All posts by Camille Morgan

Using Theory in a Clinical Setting

In “Using Stress, Appraisal, and Coping Theories in Clinical Practice: Assessments of Coping Strategies After Disasters,” Matthieu and Ivanoff (2006) utilize the transactional framework proposed by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) among other theories to investigate the ways in which clinicians and researchers might understand individual stress and coping while also looking at the broader public health impact of a disaster.  The authors use the World Trade Center disaster of 9/11 to demonstrate the scales at which stress can manifest.  I found this article to be a good review of the coping processes, styles, and strategies people might employ to alleviate stress.

Polyvagal Theory and Psychiatric Disorders

I  was first introduced to Porges’ Polyvagal Theory by Leslie Heywood’s (2011) article “Affective Infrastructures: Toward a Cultural Neuropsychology of Sport.”  It’s really interesting to read Porges’ article “The Polyvagal Theory: phylogenetic contributions to social behavior” afterwards.  Heywood used this theory in her understanding of sport models but after reading the original article I now see the theory’s potential to explain social behavior on the whole.   In regards to culture shock, my specific interest at this moment, there are many quotable sections in the article that shed light on what might be happening neurophysiologically.  If you can overlook the absence of Oxford commas, then give this article a look.  It provides a workable framework for understanding psychiatric disorders and sociality in general.

GAME ON: Sport, Play, and Healthy Competition

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about ways of knowing. Different fields prioritize different forms of knowledge. For a field like neuroanthropology, and anthropology more generally, there has been a struggle to define how we should know what we know. Personally, I believe that a healthy dose of both subjective contextual experience and objective neuroscience are necessary for a more complete understanding of phenomena. Leslie L. Heywood also calls for this approach in her 2011 article “Affective infrastructures: toward a cultural neuropsychology of sport.”

Photograph of Dr. Leslie Heywood, borrowed with permission from her website.
Photograph of Dr. Leslie Heywood, borrowed with permission from her website.

Leslie L. Heywood is a true example of the discipline-defying researcher. She holds a B.A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Irvine. All the same, her work is infused with a hearty interest in affective neuroscience and physiology. These undercurrents seem to be a direct product of her experience as an athlete and coach. Heywood was a track star at the University of Arizona, earning the title Arizona State Champion in both the 800 and 1,600 meters. She was also ranked fifth in the U.S., held the state record for the mile for over two decades among other achievements.   What I find most impressive about Heywood’s athletic history is that it was not the product of a single passion.   After injury, Heywood transitioned into powerlifting and excelled as a strength training coach. More recently, marathon preparation led her to CrossFit as a participant and trainer.

This passion for an active lifestyle is often reflected in her research (Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women’s Bodybuilding, Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon, etc.). What is also evident in her varied career as an athlete and coach is her willingness to traverse institutional boundaries. Heywood , currently a professor of English at Binghamton University, is a member of the executive committee for Evolutionary Studies. She’s a published poet, editor of Ragazine: http://ragazine.cc/, and guest editor of an issue of Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience (where this article appears!). Now, back to the article at hand!

Personal Website

Curriculum Vitae

Identification of GAPS in research

The goal of every researcher is to produce new knowledge or to look at things in a new and potentially more productive way. The first step is always to identify current gaps in the literature. Heywood notes that while sport sociology focuses on the forest, sport psychology and kinesiology focus on the trees. Furthermore, none of these fields include the idea of embodiment, of lived experience, in their research. Some important factors being excluded from the picture are the social and familial contexts for individual athletes, the complexity of the brain-body-emotion relationship, and the affective consciousness of emotions. Heywood argues that an evolutionary perspective of emotion is more comprehensive than these previous, gap-ridden models. Furthermore, she offers the field of neuroanthropology the first swing of the bat.

Panksepp’s affective neuroscience

Founded by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, the field of affective neuroscience purports that emotions are the manifestation of biological and neural processes, processes that are influenced by the body, environment, and culture. Heywood uses Panksepp’s (1998) “core emotional systems” to understand play. Like the deadly sins, Panksepp lists 7 core emotional systems: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC, and PLAY. Sport mainly involves the SEEKING, RAGE, and PLAY systems. Since SEEKING is a system based on motivation to fulfill an appetite for goods or meaning, it serves as the initiator of other emotional systems. SEEKING involves the hypothalmus and the mesolimbic dopamine system. The system of PLAY is active in the medial zones of the thalamus and promotes safe engagement. The system of RAGE is found in the amygdala, specifically the corticomedial areas, and is connected to the medial hypothalamus by the stria terminalis. RAGE is associated with the system of FEAR/PANIC.

