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.

Fashionable Learning

Susan Brand, Rita Dunn, and Fran Greb, in their article, Learning Styles of Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Who are They and How Can We Teach Them?, claimed two specially trained researches examined the learning styles of third-through twelfth-grade students who had been, A: diagnosed with ADHA and B: was receiving prescription drugs, to identify learning styles of these children. Both researchers used the Dunn and Dunn learning Model and they identified individual’s reactions to each 21 elements while concentrating on new and difficult academic knowledge or skills. Those included their reactions to several things. The list as follows; One, their immediate instructional environment- sounds vs silence; bright light vs soft lighting; warm vs cool temp; and formal vs informal seating. Two, own emotionality motivation, persistence, responsibility, and preference for structure vs choices. Three, their sociological preferences for learning – alone, with peers, with either a collegial or authoritative adult, or in a variety of ways as opposed to patterns or routines. Four, physiological characteristics – perceptual strengths; time of day energy levels; intake and mobility needs. And five, global vs analytic processing as determined through correlations among sound, light, design, persistence, sociological preference, and intake. The study of the Elementary School (3rd -6th grade) students with ADHD, according to the article, large clusters of these students required low rather than bright light when concentrating on academic tasks. (Could illumination be contributing to the hyperactivity?) A majority of these student lacked persistence. (Would intermittent relaxation periods refortify them so that they could concentrate better?) And last, the children were not able to function well academically in the morning. (Would afternoon academic periods produce better results among those students?). Brand, Dunn, and Greb suggest that the findings reject that there are no common learning styles characteristics among ADHA children. These students required soft lighting, intermittent relaxation breaks, and either late morning, afternoon, or evening learning, dependent on the individual. And these children also were significantly more motived by parental encouragement than children in the general population. (Should parents of ADHA children play a greater role in their schooling than is usual among parents?) The Study of Secondary School Students with ADHA (5th-12th grade) suggested that the students displayed a preference for structured afternoon learning, with information presented in patterns, through kinesthetic and tactile instructional resources. In addition, they were parent-motivated, according to the article.

The Seven Wonders of the Mind

Howard Gardner of Harvard has identified seven distinct intelligences. According to Gardener, he developed a theory from cognitive research to which students possess different kinds of minds and therefore learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways. Howard Gardener formulated a list of seven intelligences, the first two have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what Gardner called ‘personal intelligences’, according to the article. The list as follows: Linguistic intelligence – involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. Logical-mathematical intelligence – consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigates issues scientifically. Musical Intelligence – involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Spatial intelligence – involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. Interpersonal intelligence- is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. Intrapersonal intelligence – entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations.

“A Playful Mind”

Dr. Jaak Panksepp and Sheri Six of Washington University suggest that free play, which includes rough-and-tumble activities, running, jumping, and play fighting, are increasing recognized as essential components of a child’s development. Both human and animal studies have provided evidence that periods of play improve social skills, impulse inhibition and attention and result in specific neurochemical and dendritic changes in many neurons, especially in those brain areas in which ADHA children are deficient.         Therefore, long term provision of more opportunities for physical play may be an effective, non-medicinal therapy for reducing some of the disruptive behaviors of ADHA and facilitating brain development in children diagnosed with ADHA, according to the article. Humans are born ready in take in sensory information, to learn and to grow, brains do not come fully encoded and knowledgeable of the variety of experiences in which a person may encounter throughout his or her life. Much of the higher brain is considered empty and is programmed by epigenetic effects that modulated by subcortical brain regions. Our brains contain at least seven primary-process emotional systems. These systems compel us to explore, care for our young, and drive us to play, especially the young, according to Panksepp and Six. The details of the play circuitry are not fully known but lesions to the parafascicular complex and posterior dorsomedial thalamic nuclei reduce play behaviors in rats, strongly suggesting that the areas make up part of the play circuit. Other brain areas that may be involved include the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and various hypothalamic areas but many of these areas are also involved in movement or aggression, both of which could affect one’s desire or ability to play, according to the article. Panksepp and Six explain that taken together, the evidence supports the assertion that play is one of the primary-process brain circuits, devised through evolution, that promote instinctual feelings and behaviors, and ultimately aid development of the mature social brain. Play has been found to effect significant changes in the brain and is likely, therefore, an important factor in brain development. Dendritic length, complexity and spine density of the medial prefrontal cortex are refined by play.  Panksepp and colleagues found that play in rats reduced hyperactivity and possibly promoted behavioral inhibition and attention to surroundings, all of which are likely factors affecting children’s academic and social success. Suggesting that by adding ample play opportunities may help improve the success of ADHA treatment, especially in regards to social success. Play, after all is beneficial for all children, not just children with ADHA. Since play also improves self-control, attention, and hyperactivity, it may be that early play could prevent at least some diagnoses of ADHD as children age, according to the article.

