This is a paper I wrote for my Behavioral Neuroscience class. It provides a comprehensive picture of the mechanisms involved in human evolution. As the author, I reserve the right to tweak this theory at any time. It also acts as a foundation for What Autism Is and Where It Comes From.
Friends and Colleagues: Any insights you would like to share are much appreciated. This is about information sharing. And you know what they say, “Two heads are better than one.”
Algorithm for Human Evolution
Alicia Novoa/ University of Tennessee/ December 10, 2013
The reader may find it helpful to skim the Glossary of terms before reading the paper. The nature of the subject in question is interdisciplinary. Even though definitions of relevant terms and concepts are consistent within disciplines (most of the time), definitions of relevant terms and concepts are inconsistent when combining disciplines such as economics, psychology, and neuroscience, only some of the disciplines providing support for this theory.
“The last frontier in this world- and perhaps the greatest one – lies within us. The human nervous system makes possible all that we can do, all that we can know, and all that we can experience. Its complexity is immense, and the task of studying it and understanding it dwarfs all previous explorations our species has undertaken.” – Neil Carlson (Carlson, 2012)
The purpose of this paper is to provide an explanation for the role of Oxytocin and Worthiness in the realm of human existence, citing original and peer reviewed research to support my theory.
Brene Brown detailed the painful reality that shame is an epidemic in this country. She defines shame as the fear of disconnection, and makes a point to say, “…connection is why we are here, we’re neurologically wired that way.” (Brown, 2010)
Dr. Paul Zak describes connection’s origins using lobsters (Zak, 2012): Oxytocin is an evolved form of isotonic, the first chemical in the brain that allowed for human connection, in order to propagate the species. *What influenced the development of the OT regulation system?
An algorithm for evolution:
1. The inherent desire to live stems from an intrinsic sense of self-worth. It includes both a desire for connection and fear of disconnection.
2. The inherent desire to live stems from an intrinsic sense of self-worth. Within the desire to live there exists a balance between the desire for connection and the fear of disconnection.
3. Fitting within the realm of General Adaptation Syndrome, OT is released in the stress response, inciting a person to seek social support yet often stimulating a fear support will not be attainable.
4. Based on the coping mechanism demonstrated, the neuro-makeup of the person is affected accordingly.
4a. If the person demonstrates mental fortitude, they will be successful in making a connection. If the person is successful in making a connection to relieve the stress response, they will experience a subsequent boost in Oxytocin.
4b. If the person demonstrates avoidance or numbing, they will not make a successful connection. If the person does not make a successful connection, they do not experience a subsequent boost in OT, manifesting as a feeling of worthlessness or shame. This negative consequence of not making connection or disconnecting possibly and very probably impairs future functioning of OT delivery.
5. A necessary condition for connection (and thereby adaptation) is an intrinsic sense of worth. When severe stressors occur during particularly critical psychosocial developmental periods, impairment of OT system can be substantial.
6. Thankfully, understanding of intrinsic worth can be developed through practicing mental fortitude.
Abraham Maslow and Evolution
Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs model in the 1940-1950s and the theory remains valid today for understanding human motivation and personal development. It can also be extended to understanding species development and evolution.
(Progressive Neurobiology 2009)
Many, if not most, of OT’s functions, from social interactions (afﬁliation, aggression) and sexual behavior to eventual parturition, lactation and maternal behavior, may be viewed as speciﬁcally facilitating species.” Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself. Only when the lower order needs are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs. This provides support for the theory that as humans move up the hierarchy of needs, their capacity for connection increases and they evolve. Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs. See needs below (in order of necessity):
1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs – stability, protection, security, order, law, limits
3. Love and belonging needs – affection, relationships, work group, and family
4. Esteem needs – status, responsibility, reputation, and achievements
- Self-actualization – personal growth and fulfillment
As human continue to evolve, the capacity for connection increases. As humans move higher up on the hierarchy of needs, the POTENTIAL for connection increases, but potential is a necessary and not sufficient condition.
Still within the realm of Maslow’s theory, the human species made it all the way to about 12,000 years ago from simply hunting and gathering. At this point known as the Neolithic Revolution, any human being alive had the capacity to hunt and gather, enough so to provide for family and contribute to the community. In the 21st century, technological innovation and sociopolitical and cultural institutions have allowed certain people to survive despite their inability to meet needs as basic as sleep and sex, or food and shelter. For this reason, society includes emotional, mental, and behavioral states of humans with improperly developed OT systems. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that facing a challenge – be it emotional, mental, or behavioral – is best accomplished through a mindset of growth, where vulnerability and acknowledging imperfection are essential. (Dweck, 2006)
Moving forward, it is important to acknowledge my assumptions:
1. Existence of and purpose behind intrinsic worth – Intrinsic worth drives evolution of the species. Intrinsic worth is what tells a human they are worthy of living, through making connection with other human beings.
