TCR 2010/02/08: James Prescott on Neurological Basis for Love and Violence


Excerpts from Presentation by Dr. James Prescott Panel on NIH Research on Anti-Social, Aggressive and Violence-Related Behaviors and Their Consequences

Center for Science Policy Studies, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, 9/93

My path to the moral, philosophical, and theological roots of human violence was directed by my scientific studies on the effects of the sensory deprivation of physical (somatosensory) pleasure upon the developing brain and behavior. These studies were a part and parcel of a broad program of systematic research on the origins of violence that I established a quarter century ago at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, as Health Scientist Administrator, Developmental Behavioral Biology Program from 1966-1980.

What we have learned from the programs of research on the developmental origins of violence, NICHD 1966-1980, are the following:

1. The single most important cause of violent behavior, the developmental depression that precedes it, and the later drug/alcohol abuse that is used to treat the emotional pain that underlies the rage of uncontrolled violence is the failure of physical affectional bonding in the maternal-infant relationship; the paternal-child relationship and the failure of adolescent sexual affectional bonding. In short, it is the failure of physical love in human relationships that begins with the failure of that physical love when the infant is not permitted to bond with the body of its mother which then begins the infant’s journey of depression, rage, hatred and violence for not being loved. Thus, the peril of infant and child day care centers which impedes, if not prevents, the affectional bonding between mother and her infant/child and, thus, all later affectional bonds.

2. Experimental studies of isolation-reared infant monkeys documented that maternal-infant separation constitutes a specific form of somatosensory affectional deprivation (SAD) that involves the somesthetic (touch) and vestibular-cerebellar (movement) sensory systems and results in a variety of abnormalities of brain development that includes structural, neurochemical and neuroelectrical abnormalities. It is these brain abnormalities that mediate the depression, chronic stimulus seeking behaviors, including self-mutilation, and pathologic violence against other animals that are invariably observed consequent to maternal-social deprivation or isolation rearing.

3. Building upon the insights from these experimental animal studies, I conducted cross-cultural studies on 49 primitive cultures distributed throughout the world and was able to predict with 100% accuracy the peaceful and violent nature of these 49 primitive cultures from two predictor variables: a) the degree of physical affectional bonding in the maternal-infant relationship; and b) whether premarital adolescent sex was permitted or punished. There were 29 peaceful and 20 violent cultures in this study sample. There is no other theory or data base that I am aware of that can provide such a prediction of peaceful or violent behaviors and that can relate such findings to specific sensory processes and brain mechanisms of the individual.

4. It is the neuronal systems of the brain which mediate pleasure that regulate and control depression, violence and drug/alcohol abuse and addiction. This control and regulation is provided through the mechanisms of reciprocal inhibition. When the neuronal pleasure circuits of the brain are damaged by SAD-DNS (Somatosensory Affectional Deprivation/Denervation Supersensitivity) then they cannot perform their normative role of regulation and inhibition of those neuronal circuits that mediate depression and violent behaviors.

5. Depressive and Violent Behaviors cannot be understood nor prevented until we understand the neurobiological and neuropsychological role of physical pleasure that must be integrated into those higher brain structures that mediate consciousness and those transcendental states of human spirituality that we call love. Non-integrated pleasure leads to sexual violence and sado-masochism–a consequence of SAD-DNS.

6. Physical affectional pleasure is not only moral but is morally necessary if we are to become moral and spiritual persons in our common bond with humanity. The understanding of the nature of human love is a proper subject for scientific study and such studies are essential if human violence is to be understood and prevented.

7. A science of pleasure is as essential as a science of pain, depression, violence and drug abuse/addiction. Yet, nowhere in the NIH agenda or protocols for violence research is their any mention of research “on pleasure which is essential for peaceful and harmonious behavior.

8. The enormity of the human existential problems of depression, alienation, rage-hatred, violence and drug abuse/addictions exceed the capabilities of existing institutional structures of our society to solve. These existential phenomena cannot be properly or meaningfully addressed within the confines of a biomedical model of health and disease, as the history of the NIH, NICHD and NIMH attests. Molecular biology, as a mediating mechanism, cannot solve these human existential phenomena.

The reported expenditures on violence research by the NIH, as being less than one percent of the total NIH budget, is also illustrative of the limitations of the NIH with respect to violence and peace research.

New institutional structures are needed for the study of the understanding and prevention of human violence and its converse, the development of human peace and love. A National Science Foundation For Human Development could provide the innovative institutional structure and functional leadership that is needed for such an extraordinary human mission. Significant restructuring of all those federal agencies concerned with human health and behavior is needed, as we prepare to move into the 21st Century to construct a “land of peace”.

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