“Playful Learning”

According to Peter Gray, in his article, Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence, education is essential to the human condition and people everywhere depend for their survival on skills, knowledge, and ideas passed from generation to generation; and such passing along is, by definition, education. Because of education, we are the benefactors (and the victims) of the inventions and ideas of our ancestors. This is true of hunter-gatherer cultures too. Hunter-gatherer adults, however, do not concern themselves much with their children’s education. They assume that children will learn what they need to know through their own, self-directed exploration and play, according to the article. Peter Gray suggests that hunter-gatherers promoted, through cultural means, the playful side of their human nature and this made possible their egalitarian, nonautocratic, intensely cooperative ways of living. Hunter-gatherer bands, with their fluid membership, are likened to social-play groups, which people could freely join or leave. They maintain playful attitudes in their hunting, gathering, and other sustenance activates, partly by allowing each person to choose when, how much they would engage in activates. Our culture, when we think of education we think primarily of schooling, not of play. Schools, even more than most adult workplaces, operate through hierarchy and exercise of power, which is the opposite of play. The teacher is boss, and the students must do as they are told, according to the article. Gray explains in his article that by law, in our culture, are required to attend school, which deprives them of the power to quit. Little wonder children find it almost impossible to bring their playful instincts to this kind of education. In contract, among hunter-gatherers, play is the foundation for education. We speak of “training” children, just as we speak of training horses. Our manner of talking and thinking about parenting suggests that we own our children, much as we own our domesticated plants and livestock, and we control how they grow and behave. Training requires suppression of the trainee’s will and hence suppression of play. Hunter-gatherers, in their world, all animals and plants are wild and free. Young plants and animals grow on their own, guided by internal forces, making their own decisions. Hunter-gatherers take this general approach towards child care and education. Each young organism depends, of course, on its environment, but its way of using that environment comes from within itself. One of the means by which children use the cultural substrate to promote their own development is play, according to Gray.

ADHA: “Changing Gears”

George Halasz and Alasdair L A Vance, in their article, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in Children: moving forward with divergent perspectives, claimed that the US National Institutes of Health released a statement, in the year 2000, that the diversity of opinions about ADHA raises questions concerning the literal existence of the disorder, whether it can be reliably diagnosed. And Dr. Peter Jensen, from the US National Institute of Mental Health, stated that according to the panelists, ADHA remains of an “unproven” status and should give pause to both researchers and clinicians who may have reified ADHA as a ‘thing’ or ‘true entity’. No clinical or laboratory test can validly and reliably distinguish children with ADHA from those without ADHA and given the heterogeneity of the condition as currently defined, it seems unlikely that such a test will emerge, according to the article. Halasz and Vance suggest, since there to no test for ADHA, the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-4th edition (DSM-IV) bases diagnosis on the on the specific clinical features – behavioral symptoms and signs. According to the article, the DSM-IV taskforce chair observed that this approach perpetuates the lack of “developmentally sensitive, interactive or longitudinal perspective which limits the usefulness of the categories for both research and adolescents,” which means, DSM neglects developmentally sensitive interactive issues, such as attachment, which could into lead to misdiagnosis. This article suggests that while there is growing evidence for biological vulnerabilities associated with ADHA, George Halasz and Alasdair L A Vance believe that environmental factors, including early problems in parental attachment, are important in determining the type and timing of deficit that a child develops the risk to academic and social performance and eventual outcomes. Halasz and Vance advocate an integrated biopsychosocial approach to diagnosis and management with a thorough developmental assessment to identify developmental factors, such as deficits in early attachment, contributing to the presentation, according to the article.