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Most accounts have focused on such characteristics as brain size, language, tool use, or cerebral asymmetry. In this extraordinary book, Previc puts the onus on the dopaminergic system, and builds the case from there. Written with enthusiasm and verve, this book will cause us to rethink our ideas about where we came from, and how we got here.

Help Centre. Track My Order. My Wishlist Sign In Join. Be the first to write a review. Add to Wishlist. Ships in 7 to 10 business days. Link Either by signing into your account or linking your membership details before your order is placed. Description Table of Contents Product Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! Industry Reviews 'One of the challenges of evolutionary theory is to explain how we humans have come to occupy our exalted place on earth.

List of figures p. All Rights Reserved. Aspergirls Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome. In Stock. All Birds Have Anxiety. The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. Below I offer a rough sketch. For reasons of parsimony, I will focus my attention on the TI reflex. A comparable argument, however, can be made for the evolutionary contribution of the IS reflex. Oxytocin, too, seems to have had a finger in the game of hominid brain evolution Carter In reptiles, amphibians and birds TI is a ubiquitous and well-formed reflex.

But with the transition to mammals, it almost disappears. How can we explain such a swift, phylogenetically speaking, disappearance? What happened to it? The answer favored here is that the reorganization of the mammalian brain gradually absorbed this primitive reflex and made it an integral part of its structure and function. But what, more precisely, prompted the unique configuration of the human prefrontal cortex? After all, many mammals have a prefrontal cortex but very few of them exhibit human-like behaviors.

The answer is extreme neoteny. As several authors have shown, such infantilization was advantageous and eventually lead, through compensatory changes in brain architecture, to the emergence of distinctly human traits and human culture. The effect of neoteny was probably three-partite. Firstly, the progressive infantilization of the species placed humans under the prolonged influence of various mammalian reflexes related to immobilization, reflexes which in other animals are only operative for a short time after birth.

Two examples of such reflexes are TI and IS. Both these reflexes are prevalent during infancy, suppress aggressive behaviors and avoidance maneuvers during stressful encounters, and include an intentionality detector which works through the monitoring of eye movements Prestrude ; Hennig ; McCarthy et al. Secondly, neoteny also resulted in a temperamental shift leading to a more contemplative and cooperative mood so typical of human beings. Thirdly, neoteny enabled humans to lie down in the supine position, a position which is anatomically difficult to achieve for many other mammals Morris ; Michel and Goodwin When other mammals do exhibit it, it is usually as a sign of defeat and submission Grant ; Grant and Mackintosh ; Dixon The supine position afforded human infants the opportunity to engage in face-to-face interactions with their parents, a fact that enabled them to develop cognitive and prosocial abilities out of reach for other mammalian species Takeshita et al.

Is there any empirical support for this, admittedly speculative, claim? As always, finding direct evidence for evolutionary claims is a difficult task. There is, however, plenty of indirect evidence. A piece of evidence comes from studies of the functional specialization of the prefrontal cortex. The interpretation favored here is that this is a remnant of the evolutionary history of the prefrontal cortex, which has its beginnings in the inhibitory control and visual vigilance inherent in defensive immobilization.

Magnetic resonance studies have shown that this area is implicated in the management of uncertainty , becoming intensely activated whenever subjects experience uncertainty Volz et al. This activation of the prefrontal cortex could also encode hope, a higher order expectation positively correlated to uncertainty Chew and Ho In any case, both these emotions could easily be ascribed to the residual influence of TI or IS; for an animal captured by a predator uncertainty could not be higher and hope more vital.

If we look at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the phylogenetically and ontogenetically most recent addition to the human brain, the plot thickens even more. In this brain region, which includes area 8, we find one of the control mechanisms of ToM see Introduction. Furthermore, studies have shown that this brain region is activated by threat-induced vigilance. The same study showed that people who are more inhibited than others have a higher tonic activity in the right-posterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Not surprisingly, dysfunction of this area has been shown to correlate with difficulties in complex problem solving Shackman et al. Interestingly, recent studies have uncovered the possibility of cholinergic neurotransmission in this area Yang et al. Finally, several studies have shown that ToM predates the development of other prefrontal faculties. For example, both Hughes and Ensor and Austin et al.

