Our brains are shaped by our early environments

This 2019 McGill paper reviewed human and animal studies on brain-shaping influences from the fetal period through childhood:

“In neonates, regions of the methylome that are highly variable across individuals are explained by the genotype alone in 25 percent of cases. The best explanation for 75 percent of variably methylated regions is the interaction of genotype with different in utero environments.

A meta-analysis including 45,821 individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and 9,207,363 controls suggests that conditions such as preeclampsia, Apgar score lower than 7 at 5 minutes, breech/transverse presentations, and prolapsed/nuchal cord – all of which involve some sort of poor oxygenation during delivery – are significantly associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The dopaminergic system seems to be one of the brain systems most affected by perinatal hypoxia-ischemia.

Exposure to childhood trauma activates the stress response systems and dysregulates serotonin transmission that can adversely impact brain development. Smaller cerebral, cerebellar, prefrontal cortex, and corpus callosum volumes were reported in maltreated young people as well as reduced hippocampal activity.

Environmental enrichment has a series of beneficial effects associated with neuroplasticity mechanisms, increasing hippocampal volume, and enhancing dorsal dentate gyrus-specific differences in gene expression. Environmental enrichment after prenatal stress decreases depressive-like behaviors and fear, and improves cognitive deficits.”


The reviewers presented strong evidence until the Possible Factors for Reversibility section, which ended with the assertion:

“All these positive environmental experiences mentioned in this section could counterbalance the detrimental effects of early life adversities, making individuals resilient to brain alterations and development of later psychopathology.”

The review’s penultimate sentence recognized that research is seldom done on direct treatments of causes:

“The cross-sectional nature of most epigenetic studies and the tissue specificity of the epigenetic changes are still challenges.”

Cross-sectional studies won’t provide definitive data on cause-and-effect relationships.

The question that remains to be examined is: How can humans best address these early-life causes to ameliorate their lifelong effects?

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dmcn.14182 “Early environmental influences on the development of children’s brain structure and function” (not freely available)

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Fear of feeling?

Here’s a 2018 article from two researchers involved in the Dunedin (New Zealand) Longitudinal Study. They coauthored many studies, including People had the same personalities at age 26 that they had at age 3.

The paper’s grand hypothesis was:

“A single dimension is able to measure a person’s liability to mental disorder, comorbidity among disorders, persistence of disorders over time, and severity of symptoms.”

The coauthors partially based this on:

“Repeated diagnostic interviews carried out over 25 years, when the research participants were 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 years old, and include information about seven diagnostic groups: anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, substance dependence, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.”


https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17121383 “All for One and One for All: Mental Disorders in One Dimension” (not freely available)


More about the coauthors:

Two psychologists followed 1000 New Zealanders for decades. Here’s what they found about how childhood shapes later life

“Dunedin and other studies show that most people have at least one episode of mental illness during their lifetime.”


What compels people to manufacture “universal truths” instead of feeling and understanding historical, factual, personal truths? Are we afraid of our feelings?

What if the grand hypothesis worth proving was: For one’s life to have meaning, each individual has to regain their feelings?

Unindexed comment links?

It’s dawned on me that although links in blog posts are indexed by search engines, links in comments may not be. Here’s a post to elevate links in three comments that may have escaped notice.


From A review of biological variability:

“It is my view that all researchers have a narrow focus on what they want to research, without having an over-riding paradigm in which to fit the research and its results. Janovian Primal Therapy and theory, with its focus and understanding of the three different levels of consciousness would provide for a much needed over-arching paradigm, especially in the area of mental health.”

Congratulations on an excellent podcast, Gil!
59. Gilbert Bates in “Feel It Still” // Love, Primal Therapy & the Three Levels of Consciousness


From Remembering Dr. Arthur Janov:

“You are right on. The Norcross survey, in particular, is utter crap. More than half of those “experts” surveyed were CBT therapists who knew nothing about PT and yet deemed themselves confident to judge “primal scream therapy” as “discredited.” I feel the therapy will never be understood for what it is.”

