Cooperation and instinctual bias; a link

Our instincts are somewhat geared towards physical risks like the need to run away from a Saber Tooth Tiger and our bodies stress response is also geared towards preparing our bodies to run away or stand and fight. Stress can rev up blood flow and energy levels, which is great if there’s a Saber Tooth Tiger, but if it’s just the demands of a modern day desk job then the the physical stress response is less helpful and over time can increase chronic health risks. So take a break and a brief walk if you’re stressed at a desk job and it might help reduce stress levels to stare at relaxing image of nature for a moment.

There are physical reactions to stress that may be occurring in your body. [1] Walking in natural settings [2] or looking at images of nature [3] has been found helpful for calming the physical stress response, which is also known as the “fight or flight response.” (The links 1, 2, and 3 are from a previous post, they are not to the research article about cooperation. It is included later.)

Our instinctual expectations may also be affecting our expectations about cooperation from others. Research in game theory has been found helpful outside of the tech areas. In studying cooperation it was found that there are two basic styles – impulsive and immediate, “Yes, sure,” and a slower more rational based, “Maybe, but what exactly did you need?” The more immediate cooperation may be associated with increased trust in that person, possibly because of our Saber Tooth Tiger instincts.

In a dangerous physical reality a group would need complete trust in each others’ ability to act quickly if needed. When told run, you run, it might be a tiger; when told to jump, you jump, it might be a rock tumbling off a cliff behind you. But in an increasingly complex and technically fast-paced world sometimes it might actually be safer to have someone take the time to question whether the proposed action is the best one to take before impulsively agreeing, “Yes sure.”

Example from blogging: It is easy to post something but more difficult to un-post it, there may be copies all over the place even if you un-post the original.

So do you – Leap before you look? or Look before you leap? People might instinctively trust the person more who immediately says, “Yes sure,” — leaping before looking; but in the long run in our modern world the rational questions of “Where do you want me to run and how far and should I pack a water bottle and lunch?” may seem annoying and less trustworthy in the short term but they might save you from a worse problem later on.

I’m a Girl Scout by training and our motto is “Always be prepared.” or maybe that’s the boyscout motto. Okay, it is the Girl Scout motto but shorter “Be prepared.” I digress, my answer to the question of whether I would leap before looking or look before leaping is “It depends on the situation.” Recently I made a flying leap to football tackle my dog who can be protective and aggressive with other dogs sometimes. I bruised my knee and elbow slightly but caught the dog before anything bad had happened. More typically though I tend to ask the annoying questions of “Why, when and where, and how long, and are you really sure it is a good idea?

I blame my Girl Scout training and the motto, “Be prepared,” or my parents, or my health professional training and experience, for that rational tendency to generally question first and leap second. If it is a long run on a hot day then packing lunch and a water bottle will help you actually arrive at your destination and in healthy enough shape to do whatever it is that was necessary in the first place. But in the real world of interpersonal relations I have noticed that some people don’t seem to like to be questioned when they are asking you for help. They just want you to say, “Yes, sure.”

And the linked article and the research it discusses helps explain why – it’s our instincts which may be derived from our evolutionary expectations of physical dangers like Saber Tooth Tigers. The article however, doesn’t mention tigers, or looking or leaping, those examples are based on my interpretation of the article. It’s focus is a bit more on business ethics and the potential value of not blindly saying yes to requests that might lead down illegal or unethical paths. And maybe it suggests that the rationally ever questioning whistle-blower type might have value to a business even though that person might not seem as trustworthy to our instincts as the person who just says “Yes, sure.”

So pack your reusable stainless steel or BPA free plastic water bottle and Read more: “When last did you co operate without asking questions?”]

We live in a modern world, but our bodies are an ancient design.
We live in a modern world, but our bodies are an ancient design.

/Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and  the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Persuasion, instincts, and the color red

Persuasive tactics can be used by individuals or by groups. Our natural instincts include some behavioral patterns that may be used individually or within groups. Instincts are deeply rooted behavioral tendencies that may have developed over time because they helped promote the survival of the individual or group.

Before continuing on that topic though, in yesterday’s post I mentioned that white Americans from Minneapolis and Somalian-Minneapolis refugees might have hypothyroidism in common compared to Black Americans from Minneapolis and Hispanics from Minneapolis but I didn’t explain why — Somalian refugees may be more likely to have simple iodine deficiency than the average American of any ethnic background — and White Americans from Minneapolis may be more likely to have been eating the standard American diet (which contains fluoride, bromide, and perchlorates) for more generations than Black Americans or Hispanic Americans. The grandmother/mother/child body burden of toxins probably adds up to a greater toxic burden over the generations. A child is created from an egg that was created in their mother while she, herself, was a fetus growing within her own mother, so grandma’s prenatal diet and stress level can have direct impact on her grandchildren — if grandma was iodine deficient or bromide excess than her grandchildren may also be iodine deficient or bromide excessive from their very first day of creation (when momma’s egg meets poppa’s sperm and joins to create a one celled baby zygote).

The standard American diet would be more likely to contain the minimal recommended quantity of iodine than an African refugee diet might contain but the African refugee diet would probably not contain as much fluoride, bromide, and perchlorates, (halides that are chemically similar to iodine and which can take the place of iodine within the body and may increase the risk for thyroid cancer and fibrocystic breast disease). I don’t know if Mexico’s standard diet contains as much of the halides, but bromide is used in most breads and bakery items in the U.S. and fluoride is added to most of the U.S. city’s water supplies and is an ingredient in many commonly used medications.

