The Atavism

 

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I thought this up at 2 am, forgot to notate it, then it took a whole hour to try to retrace my thought process which lead to this awesome blog idea. Don’t you just hate that — when you have a good blog idea in the middle of the night, but you forget.

At least I remembered this one. Mildly educational post ahead — criminology nerd stuff and weird tangent.

One of the most scoffed at criminological theories, that may actually be coming back, is the idea that criminality is borne through physiology. When Lombroso first came up with this idea, he detailed how the outward physical characteristics (phrenology, sloping forehead, limb length, etc) factored into whether or not an individual had the propensity for criminal behavior. He took his measurements post mortem — bodies of non criminals and criminals — using the scientific method to come up with his theory. He theorized that atavisms, or throwbacks to past evolutionary states, were responsible for the physical differences that caused criminality.

Obviously the theory was disproved, however there seems to be grounds for a biological link to criminality — structures in the brain.

In one recent study, scientists examined 21 people with antisocial personality disorder – a condition that characterizes many convicted criminals. Those with the disorder “typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Brain scans of the antisocial people, compared with a control group of individuals without any mental disorders, showed on average an 18-percent reduction in the volume of the brain’s middle frontal gyrus, and a 9 percent reduction in the volume of the orbital frontal gyrus – two sections in the brain’s frontal lobe.

Another brain study, published in the September 2009 Archives of General Psychiatry, compared 27 psychopaths — people with severe antisocial personality disorder — to 32 non-psychopaths. In the psychopaths, the researchers observed deformations in another part of the brain called the amygdala, with the psychopaths showing a thinning of the outer layer of that region called the cortex and, on average, an 18-percent volume reduction in this part of brain.

“The amygdala is the seat of emotion. Psychopaths lack emotion. They lack empathy, remorse, guilt,” said research team member Adrian Raine, chair of the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., last month.

In addition to brain differences, people who end up being convicted for crimes often show behavioral differences compared with the rest of the population. One long-term study that Raine participated in followed 1,795 children born in two towns from ages 3 to 23. The study measured many aspects of these individuals’ growth and development, and found that 137 became criminal offenders.

One test on the participants at age 3 measured their response to fear – called fear conditioning – by associating a stimulus, such as a tone, with a punishment like an electric shock, and then measuring people’s involuntary physical responses through the skin upon hearing the tone.

In this case, the researchers found a distinct lack of fear conditioning in the 3-year-olds who would later become criminals. These findings were published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Overall, these studies and many more like them paint a picture of significant biological differences between people who commit serious crimes and people who do not. While not all people with antisocial personality disorder — or even all psychopaths — end up breaking the law, and not all criminals meet the criteria for these disorders, there is a marked correlation.

“There is a neuroscience basis in part to the cause of crime,” Raine said.

What’s more, as the study of 3-year-olds and other research have shown, many of these brain differences can be measured early on in life, long before a person might develop into actual psychopathic tendencies or commit a crime.

Criminologist Nathalie Fontaine of Indiana University studies the tendency toward being callous and unemotional (CU) in children between 7 and 12 years old. Children with these traits have been shown to have a higher risk of becoming psychopaths as adults.

“We’re not suggesting that some children are psychopaths, but CU traits can be used to identify a subgroup of children who are at risk,” Fontaine said.

Yet her research showed that these traits aren’t fixed, and can change in children as they grow. So if psychologists identify children with these risk factors early on, it may not be too late.

“We can still help them,” Fontaine said. “We can implement intervention to support and help children and their families, and we should.”

http://www.livescience.com/13083-criminals-brain-neuroscience-ethics.html

Getting to my point, I was thinking about biological factors which contribute to personality and mental illness — the genetic ties.

I’m the first person in my family to be placed on a psychiatric drug for mental illness (sertraline for GAD). Is it because it’s only me? Or is it that my family has been poorer and has had gaps in mental health assistance?

I do believe my favorite atavism is the gut instinct.

Because I’m so analytical when it comes to decision making, it took me a while to trust my gut.

My friend says, “the gut instinct has been created over a million years of evolution; you should trust it.”

