Books about thinking and non-verbal behavior patterns

Following a quotation from one book led me to an interesting book about creativity that was inspired by the author Arthur Koestler. He wrote fiction and non-fiction works. The book “Astride the Two Cultures, Arthur Koestler at 70,”(1976), is a collection of essays by a variety of authors. The title refers to the two cultures of art and science -or fiction and non-fiction. The various authors explore the theme of creativity and how both artists and scientists may share creative thought processes and the idea is also explored that creativity in science and art may frequently involve non-verbal insights which then need to be translated into words or chemical symbols, or notes in a musical score.

Some of the contributing authors also touch on the idea that great thinkers build on the thoughts of other great thinkers. One of Arthur Koestler’s books, The Sleepwalkers, (1968, 2nd ed.),  focused on the life and work of the early astrophysicist Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) but Arthur Koestler ended up including information about the work of some of the thinkers who had proceeded or followed Kepler in the early study of our solar system. Kepler had the revolutionary idea that the planets revolve around the sun instead of the sun revolving around Earth. That sort of thinking at the time could get you thrown in jail as Galileo Galilei  (1564-1642) found but Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) may have been spared by keeping his ideas more private until after his death.  Ideas can lead to more ideas in the future – the tree of knowledge grows and blossoms over generations of thinkers.

  1. Editor: Harold Harris, Astride the Two Cultures, Arthur Koestler at 70, (Random House, 1976, New York)
  2. Thomas R. Blakeslee, Beyond the Conscious Mind: Unlocking the Secrets of the Self, (iUniverse, Inc. An Authors Guild BackinPrint.com Edition, 1996, 2004, Lincoln, NE) The section titled The Reptilian Brain, pages 212-215, quotes part of Paul MacLean’s list of 24 reptilian behavior patterns that was included in Astride the Two Cultures on page 196.
  3. Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child Matures, (E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1985, New York) This book expands on his previous book, Magical Child, with the author’s interpretation of how our consciousness and thought processes might function within a triune brain of Paul MacLean’s theory. Chapter 3 of the book, titled: Bonding and Attachment, discusses how an infant’s birth and early breastfeeding experience may affect the newborn’s physical and mental development. Development of different stages of consciousness and behavior patterns throughout the lifespan are discussed in later chapters. Meditation and chakra energy centers are also discussed.
  4. Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, “written by the author in his capacity as an employee of the United States Government and is thus considered a work of the United States Government.”
  5. David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, (Pantheon Books, 2011, New York) Paul MacLean’s theory is described in a brief paragraph in this book on page 110 with the summary that the details of the theory have “fallen out of favor among neuroanatomists, but the heart of the idea survives: brains are made of competing subsystems.”

David Eagleman suggests in his book Incognito [5] that a dual processing mechanism of emotional and rational thinking is the currently accepted approach in the field of neuroanatomy rather than the triune theory suggested by Paul MacLean. While the details of neuroanatomy may be out of date in his book, The Triune Brain in Evolution, [4], the observations of animal behavior presented in his work seems timeless – or priceless as animal species become extinct or lose their native habitats to encroaching civilization or other invasive species. Paul MacLean’s book with 579 pages of text and 55 pages of bibliography is not written for the average reader but it is a fascinating compilation of over a century of research and observations about animal and human behavior. Knowledge grows as it passes from one thinker to the next – Kepler probably didn’t get every detail of astrophysics right but Galileo and Newton were there to fill in more details and other thinkers have followed along since.

Non-verbal communication is my first language – English was my second language starting around age two and a half. Paul MacLean’s theory does include a basic premise that the brain includes a dual processing mechanism of non-verbal and verbal thinking and behavior patterns – and that the various areas of the brain aren’t always in good communication with each other. David Eagleman’s book Incognito mentioned research that has used the term zombie brain patterns and alien hand syndrome but the term software was also used. There are no aliens in alien hand syndrome. If the connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is damaged than the person loses normal control of one hand. The left hemisphere controls the right hand and the right hemisphere controls the left hand – no aliens though. [5, page 131-132] I personally am more comfortable with the idea that my brain – or hardware – may come pre-loaded with some innate survival behavior patterns – or software -than that my brain has zombie or alien thought processes.

Hunger is a biological feeling rather than an emotion in the typical sense of the word. Foraging is a survival behavior pattern that is seen in many species including humans – think of gathering wild berries in season or of browsing all the stores during the holiday season looking for the best deals. Frogs will flick their tongues out to capture a fly when they sense rapid movement of a small object and they will leap away when they sense movement of a large object, [5]  – does that mean frogs have zombie brain patterns? – or does that mean they have survival behavior patterns which can occur more rapidly than verbal thinking typically requires?