More decisively, Morales et al. Although these studies are preliminary, and the interpretation of their findings is difficult, the available results make good sense from the point of view of our hypothesis. The study by Rousseau et al. Pending further investigation we can make some well-grounded speculations. Many other primitive reflexes are present around or shortly after birth e. As the brain develops, over the first years of life connections to higher centers are strengthened and increasingly take over the functions of these primitive reflexes.

In this way, early survival patterns are gradually tempered and superseded by more mature patterns of response Zafeiriou ; Goddard This probably also happens with neonatal TI. During development the subcortical circuit of ToM, which is faster and informationally encapsulated, becomes coupled to a cortical circuit, which is slower and more context and task sensitive, and this maturation process eventually leads to the prefrontal cortex assuming considerable control of this mental faculty Fletcher et al.

A proof of this comes from the fact that, in the relatively few mammals that show full-fledged TI, the neocortex seems to antagonize its initiation in mature individuals Teschke et al. In addition to this neuroanatomical integration, there is probably also a change in the character of the mental representations involved.

According to Annette Karmiloff-Smith , an important aspect of childhood development is the gradual translation of knowledge into increasingly higher level formats: from implicit to explicit and from procedural to declarative. This process, however, does not obliterate the original formats but instead results in the existence of multiple representations of the same or similar knowledge in different formats.

The increasing sophistication of the ToM faculty with age, and its cortical preponderance, bespeaks such a redescription process. Thanks to the seminal works of Walter Canon and Hans Selye , , every psychology student knows about the importance of the fight-or-flight reflex. Unfortunately, a comparable development never occurred with regards to tonic immobility. Even today, very few people now about TI, and even fewer know of its relevance for human health and well-being.

In the pages of this article, I have tried to open up a window into its fascinating world by showing how it might have contributed to the evolution ToM. Other scholars have also emphasized the importance of this behavioral disposition and, in closing this article, I would like to briefly highlight some of their thoughts. According to Stephen Porges , defensive immobilization was through successive stages of mammalian evolution, co-opted by the cortex to support various forms of social engagement including those of parent-child interactions. Mammals have a natural tendency to be on-guard when they meet other individuals—whether of their own or different species—and can easily be pushed into defensive maneuvers and even fight-or-flight.

This tendency, however, needs to be curbed in order for certain necessary prosocial behaviors to occur. In humans, these defensive reactions can be inhibited if a cognitive appraisal signals that the environment is safe. In such a case, the brain releases of endogenous opiates and oxytocin which pacify the limbic system and produce analgesia and euphoria. This quiescence —a condition reminiscent of the hypnotic trance—is a prerequisite for successful parent-child attachment, nursing behaviors and pair bond formation cf.

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Peiper ; Krojanker ; Vrugt and Pederson Brian Hare has claimed that the evolutionary selection of animals with less reactive temperaments supported the development of sophisticated social-cognitive skills in several species, including humans. Evolution may thus have favored the enlargement of areas related to passive avoidance and appeasement, like the septal area and prefrontal cortex, while simultaneously attenuating the function of areas related to rage and aggression, like the amygdala cf.

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Eccles : —, As mentioned previously, TI is antithetical to the fight-and-flight reflex and as such abolishes panic reactions and aggressive behavior. This feat is achieved through a direct inhibition of the amygdala Leite-Panissi et al. Finally, we ought to mention Herbert Benson and his work on the relaxation response Benson et al. Although Benson never traced the phylogenetic origins of this response to defensive immobilization he increased both public and scholarly awareness of its importance and practical utilization.

This perspective is not functionalist as most other theories in the field; it does not claim to have identified a new function of ToM. This idea, though it might strike some as outlandish, has partly been entertained before. Baron-Cohen , while formulating his theory of an eye-direction-detector EDD , discussed various gaze-following behaviors in lower animals, including those exhibited by prey animals; however, he did not elaborate on the evolutionary importance of TI or give it any theoretical weight in his subsequent work on ToM.

In general, the importance of this primitive reflex has, hitherto, not been acknowledged in discussions of ToM. This response is the first-line of defense in a long chain of defensive behaviors.