2. Understanding of Intrinsic Worth – Stin Hansen, an award winning, nationally-certified meditation expert offers the following: “Your worth and value as a person was established long before you began your earthly experience. You are of infinite worth and value. You are loved and cherished beyond comprehension. You are unique and one of a kind. Nothing that you could EVER say or do would ever change that truth. Nothing.” (Hansen, 2013)
Support for the Algorithm of Universal Evolution
1.The inherent desire to live stems from an intrinsic sense of self-worth. Dr. Paul Zak, a leading researcher on OT, is also known for the development of a new discipline called Neuroeconomics, where he has proven the necessity of trust in communities for economic freedom and in turn, societies prosper. (Zak, 2013) He initially postulated, based on his research findings that the increase in OT experienced after anonymously sending and receiving money was correlated to an increase in trust was a result of demonstrated trustworthiness by the random partner. In turn, trust was exchanged.
Onora O’Neill, leading trust researcher, says that trustworthiness is demonstrated through making yourself vulnerable. She stated, “If you make yourself vulnerable to the other party,then that is very good evidence that you are trustworthyand you have confidence in what you are saying.” (O’Neill, 2013)
Trustworthy can be defined as: able to be relied on to do or provide what is needed or right. It can also be viewed as worthy of trust where trust is defined as: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; synonymous with HOPE
Interpreting the results of Dr. Zak’s study within the framework of this theory, it becomes probable that people who give some or all of their money to a stranger and experience a subsequence boost in OT have a sense of worth, feeling confident in demonstrating their worth of the other person’s trust. When their belief in their worth is reciprocated by the random party demonstrated by some or all of the money is returned, the person experiences another subsequent boost in OT. Relatedly, when a participant had experienced subsequent trauma during a critical psychosocial developmental period (such as the rape victim), and their self-concept involved more shame than worthiness, they will not give money away and if they do they will not experience a subsequent boost in OT.
2. Fitting within the realm of General Adaptation Syndrome, OT is released in the stress response, inciting a person to seek social support yet often stimulating a fear support will not be attainable.
Kelly McGonigal, Positive Neuropsychology researcher, explains the social role OT plays. “It’s as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound. And when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other.” (McGonigal, 2013)
3. Based on the coping mechanism demonstrated, the neurological development and function of the person is affected accordingly.
OT has effects in the brain that are not necessarily limited to a specific spatial location because of its release mechanism, and is not restricted to a temporal scale because of its long half-life and potential to influence other systems. I’ve performed a variety of extensive psychosocial assessments, which resulted in the following factors being considered fundamental to “individual differences”. More extensive psychosocial assessments would be a second way to improve our understanding of the varying effects of oxytocin, taking into account individual differences. (Bethlehem, van Honk, Auyeung & Baron-Cohen, 2013)
3a. If a person demonstrates mental fortitude, they will be successful in making a connection. If the person is successful in making a connection to relieve the stress response, they will experience a subsequent boost in Oxytocin. (Kosfeld et al. (2005) showed that intranasal administration of OT makes people more willing to take social risks in social-economic interactions. Social risk, as categorized under vulnerability, is demonstrated by those with a sense of worth. Individuals with normally functioning OT systems have faith in their intrinsic worth and are more willing to embrace their imperfections, and further attempt connection resulting from authenticity.
3b. If the person demonstrates avoidance or numbing, they will not make a successful connection. If the person does not make a successful connection, they do not experience a subsequent boost in OT, manifesting as a feeling of worthlessness or shame. Worthlessness and shame can be indicated by self-defeating behavior patterns and variety of emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders. This negative consequence of not making connection or disconnecting possibly and very probably impairs future functioning of OT delivery. Evidence for this includes studies on the dissolution of affiliative bonds. Results typically demonstrated intense effects on human brain activity and psychophysiology (Fisher, Brown, Aron, Strong, & Mashek, 2010; Freed, Yanagihara, Hirsch, & Mann, 2009; Najib, Lorberbaum, Kose, Bohning, &
George, 2004; O‘Connor, Gundel, McRae, & Lane, 2007), it is likely to assume that structural and neural changes take place during periods of bond formation as well. (Schneiderman, Zilberstein-Kra, Leckman & Feldman, 2011)
Another study found the high amount of physical contact with the mother is, apart from warmth and nutrition, important for the infant’s overall maturation, as it constraints physiological and behavioral responses to stressful stimuli (Kaffman and Meaney, 2007; Kraemer, 1997; Kuhn and Schanberg, 1998; Levine, 2005) (Veenema, 2012).