Good athletes practice so much that their bodies respond to the fast pace of the sport faster than conscious thought – rational, verbal analysis of a play can inhibit the player.

If you would rather not think about zombies, aliens, or frogs, then Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a currently accepted strategy in the field of mental health care that was first developed by Marsha Linehan in 1993 (1997, 2001) to help individuals gain better understanding and acceptance of their non-verbal and verbal thoughts, motives, and behaviors; and to develop more effective strategies for coping  with strong emotions; and for improving communication with others and with oneself. It can be difficult to let others know what your concerns are if you aren’t able to put words to your feelings.

Workbooks are available based on the DBT techniques which can be used individually or with a trained clinician; one example is: “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance,” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D, Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy. D, and Jeffrey Brantley, MD, (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2007, Oakland, CA). [6]

If you like thinking about thinking or about squirrel monkeys, Komodo lizards and ethology then read on. We are told by Paul MacLean in The Triune Brain in Evolution that the word ethology became popularly known in the 1920s – I had to look it up, so it may not have remained popular. According to The New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2001, New York) ethology is “the science of animal behavior,” or “the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.” There are peer reviewed journals for the topic such as the Journal of Ethology so the science of animal behavior is still of interest to some researchers.

To jump ahead to page 199 of The Triune Brain in Evolution the curious reader can learn that “Squirrel monkeys commonly roll food pellets or grapes on the tip of their tails.” Sadly we then learn that damaging a specific area of the brain will disrupt the ability. This bit of animal trivia is cute but not too relevant to humans off the basketball court. However many hours of watching Komodo lizards and other animals in their native habitats led to a list of behavior patterns that are seen in many species; the behavior patterns like the frog catching a fly or avoiding a predator may help support survival of the individual or the group. Our non-verbal brainstem and limbic areas of the brain may lead us into performing behavior patterns that our verbal mind may then try to rationalize in words – do we go to every store during the holiday rush in order to get the best deal or to enjoy the holiday spirit? – or because our non-verbal self is energized by the thrill of foraging for the best deal?

Non-verbal behavior patterns that may be based in activity from the brainstem area are listed on page 100, The Triune Brain in Evolution. (This area of the brain is rich in the neurotransmitter dopamine so conditions, substances, or stages of life that affect dopamine levels may also affect the likelihood of these behaviors occurring.) Table 6-1. Special Forms of Basic Behavior

  1. Selection and preparation of homesite
  2. Establishment of territory
  3. Use of home range
  4. Showing place preferences
  5. Trail making
  6. Marking of territory
  7. Patrolling territory
  8. Ritualistic display in defense of territory, commonly involving the use of coloration and adornments
  9. Formalized intraspecific fighting in defense of territory
  10. Triumphal display in successful defense
  11. Assumption of distinctive postures and coloration in signaling surrender
  12. Use of defecation posts (or areas away from sleeping areas and trails)
  13. Foraging
  14. Hunting
  15. Homing
  16. Hoarding
  17. Formation of social groups
  18. Establishment of social hierarchy by ritualistic display and other means
  19. Greeting
  20. Grooming
  21. Courtship, with displays using coloration and adornments
  22. Mating
  23. Breeding and, in isolated instances (in reptilian species), attending offspring
  24. Flocking
  25. Migration

[4]- Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

The limbic area of the brain is associated with several non-verbal behavior patterns having to do with bonding and caring for offspring.

Six types of general behaviors have also been observed in many species that may occur as part of the other behavior patterns.

  • From page 143, Table 10-1. General (“Interoperative”) Forms of Basic Behavior: 1) Routinizing, 2) Isopraxic, 3) Tropistic, 4) Repetitious, 5) Reenactment, 6) Deceptive.[4]- Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

There is a tendency to like following routines, 1) routinizing, and repeating usual behavior patterns, 4) repetitious. 2) Isopraxic behavior is the tendency to behave the same way as other members in a group. 3) Tropistic (from the Greek word tropos which means “a turning,” page 145) is used in biology to describe behaviors that seem to be elicited or “turned” on or off by an external signal such as the colorful pattern seen on another member of the species – the same bright color might elicit the response even if it seen on an inanimate object instead of another member of the species. 5) Reenactment is used to describe the repetition of a more complex series of behaviors than the typical routine. The more complex route might have been life saving once and it then may have became part of the daily routine even though the danger was no longer present. 6) Deceptive behavior has been observed by Komodo lizards when they hunt deer. The large lizards will hide along the trails used by deer and wait for the deer to happen along – no chasing necessary.