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It is usually a reaction to a sudden noise but can also be elicited by visual or proprioceptive stimuli. Upon such stimulation, the animal abruptly ceases its ongoing activity and the eyes and ears scan the environment for threats. This audiovisual alerting is subserved by a special kind of brain activity: ponto-geniculo-occipital PGO waves, the same waves typical of REM sleep Wu and Siegel ; Sanford et al. After the instantiation of this heightened awareness, the animal has the option of reacting in a number of ways depending on the situation: freeze, flight, or fight.

This pervasiveness also explains why it has been given so many different names in the scientific literature, probably more than any other natural behavior or mechanism. Some of the alternative denotations are animal hypnosis , death-feigning, immobilization reflex, paroxysmal inhibition, thanatosis, cataplexy, submission reflex, freeze reaction, fright paralysis, and behavioral arrest. For example, several scholars have suggested that vasovagal syncope in humans may be a distant relative of TI Porges , ; Alboni et al.

Vasovagal syncope, the familiar fainting spell, seems to be triggered by the same set of stimuli and share many of the same neurophysiological mechanisms as tonic immobility: strong emotions e. There are also cases of full-blown tonic immobility reported in humans.

It recounts the fate of Major Redside while on a hunting expedition in India. Through an irony of fate he had the opportunity to experience how it feels to be overrun and subdued by a powerful predator and was lucky enough to survive and tell his tale:. Turning pale and sweating with fright, he began retreating… But it was already too late. The tigress charged, seized him by the shoulder and dragged him a quarter of a mile to where her three cubs were playing. Whether such immobilization reactions continue in later stages of development, and if so to what extent, is presently unknown.

There are, however, indications to this effect. Something that may help conceptualize this evolutionary step is the relative lack of manual handling e. The main reason for this is that the extremities of reptiles lack the flexibility and dexterity necessary for such kind of contact. The only instance of such handling naturally available to reptiles is offered by predatorial encounters and is, hence, aversive in nature. For reptiles, in other words, manual handling is synonymous to victimization. But, as mammals evolved out of reptiles, manual handling became an increasingly common element in various forms of intraspecies relationships including parent-child interactions.

These characteristics definitely connect the two phenomena as their simultaneous manifestation is hardly a coincidence; it is, rather, the mark of a profound neuroanatomical kinship Prestrude ; Webster et al. Given this realization, that oxytocin promotes defensive reactions, it is not surprising that oxytocin release occasionally also gives rise to aggressive behavior.

An instance of this is the lowered threshold for aggressive behavior exhibited by many mammalian mothers during lactation, a period in which oxytocin levels are very high Hahn-Holbrook et al. In addition to analgesia oxytocin also produces other effects. Similar results have been found in later studies with humans Heinrichs et al. This ability of oxytocin is interesting as it might offer a possible explanation for the ubiquitous amnesia that characterizes early childhood Hayne ; Bauer ; Josselyn and Frankland Fortunately this basic truth is reinstated from time to time.

Here is the opinion of child psychologists Jean Mandler : :. To close, it is possible to read this chapter as another version of the story of the super-competent infant, but such an interpretation would miss the point. Infants do not have the same skills as older children and adults. What they do have are all the elements out of which more complex processing will develop The vast amount of learning that will accrue over the years will result in qualitative as well as quantitative changes in both behavior and thought.

In his book, The Naked Ape, zoologist Desmond Morris : gives a nice description of this phenomenon:. Put very simply, it is a process called neoteny by which certain juvenile or infantile characters are retained and prolonged into adult life The way in which this process of neoteny helps the primate brain to grow and develop is best understood if we consider the unborn infant of a typical monkey.

Before birth the brain of the monkey foetus increases rapidly in size and complexity. When the animal is born its brain has already attained seventy percent of its final adult size. The remaining thirty percent of growth is quickly completed in the first six months of life.

Even a young chimpanzee completes its brain-growth within twelve months after birth. Our own species, by contrast, has at birth a brain which is only twenty-three percent of its final adult size. Rapid growth continues for a further six years after birth, and the whole growing process is not complete until about the twenty-third year of life…. We or rather, our hunting ape ancestors became infantile in certain ways, but not in others. The rates of development of our various properties got out of phase.