In terms of sport

SEEKING/RAGE in the sport of Put Put.
SEEKING/RAGE in the sport of Put Put.

Two models have predominated our view of sport. The competitive model activates the SEEKING/RAGE systems. In this model, sport is seen as “a means to an end.” In dominant ideology, competition reigns. Few are the victors, which makes winning all that sweeter. No one likes to lose. However, there are those that attach intrinsic worth to participating in sport. Those that “prefer to play for fun” represent the participation model which invokes the SEEKING/PLAY systems.

SEEKING/PLAY in Wake Forest University's Unpredictable Race, 2011.
SEEKING/PLAY in Wake Forest University’s Unpredictable Race, 2011.

Heywood offers a third model termed the “immersive model” which aims at maximizing the positives and minimizing the negatives of the competitive model. Heywood argues that competitive play can promote intra-group bonding and empower marginalized individuals or groups. On the other hand, competitive play tends to worship ability. In my opinion, this obsession with skill is in some ways very similar to our culture’s obsession over body image. The result is the same: an exclusion of the masses. Heywood’s new model focuses on Mihali Csikszentmihályi’s term of “flow.” In a sporting context, “flow” can be described as being “in the zone.” It is a focused attention that can only occur in a safe context. This perceived “safety” is directly linked to the social and familial context of the athlete.

"In the zone" game face.
“In the zone” game face.

Porges’ Polyvagal Theory

Stephen W. PorgesPolyvagal Theory states that mammals still carry remnants of past versions of the ANS. “Neuroception,” what I imagine to be a neural process not unlike a computer scanning for facial or fingerprint recognition, determines what in the environment is safe and what is dangerous. The reaction to this scan is hierarchical in nature. The newest system, evolutionarily speaking, will have first crack at the problem. This social engagement system (SES) involves the ventral vagal complex and initiates pro-social behavior to ameliorate the threat. Still feeling unsafe? The second system, the sympathetic nervous system, comes up to bat and decides to either swing for the fences (fight) or go for the walk (flight). The last system at our disposal is found in the unmyelinated vagus nerve and causes mammals to freeze like a deer in the headlights or play dead.

Pinch of Panksepp, Dash of Porges

The competitive model involving the SEEKING/RAGE emotional systems would be answered by the second-level response “fight or flight.” Evolutionarily, this model would be connected to competition over resources and steeped in our history as predators and prey. The participatory model involving SEEKNG/PLAY emotional systems would be answered by the first response-level response of the SES because play occurs in a safe context. It is here that we can see the influence of an individual athlete’s social and familial history. Past trauma upends a player’s affective balance, making it difficult to squash their fight or flight response. Activity like Panksepp’s “joyous play” has the ability to “right the ship” so to speak and recalibrate an individual’s affective balance. CrossFit may be one such example of this type of play. ‘Running for cause’ is another. To promote immersive play, culture should praise sportsmanship and other pro-social behavior while downplaying the “win-at-all-costs” perspective.

Take-away message

Immersive sport is the best way to experience sport as it involves SEEKING, PLAY, and RAGE emotional systems within a safe context that promotes “flow.” Evolutionarily speaking, the immersive model integrates Panksepp’s core emotional systems with Porges’ understanding of the neuroscience behind affective balance. It incorporates an examination of the specific familial and social contexts of individual athletes as well as the broader cultural neuropsychology of sport. This model states that it is possible to look twice at a situation. Seeing the trees does not prohibit us from viewing the forest as a whole.

Psych Table for this article.
Psych Table for this article.

Body Image: the slave driver of behavior, the mediator of perception

Biographical Sketch (The man behind the article)

Charles D. Laughlin is one of the pioneers of the theory of biogenetic structuralism in neuroanthropology. In 1966 he completed his anthropology B.A. at San Francisco State College. Unlike the youth of today (myself included) who take a leisurely year off after college, Dr. Laughlin spent one postgraduate year as a senior fellow for the Institute of Neurological Sciences at UPenn. He earned a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in 1968 and 1972, respectively. For over twenty-five years, Dr. Laughlin taught anthropology at Carleton University located in Ottawa, Canada. He retired in 2001, gaining that ever so coveted emeritus status in Anthropology and Religion.  He has not, however, retired from talking about interesting topics.  He has a blog and a website!  On his website he provides a glossary of terms that prove to be very helpful in understanding this article.