Honed to perfection.

Why is trusting your gut so powerful? Because your gut has been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you’ve been alive. “Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences,” says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College.

“Your gut is this collection of heuristic shortcuts. It’s this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive,” she explains. “It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.”

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Essentially, your gut instinct is your background processes that tell you “no” or “yes” without giving you some long explanation. I’ve learned to trust my gut, for the most part, except for truly complicated decisions, but your gut will let you know what’s what about the big things:

  1.  You are in danger

We sometimes question if our natural reaction is justified; am I really in danger, or is my mind overreacting? If you feel like someone is following you, instead of running for the nearest house our mind takes over and we start to think and rationalize, “of course no one is following me.” If something in your gut is telling you you’re being followed, don’t think, act!  This can apply to health problems as well. If your gut instinct tells you something is wrong, listen to it.

Having said this, there are some mental disorders that result in paranoia or create hypochondriac tendencies, but let’s not confuse this or analyze it too much.  Take this at face value knowing that of course there are exceptions, but under normal circumstances we need to listen to our gut instinct.

  1. Trust your first impressions

Have you ever had a knee jerk first impression that something is just ‘off’ about someone.  This innate first impression is soon lost to labels; he is a doctor or she is a grandmother.  Later you might be shocked to discover that very grandmother was abusing your child at daycare. Why are you so shocked?  You already knew something was wrong!

Trust your instincts.

We also need to remember that our minds are tricky; trusting your sixth sense is not implying that you should walk around with guarded suspicion of everyone you meet.  Do what you can to protect yourself from the harmful actions of others without fabricating instincts that really aren’t there.

Is your gut reaction coming from your mind or from the core of your being?

Another common mistaken belief is that trusting your instincts is ‘judging a book by its cover.’  It is significantly different; your instincts do not form an opinion of someone based on social status or looks.

  1. Am I making the right life decision

On another level your sixth sense might be urging you to reconsider where you are in life. The signs might be more subtle than the flashing, red siren of a masked man following you but if you pay attention they are quietly telling you something feels off.  Maybe you’re going against the flow of where you should be in your career or relationship.  Often we go against the grain, we don’t listen to our gut. The problem is that if we aren’t in the right place – following our values and needs – we can’t be happy.

Why don’t we listen?

  1. This feels comfortable, just right

Whether it’s your job, partner, a life decision, where you live or who your friends are, when things feel comfortable, don’t fight it, smile and relax into the fact that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

When it comes to big life decisions, we tend to over think and over analyze. This just leads to confusing the situation, and we can often make poor, fear-based decisions.  Instead of following your initial instinct, you mull things over and often make decisions based out of fear of making the wrong decision, which in fact can lead you to making the wrong decision.

  1. Doing something you’re comfortable with

When you are comfortable with something, whether it be your job, a musical interest, photography or sports, it’s important to trust your innate reflexes in that area. If you know you can do it, trust your gut, not your head.  Once we get in our heads, we often choke. Look at athletes; they often will miss a shot entirely, all because they got stuck in their heads.

When you’re in the groove of playing the piano, let the notes passionately fly from your fingers, but stay out of your head.

Developing your instincts might take some work. After all, we have been repressing our natural state of being for a long time now.

Meditation is a great tool to learn to tap into your inner voice, quiet incessant thinking, and experience your pure, natural energy.

“Practice meditation, meditation will give you the habits to allow space and clarity in to your life to allow you to recognize your instincts buried under all that thinking. Tune In: You may be able to better follow your heart (and your sweat glands) by practicing meditation. A 2005 study found that in meditators, brain regions associated with sensitivity to the body’s signals and sensory processing had more gray matter. The greater the meditation experience, the more developed the brain regions.” ~ Oprah.com

Let’s enjoy some silence so that we can help that small voice trapped deep inside of us come to the surface.  We might not be able to taste, touch, smell, listen or see our sixth sense, but it’s at the core of all of us.

There are things in life that I didn’t trust my gut on and it screwed me over bad — dating, friendships, relationships, family, life decision.

I wonder what would have become of my life if I had trusted my gut.

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