While our reproductive systems raced ahead, our brain-growth dawdled behind. And so it was with various other parts of our makeup, some being greatly slowed down, others a little, and still others not at all. In other words, there was a process of differential infantilism. The fact that so many separate embryonic characteristics were potentially valuable to the hunting ape in his new role was the evolutionary breakthrough that he needed.

In one neotenous stroke he was able to acquire both the brain he needed and the body to go with it. He could run vertically with his hands free to wield weapons, and at the same time he developed the brain that could develop the weapons. More than that, he not only became brainier at manipulating objects, but he also had a longer childhood during which he could learn from his parents and other adults. Infant monkeys and chimpanzees are playful, exploratory and inventive, but this phase dies quickly.

There was plenty of time to imitate and learn the special techniques that had been devised by previous generations. His weaknesses as a physical and instinctive hunter could be more than compensated for by his intelligence and his imitative abilities. He could be taught by his parents as no animal had ever been taught before. However, Takeshita et al. Nor do they implicate defensive reactions in it.

This depletion accounts for some of the cognitive and emotional changes that afflict pregnant and lactating women.

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Dream mentation can be described as a form of dissociated thought: disorganized, detached, and delirious Hartmann ; Hobson These eye movements are so central to this kind of sleep that they have given it its name, rapid eye movement sleep Aserinsky and Kleitman For example, in kittens REM sleep declines sharply after their eyes open Herman et al.

After the first year of life, a number of neurological and endocrinologial changes take place which result in a decrease of REM sleep. After this, a stable sleep-wake cycle is established and the well-known sleep stages appear. For a more detailed discussion of infant sleep see Frank and Heller and Blumberg et al. The idea that waking consciousness may phylogenetically and ontogenetically grow out of REM sleep is not taken out of thin air.

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It has, actually, been proposed by several researchers Panksepp : —; Hobson ; Klemm ; Panksepp and Biven : And there is not really much pointing to the existence of such powers. See section on Neoteny and note Modern sleep science has uncovered a number of functions for REM sleep which seem to support this contention: problem solving, memory consolidation, stress relief, threat rehearsal, theory of mind, and parent-child attachment.

Here we ought to mention that there are two theta rhythms in the brain, a cortical and a hippocampal. Their mutual relationship is not fully clarified but a number of studies point to a coordinating, and hence primary, role of the hippocampal theta Hasselmo ; Sirota et al.

This initial proposal has now been corroborated in a number of studies McNamara et al. This deficit in REM sleep could also help explain the frequent seizures observed in autistic children. This is so because REM sleep deprivation is a known trigger of epileptic seizures Cohen and Dement ; Hrncic et al. One way through which REM sleep deprivation accomplishes this is by significantly increasing cerebral excitability Owen and Bliss ; Nykamp et al. Harry Harlow : , for example, showed that the number of visual fixations of the mother by the infant are dramatically increased by their spatial separation.

There are less mundane, and more bizarre, examples of the relationship between eye movements and altered states of consciousness. We have already mentioned one of them, REM sleep. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing EMDR is another example of the peculiar relationship between eye movements and altered states of mind. EMDR is an emergency method used to treat traumatized individuals Shapiro Although controversial when it first appeared on the scene it is now corroborated by considerable research and, therefore, increasingly accepted.

Its modus operandi is the performance of various eye movement exercises which confer a tranquilizing effect and may lead to a quick remission from disorders such as PTSD Wilson et al. A noteworthy difference between these two cases is that the eye movements of REM sleep lead into dissociation, while those of EDTA lead out of dissociation. Hypnosis is, in this regard, a highly asymmetrical power relationship: the hypnotist is the dominant part, while the hypnotized person is the submissive one.

Even though hypnosis remains a rather elusive phenomenon it is becoming increasingly clear that it has a special relationship to visual attention and eye movements. Not surprisingly, the prevailing scientific explanation of hypnosis—how it comes about and what it stands for—is based on this premise: the narrowing down and focusing of attention Crawford , ; Gruzeler Hypnosis, however, is not only accompanied by various eye movements but also by a tactical surrender and conditioned inhibition of the subject.