In the 1997 article “Body, Brain, and Behavior: The Neuroanthropology of the Body Image,” Dr. Laughlin takes a biogenetic structuralist approach in understanding human body image.

Origins

Body image develops out of the genetically prescribed organization of the prenatal and perinatal nervous system. Body image is essentially born before we are, in our neurognostic structures.

Before I exited the womb, I had a developing body image!  Even before I was born I was a Demon Deacon! This initiated my behavior of getting at B.A. from Wake Forest University in 2012.
Before I exited the womb, I had a developing body image! Even before I was born I was a Demon Deacon! This initiated my behavior of getting at B.A. from Wake Forest University in 2012.

Development (Growing into your body…image)

Body image develops under the influence of genetic and sociocultural factors. The organism has to respond to the demands of the environment in which it is placed. Therefore, the organism must actively produce and preserve the self-organization that is adapted to said environment.   I view this idea as the equivalent of niche construction in the cognized environment.

Environment (If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?)

A complex series of models are produced during this cycle of self-promotion which tell us how to experience both our bodies and the outside world. These models combine to form the cognized environment. The operational environment is a transcendental reality and is separate from our knowledge of the world and our soma.

The trees represent our operational environment which transcendental from our cognized environment represented here as the path we walk.
The trees represent our operational environment which is transcendental from our cognized environment, represented here as the path we walk.

What is Body Image?

Body image is an integral part of the cognized environment. Psychologically, body image is a conglomeration of models that dictate how we experience our body. Physically, body image is a system of synchronized networks known as neural entrainments. While these entrainments are born out of neurognostic structures that are “hard-wired,” this origin does not preclude our body image from being neurally plastic. It is important to note that multiple entrainments work together to produce body image. Some of the associated entrainments are cognitive, affective, and somatic.

Imagery

There are many properties of images and Laughlin modifies the list of characteristics found in Morris and Hampson’s (1983) classification. These include abstraction, penetration, inspection and scanning, system limitations, reverberation, image transformation, memory induced transformation, transformation of part or whole, perception and imagination, and vividness. These properties underlie the tenuous connection between sense and perception. Sensorial events may occur internally, in the absence of any external perception as is the case with imagery produced by dreams or hallucinations.

Images also come in many forms: memory images, imagination images, after-images, dream images, hallucinations, hypnagogic/hypnopompic images, and eidetic images. For Laughlin, the images most pertinent to our discussion of body image are those that are produced by memory, perception, or a combination of both. Here he enters in an interesting conversation on brain hemisphere dominance. I appreciated this little reprieve in the middle of the article because it is a topic that I am more familiar with. Leaving the meta philosophy behind for a second, Laughlin breaks down hemispheric differences in regard to processing and remembering nonverbal imagery. I find this to be a more complex and nuanced presentation of the colloquial understanding that the right hemisphere is creative and the left is analytic. I do feel that this section lacks the depth of knowledge found in other sections. This might be a product of my slightly increased understanding of hemisphere dominance (or lack thereof). The rest of the article is a little above my pay grade, so to speak. Or, maybe the research just isn’t there yet.

Behavior’s Role (“Behave yourself!” to control perception)

Neural models demand investment and upkeep like a well-landscaped front lawn. Laughlin describes entrainments as “living models” that are “ever-changing.” Models associated with body image are constantly evoked, fulfilled, and expressed through behavior that involves perception and entrains networks.

The Powers model states that all behavior functions in a cybernetic, negative feedback loop. When applied to body image, this means that behavior is directed by the organism to manage perception. Body perception must approximate body expectations as put forth by the organism’s body image.

Combining a) the idea of body image and its entrainments as “living” and b) the theory of cybernetic behavior, it is easy to see how c) fulfillment mode works. Laughlin states that body image “‘desires’ its object” (59). Entrainments are activated and produce the perception of the desire which, sometimes, leads to behavior. Here, the model is reinforced by activating its entrainments thereby further increasing its neural robusticity. Fulfillment can be perception based or imagination based.

Body imagery can also be evocative, a process which Laughlin notes could be described as backwards fulfillment. Perception is stimulated either externally or driven by some inward desire. Perception then high-fives models associated with body image (the models respond with a “hey, that reminds me of this image”). The awakened image becomes a spider weaving webs of intentional cognitive associations. Lastly, body imagery may be expressive, which is specifically behavioral (communicative behavior, or transformations of outward appearance of the soma).

Practical Uses of Body Image Knowledge (The “So What?”)