Perchlorates (ClO4) are more typically found in the environment as contaminants from industrial sources and rocket propellant:

“…the detection limit was reduced from 400 µg/L to approximately 1 µg/L in the late 1990s due to improved analytical methodology.

“Sites that have been identified with high concentrations of perchlorate contamination (in the thousands of ppb or more) involve manufacturing, testing, or disposal of solid rocket propellant; manufacturing of perchlorate compounds; and industrial manufacturing operations where perchlorate compounds were used as reagents.”  — by Trumpolt CW, et. al., “Perchlorate: Sources, Uses, and Occurrences in the Environment,” Remediation, Winter 2005 [$FILE/Perchlorate-Sources-Occurance-In-The-Environment.pdf]

Iodine and halides have nothing to do directly with persuasion or the color red however I have learned the hard way that writing about iodine deficiency and halides can have colorful repercussions. In nature groups of animals of the same species sometimes will start harassing a member of the group until it leaves the group or dies from the harassment or lack of nourishment. Mothers have been known to neglect an infant that is ill or blemished in some way. She would know that the survival of an infant might put the survival of herself and any older children at risk. Fathers in some species may sometimes eat all of the infants of a litter so a mother of that species may have natural instincts to hide herself and her brood from the father.

A mother with older children who has limited income may be more likely to seek an abortion than a first time mother or a woman with adequate support for herself and her older children. A mother knows that growing a baby is far more than a one day event, (conception), or a nine month event (pregnancy), or a two and half year event, (breastfeeding), or even an eighteen year event (childhood), because she would know that motherhood is a lifetime event that might eventually even include grandchildren (to worry and care about).

A mother’s instincts can be very strong and risk to her children may illicit instincts to fight to protect her children and herself. I have never been in a fistfight type situation but the day I gave birth to my first child I felt my first surge of a huge protective instinct something like – “Don’t you touch my baby, or I will bite and scratch, and do whatever I have to in order to protect my baby.” — and that feeling has never left — “Don’t you touch my baby,” — that is a warning to heed — don’t get between a mother bear and her cubs – it’s a dangerous place to be.

Mothers have instincts to protect the whole family though too, so a newborn that is sickly or a pregnancy at a time when resources are scarce, might be viewed as too much of a threat to the survival of the whole group. This may seem sad but starvation is also sad.

The color red enters the story as a blemish on a baby chick:


The element of strangeness is also symbolically related to blemishes, not only as that word applies to physical and behavioral blemishes but also as to what one might call ideological blemishes such as differences in religious or political views. Since there does not seem to be a comparative ethological study dealing with the role of blemishes in social behavior, I will describe an incident that I observed that will serve as an illustration. On our farm we had a white Muscovy duck that was unusually capable in rearing a large brood. She would lay so many eggs in her nest in the horse’s stall that they would extend beyond her body surface. Nevertheless, most eggs would hatch, and she would be followed by as many as 21 ducklings. After one of the little ducklings developed a blood spot on the right side of its head from a slight injury, it began to suffer harassment by the mother, which, during the next few days, persistently drove it from the brood. One evening, at the fall of darkness, she drove it away, and this time the duckling swam to the opposite side of the pond and into the woods where surely it would have been snatched up by a predator. Consequently I rescued it, and we reared it separately. I was curious to learn whether some other factor that I did not recognize, had contributed to this “child abuse.” Perhaps the blood spot on the head that I regarded as a blemish, had resulted from the mother’s own pecking for some other reason. Consequently, I took another duckling and made a like spot on its head with a red marking pen. Two days went by, and it was treated no differently from the rest of the brood. Then on the third day, the mother began a relentless harassment, and we found ourselves with a second duckling to rear with the first.”

“It is a familiar observation among those who are pigeon fanciers or who raise poultry that a fowl with an open injury may be relentlessly pecked to death by members of the flock, an observation illustrating that blemishes also precipitate group harassment. Hence, the occurrence of harassment of strangers and of individuals with blemishes by reptiles and birds indicates that this form of behavior is phylogenetically deeply ingrained and, in the light of the neurobehavioral studies, might be inferred to have its neural basis in structures of the forebrain belonging to the R-complex.” [Dr Maclean’s term for the brainstem area of the brain].

“The inferred built-in propensity to nativism and intolerance of blemishes invites special attention because the increasing world population will be conducive to an increasing number of human contacts. Such a situation is calculated to aggravate the needs of each individual for a certain amount of territorial “surround” (See Chapters 6, 9, and 16). Moreover, the population pressure conducive to both intranational and international migration will multiply the opportunities for nativistic reactions and the intolerance of what are physically, behaviorally, or ideologically regarded as blemishes, such as, for example, differences in color, race, ethnic forms of behavior, religion, and political beliefs. An innate propensity to an abhorrence of blemishes would perhaps help to explain why, even in the absence of severe crowding, there are now so many ethnic and racial groups locked in prolonged and bloody struggle because of physical, religious, or ideological differences.”

— Paul D. Maclean, “The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions,” page 568, (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.”

[For more information about the book and his theory regarding instinctual behaviors, see my earlier post: Books about thinking and non-verbal behavior patterns, June 24, 2015.]

So persuasive tactics can become life threatening in some situations and the color red can be a signal to some of our deeper instincts which may have developed to help promote our survival as individuals or groups.

There may be a part two to this but I’m going to pause here for now.

/Disclosure: This information is presented for educational purposes within fair use and includes material provided within a publication of the U.S. government which can be reproduced for educational purposes when the author and source is appropriately cited./

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 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./