This state is experienced as a mixture of apprehension and relaxation, and is often accompanied by various degrees of paralysis. Once again this reaction is well attested in the literature on hypnotism Forrest Trying to achieve deep relaxation is often both a means to an end and an end in itself in many hypnotic sessions. The following is an example of a hypnotic induction taken from the repertoire of famous hypnotist Franz Polgar : 31 :. You are completely comfortable, now.

Your whole body is relaxed. You have no feeling of tension, anywhere. Your eyes are getting tired and you want to close them. They are getting so tired, so very tired. You are tired. In a minute you will not be able to keep them open. Your arms are getting heavy. Your legs are getting heavy. You are completely relaxed know… You are getting so drowsy…. Finally, hypnosis also confers a measure of analgesia and anesthesia Elkins et al. Actually, this is one of hypnosis oldest, and historically most significant, applications. In the nineteenth century, hypnosis was mainly used as a medical device in the treatment of physical ailments and not like today as a psychotherapeutic or entertainment technique.

The preceding discussion raises some pertinent question: What is the relationship of hypnosis to sleep? Despite appearances hypnosis does not seem to be related to sleep Clark Hull However, hypnosis shows considerable similarities to REM sleep, a fact noticed and commented by several researchers Brady and Rosner ; Barrett ; Gabel ; Hobson : — Like hypnosis, REM sleep is characterized by an activated EEG pattern and is, hence, closer to wakefulness that to sleep. This brain activation is experienced, on the phenomenological level, as the experience of dreaming.

How about the hypnotizability of young children? Due to the difficulty of hypnotizing young children with the help of standard induction procedures it has traditionally been assumed that they have low hypnotizability. This particular kind of play usually contains behaviors that are reminiscent of those found in predator-prey interactions: pursuit, capture, subdual, surrender, manual restraint, and postural inversion. Here it is worth mentioning that some authors view laughter as a perverted fright reaction that in human evolution attained an independent communicative status Morris : — The following, for example, is advice offered by a nursing textbook to parents on how to promote healthy parent-child attachment Leifer : , my italics.

Compare its suggestions to the ethological examples offered throughout this text:. Encourage eye-to-eye contact. Advice parent to position newborn so they can look at each other. Optimum gazing distance for newborns is 7 to 10 inches. This phrase was used by Stephen Porges on a web interview at www. Some studies have even suggested that swaddling may lessen the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome SIDS by promoting a favorable supine position. While some studies show that swaddling may protect against it Richardson et al.

The verdict is, hence, still out. I personally believe that swaddling may have played a certain role in human evolution by further promoting the supine position in infants which is natural to them anyway , and that irrespective of its effects on SIDS. Such spontaneous arousals are driven by aminergic neurotransmission and can, in older children, escalate into a full-blown night-terror, a dramatic reaction which is seen by many sleep experts as a runaway instance of the fight-or-flight reflex Ferber ; Schenck The defensive cascade is a purported set of defensive maneuvers that usually occur in close temporal proximity to each other and consist of the following reflexive reactions: startle, orienting, freeze, flight, fight or faint tonic immobility.

This behavioral sequence has been observed in many different species Gray and McNaughton ; Kozlowska et al. It is a terminal response and the animal that has fallen into it is unable to do anything else for a considerable time. Extrapolating from the above studies, and adding a few more, it is even possible to reconstruct the neural circuitry connecting intentional attributions to threat perception. Studies have shown that the threat perception performed by the amygdala, and relayed to the rest of the brain, is heavily dependent on visual information, face processing and eye contact in primates Wada ; Nichols and Champness ; Young et al.

The coordination of these eye movements e. Furthermore, several studies have shown that the motionless alertness typical of apprehensive animals is undergirded by a special kind of neural activity in the hippocampus, namely theta rhythms Kramis et al. Finally, release of oxytocin from the paraventricular nucleus is part of the stress response and has been shown to enhance face processing and eye-contact Guastella et al. Taken together these studies suggest the presence of a putative neural circuit that includes the amygdala, the hippocampus, the superior temporal sulcus, the superior colliculus, the frontal eye fields, the paraventricular nucleus, and the brainstem.