My favorite part of this article is the “Visualization and the Body” section. Here, we learn how we might be able to harness the mechanisms and properties behind body image to promote healthy models. Health disorders associated with body image involve models that have, as Laughlin describes it, “become maladaptively disentrained to perception” (62). If these models that mediate body image are not part of a functioning feedback system, the perceived body image and the expected body image as set up by the models are found to be increasingly at odds. This lead to extreme behavior aimed at controlling perception (anorexic behavior, for example).

Utilizing eidetic imagery, specifically visualization techniques, we can produce important changes in body and body image. These “treatments” are utilized in midwifery and obstetrics, Jungian psychology, and the new field of psychoneuroimmunology.

Eidetic imagery does not come natural to most of us. But, not to worry! You can practice “mental imagery cultivation” and increase your ability to produce images in “the mind’s eye.”

“How Fat is Too Fat?” (A plug for Eileen Anderson-Fye’s research)

Dr. Anderson-Fye reverently gave a talk at the University of Alabama on her research regarding fat stigma in different cultural contexts. Her research highlights the culturally variable nature of body image. As Laughlin notes, our body image is a system of models that tell us how to experience our body and that it desires an object. What this desire is as well as the magnitude of the desire is culturally determined. Dr. Anderson-Fye pointed out that it is unknown how much stigmas affect people’s behaviors. From a neuroanthropological point of view, I would suggest that the obesity stigma does not directly affect behavior but instead targets body image models by altering desire. This altered desire (what the ideal body type is) is culturally based (a normal BMI classification in the US would be considered overweight in Japan) and influences perception of the body which, in turn, initiates behavior.  As Laughlin states, “behavior that transforms the symbolic form of the body is behavior intended to produce a desired perception of the body…and my behavior, especially in public, would tend to be geared in part to maintaining my own and others’ desired perceptions of me” (54).

As Laughlin states, "behavior that transforms the symbolic form of the body is behavior intended to produce a desired perception of the body...and my behavior, especially in public, would tend to be geared in part to maintaining my own and others' desired perceptions of me" (54).
I strike a model’s pose and distort my body for the camera.
Psych Table ratings for the article in question.
Psych Table ratings for the article in question.

Biographical information gleaned from:

Laughlin, C. (2005, September 20). Something About Charlie. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from http://www.biogeneticstructuralism.com/allabout.htm

A Review of This Week’s Readings on the Methods of Neuroanthropology

While I do believe anthropology is one of the most useful and applicable majors out there, I have personally crossed paths with many potential employers who do not share my enthusiasm for the discipline. Whether it is a misunderstanding of the mission or applicability of anthropology, our discipline has people scratching their heads. For the record, anthropologists do not dig up dinosaurs or steal artifacts from ancient and cursed tombs (anymore). I believe that both articles discussed today, Lynn et al. (2014) and Seligman and Brown (2010), turn that head scratching into a knoggin’ knocking “why didn’t I think of that!?” The public has to acknowledge the usefulness of a biocultural approach in understanding the “encultured brain” as Lende and Downey (2012) so aptly put it. Every person loves to hear how special they are. What could be more incising to humanity than describing the intricacies of our big brains and the ways in which our biology influences our culture and vice versa.

Cartoon by Gary Larsen, accessed through www.scienceinseconds.com
Cartoon by Gary Larsen, accessed through www.scienceinseconds.com

Seligman and Brown (2010) focus on the niche construction of cultural neuroscience and how anthropology and social cognitive neuroscience are uniquely capable of combining to answer questions dealing with social construction of emotion, cultural psychiatry, and embodiment of ritual. This article really got me pumped for all of the applications of neuroanthropology whereas Lynn et al. (2014) made me envious of the opportunities awaiting current and future undergraduate students. This latter article focuses on how one might train an army of undergraduate students and prepare them for a future in neuroanthropology. Both of these articles presented me with new and improved methodologies that can be utilized in situ when completing fieldwork. Technologies that measure health and wellness are becoming more portable and affordable. As we know, it is not easy to replicate cultural contexts in a lab. One concern, however, did pop into my head. Seligman and Brown mainly use the term cultural neuroscience whereas Lynn et al. uses the term neuroanthropology. In a fledgling field, it seems to me of the utmost importance to have some agreed upon terms and conditions. Still, I am sure a Sherwood Washburn will come along in time to define neuroanthropology’s past and clearly declare the direction of its future.

