NEUROSCIENCE AND SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
PROFESSOR ROB MACFADDEN,
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
[email protected]
[email protected]
WIRED TO CONNECT
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
Continuing Education
University of Toronto
October 23, 2013
Module 2 Webinar
Social Brain
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MINDFULNESS MEDITATION & NEUROSCIENCE
SOCIAL BRAIN
There are no “single” brains.
Humans are social to the core; the mind is both embodied and relational.
Human development and maturation is the longest of all the mammals;
infant and parent are an inseparable dyad, parent-infant.
We need considerable “home assembly”. Brain maturation occurs into the
twenties. Brain development occurs throughout a lifetime.
Social relatedness is structured by neural networks of bonding and
attachment, play, predicting other’s behaviours and feeling the feelings of
others. At birth, baby set up to encourage social connections through
reflexes such as grasping, eye contact and following. It makes them cuddly
and attractive to kick start bonding and attachment.
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MINDFULNESS MEDITATION & NEUROSCIENCE
SOCIAL BRAIN
Attachment = Survival
Abandonment = Death
Infant and children use their parents’ prefrontal lobes as an external prosthetic
to help them regulate their emotions (Cozolino, 2006)
Attachment involves the creation of feelings and perceptions connected with
self and other and includes evaluation of the worth of self and other and
whether other people are predictable, safe and encouraging or unpredictable
and dangerous.
Baby is now being seen as an important agent (not just passive) in the
attachment resonance. Neurochemical cascade between parents and baby
including endorphins, dopamine which rise and fall with touch and separation.
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MINDFULNESS MEDITATION & NEUROSCIENCE
SOCIAL BRAIN
Infant looks at parent’s eyes and can see calm or anxiety. Parent’s
realities and unconscious experiences are transferred to child. Right
brain (parent) to right brain (mother) communication, much
unconscious, especially during the earliest years.
Biochemistry of Social Motivation (From Cozolino, 2006, p.121)
Androgen and estrogen
Testosterone
Dopamine
Norepinephrine & Serotonin
Oxytocin & vasopressin
Endorphins
Sex drive
Monogamy & paternal behaviour
Attraction
Well-being, reward prediction
Attachment, nest building, nursing, anxiety
reduction
Affiliation, maternal behaviour, sexual arousal,
social reward, play behaviour, down-regulates
anxiety
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SOCIAL BRAIN
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
Knowing you, knowing me, knowing you.
Considered the root of empathy. Allows us to map the mind of others. Mirror
neurons respond to acts with intention or purpose. Includes any act in others you
can predict (unconsciously) from experience.
Automatic. Hardwired to detect sequences and make maps in our brains of the
internal states of other people. Cross modal: operates on all sensory levels. A
sound, touch or smell can cue us to the internal state of another. Through
embedding the mind of another in our firing patterns, this forms the basis of our
mindsight maps.
Not only behavioural intentions of others but emotional states of others. We
come to resonate with the emotional states of others.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
A Neural circuit called the insula is the information superhighway between the
mirror neurons and the limbic system. The Insula processes pain, taste, sequences
speech movements and helps to translate unconscious emotions into
conscious feelings. It is is believed that we make maps of intentions through the
mirror neurons and then transfer this information downward to subcortical (e.g.,
limbic and brainstem) regions. These signals from our body, brainstem and limbic
areas then travel upwards to our middle prefrontal areas. Pathway: Mirror
neurons to subcortical areas to middle prefrontal areas. This is the pathway
that connects people to each other.
When received by the middle prefrontal cortex, a map is made of our internal world.
We feel others’ feelings by actually feeling our own. People who are more
aware of their own body feelings have been found to be more empathic. When we
can sense our own internal state the pathway for resonating with others is open as
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
For example, the mirror neuron system is thought to be an essential aspect of the neural basis for
empathy. By perceiving the expressions of another individual, the brain is able to create within its
own body an internal state that is thought to “resonate” with that of the other person. Resonance
involves a change in physiologic, affective, and intentional states within the observer that are
determined by the perception of the respective states of activation within the person being observed.