Since the main route of information from the eyes, and about the eyes, to the rest of the brain passes through the central nucleus of the amygdala this circuit is probably centered on the amygdala. Autistic children have trouble handling other kinds of sensory stimuli as well e. A similar, but less pronounced, inhibitory role is played by the freeze reflex, which seems to be driven by GABAergic and cholinergic neurotransmission Power and McGaugh ; Jhou Despite its reflexive nature TI is not easy to fit into the sympathetic-parasympathetic dichotomy.

There are, for instance, conflicting results concerning heart function with some studies finding increases in heart rate and others finding decreases Davie et al. On account of its opposition to the fight-or-flight reflex, its cholinergic neurotransmission and general passivity I prefer to place it on the parasympathetic side. This theory has some intriguing similarities to the affective reactivity model proposed by Jeffrey Alan Grey See also Gray and McNaughton These insights from domestication studies resonate with some ethological observations in monkeys.

A number of studies have found impressive socio-cognitive abilities—for example, eye contact and gaze following—in stumptailed macaques and orangutans, animals that are more distantly related to humans than chimpanzees. The following is an account of the domestication procedure by Trut et al. The main task at this stage of selection was eliminating defensive reactions to humans [the authors use a different terminology but are referring to aggressive behaviors]… the animals in the selected population were subjected to more intensive contacts with humans than in usual practice.

During these contacts, the pups were subjected to a number of tests: the experimenter attempted to hand feed, stroke or handle them. This type of human-animal communication continued for the first three to four months of life of the animals. As a result, the emotionally negative defensive reactions to humans in these foxes weakened, disappeared or, in some of the animals, emotionally positive reactions were formed. The foxes that retained aggressive-fearful reactions to humans in spite of the 3-month period of human contacts with them, were eliminated by selection from the population as soon as in 2 to 3 generations.

In line with this, some researchers have claimed that the trait of inhibitory control may be a critical mediator of the domestication syndrome in dogs Marshall-Pescini et al. The presence of such inhibitory mechanisms is also supported by the fact that the eye-contact seeking and gaze following behavior of dogs, as well as their bonding to humans, seems to be underpinned by oxytocin release Romero et al. This condition is, of course, reminiscent of the transport reflex known from other mammals.

The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History

Physical restraint also seems to be a natural part of childrearing for some monkey species, whose progeny is much more mobile and agile than human babies. This is how Harry Harlow : 6, my italics describes the interaction between baby and mother during early childhood:. Nor is the transition easy for the mothers; they appear torn between restraining their infant and permitting it to leave the home. Oxytocin also has interesting affinities with REM sleep.

In animals, oxytocin administration has been shown to lead to a desynchronization of the EEG Faure et al. Similarly, in humans, oxytocin release leads to drowsiness Daquin et al. As it happens, the secretion of oxytocin is under the control of melatonin and reaches its peak in the early morning hours when REM sleep begins to dominate over non-REM sleep Forsling , Not surprisingly, melatonin also has a special relationship to defensive reactions. Thus, for instance, it is implicated in the causation of chameleontism Filadelfi and Castrucci ; Hennig et al.

Further, it has been found that exposure to aggression and stress increases melatonin production in a number of species Heinzeller et al. Similarly, melatonin injections directly potentiate the tonic immobility reaction, a primitive defense reflex Hennig et al. Finally, melatonin treatment in rats enhances the release of oxytocin in response to immobilization stress Juszczak The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is also centrally implicated in the expression of social emotions e.

This conjecture, that TI is implicated in the emergence of the prefrontal cortex, is strengthened by an interesting fact. Hence, several studies have shown that its many manifestations e. This is how Joaquin Fuster : , a close student of the prefrontal cortex, describes this function:. The neuropsychology of the frontal lobe in humans and monkeys points to another temporal integrative function of the frontal lobe: inhibitory control… The apparent physiological objective of inhibitory influences from orbitomedial cortex is the suppression of internal and external inputs that can interfere with whatever structure or behavior, speech, or cognition is about to be undertaken or currently underway.

However, the neurophysiological mechanisms of prefrontal inhibitory control are still unknown. One source of interference with current structured actions consists of internal biological drives and impulses… Another source of possible interference is a host of influences from sensory systems that are unrelated to current action and can obstruct it or lead it astray… A third source of interference is constituted by motor representations of action that are unrelated to, or in some manner incompatible with, actions currently in the process of temporal structuring.

