Monday, March 14, 2011

Neuroception and Mental Health Disorders?

Ideally, a baby’s neuroception of her environment shows her a safe place to explore. But even if her perception warns her accurately of danger from a “frightened or frightening” caregiver, the baby can take some defensive measures, even though they are likely to be ineffective and are almost certain to be psychologically costly.

What happens when neuroception itself is impaired? From a theoretical perspective, faulty neuroception—that is, an inability to detect accurately whether the environment is safe or another person is trustworthy—might lie at the root of several psychiatric disorders:

• Areas in the temporal cortex that are assumed to inhibit fight, flight, or freeze reactions are not activated in people with autism or schizophrenia, who have difficulty with social engagement.
• Individuals with anxiety disorders and depression have compromised social behavior; difficulties in regulating the heart rate, as reflected in measures of vagal control of the heart; and reduced facial expressiveness.
• Maltreated and institutionalized children with Reactive Attachment Disorder tend to be either inhibited (emotionally withdrawn and unresponsive) or uninhibited (indiscriminate in their attachment behavior; Zeanah, 2000). Both types of behavior suggest faulty neuroception of the risk in the environment.

Recent research on children raised in Romanian orphanages has stimulated interest in Reactive Attachment Disorders and in finding ways to remediate the devastating disturbances in their social development. If the behavior of these children suggests faulty neuroception of risk in the environment, are there features in the environment that might help the children feel safer and then
begin to move toward more normal social behavior?

Taken from Stephen Porges "The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation"

For more on Neuroception see: