 2013 138). When there is physical dependence or addiction, the sensory motor cortex is interacting with the motor cortex, but bypassing the ability to have ‘reason’ or the frontal cortex to have any influence on the behaviour. This is emotional disregulation, and emotional regulation is a physiological concept important to brain based learing. As brain based, the concept of emotional regulation, starts at the neurocellular level.
The cell is the simplest single unit of life because of its biological self sufficiency and its ability to reproduce itself. The simplest cells will have molecules entering it, and molecules leaving it in a transformed state. The most basic cell also houses the blueprint for regulation in the form of the DNA that it also stores(Numan 2014). Finally, the most basic cell also seeks and mostly achieves a state of homoeostasis. The inputs and the outputs are regulated when homoeostasis is achieved. According to the blueprint that defines the capacity for molecule intake and processing, each and every type of cell achieves a state of balance(Andersen and Pine 2014). The cellular behaviour of homoeostasis defines the foundation for other systems. In the human body, organ tissue, for example, is maintained because of cellular regulations. The maintenance of the size and shape of a heart, or the size, and form of a kidney are continuous through a lifetime because the cells that compose that tissue die and procreate, with regulated molecular inputs and outputs.
The mass of the brain is no different because of the regulation of neurons. Among the two hundred different types of cells, neurons are cells that receive both molecular/chemical inputs, but also electrical ‘signals'(Cozolino 2014). Living cells and humans are good conductors for electrical impulses, and so along with a homoeostasis of cells interacting with each other at the chemical level, electrical signals are also sent along the dendrites or connected threads between neurons and enter the cell causing ionic behaviour that then will interact with the given state of the type of molecules that are there(Marlin 2015). In terms of the Attachment Theory and brain development, oxytocin and dopamine are among the key components of the ‘dopaminergic reward system’ (DRS). All mammals produce oxytocin or other types of nonapetide types of hormones, as a reward and motivator for reproduction(Healy 2011B; Marlin 2015; Feldman 2016). Oxytocin is stored in the hypothalamus part of the brain. In the case of ocytocin, it is produced in ‘bonding behaviour’, ‘sexual behaviours’, and varied of social behaviours. The sequence can occur such that an external stimulus causes the brain to reward itself by flooding neurons with oxytocin. The impact of oxytocin reach’s to the lower limbic of the area, and also impacts both the sensory motor and the motor cortex(Cozolino 2014; Tager-Flusberg 2013). The very state of a mood elevation or mild sense of euphoria is actually caused by the cells failing to maintain their normal state of homoeostasis. Just as the cells that maintain the heart tissue need to be consistent, so too with the composition of the brain with regard to neurons. With neurons, receptor behaviour and receptor amount are how molecules are able to enter or not. Oxytocin can control the neuron through the GABA-ρ and the GABA-α receptors because they are pre designed access points in cells that operate as key-holes and keys(Feldman 2016; Marlin 2015). With the gamma-aminobutyric acid the neuron cell produces a signalling that happens at the impact of a receptor cell receiving the oxytocin. There are three receptors of the gamma-aminobutyric acid. The two receptors are function as ion channels which then signal the production of chloride(Feldman 2016). When that chloride is released in the cell the “action potential” of its activity becomes diminished. As the cell relax’s, so to does the some total of many parts of the brain(Keeler 2015). Along with Oxytocin is the dopaminergic system that impacts neurocellular behaviour, along with a number of glands such as the thalamus, hypothalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, the amygdala, and essentially, all three levels of the brain’s limbic system(Healy 2011B). Where oxytocin is a peptide hormone that impacts the chemical structure of the neuron cell, the brain’s other pleasure drug is a neurotransmitter(Numan 2014). Neurotransmitters are the connecting chemical or electrical mediums that allow a synapse to occur. A synapse is one neuron cell communicating with another either chemically, or, electrically — or, both chemically and electrically(Tager-Flusberg 2013). While oxytocin is literally calming the activity of the neurons that will connect with all of the nerve cells (neurons) throughout the central nervous system, the dopamine aids the spread of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the single most addictive drug that the brain produces, and it aids both in the mammal’s mechanisms for survival and it aids in the bonding and attachment that shapes the brain(Numan 2014; Feldman 2016). The chloride effectively relaxes neurons because it is a negative charge that will repel any positive electrical synapses from triggering the cell. The homoeostasis of cellular behaviour dictates that regulation be maintained according to the DNA that contains the best behaviours that determine survival and self-sufficiency of a cell(Slomowitz 2015). Again, homoeostasis is the condition where the inputs and the outputs are regulated and regular. Because of it, a cell’s response to too much ‘input’, is to close those key-holes or receptors, or to block them as with the ion process.