Included among them is a large array of motor habits, tendencies and impulses established in long-term memory and thus in the cortical and subcortical circuitry of motor systems. The suppression of those untoward influences from the motor sector is the essence of the exclusionary aspect of motor attention…. This kind of inhibitory control from the prefrontal cortex is a major component exclusionary component of sensory attention. In the absence of it, humans and monkeys with lesions of orbitofrontal cortex exhibit abnormal distractibility in addition to hyperactivity and hyperreactivity to sensory stimuli… The inhibition of distraction complements the intensive, focusing component of selective sensory attention.

The attentive control from prefrontal cortex, with its effects of both selective focusing and exclusionary inhibition, is essential for the integrity of any complex structure of goal-directed action…. One of the hallmarks of the psychosocial development of the child is the progressive establishment of inhibitory control over internal impulses, over sensorium, and over motility. As the child grows, the two principal components of attention, inclusive and exclusionary, mature gradually.

The child becomes more capable of focusing and concentrating attention on ongoing tasks. At the same time, the child becomes less distractible, less impulsive, and more capable of self-control. Arthur Shimamura : , working from the premises of dynamic filtering theory, gives a related account:. Without this simple control, the system might be subject to perseverations of recent activations.

This transformation was part of a wider evolutionary process that eventually led to the evolution of the limbic system and the neocortex Eccles ; MacLean Gray and McNaughton consider various ancestral defense mechanisms to have laid the foundation of the BIS.

However, they focus on the freeze response and passive avoidance and do not mention the TI reflex. This is unfortunate for several reasons. Firstly, TI is related to the aforementioned reactions in the context of the defensive cascade and should, therefore, also have contributed to the phylogenetic origin of the BIS. Secondly, it represents a much more dramatic reaction; compared to it both the freeze response and passive avoidance are just minor instances of behavioral inhibition. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, TI is inherently related to the generation of theta rhythms, a central feature of the septo-hippocampal complex.

Actually, these rhythms are one of the defining features of TI Rakshit and Klemm ; Fontani et al. According to Gray and McNaughton theta rhythms are responsible for producing the anxiety typical of the BIS system, and are effectively silenced by many anxiolytic drugs. Other researchers, however, have connected theta rhythms to pleasurable feelings, drowsiness, creativity, and meditative states Schacter ; Gruzeler ; Jensen et al. Its influence on childhood psychopathology, however, has been known for quite some time Chu et al.

A graphic illustration of such a developmental process is offered by the phenomenon of night terrors. This peculiar sleep disturbance, common in preschool children, is the result of partial awakenings from deep, non-REM, sleep. These partial awakenings leave the child in state of dissociation and are accompanied by screams, struggling, and locomotion. After each episode, the child usually goes back to sleep with hardly any memory of the event. According to several sleep researchers these dramatic behaviors are runaway instances of the fight-or-flight reflex Ferber ; Schenck It is this reflex that explains the screaming and struggling of sleep terrors—the child tries to fight or flee from something.

With growing age these disturbances, which are completely normal in childhood, gradually wane and eventually disappear altogether. The only field where the importance of tonic immobility for human life has been fully recognized is that of trauma studies Suarez and Gallup ; Gallup and Rager ; Dixon ; Abrams et al. In this field, a number of neurophysiologists and psychotherapists have theorized that TI may be a central element of many peritraumatic reactions e. Despite their different focus focusing on the pathological as opposed to the physiological , these studies have been a great influence on my thinking around TI.

These studies also underscore an important point which I have consciously avoided to comment on until now. Tonic immobility is not an innocuous reaction. When it has been observed in humans, it has mostly been under pathological circumstances, for example in the paralysis and dissociation of rape victims. This does not mean, however, that the reaction itself is pathologic. This is an important distinction which is increasingly being accepted Porges ; Rousseau et al. There is, in this regard, an interesting parallelism to the fight-and-flight reflex which also seems to figure prominently in various psychopathological states, from panic attacks to night terrors.