One-to-one attuned communication may find its sense of coherence within such resonating internal
states.
The clinical implications of this work are profound and help therapists to understand not only the
inherently social nature of the brain but that their own bodily shifts may serve as the gateway toward
empathic insights into the state of another person. Mediated via the insula, perceptions of another’s
affective expressions may alter our own somatic and limbic states and then be examined through a
prefrontal process of interoception, interpretation, and attribution to another’s states.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
Being open to our own bodily states as therapists is a crucial step in
establishing the interpersonal attunement and understanding that is at
the heart of interpersonal integration.
Such interactive experiences allow the patient to “feel felt” and
understood by the therapist, and they also may establish new neural
net firing patterns that can lead to neural plastic changes.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
Mirror neurons reveal the fundamental integration within the brain of the perceptual and motor systems
with limbic and somatic regulatory functions. The mirror neuron system also illuminates the profoundly
social nature of our brains. This social basis of neural function may offer new pathways for us to
understand how psychotherapy leads to the process of change.
When two minds feel connected, when they become integrated, the state of firing of each individual can be
proposed to become more coherent. Literally this may mean that the corresponding activations between
the body-proper, limbic areas and even cortical representations of intentional states between two
individuals enter a state of “resonance” in which he matches the profiles of the other.
The impairment of such shared states has been proposed to be a characteristic of forms of
psychopathology, including schizophrenia. Recent studies in individuals with autism spectrum disorder
reveal impairment in the capacity to perceive emotional expressions in others that is associated with
markedly diminished mirror neuron activation. With impaired mirror neuron system functioning, the social
brain is unable to share in the rapid social interactions that reflect modern life.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
In the process of psychotherapy involving a range of individuals with intact mirror neuron
systems, shared states with the therapist may be an essential component of the
therapeutic process.
As two individuals share the closely resonant reverberating interactions that their mirror
neuron systems make possible, what before may have been unbearable states of affective
and bodily activation within the client may now become tolerable with conscious
awareness.
Being empathic with patients may be more than just something that helps them “feel
better” – it may create a new state of neural activation with a coherence in the moment
that improves the capacity for self-regulation. What is at first a form of interpersonal
integration in the sharing of affective and cognitive states now evolves into a form of
internal integration in the patient. With the entry of previously warded-off states of being in
conscious awareness, the patient can now learn to develop enhanced self-regulatory
capacities that before were beyond his/her skill set. It may be that as interpersonal
attunement initiates a new form of awareness that makes intrapersonal attunement
possible, new self-regulatory capacities become available.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
If the mirror neuron system were to be focused on one’s own states of mind, we can
propose that a form of internal attunement would allow for new and more adaptive forms
of self-regulation to develop. The practice of focusing attention in the present moment on
one’s own intentions and somatic states, such as the breath, have been a mainstay of
mindful awareness practices over thousands of years.
A “Mirror Neuron-Mindfulness Hypothesis” can be offered that proposes that the focusing
of one’s non-judgmental attention on the internal state of intention, affect, thought and
bodily function may be one way in which the brain focuses inward to promote well-being.
As the therapist attempts to achieve such an open, receptive state of awareness toward
both internal state changes and for interpersonal signals sent by the patient, the patient’s
own mind may be offered the important social experiences to create a similar state. In
this way the mirror neuron system may serve a powerful role as the neural basis of
mental attunement within and between both patient and therapist.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Mirror Neuron System
Studies of attachment reveal that the parent’s openness to a child’s signals and the
coherence of the parent’s own narrative are important predictors of a child’s development of
secure attachment. Such factors seem to promote a form of resiliency in the child which
helps self-regulation unfold as the child matures.
Psychotherapy may naturally harness these developmental origins of well-being in creating
a resonant state in which the therapist is sensitive to the patient’s signals and also has
made sense of his or her own life.