Thanks for the detailed explanation, Bruce!
The Worst Comparative Psychotherapy Study Ever Published


From How one person’s paradigms regarding stress and epigenetics impedes relevant research:

“There is of course, reversibility. Michael Meaney’s baby rats had their epigenetic changes reversed with loving maternal care. There are several compounds in development which have been shown to reverse methylation. This former physician and researcher says, “Epigenetic changes affect the level of activity of our genes. Genetic activity levels affect our emotions, beliefs, and our bodies. Exploring epigenetics and chronic illness may help us understand causes that many of us suspect have played a role in the onset and evolution of our illnesses. Furthermore, these epigenetic changes have been found to be reversible, at least some of the time, even with a seemingly indirect treatment such as psychotherapy.” Epigenetics and Chronic Illness: Why Symptoms May Be Reversible

I looked up the psychotherapy references and found this: Serotonin tranporter methylation and response to cognitive behaviour therapy in children with anxiety disorders (reversible even with CBT, the weakest therapy of all!)

And this:
MAOA gene hypomethylation in panic disorder—reversibility of an epigenetic risk pattern by psychotherapy (also CBT)

So what gives? I suspect that your researcher is working with his/her head in the sand, hamstrung by their ideological biases. If CBT can effect epigenetic changes, imagine what primal therapy can do.”


And a seven-year anniversary repost of events that affect me every day:

Reflections on my four-year anniversary of spine surgery

Group statistics don’t necessarily describe an individual

I’m curating this 2018 UC Berkeley/Drexel/Netherlands analysis of human studies via its press coverage. The authors:

“Collaborated to analyze data on hundreds of adults – some mentally or physically sound, others suffering from various conditions such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Participants had completed surveys about their mental health and had their heart rates monitored via electrocardiogram.

Researchers used the data to conduct six different experiments. They sought to find out whether the conclusions of each study would successfully apply to participants individually.

One study that focused on how frequently depression sufferers reported feeling worried. Results tallied from the pool of participants showed that depressed people worry a significant amount.

But when the analysis was applied individually, the results were all over the map. Some participants worried hardly at all, while others were notably beyond the group average.

Another experiment that centered around the link between fear and avoidance showed a strong correlation when measured as a group. Yet a significant number of participants who experienced fear had no issues with avoiding various activities.

Across all six experiments, the authors could not show that what was concluded for the group applied to most individuals.”


http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/06/15/1711978115.full “Lack of group-to-individual generalizability is a threat to human subjects research”


Other studies such as the below have addressed problems with statistical analysis techniques. The issues aren’t limited to human studies:

The current study highlighted the fact that people aren’t interchangeable. Assuming ergodicity is a statistical analysis flaw that produces individually inapplicable results for many measurements of fruit flies, cells, humans, you name the organism.

When this presumption makes a study’s statistics useless for an individual, researchers can’t cure the analysis by invoking an “individual differences” meme. Neither is the flaw fixed by spinning a tale about “This is how we can truly personalize medicine.” The current study needed to provide evidence for its proposed solution.


Regarding worrying, Dr. Arthur Janov said it best as I quoted in How well can catastrophes be predicted?:

“Worrying is not a problem, it is the symptom of something that is occurring physiologically within the brain. What causes the worrying is the problem.

The constant worry is anticipating catastrophe. But what we don’t realize is that the catastrophe already has happened; we simply have no access to it.

We are actually worried about the past, not the future.”

A mid-year selection of epigenetic topics

Here are the most popular of the 65 posts I’ve made so far in 2018, starting from the earliest:

The pain societies instill into children

DNA methylation and childhood adversity

Epigenetic mechanisms of muscle memory

Sex-specific impacts of childhood trauma

Sleep and adult brain neurogenesis

This dietary supplement is better for depression symptoms than placebo

The epigenetic clock theory of aging

A flying human tethered to a monkey

Immune memory in the brain

The lack of oxygen’s epigenetic effects on a fetus

Your need to feel important will run your life, and you’ll never feel satisfied

Yesterday’s team meeting at work provided one display after another of a person’s need to feel important. These eye-openers were the reason the scheduled 30-minute meeting lasted 45 minutes.