Where nature and nurture meet again as mutually determining, is evolutionary biology. The brain’s production of oxytocin is a strong mechanism for survival. It creates or facilitates prosocial behaviour. The highest level of oxytocin production by the brain occurs in women in the post-natal period(Feldman 2016). What occurs with the production of oxytocin, is an operant conditioning that creates a positive association with mothering the child. At the same time, and in keeping with evolutionary biology, the child comes out instinctively seeking its own survival. For example, the perfume smell that newborn babies have is common among mammals(Numan 2014). Mammals are largely a specie that has evolved where standing out from the rest of the litter created better survival outcomes. When babies emit an attractive or perfume smell, it is their instinctive way to cause pleasure or the trigger of oxytocin in the mother. Conversely, and more importantly, in attachment theory, the neurobiology of the reward system is a key concept.
In current comparative education standardized testing across Europe, the ‘Finnish Model’ has been demonstrating outstanding outcomes(Mykkänen 2017). Among many of the changes such an emphasis on tactile activities, and the near elimination of lecture based learning, is an emphasis on group learning. What the Finnish model has adopted, is underwritten by the neurobiology of pleasure seeking and the production of oxytocin and dopamine. However, it is being raised in the present context because it very concisely illustrates how the brain’s opiate like drug production and an external stimulus can become united and bonded with one another(Kim 2015). While oxytocin is produced in the greatest volumes in women who are nurturing a young child, along with sex, its production is very high in socializing and interacting(Feldman 2016). Social motivation system can be divided into three categories: those involved in (1) bonding and attachment (regulated by peptides, vasopressin, and oxytocin), (2) attraction (regulated by dopamine and other catecholamines), and (3) sex drive (regulated by androgens and estrogens)(Cozolino 2014). The Finnish model uses group learning because when a group develops their own agenda they gain a state of autonomy or self-definition, and a connection to a ‘subject to be learned’ that is equated to the production of oxytocin(Hoffman 2014; Healy 2011B). The Finnish model is literally engineering addiction in order to produce self confident and self motivated learners(Lanas 2015). One of the significant evidence considerations of their success, is the comparatively small time that their system spends teaching conventional maths and sciences(Sortheix 2015). With only a fraction of the conventional lecture based learning of these subjects, their measured outcomes among all European Union countries has been substantially higher for a consistent number of years(Hazelkorn 2014; Mykkänen 2017). The group method takes advantage of the social impact on oxytocin. What occurs in this well studied education process, is operant conditioning. There is an association created between the subject to be studied, and pleasure at the outset. In this framework, group learning is involved in the planning or early phase of a study area. A duration is taken where there are permanent pathways creating brain rewards (oxytocin and dopamine) that are actually caused by social interaction(Cozolino 2014b). It is a form of operant conditioning because the social interaction causes the pleasure/reward brain drugs, but those become attached to the project to be studied. As Feinstein and Jensen (2013) argue, this conditioning can have a reversing effect on poor social and physical conditioning in the case of behaviour problem students. It is operant conditioning because the outcomes have been replicated under varying conditions. Further, as the independence progresses with the very same project and the individual begins to expand their own engagement, the brain ‘opiate’ drug association includes both motivation and a sense of self confidence(Healy 2011B). Remember the model of development as bottom up. Group interaction has the immediacy of sensory motor interaction through perception and communication, and then there is a process of differentiation where the group of children begin to work more and more independently(Cozolino 2014). To put things bluntly, this motivational chain of events that has had measurable education performance outcomes, is an intentional engineering of a chemical addiction.
