Brain Change, which is now available for purchase.

During my years of research, I too believed our behavior was driven by our values.  Over the past twenty years I have helped thousands of individuals identify their core values. I was surprised that in spite of coming  from different segments of our society (prisoners, domestic violators, office workers, community leaders and college students), individuals commonly identified similar core values; Happiness, Integrity, Relationships, Wellness and Respect.  When I ask them if they have ever violated their core values, they admitted they certainly had.  They all identified a set of similar violators: Control, Instant Gratification, Being Right, Independence, and Greed.

If values drive our behavior, as believed, then those with similar core values and violators ought to have similar lifestyle outcomes, but they don’t.  Some end up in prison, others experience success in school, business and interpersonal relationships.  Thus the question,  “What really drives our daily behavior?”

I do not believe antisocial behavior is the result of an agent inside the brain freely choosing antisocial or taboo behavior.  I remember all my punishments were geared to teach me a lesson and not designed to heal any trauma and associated brain landscape injuries.  It is now time to change the policies and procedures and focus on neurological healing.  

Supporting my new position, neurologists haven’t found an area designed for decision making, an agent or homunculus, or any values in the brain. 

The introduction of brain plasticity by Michael Merzenich has challenged everything I was originally taught about the brain, especially the perspective of a hardwired brain hosting an agent knowing right from wrong. 

My paradigm shift from punishment to healing a brain holds the brain as the sole organ of our behavior.  From it’s start the brain has gradual development of a unique neurological landscape.  This is best expressed in the research of Bryan Kolb, Robbin Gibb, and Terry Robinso below, 

“Although the brain was once seen as a rather static organ, it is now clear that the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience. These changes are referred to as brain plasticity, and they are associated with functional changes that include phenomena such as memory, addiction, and recovery of function. Recent research has shown that brain plasticity and behavior can be influenced by a myriad of factors, including both pre- and postnatal experience, drugs, hormones, maturation, aging, diet, disease, and stress. Understanding how these factors influence brain organization and function is important not only for understanding both normal and abnormal behavior, but also for designing treatments for behavioral and psychological disorders ranging from addiction to stroke.   …There are several conclusions to draw from our studies. First, experience alters the brain, and it does so in an age-related manner. Second, both pre- and postnatal experience have such effects, and these effects are long-lasting and can influence not only brain structure but also adult behavior. Third, seemingly similar experiences can alter neuronal circuits in different ways, although each of the alterations is manifest in behavioral change. Fourth, a variety of behavioral conditions, ranging from addiction to neurological and psychiatric disorders, are correlated with localized changes in neural circuits. Finally, therapies that are intended to alter behavior, such as treatment for addiction, stroke, or schizophrenia, are likely to be most effective if they are able to further reorganize relevant brain circuitry”  [Brain Plasticity and Behavior, Bryan Kolb,1 Robbin Gibb, and Terry Robinson Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (B.K., RG.), and Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (T.R.)]

At first, it was unthinkable for me to believe that the presence of ME with values is an illusion and not the director of my behavior.  This felt as if my life was suddenly meaningless and rudderless.  An inner agent with values or a principle driven homunculus has become a myth and must be replaced with the reality that in our brain’s neuronal circuits are the determinants of our behavior.  Behavior is learned from the prenatal and postnatal experiences.  As Michael Merzenich has said to me, “Every thought we have, every action we take and every response we perform is the result of our specific brain’s neurological landscape’s circuitry.  Each brain’s circuitry is literally created by the external socialization process involving individuals, groups, organizations and the media.” 

This new paradigm sees behaviors that violate the social contract as the result of years of training and neurological development that habitually responds to events in its present environment in accordance to its learned behaviors.  The old way of dealing with antisocial behavior with punishment is obsolete and needs to be replaced with Brain Care Centers capable of healing by normalizing overactive or under active neural circuitry.   This new approach will experience a great deal of resistance because the policies and procedures do not recognize the importance of toxic pregnancy environments, damaging parenting styles, dysfunctional peer pressure, educational and religious abuse, or the media’s influence.  It means the brain constantly changes by its everyday experiences.  

Our current punishment system does it’s own damage. The associated juvenile facilities and adult prison facilities are designed under the old policies and procedures to punish, humiliate, degrade and dehumanize those labelled criminals. These facilities are not designed to care for or heal the brain by focusing on normalizing distorted brain activity.    

Brain research reports that our brains are the same, but the development of each brain can be very different.  Can we agree that we need to help heal damaged brains and stop the cycle of arrest, release and rearrest.

Above I said that brain plasticity makes it possible for each brain to develop the necessary neurological network for its survival.  When you have a damaged brain acting out with horrific violence we never ask why, instead, our current policies and procedures habitually consider the offender possessed by the devil and incarceration is our best offer to help.  When we begin to see the health of the brain as the major factor in all behaviors we will start asking why that brain did something so horrific and that will be the start of healing brains neurologically.

The time is here for us to accept the importance of brain plasticity and its ramifications in our policies and procedures.  We must address antisocial, deviant, violent and horrific behaviors neurologically.  Brains are soft-wired and we must reject the ludicrous belief that brains are hardwired and host a homunculus with free will and possesses a knowledge of good and evil. 

 Lyle Wildes, BS, MLS

Brain Coach