Being open to the many layers of our experience, often involving the non-verbal world of
sensation and affect in addition to our verbal understanding is an important stance for the
therapist to create toward the internal and interpersonal worlds. Within this framework, the
state of brain activation in the therapist serves as a vital source of resonance that can
profoundly alter the ways in which the patient’s brain is activated in the moment-to-moment
experiences within therapy.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
INTERPERSONAL RESONANCE: AN EXAMPLE
From Brizendine, Louann (2006). The female brain. NY: Three Rivers
Press. The following are excerpts and content taken directly and in most
cases verbatim from this book. Author is a neuropsychiatrist.
Sarah asks Nick if he is seeing another woman, her visual system begins
scanning Nick’s face intently for signs of his emotional response. Does he
tighten his face or relax it? Does he clench his mouth or keep it neutral?
Whatever the expression on his face, her eyes and facial muscles will
automatically mimic it.
The rate and depth of her breathing start to match his. Her posture and
muscle tension conform to his. Her body and brain receives his emotional
signals. This information is sent through her emotional memory brain circuits
to search for a match. This process is called “mirroring” and not all people
can do it equally well. Scientists speculate there may be more mirror neurons
in the female brain than in the male brain. 118
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
INTERPERSONAL RESONANCE: AN EXAMPLE
Sarah’s brain will begin stimulating its own circuits as if Nick’s body
sensations and emotions were hers. She can identify and anticipate
what he is feeling- often before he is conscious of it himself. Matching
breathing, matching posture, she is becoming a human emotion
detector. She is feeling his tension in her gut, his jaw clenching in the
strain of her neck.
Her brain registers the emotional match: anxiety, fear and controlled
panic. As he starts to speak, her brain carefully searches to see if what
he says is congruent with his tone of voice. If the tone and meaning do
not match, her brain will activate wildly. Her cortex, the place for
analytical thinking, would try to make sense of this mismatch.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
INTERPERSONAL RESONANCE: AN EXAMPLE
She detects a subtle incongruence in his tone of voice- it is a little too
over-the-top for his protestations of innocence and devotion. His eyes
are darting a bit too much for her to believe what he issaying. The
meaning of his words, the tone of his voice and the expressions in his
eyes do not match. She knows: he is lying. She is now using her entire
emotion network as well as her cognitive and emotional suppression
circuits to keep from crying. 119
Sarah’s brain is a high-performance emotion machine- geared to
tracking, moment by moment, the nonverbal signals of the innermost
feelings of others. Nick is not as adept at reading facial expressions
and emotional nuance- especially signs of despair and distress.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
EMOTIONS
In neuroscience, emotion and feelings are related but
different. Antonio Damasio, a distinguished neuroscientist
views emotions as playing out in the theatre of the body.
Emotions are bodily responses that evolved to ensure our
survival and they are at the core of who we are and that
they reflect prepackaged decisions of great complexity
(LeDoux, 1996).
Damasio views feelings as occurring in the theatre of the
mind, after emotional arousal begins. He believes that
emotion, feeling and biological regulation are all in the
“loop” of high reason. Damasio (2003, p. 86) describes a
feeling as “…the perception of a certain state of the body
along with the perception of a certain mode of thinking
and of thoughts with certain themes.” [DVD]
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
EMOTIONS
These feelings can occur unconsciously or consciously, although feelings
which are conscious have longer lasting impacts on the conscious mind.
Indeed, we may owe our fundamental sense of consciousness to our
ability to be aware of our feelings.
Damasio believes we know that we are experiencing an emotion when the
sense of a feeling is created in our minds resulting in the sense of a feeling
self (Damasio, 1999, p.279). DVD excerpt from the Secret Life of the Brain
Emotions are central to integration (well-being). Emotion is an active
process that shifts our state of integration. Emotions link neural pathways
into a functioning whole or state of mind. (Siegel). Emotions are also
central in decision-making. View this excerpt by Antonio Damasio.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wup_K2WN0I&feature=related
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
EMOTIONS
Recall again that Mindfulness is believed to help with reappraisal of a stimulus which
may short-circuit some of the stress response. All emotions are welcomed and
accepted which may help to reduce the negativity pairing.
Mindfulness helps to increase positive mood, lower rumination.