A concept of great interest to me, and mentioned in both articles, is dissociation. This interest led me to an article on depersonalization disorder (DPD). Depersonalization can be described as a loss of self. As Adler et al. (2014) puts it, people experience “unreality, detachment, or being an outside observer with respect to one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, body, etc.” (230). DPD may also involve derealization in which people’s experiences seem surreal and illusionary. Patients often list disruptions in cognitive functioning as a primary symptom of DPD. Adler et al. uses the “Spatial Cueing Paradigm” to assess whether DPD affects the mechanisms behind selective spatial attention. They hypothesize that differences in the selective spatial attention between DPD subjects and control subjects would be magnified during difficult tasks. Response times (RTs) were measured for valid, neutral, and invalid cue trails and RT benefits, RT costs, and total attention directing effect calculated. Then, a discrimination condition was presented in which the subject had to distinguish between two different types of events. They were asked only to respond to the “target.” A total attention directing effect was exhibited by all participants and the only marked differences between DPD patients and healthy participants were present in the high-demand condition. In short, the amount of brainpower a situation calls for affects the attention.

Figure 2 from Adler et al. (2014) that illustrates the valid cuing condition.
Figure 2 from Adler et al. (2014)  illustrating the valid cuing condition.
Figure 3 from Adler et al. (2014) demonstrating the targets of  different conditions.
Figure 3 from Adler et al. (2014) demonstrating the targets of different conditions.

Musings on the Usefulness of Mindfulness Meditation

I’ve been thinking about centering my research topic around an investigate of the usefulness of mindfulness meditation, a practice taken to new heights by the Shaolin monks, in treating the traveling malady culture shock .  It would be interesting to look at several different subsets of travelers: students studying abroad, military members about to deploy, and anthropologists completing ethnographic research.

H1: The practice of mindfulness meditation influences degree of environmental familiarity.  (This hypothesis would involve an ethnographic study of the  Shaolin monks and an examination of the mind-body connection in the novices as compared with the masters)

H2: The degree of environmental familiarity influences how the mind-body connection is perceived. (Questionnaire measuring mind-body dissonance taken before trip and after arrival)

H3: Conditions involving disorientation such as culture shock can be managed by practicing mindfulness meditation. (Half of the subject set to practice mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes a day for the entirety of the trip. Questionnaire measuring mind-body dissonance taken every two weeks)

A student studying abroad in St. Croix.
A student studying abroad in St. Croix.

-C.M

GOALLLLLL!

If life is like a John Hughes movie, in high school I would have been labeled a “jock.” From ages six to twenty-two, I played soccer year-round. One of my youth teams was even ranked number one in the nation, if only for a day. By the time I made it to high school, I preferred the center midfield position. I enjoyed controlling the movement of the ball and being in the center of the action. I had a tendency to unnecessarily dribble into the thick of things just to see if I could find my way out. While admittedly not the fastest player on the field, I had excellent ball control and quick feet. The problem was that the varsity team already had those central midfield positions filled by two well-respected players who had the ability to play as one unit. This unfortunate situation provided me the opportunity to reinvent myself as a player. It turns out that I am a natural striker. Over the course of four years, I scored roughly 120 goals and assisted around 80. Captain. All-county. All-state. State Champion. Most Valuable Player. Player of the Year. I personally identified as “soccer player,” first and foremost.

Women's Soccer State Championship, 2007. Camille Morgan, MVP, bottom center.
Women’s Soccer State Championship, 2007. Camille Morgan, MVP, bottom center.

This self-image started to evolve when I decided to turn down the recruitment efforts of a small college in favor of a university with highly respected academics. In college, I chose not to try and walk-on to the varsity team. Settling instead for club soccer, I then I had time to work in the archaeology lab and join a sorority. My outside identifier became more complicated and more geared toward my academic accomplishments.

Photograph courtesy of Wake Forest Magazine, Face Time mentorship article.
Photograph courtesy of Wake Forest Magazine, Face Time mentorship article.

While I still inwardly identify as “soccer player,” I no longer immediately communicate this label to my colleagues. At a recent departmental luncheon, “fashionista” was the nickname written on my sandwich. Fashionista! This must be the Twilight Zone!

Historically speaking, communal sports provide the skills necessary to succeed in hunting or warring. Developmentally, games and sports are often played by adolescents as a part of socialization and enculturation.  Proximally, I chose soccer because that is the sport my older brother played. I am extremely grateful that he steered my athletic abilities toward the best sport in the world. I trained my mind to read plays and trained my body, turning complicated moves into muscle memory. To this day, I walk with my right foot pointed slightly outward as if a ball might at any moment come careening toward me. Functionally, I am and will forever be a soccer player.Game on.