In regard to brain development within the Attachment Theory framework, the pleasure reward system is central, but so too is the stress inhibitory system within the brain. One of the known benefits of voluntarily regulated reward systems, is the reduction of problems in other mental health areas. There is a high correlation between self confidence and oxytocin production and prosocial behaviour. Further, this healthy or controllable amount of rewards reduces ‘anxiety’. There is a negative correlation between self confidence, oxytocin production and anxiety(Feldman 2016; Cozolino 2014). The greater the oxytocin, the less the anxiety. With oxytocin and the chemical vasopressin what is known as a ‘vagal brake’ occurs with motor cortex regulation, and in particular, the conscious ability to control heart rate, breathing and therefore, a fight/flight response. When stressed, humans to have an automatic outcome where the frontal and pre-frontal cortex of the brain is kept out of the functioning.When a threat is perceived or signalled, the central nucleus of the amygdala signals the hypothalamus. After this, the hypothalamus triggers the pituitary gland and that secretes renocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. When this ACTH is carried to the adrenal glands which are attached to the kidneys, cortisol and other stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine are released throughout the body through the bloodstream(Cozolino 2014). Cortisol is the ‘speed like’ energy drug that actually controls the homoeostasis of human body cells. That is, the static regulation described above. Cellular activity involved with digestion, hormone regulation and fighting internal threats, such as a virus or various bacteria, is essentially suspended by cells and energy is then transferred throughout the body. In a state of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’, the brain’s limbic system is only operating on two levels(Wöhr and Krach 2017). The motor cortex and the sensory motor cortex are operating in tandem because the sensory system will perceive threat, signal the motor cortex that begins the cascade of chemical / neurological processes that result in the sensory motor cortex action of physical readiness(Cozolino 2014; Feldman 2016). The energy state means that the sensory parts of the limbic system are primed by the motor. However, the frontal and pre-frontal cortex are not involved. When the signal goes to a gazelle herd that there is a threat present, their bodies just prime themselves and are just running as a heard. This is a form of response that all mammals share in because of the survival value. However, at the same time, it is a ‘maladapted’ survival mechanism for the 20th. century(Del Giudice 2014). Where fighting or running made sense in a more threatening world, this stress response is what describes anxiety or anxious behaviour. Feinstein and Jensen (2013) argue that it is a brain system that is at the very root of most behaviour problems or issues concerning emotional regulation. What is important is that it is a process that instinctively bypasses the reasoning/judgment portion of the limbic system(Cozolino 2014; Del Giudice 2014; Feinstein and Jensen 2013; Healy 2011B). Emotional regulation means mitigating or offsetting the cascading that results in stress drugs and a primed flight or flight state of mental and emotional conditioning. However, there is a limit within the classroom because of the social, living and home conditions of the student in question (Feinstein and Jensen 2013). There is a direct physical connection between the stressors of poverty such as food and shelter security, and secondary problems such as substance abuse or in some cases physical abuse, and the outcomes in terms of behaviour. At the same time that understanding the social conditions and psychological stresses does aid the brain based learning system, it does face a way when faced with backgrounds of individuals that cannot be controlled (Feinstein and Jensen 2013). At the same time, the education approach that is brain based does use the reward system to offset the stressors, and therefore, make improvements on the actual neurophysiology of students (Jensen and Snider 2013; Goldberg 2014). For example, the vagal brake when well conditioned can suppress the stress response. Further, infants who have greater vagal tone are capable of further of attracting more attuned behaviour caregivers(Cozolino 2014). In turn, this creates even further vagal tone regulation. Greater vagal tone regulation and emotional regulation have both been replicated in many studies using mindfulness based stress reduction strategies (Singleton 2014). Essentially, strategies to better integrate the three levels of the limbic system is the goal of brain based learning when it comes to emotional regulation (Feinstein and Jensen 2013). Attachment Theory supposes that the brain ought to develop the prosocial behaviours that produce reward system drugs, then develop behaviours/conditions where the stress reaction system is triggered.
