Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mouse Rage Road Rage

Mouse Rage , Road Rage , Divorce and the Amygdala


Have you ever flared with visceral fury at a sticky mouse ?

The sequence of events is interesting :
  1. A mental discontinuity , as the consciousness is bypassed for immediate threat countering . (the flare)

  2. A hormonal flood (the visceral fury bit).

  3. A closely following (milliseconds) override as the threat is assessed and dismissed.

  4. A gradual relaxation of body-mind systems if the stimulus does not recur soon

  5. If it recurs soon (ie about 5-10 minutes) , within the long-term potentiating learning period , the amygdale learns more and more that this is a threat . The reaction becomes stronger and more widespread with every learning repetition.

What is similar between driving a mouse and a car ?
The visual system is very alert , but body-mind is in a mild obsessive-compulsive behaviour state  ( lower serotonin and elevated dopamine ) . Eg , feeling relaxed while concentrating .

Why the flare ?
This relaxed , concentrating and visually alert mental state is found in mammals usually when the response to perceived threat is not fight-or-flight , but fight only .

Some situations:
1. Post-coital (as discussed before) (Protect your genes!)
2. While eating . (Protect your food!)
3. While or after feeding cubs. (Protect your genes!)

This was hard-wired in during mammalian evolutionary history .

The Amygdala.
This brain organ is hardwired for threats to food and genes ,  and also learns threats for which immediate response is required . (The panic button).

Its forte is immediate response , bypassing any smarter but slower data processing .

It’s drawback is that it learns wrong responses to things which are not a threat .

Fast and twitchy beats slow but sure in the survival game.

The Amygdala is not smart or complicated  , but fast . And it learns very , very quickly  ( even once can be enough in a traumatic episode )

So , hardwired in is the mental state :
( VisuallyAlert + low serotonin + high dopamine )  +  Threat  (  Aggressive Attack

Every repetition of the threat reinforces this response , especially if the repetitions fall within the nervous system’s long-term potentiation thresholds ( 5 – 10 mins ) .
Eg , in corporal punishment , there was usually waiting period of 5 mins between lashes : not sadism , but pragmatic learning in action .

A problem is that other things associated with the primary stimulus  get learned as well . Things unrelated to any threat can trigger the response .

This brings us back to road / mouse rage .
The mental state :
( VisuallyAlert + low serotonin + high dopamine )  +  Threat  (  Aggressive Attack
gets reinforced with every repetition  . The amygdala gets sensitized  to this process . You might be exposed to one or two road-rage stimuli a week , but a sticky mouse happens often inside the 10 min threshold . The system gets more and more sensitized.

Interruptions of the ( VisuallyAlert + low serotonin + high dopamine ) state starts getting treated as threats .

An example is hubby relaxing , watching TV after dinner , and wife interrupts . He snaps aggressively at her , without knowing why . The situation escalates from there  to the divorce court .

Associated items get learned as threats just as well as the primary threat . One of the reasons for the extreme bitterness of divorces : each partner triggers extreme threat and anxiety responses in each other . They don’t know why , so they rationalize ,

(Anxiety attacks can be seen as such an associational threat. )

Victims of a security system run amuck .

Reprogramming the Amygdala.

As can be seen from the above , the sensitization grows greater with age . The man might try a new wife , but the same problems surface in different guises . Learned helplessness becomes more prevalent and the system tends to paranoic catatonia . Anything new but with vaguely similar elements to previous threats triggers a threat response .

(Interestingly , this might be why the immune system forgets . Some auto-immune diseases might be due to an inability to forget . Maybe some of the techniques below might help . I refer you to the close similarity between immune-cell interactions and synapses .)

The amygdala needs to unlearn some tricks and desensitize on others . You don’t want to do without cops , but you only want the ones which are not trigger happy .

This does not work  , as the amygdale operates through bypassing all the slow smart feedback processes .

Un-learning  and re-learning.
We have the luxury here of two experimental facts that shows that reprogramming the amygdala is possible :

1.Virtual-reality (primarily visual) cures of phobias ( fear of snakes , heights,etc .) has taken place .  So a purely visual input has an effect . This is to be expected from the “VisuallyAlert” component in the original mental state .

2. Direct chemical intervention in the long-term memories .
It has been found experimentally that long-term memories in neurons can be repotentialized by presenting the original stimulus . This is to be expected from an evolutionary viewpoint if the organism is past the infantile (neural-pruning) stage .
Use of chemicals like some of the beta-blockers then erases the long-term memory .

Of interest here is that one of the main problems with amygdala-induced anxieties is that the same chemical messengers is used in the inter-brain communication as in the brain-body communications . This means that a threat response in the amygdala is mirrored in the body , and then feeds back to the amygdala . This is then again fed back into the body : the result is an anxiety attack and/or shock . The beta-blocker was originally developed to break the loop in the body , but it seems that it works by erasing the long-term memory .

There is one teeny problem here : a neuron carrying  no memory or a duplicate memory will probably be marked for apoptosis  . We do not want this . So the therapy should include a simultaneous long-term  memory re-learning process . This should also rejuvenate the hippocampus .

What can we do now?

All this sounds like it will take a big lab , lots of white coats and meetings , government approval before some emasculated version might crawl out and cheep at the universe .

Luckily , we already know one easily duplicated stimulus : mouse rage .

We can design a program to do this and be fun too.
Boredom will be a problem , so we use a 3x3 tic-tac-toe grid to soak up the brain’s pattern recognition and counting mechanisms .

The brain’s basic numerical processor can only count to 3 (to be more precise , it can handle < , = , > ) .  The pattern recognition is much more complex , but we want to combine the two .

Basically , it is a Sudoku type grid, but each of the 3x3 elements are spread through time , instead of through space .

We only need pattern recognition , so we only need the traditional “ x” and “o” .
The algorithm:
  1. Create a tic-tac-toe that is not a solution (ie no horizontal,vertical or crisscross pattern) . For evolutionary reasons , humans are much more adept at picking out interrupted patterns . And that does not get simpler than xxo .

  2. Move the cursor to the nearest x or o that breaks the pattern (the Y square). As it gets near , freeze the cursor and only resume movement if the mouse is moved over it’s little square again . This is the stutter . Don’t worry if it does not cause a rage flare . We are not trying to reinforce the mechanism , but reprogram it at subliminal level . Mark the target square element programmatically

  3. Immediately after the stutter ,

  4. Move every element in the tic-tac-toe one right and one down in wrap-around .

  5. Test if it is solution , If not , loop to 4

  6. If it is no solution , try to click on what you think is the Y-square within 30 seconds .

  7. If it is correct , count one CorrectY , else count CorrectN .

  8. Loop to 4  until 6 minutes have passed .

  9. Show score and count set .

  10. Loop to 1

  11. Proceed until Halt

  12. Show scores and sets as a time sequence .

Any suggestions?


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