Is the underlying question for every brain study to answer:
- How do our brains internally represent the external world?
- How did we learn what we know?
- How do we forget or disregard what we’ve learned?
- What keeps us from acquiring and learning newer or better information?
- What affects how we pay attention to our environments?
- How do our various biochemical states affect our perceptions, learning, experiences, and behavior?
- How do these factors in turn affect our biology?
- Why do we do what we do?
- How is our behavior affected by our experiences?
- How did we become attracted and motivated toward what we like?
- How do we develop expectations?
- Why do we avoid certain situations?
Not to lose sight of:
- How do the contexts affect all of the above?
- What happens over time to affect all of the above?
This 2015 UCLA paper reviewed the above questions from the perspective of Pavlovian conditioning:
“The common definition of Pavlovian conditioning, that via repeated pairings of a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that elicits a reflex the neutral stimulus acquires the ability to elicit that the reflex, is neither accurate nor reflective of the richness of Pavlovian conditioning. Rather, Pavlovian conditioning is the way we learn about dependent relationships between stimuli.
Pavlovian conditioning is one of the few areas in biology in which there is direct experimental evidence of biological fitness.”
The most important question unanswered by the review was:
- How can its information be used to help humans?
How can Pavlovian conditioning answer: What can a human do about the thoughts, feelings, behavior, epigenetic effects – the person – the phenotype – that they’ve been shaped into?
One example of the unanswered question: the review pointed out in a section about fear extinction that this process doesn’t involve unlearning. Fear extinction instead inhibits the symptoms of fear response. The fear memory is still intact, awaiting some other context to be reactivated and expressed.
How can this information be used to help humans?
- Is inhibiting the symptoms and leaving the fear memory in place costless with humans?
- Or does this practice have both potential and realized adverse effects?
- Where’s the human research on methods that may directly address a painful emotional memory?
One relevant hypothesis of Dr. Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy is that a person continues to be their conditioned self until they address the sources of their pain. A corollary is that efforts to relieve symptoms seldom address causes.
How could it be otherwise? A problem isn’t cured by ameliorating its effects.
http://cshperspectives.cshlp.org/content/8/1/a021717.full “The Origins and Organization of Vertebrate Pavlovian Conditioning”