June 26, 2015 Additional Note: I was having trouble saving the draft a few days ago so I went ahead and published the post instead. The zombie behavior patterns described in frogs in an earlier paragraph and in the book Incognito  [5] might also be described as a tropistic behavior. [4, page 145] The frogs instinctively respond to a small rapid motion with a flick of their tongue to try to catch prey – turning towards the prey – and they respond to a large motion by hopping away to avoid a predator – turning away from danger. Having tropistic instincts seems like a more realistic and helpful description to me. I found all of the books that I listed helpful in different ways, as different perspectives, and I was disappointed to find only limited information available online about the triune brain theory – a brief overview of the basic theory is available in several places but I didn’t find the list of behavior patterns anywhere else online. The details of neuroanatomy is a rapidly changing field but basic animal behavior patterns may show repetition because our basic anatomy and DNA is very similar across many lifeforms.

/Disclosure: This information is presented for educational purposes within fair use and material provided within a publication of the U.S. government./

How we praise children may be instilling a more entity or incremental theory about personality traits

How we praise one another or ourselves may be affected by whether we have an entity theory or incremental theory about personality traits such as intelligence, or other traits such as trustworthiness or fairness. Hearing praise about what a good child we are can leave the underlying impression that if circumstances were different then we would be a bad child. Praise about how good we were for scoring well on the test or for drawing a pretty picture may be leaving the impression that next time if we score poorly on the test or make a less nice drawing that we are a bad child. [1]

Praise that focuses on the effort involved – or lack of effort – instead focuses on the job at hand rather than any innate goodness or badness. Praise about the effort involved, such as, “Great, you finished almost all of the questions and put in a lot of work on solving them, with more time you may have been able to finish all of the problems,” might be more successful in the long run at promoting a sense that working hard on a problem can lead to success without placing an external judgement on the child’s general goodness or badness. Praising the process that a child used rather than praising or criticizing the child may help children feel more confident about their ability to successfully handle challenges. Praise feels good in the short term but can lead the child to  be more self critical and to give up when they run into more difficult work. [1]

Research suggests  that people with a more fixed view of personality, or entity theory, may be judging others and themselves more harshly. While people with the more fluid view of personality, the incremental theory that people can change and improve their skills over time, make fewer snap judgments about themselves or others. [1]

Within the field of nutrition people who are trying to practice healthier eating habits may face setbacks in their food choices. It is important for the overall success of the dietary changes for them to see the unhealthier choices as simply unhealthier choices for that day or meal rather than a more general reflection of their overall chances of sticking with the new eating habits over time. One day’s unhealthy choices are unlikely to lead to long term ill health but if the unhealthy choices are viewed as proof that the person is a bad person who might as well give up trying then the day’s unhealthy choices might add to the long term risk of ill health. Eating disorders can be a person’s way of trying to cope with unrecognized emotional issues. Gentleness with oneself while trying to practice new eating habits may help with getting through minor setbacks without giving up on the overall goal of change.

The book Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (1999), by Carol S. Dweck, is written for the academic field of social psychology however it is a review of research and doesn’t go into detail about statistical analysis which makes it fairly accessible for the general interest reader. It is part of the series Essays in Social Psychology by Psychology Press. [1]

Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by severe control of caloric intake, is mentioned as an example of a condition where individuals can harm themselves in the pursuit of a perfect self ([1], page 138) but the book is not about nutrition specifically. It discusses how cognitive therapy techniques can help children and adults learn more productive views of self and how well meaning praise may actually be promoting increased risk of giving up when setbacks are encountered. How we talk to children and adolescents about their size can have significant impact on the risk of their developing disordered eating patterns:

In addition, history of depression and history of teasing by a teacher or coach have been linked to the onset of an eating disorder 30. [2]

A focus on healthy exercise habits and regular meals of various types of foods may be more helpful than overly focusing on weight or size or a few specific food choices. Health occurs over time not just at each meal. Process oriented help for healthy eating might better focus on helping the person recognize their hunger and fullness signals and recognizing when thirst for water might actually be the primary body sensation they are feeling.

The fixed or entity theory of self might suggest to a child or adult that their ability to change their eating habits or fitness level is not possible while a fluid incremental theory of self might suggest that with effort the child or adult’s ability to change their eating habits or fitness level is possible. It can be helpful to not make weight loss or size changes the primary goal when trying to help someone address eating habits. Changing habits can support a healthy gradual change in weight or size or may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes or high blood pressure from developing even if there aren’t large changes in weight or size. Cognitive behavior therapy can be helpful for promoting healthy eating and lifestyle changes. [23]

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./

  1. Carol S. Dweck, Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (Psychology Press, 1999, Ann Arbor) [1]
  2. Denise E. Wilfley, Ph.D., Rachel P. Kolko, B.A., and Andrea E. Kass, B.A., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Weight Management and Eating Disorders in Children and AdolescentsChild Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2011 Apr; 20(2): 271–285. . Full text available online. [2]
  3. Rebecca Murphy, DClinPsych. et al, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders, Psychiatric Clinics of North America Vol 33, Issue 3, Sept. 2010, Pages 611–627. Full text available online. [3]