With a more positive mood set, Mindfulness can help with emotional regulation,
pairing negative emotions with calm, positivity, leading to some extinction and
reconsolidation with a less toxic context to the emotion.
Mindfulness enhances awareness of bodily sensations associated with emotion
which is essential in experiencing feelings. Being more aware of emotions and
feelings can assist with emotional regulation. Siegel notes that naming a feeling can
help to tame the feeling. (Amygdala arousal is frequently reduced when the left
hemisphere names the feeling).
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
From Barbara Fredrickson’s “Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions”
Phil.Trans. R.Soc. Lond. B (2004) 359, 1367-1377.
Positive emotions broaden an individual’s thought-action repertoire.
Joy creates the urge to play; interest sparks the urge to explore;
Contentment induces the wish to savour and integrate; and love sparks a
recurrent cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.
Broadened mindsets promote discovery of novel and creative actions,
ideas and social bonds which then build the individual’s personal
resources, from physical, intellectual to social and psychological.
These resources can function as reserves to increase successful coping
and survival.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Positive emotions produce optimal functioning in the present and over the long term.
We should cultivate positive emotions in ourselves and others to achieve
psychological growth and improved psychological and physical well-being.
Positive emotions:
Broaden people’s attention and thinking;
Undo lingering negative emotional arousal;
Fuel psychological resilience;
Trigger upward spirals towards greater well-being in the future;
Seed human flourishing & healthy longevity.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
“When positive emotions are in ample supply, people
take off. They become generative, creative, resilient,
ripe with possibility and beautifully complex.”
Fredrickson, p.1375.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
“Buddha’s Brain” by Richard Hanson (2009)
Brain has a negativity bias. Normal default is scanning environment for
threats. Negative information detected much more quickly than positive
information and negative information has a higher priority for memory
storage.
Fear causes things to be learned quickly. It takes many, many times to
unlearn something that has been learned through fear. (e.g., learned
helpless). Good at learning from bad experience, bad at learning from
good experiences.
Negative emotional bias creates and intensifies negative emotions like
anger, guilt and shame. Anxiety, for instance, makes it more difficult to
bring attention inward for meditation practice.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
In relationships, it takes about 5 positive interactions to overcome the
impact of a single negative one.
Given the way the brain focuses us on negatives, it is very difficult to see or
appreciate positives. If 10 things happen to you. Eight are positive and two
are negative, frequently we focus and ruminate over the two negative
events rather than acknowledge or savour the other 8 positive events.
Hanson says positive experiences wash through the brain like water
through a sieve, while negative ones are always caught.
The brain normally doesn’t save positive experiences, they are nice in the
moment. We need to take the extra 10 to 20 seconds to enable the brain to
install the activated positive mental state in neural structure.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Note and savour positive experiences. Pay attention and collect them
Focus on your emotions and body sensations. Fill your body with these
positive emotions and marinate in the sensations
Positive emotions can be used to soothe and balance negative
experiences
Associating painful feelings with positive emotions can reduce the impact
of negative feelings. The painful feelings expressed within a caring and
loving relationship, for example, can reduce the pain and change the
intensity of the memory.
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Positive experiences don’t just feel good. They bathe our
brains in neurochemicals that can cause change in the neural
structures. They strengthen positive circuits and make them
more likely to fire again.
Rick Hanson (2009) suggests several ways to use and
internalize positive experiences:
Turn positive facts into positive experiences. Actively look for
good experience, good news. Savour them, stretch them,
share them;
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NEUROSCIENCE & SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS (Hanson)
1.Activate a positive state first.
2.Enrich the experience- make it last 5, 10, 20 seconds. Make it last as
long as possible.
3.Make it as intense and as embodied as possible- sensations, emotions.
4.Focus on novelty-find things that are fresh and new in the experience.
5.Try to see the personal relevance for you- e.g., this achievement will
make it more easy to get the job I have always wanted.
Collect positive experiences in a “memory box” and draw from this box to
ensure that you can provide yourself with positive experience and feelings
on a regular basis.
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NEUROSCIENCE AND SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
POSITIVE EMOTIONS
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Module 2 - Robert MacFadden