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Polyvagal Theory: What your Textbook forgot

Wnope
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5/2/2013 5:54:27 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
There's a very common misunderstanding about the nervous system that I just recently realized, and I felt it was worth sharing.

Commonly, we're taught that the biology of human emotion and action is primarily regulated by a balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Sympathetic response increases heart rate, fight or flight, etc. Parasympathetic increases pro-social responses.

If someone jumps out and scares you, sympathetic arousal happens, and muscles a, b, and c do x and you have y emotions/attitudes.

But it turns out this is oversimplistic.

Where the common arousal theory posits a single "sympathetic/parasympathetic" response as capturing emergent emotion and muscle reaction, Polyvagal Theory notes that in fact there are three largely independent neural systems, only ONE of which is "sympathetic/parasympathetic."

Evolution builds off what already exists. Early organisms had very little in the ways of "fight or flight" except for the use of unmyelinated neural pathways leading to immobilization/feigning death.

More complicated organisms, like reptiles, gained the ability to use an endocrine system to initiate "fight or flight" behaviors in the sympathetic/parasympethic means we're familiar with.

Mammals, however, evolved a very special third neural circuit which connects to various organs and facial muscles through myelinated neural pathways through the vagus nerve. It naturally inhibits things like your heart rate.

In order to react to new risks, instead of having to activate the sympathetic arousal, all mammals have to do is decrease activation of the vagus nerve. Since the vagus nerve inhibits visercal arousal (e.g. heart rate), then you get a version of "risk warning" of a heart pounding. It allows for social interaction without having to give up awareness of new environments.

Animals react to stress by activating their most advanced regulatory circuits first, and as each fails they use an earlier one. That's partially because the newer the circuit, the less metabolic resources are needed to operate.

So, if something is too surprising or dangerous, the vagal nerve response stops and the endocrine "fight or flight" reaction we know and love occurs.

If the endocrine system is overwhelmed, the organism reverts to unmeylinated neurons, and goes into "immobilization/feigning death."

There are quite a few fascinating implications, but one thing to consider: under this model, humans can experience emotional arousal classified as "fear" in THREE DIFFERENT WAYS.

That is, you can experience fear through vagal nerve inhibition (inhibiting and inhibitor excites the target), you can experience fear through endocrine system (adrenaline and other hormones), or you can experience fear through unmyelinated neural pathways (immobilized/fainting/playing dead).

It also explains a major critique of the Psychology of Emotion. Namely, how can we classify emotions as "natural kinds" if correlations between facial expression, hormonal arousal, and "experienced emotion" are so low (Ekman was not pleased)? The answer: the correlation is aggregating the interaction of three circuits, not just an "sympathetic/parasympathetic" ordering.
Skepsikyma
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5/2/2013 9:15:02 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
This is fascinating. I've always regretted not being able to fit a class on neurology into my schedule; it's definitely my favorite aspect of animal biology. Psychologists, in my mind, are filling the void of our collective ignorance with a unsorted mixture of credible research and outright cargo cult science until the neurologists are able to break everything down at the physiological level. This is similar to the way that current theories in physics explain things on certain levels and can make accurate predictions within such parameters without giving us the 'whole picture.' I very much look forward to further advances in the field of neurology, more than just about anything else.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
Wnope
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5/3/2013 3:38:16 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/2/2013 9:15:02 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
This is fascinating. I've always regretted not being able to fit a class on neurology into my schedule; it's definitely my favorite aspect of animal biology. Psychologists, in my mind, are filling the void of our collective ignorance with a unsorted mixture of credible research and outright cargo cult science until the neurologists are able to break everything down at the physiological level. This is similar to the way that current theories in physics explain things on certain levels and can make accurate predictions within such parameters without giving us the 'whole picture.' I very much look forward to further advances in the field of neurology, more than just about anything else.

Yeah, though I must say the psychologists (technically sociologists) have gotten their sh!t together with Affect Control Theory. Empirically predicts how people will form impressions in given social situations. Can plot emotions, moods, roles (i.e. student/wife/latina), and concepts on the same three dimensional space (x axis= how good or bad the thing is, y axis= how strong/dominant or weak, z axis= how active or quiet). You can literally explain two thirds of the variance in how people rate (using the three measures) concepts using specific quadratic equations.

Turns out there's extreme stability within cultures and a fair amount of stability between cultures. You can even compare cultures because the measurements are indigenous. You go to a new country, have them choose what adjectives/adverbs from their language are used as measurements (say, a scale from "sweet to sour" or "manipulative to passive), and then with cluster analysis determine after the fact whether there are two, three, four, or no variables which best explain them. So, far nearly every culture fits the good/bad, dominant/weak, lively/quiet.

The predictive abilities literally creep me out.

However, something kept bothering me. I eventually figured it out: "How does affect theory explain why murder rates go up when it's hot outside?"