 

Intelligence is not a fixed entity, but believing that may make it so

Research in the field of social psychology suggests that people have two different basic beliefs about intelligence. A few people fall into a middle ground between the two basic beliefs but the majority tend to fall into one or the other set of beliefs. [1]

One group tends to see intelligence as a fixed entity that you either have or don’t have; that you are born with a certain amount and that amount can’t be changed much throughout life; [1], that you either are an Albert Einstein type or you aren’t. This belief is somewhat true in that research does suggest that intelligence is 40 to 80% due to genetics – how smart your parents are does correlate with how smart you may be. [2],  However that leaves up to 60% of intelligence due to your own health status and work effort. If you believe that you will never be as smart as Albert Einstein so it just isn’t worth trying to improve or study, then that is a self-fulfilling belief. Someone who doesn’t study is unlikely to improve their skills or to stick to a difficult problem long enough to solve it.

Albert Einstein wasn’t a straight A student but that didn’t stop him from sticking with his field of interest and breaking new ground in the understanding of physics. But he probably wasn’t as smart as Jean Liedloff was in the field of child rearing where she broke new ground in the understanding of natural parenting strategies. And Jean Liedloff probably wasn’t as smart as Albert Einstein was in the field of physics but that is okay. We all are better off for having experts in a variety of fields of study.

Jean Leidloff is less well known then Albert Einstein but she did go where few before her had gone – and she stayed for a few years. Jean is best known for her book, The Continuum Concept, published in 1975. She described her time spent living with a South American tribe and her observations of their parenting practices. The book formed a basis for the attachment parenting movement.

The second basic theory of intelligence is that intelligence is incremental – that intelligence is something fluid that can be changed and increased with more study and effort. [1] This core belief is associated with students viewing learning as a fun self challenge. Students with a more incremental theory of intelligence are more likely to choose challenging learning tasks and to avoid tasks that they have already mastered (super boring, man). Students with a more entity theory of intelligence may be more likely to choose tasks that they will be able to complete easily as a way of proving to themselves how smart they are or to show others how smart they are. Students with the entity theory of intelligence may be more likely to feel threatened by other students who do well on a test or project; while students with the incremental theory of intelligence primarily judge their progress against their own previous work – with intelligence as a fluid changeable trait they are eager to learn and challenge themselves against themselves. [1]

Intelligence is fluid over the whole lifespan. Reaction times may be faster in our teens and twenties but social skills continue to improve on average with each decade of life. [3]

In the U.S. the No Child Left Behind legislation greatly increased the number of tests that young children are made to take and teachers can lose their jobs and schools can lose their funding if children don’t perform well on the tests. [4] The policy may be leaving all the children behind by teaching them the entity theory of intelligence – that intelligence is something that you can measure with a test and that you either have or you don’t. The entity theory of intelligence is associated with an increased risk of giving up when faced with unfamiliar, confusing, or difficult work. [1] More children are leaving the school system before they graduate, that also can leave them behind. [11, 12] Teaching to the test may help bring some children up to average but it may also be leaving the self-challengers in a state of mind numbing boredom and leading them to dropping out; or to only working for the easy ‘A’ instead of working to their maximum capability; or to acting up in class and becoming a behavior problem.

We need people with a variety of types of interests and skills and who see challenge as something fun and worth the work. The incremental theory of intelligence is a more accurate reflection of how our brains work over the decades. Testing young children every year of their early lives may be fostering the more inaccurate entity theory of intelligence. The good news is that children can be taught the incremental theory of intelligence simply by encouraging more projects with learning goals rather than performance goals. [1]

A learning goal might sound something like: “This task may be a little challenging but that is okay it will help you learn a new skill and the grade isn’t important.” And a performance goal might sound something like: “This task will be graded and your grade says something about your level of intelligence” –> and in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs –> “and your teacher’s job and your schools budget may be affected by your grade.”.

Young children’s core beliefs may be harmed by the frequent testing that has become standard and high stakes that have become associated with the tests, in my opinion at least.

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./

  1. Carol S. Dweck, Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (Psychology Press, 1999, Ann Arbor) [1]

7/25/2018, A book from a more recent post reviews the history of study of intelligence and intelligence testing – it was to help find school age students that needed extra help and is not representative of all types of intelligence that adults need to be successful but it remains somewhat helpful for predicting ability to learn in school:

  1. Richard J. Haier, The Neuroscience of Intelligence, (Cambridge University Press, 2017, New York), http://www.richardhaier.com/the-neuroscience-of-intelligence/ (1)