One of the important aspects of promoting oxytocin, and minimizing cortisol production, are the long term effects on brain structure itself. Poor vagal structure, and therefore, poor emotional regulation has a high correlation in individuals who have experienced a wide range of stresses. These include individuals who have had measurable brain change/differences as a result of being physically or emotionally abused, bullied, but also, if they have had poor parenting according to Attachment Theory(Marrone 2014). Stress deregulating has caused depression, anxiety, emotional detachment, sleep problems, and then the spectrum of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)(Feinstein and Jensen 2013). Stress by social experiences in the above sense, increases cortisol levels and frequency of production, and in the long term this is known to impact and limit hippocampal functioning(Cozolino 2014; Tager-Flusberg 2013). This impacts both short-term memory, and learning(Healy 2011B). Hippocampal underdevelopment and damage has been ‘correlated’ with lower life expectancy, higher addictions rates, and a high percentage of left temporal lobe sufferers have noted stress in the backgrounds(Feinstein and Jensen 2013). Finally, it is important to note that the same biological or biochemical impact of stress is physiologically same as the effects of early maternal deprivation, and neglect. In other words, passive neglect has the same neurophysiological impact as active physical abuse.
The World Health Organization (WHO) have codified the ‘social determinants’ of health as a ‘human right’ (Embrett and Randall 2014). The determinants include housing security, healthcare access, education access and sufficient income. They are determinants because there is a direct correlation between their presence or their absence, and health outcomes (Embrett and Randall 2014). One of the serious problems to consider, is that the poor do not live as long as the affluent (Feinstein and Jensen 2013). The poor also face a number of problems directly connected with the social determinants of health. A child who is stressed because of all different consequences of poverty, is an under achiever in the education system and that deficit will create a long-term problem if the system fails the individual (Feinstein and Jensen 2013; Healy 2011B). Consider the determinants in the following terms: a child in school is doing poorly (education) because at home his family is facing an eviction (housing security and income). The stress of the situation is creating problems in terms of poor coping mechanisms or difficulties with emotional regulation. These very stresses as was outlined above, also have a permanent impact on the development and healthy functioning of the brain. In these terms, consider finally a parallel between parental and social neglect. If a parent is neglecting the basic needs of a child, it is not a passive act but rather, legally defined as an active form of abuse. In this study, it was demonstrated that the mirror neuron system and neuroplasticity are new concepts that reinforce brained based learning. Likewise, the reward system and the stress system of the brain, and how they connect with attachment and individual security. An important part of that approach/model, is knowing what the education environment can provide, and what its limitations are. The system can help improve maladapted brain behaviours, but it is limited because of home environments, genetics, and stressors. For example, when a child is a member of the system but has a disorganized attachment personality, there is a high probability that this neurological condition will result in poor outcomes. When society neglects the basic social needs of the poor, they are effectively having the same impact. In other words, neglect functions as a form of abuse when it comes to providing the security needed to thrive. Housing, healthcare and poverty are all circumstances that aid a mother’s ability to mother, and a child’s ability to develope healthy prosocial and intellectual skills, and therefore become a self motivated learner. There is no longer a debate between nature and nurture, they are mutually determining. However, this relationship also raises the stakes with regard to our collective responsibility toward the promotion of a nurturing education environment alongside a nurturing community and society.
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