Although half of the forty or so attendees are under the age of 40, curiously, only two of them spoke during the meeting. I wasn’t among the older people who had something to say.

Not that I wasn’t tempted by the team-building exercise with its Skittles prompts:

  • Red – Tell us something you do well
  • Orange – Tell us something about your childhood
  • Purple – What could you live without?
  • Yellow – What couldn’t you live without?

Participation in the exercise was voluntary. Yes, I drew an orange Skittle.

Everyone knew there wasn’t enough time for each of us to speak and have the exercise become team-building, yet a dozen people piped up. Every one of the self-selected responses could have been prefaced with “I’m important because..”



There are many needs a person develops and tries to satisfy as substitutes for real needs that weren’t fulfilled. In this blog I’ve focused on the need to feel important.

I started with How do we assess “importance” in our lives? An example from scientists’ research choices and highlighted it on my Welcome page:

“Do you agree that an individual’s need to feel important is NOT a basic human need on the same level as nourishment, protection, and socialization? How does this need arise in our lives?”

I supported an explanation of the need to feel important with evidence and arguments on my Scientific evidence page and said:

“If the explanation is true yet someone rejected it, they at least wouldn’t have suffered from exposure to it. They’ll just remain in our world’s default mode of existence:

  1. Unaware of their own unconscious act-outs to feel important;
  2. Unaware of what’s driving such personal behavior; and
  3. Uninformed of other people’s behavioral origins as a consequence of 1 and 2.”

Other examples of substitute needs include:

What do you think? Any arguments for or against interrupting people’s default mode of existence?

The pain societies instill into children

The human subjects of this 2017 Swiss study had previously been intentionally traumatized by Swiss society:

“Swiss former indentured child laborers (Verdingkinder) were removed as children from their families by the authorities due to different reasons (poverty, being born out of wedlock) and were placed to live and work on farms. This was a practice applied until the 1950s and many of the Verdingkinder were subjected to childhood trauma and neglect during the indentured labor.

DNA methylation modifications indicated experiment-wide significant associations with the following complex posttraumatic symptom domains: dissociation, tension reduction behavior and dysfunctional sexual behavior.”


Imagine being taken away from your family during early childhood for no other reason than your parents weren’t married.

Consider just a few of the painful feelings such a child had to deal with then and ever since:

  • I’m unloved.
  • Alone.
  • No one can help me.

Imagine some of the ways a child had to adapt during their formative years because of this undeserved punishment:

  • How fulfilling it would be to believe that they were loved, even by someone they couldn’t see, touch, or hear.
  • How fulfilling it would be to get attention from someone, anyone.
  • How a child became conditioned to do things by themself without asking for help.

The study described a minute set of measurements of the subjects’ traumatic experiences and their consequential symptoms. The researchers tried to group this tiny sample of the subjects’ symptoms into a new invented category.

https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-017-3082-y “A pilot investigation on DNA methylation modifications associated with complex posttraumatic symptoms in elderly traumatized in childhood”


Another example was provided in Is IQ an adequate measure of the quality of a young man’s life?:

“During this time period [between 1955 and 1990], because private adoptions were prohibited by Swedish law, children were taken into institutional care by the municipalities shortly after birth and adopted at a median age of 6 mo, with very few children adopted after 12 mo of age.”

Swedish society deemed local institutional care the initial destination for disenfranchised infants, regardless of whether suitable families were willing and able to adopt the infants. What happened to infants who weren’t adopted by age 1?

Did Swedish society really need any further research to know that an adoptive family’s care would be better for a child than living in an institution?


It’s hard to recognize when our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior provide evidence of childhood pain that’s still with us.

Let’s be honest, and not develop hopes and beliefs that the societies we live in will resolve adverse effects of childhood trauma its members caused. Other people may guide us, but each of us has to individually get our life back:

“What is the point of life if we cannot feel and love others? Without feeling, life becomes empty and sterile. It, above all, loses its meaning.

Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America: every society has its horror stories. People who have reached some degree of honesty about their early lives and concomitant empathy for others can document these terrible circumstances and events.

Have traumatic effects on children from societal policies ceased?