For more details on how this is achieved see McCarthy et al. The precise function of the septal area is still elusive and, hence, conflicting results do exist. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that it plays an important role in response inhibition and fear conditioning. Several studies have shown that septal lesions abolish, or greatly diminish, freezing reactions and passive avoidance and instead promote rewarded responding, active avoidance and resistance to extinction McCleary ; Slotnick and Jarvik ; Blatt ; Gray and McNaughton ; Mongeau et al.

It is also interesting to note that the septal area has one of the highest densities of oxytocin in the mammalian brain Lieberman : An interesting finding is that lesions of the septal area potentiate the TI reflex Woodruff When the first filter septal is breached the animal becomes severely disinhibited and anxious thus easily coming under the influence of the second filter TI.

Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Theory of Mind: Towards an Evolutionary Theory. Open Access. First Online: 07 August Control Mechanisms Closer study of this faculty has revealed that it is controlled by two distinct neural circuits. The Question of Origins The ability to see others as cognizant and intentional beings, to have a ToM, is an important cognitive faculty. The Eye of the Tiger Threat detection is an important element in predator-prey relationships.

Trapped in Their Parents Bosom In recent years, the neuropeptide oxytocin has emerged as an important modulator of parent-child interactions. Some Comments Although the present hypothesis may surprise some the general idea that primitive reflexes can have an important influence on human cognition and development is well attested, and generally accepted, in the scientific literature. Neoteny and the Supine Position In recent times, we have become accustomed to hearing stories about the newly discovered abilities of human infants. Cholinergic Ascendance A large part of early development, including the emergence of ToM, takes place in a highly cholinergic environment, both on the inside and the outside.

Paradoxical Sleep An important expression of this cholinergic dynamism is the early emergence and preponderance of REM sleep in human development. Eye Movements and Dissociative Phenomena Studies have shown that the daytime thinking of infants and young children is dominated by a special kind of brain activity, theta rhythms. Immobilization and Eye Contact The present hypothesis claims that immobilization reactions whether TI or IS during early childhood facilitate eye contact and gaze following. Childrearing Practices and Immobilization If the present hypothesis has any merit to it, it should show some correspondence to how children have been handled over the ages.

The Lessons of Domestication A remarkable fact is that some domesticated animals seem to have cognitive abilities that rival, and occasionally even surpass, those of primates. Laid-Back: The Infant Default Mode One of the points that I have tried to convey throughout this article is that the default mode of infants is that of a motionless and calm alertness , a mode also common to defensively immobilized animals and hypnotized subjects cf.

An Ontogenetic Sketch The study by Rousseau et al. Out of the Closet Thanks to the seminal works of Walter Canon and Hans Selye , , every psychology student knows about the importance of the fight-or-flight reflex. Through an irony of fate he had the opportunity to experience how it feels to be overrun and subdued by a powerful predator and was lucky enough to survive and tell his tale: [He had] stumbled when crossing a swift stream, dropping his cartridge belt into the water Here is the opinion of child psychologists Jean Mandler : : To close, it is possible to read this chapter as another version of the story of the super-competent infant, but such an interpretation would miss the point.

In his book, The Naked Ape, zoologist Desmond Morris : gives a nice description of this phenomenon: Put very simply, it is a process called neoteny by which certain juvenile or infantile characters are retained and prolonged into adult life Rapid growth continues for a further six years after birth, and the whole growing process is not complete until about the twenty-third year of life… We or rather, our hunting ape ancestors became infantile in certain ways, but not in others.

The following is an example of a hypnotic induction taken from the repertoire of famous hypnotist Franz Polgar : 31 : You are completely comfortable, now. You are completely relaxed know… You are getting so drowsy… Finally, hypnosis also confers a measure of analgesia and anesthesia Elkins et al. Compare its suggestions to the ethological examples offered throughout this text: Encourage eye-to-eye contact. This is how Joaquin Fuster : , a close student of the prefrontal cortex, describes this function: The neuropsychology of the frontal lobe in humans and monkeys points to another temporal integrative function of the frontal lobe: inhibitory control… The apparent physiological objective of inhibitory influences from orbitomedial cortex is the suppression of internal and external inputs that can interfere with whatever structure or behavior, speech, or cognition is about to be undertaken or currently underway.

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