4. A necessary condition for connection (and thereby adaptation) is an intrinsic sense of worth. When severe stressors occur during particularly critical psychosocial developmental periods, impairment of OT system can be substantial.
As stated earlier, a prolonged priming effect of OT can elicit functional rewiring of neuronal networks. This functional rewiring is a temporary alteration of the way the network is configured and how it responds to an exogenous signal or stimulus. This pattern of temporary strengthening or weakening of functional connections can occur after a single peptidergic signal, as is the case in an OT administration study (Bethlehem, van Honk, Auyeung & Baron-Cohen, 2013). It is also obvious that there is a critical period of time, namely earlier stages of psychosocial development, where neurodevelopment is at the highest risk of being compromised. “The prototypical pattern is a peak in the age-crime curve during adolescence – that is, individuals are more likely to engage in criminal behavior in mid-to late adolescence than at any other period of the lifespan (Moffitt, 1993). This adolescent peak in the age-crime curve holds across countries and cultures, and is observed for multiple forms of criminal behavior including violent assault and property crimes (Fairchild, 2011). “It is also notable that normative developmental research has shown that there are alterations in motivational process during the adolescent period, which may lead to heightened reward seeking and risk-taking behavior at the population level. (Fairchild, 2011) (Merikangas et al., 2010). The prevalence of major depressive disorder increased two-fold over the adolescent period, whereas rates of substance use disorders were six times higher in 17-18 year olds relative to 13-14 year olds. As such, this study convincingly demonstrated that adolescence is a key period for the emergence of psychopathology. (Fairchild, 2011)
By way of inducing humans to be courageous when stress makes them vulnerable, oxytocin is the molecule that communicates to the spirit that a human life, an earthly experience, has value. Or is it the spirit that tells the molecule? Obviously further research is warranted. The theory can also be demonstrated using economic models of Utility Theory of Value.
Glossary of Terms
Intrinsic – belonging naturally; essential.
Mental Fortitude (original definition from Jones et. al, 2002)– Mental toughness is “Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than (other humans) your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.” (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, p. 209).Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 205-218. doi:10.1080/10413200290103509
Mental Fortitude (my definition) – having the natural or developed psychological processes that enables you to: generally, cope better than other humans with the many demands that life places on a person, specifically, maintain a sense of worthiness that is intrinsic, and independent of temporal value and achievements.
1. Of or relating to the material world; worldly
2. Lasting only for a time; not eternal; passing
Worthiness – Having value, purpose; useful; deserving
Intrinsic Self-Worth – Established long before the earthly experience began. Each individual is of infinite worth and value, loved and cherished beyond comprehension. Every human is unique and one of a kind. Nothing an individual can say or do would ever change that truth.(Stin Hansen, Three Quick Ways to Get Low Self Esteem, September 26, 2013, stin’s blog, mythoughtcoach.com)
Abraham Harold Maslow. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 07:46, Dec 10, 2013, from http://www.biography.com/people/abraham-maslow-9401669.
Bethlehem, R. A. I., van Honk, J., Auyeung, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2013). Oxytocin, brain physiology, and functional connectivity: A review of intranasal oxytocin fmri studies. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(7), 962-974. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453012003460
Brown, B. (Writer) (2010). The power of vulnerability [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
Carlson, N. (2012). Physiology of behavior. (11 ed.). Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Fairchild, G. (2011). The developmental psychopathology of motivation in adolescence. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 1, 414-429. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2011.07.009
Hansen, S. (2013). My thought coach. Retrieved from http://www.mythoughtcoach.com
Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 205-218. doi:10.1080/10413200290103509
Lee, H., Macbeth, A., Pagani, J., & Young, W. (2009). Oxytocin: the great facilitator of life. Progress in Neurobiology, 88(2), 127-151. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2689929/
McGonigal, K. (Writer) (2013). How to make stress your friend [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html
O’Neill, O. (Writer) (2013). What we don’t understand about trust [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/onora_o_neill_what_we_don_t_understand_about_trust.html
Prog Neurobiol. 2009 June; 88(2): 127–151. Published online 2009 April 10. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2009.04.001
Schneiderman, I., Zilberstein-Kra, Y., Leckman, J. F., & Feldman, R. (2011). Love alters autonomic reactivity to emotions. Emotion, 11(6), 1314-1321. doi: 10.1037/a0024090
Zak, P. (Writer) (2011). Trust, morality — and oxytocin? [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin.html
Zak, P. (2012). The moral molecule: The source of love and prosperity. New York: Penguin Group.