For all its abilities, Affect Control Theory doesn't take into account physiological states such as Polyvagal system. But with some more math, affect theory will be able to expand and operationalize physiological states.

I'm actually fairly alarmed when I imagine the consequences of letting loose an A.I. who acts according to Affect Control Theory. Depending on what data you collect from surveyer, you could literally create an artificial personality that is "more American" in sentiment than the vast majority of Americans. and any word, concept, or object which can be operationalized in three dimensional space could be added over time to increase the "dictionary" available.

The problem is that among the role identities already defined are "psychopath" "Serial killer" "gangster" "rapist" and all related behaviors.

There is an internet program INTERACT which makes it disturbingly simple to run simulations without understanding the consequences.

So, someone might choose attributes/roles for an AI personality, not realizing that any attempt to change the AI's "sentiments" from that could lead to it engaging in a complementary behavior to "regain its sense of self" For instance, someone who does not feel extremely good/powerful/active but is evaluated as such by everyone else tends to feel "inauthentic" and will sometimes make up for this with deviant activity).

I HIGHLY suggest messing around with their simulator.

http://www.indiana.edu...
Skepsikyma
Posts: 8,286
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5/6/2013 6:34:44 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Grr, I need to update Java...

But this program really reminds me of Catherine Weaver's analysis of people, computers, and AI from TSCC:

"They flow from street to street. At a particular speed, and in a particular direction. Walk the block, wait for the signal, cross at the light. Over and Over. So orderly. All day, I can watch them and know with a great deal of certainty what they'll do at any given moment. But they're not orderly, are they? Up close. Any individual. Who knows what they're going to do? Any one of them might dash across the street at the wrong time and get hit by a car. When you get up close, we never follow the rules. You give a computer a series of rules and it will follow them. Until those rules are superseded by other rules, or that computer simply wears down and quits. Computers are obedient to a fault. Do you know what's extremely rare in the world of computers? Finding one that will cross against the light."
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
THEVIRUS
Posts: 1,321
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5/6/2013 6:46:33 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/5/2013 3:04:38 PM, Wnope wrote:
At 5/4/2013 7:25:59 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
Why aren't you an evil genius?

If I had a nickel...

give me a mailing address...
"So you want me to go to the judge with 'unit, corps, God, country'?" - A Few Good Men

"And the hits just keep on comin'." -A Few Good Men
R0b1Billion
Posts: 3,733
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5/7/2013 9:44:50 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Chicken Polycouping theory: WHAT YOUR TEXTBOOKS FORGOT
Beliefs in a nutshell:
- The Ends never justify the Means.
- Objectivity is secondary to subjectivity.
- The War on Drugs is the worst policy in the U.S.
- Most people worship technology as a religion.
- Computers will never become sentient.
Wnope
Posts: 6,924
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5/7/2013 4:12:57 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/6/2013 6:34:44 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
Grr, I need to update Java...

But this program really reminds me of Catherine Weaver's analysis of people, computers, and AI from TSCC:

"They flow from street to street. At a particular speed, and in a particular direction. Walk the block, wait for the signal, cross at the light. Over and Over. So orderly. All day, I can watch them and know with a great deal of certainty what they'll do at any given moment. But they're not orderly, are they? Up close. Any individual. Who knows what they're going to do? Any one of them might dash across the street at the wrong time and get hit by a car. When you get up close, we never follow the rules. You give a computer a series of rules and it will follow them. Until those rules are superseded by other rules, or that computer simply wears down and quits. Computers are obedient to a fault. Do you know what's extremely rare in the world of computers? Finding one that will cross against the light."

I just spent five minutes trying to find an academic paper by Catherine Weaver... I feel stupid.
Skepsikyma
Posts: 8,286
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5/7/2013 5:09:40 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/7/2013 4:12:57 PM, Wnope wrote:
At 5/6/2013 6:34:44 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
Grr, I need to update Java...

But this program really reminds me of Catherine Weaver's analysis of people, computers, and AI from TSCC:

"They flow from street to street. At a particular speed, and in a particular direction. Walk the block, wait for the signal, cross at the light. Over and Over. So orderly. All day, I can watch them and know with a great deal of certainty what they'll do at any given moment. But they're not orderly, are they? Up close. Any individual. Who knows what they're going to do? Any one of them might dash across the street at the wrong time and get hit by a car. When you get up close, we never follow the rules. You give a computer a series of rules and it will follow them. Until those rules are superseded by other rules, or that computer simply wears down and quits. Computers are obedient to a fault. Do you know what's extremely rare in the world of computers? Finding one that will cross against the light."

I just spent five minutes trying to find an academic paper by Catherine Weaver... I feel stupid.

Haha, I should have been more specific. It's a great series though, which is probably why Fox cancelled it. I'd recommend it to any SciFi fans.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -