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The Biology of Inner Bonding

By Phyllis Stein
February 11, 2010

An experiment done with rats provides powerful insight into how Inner Bonding might be affecting our brains.

An experiment was done with rats.  In this experiment, one group of rats was chronically stressed for 4 weeks and the other group had normal lives (the control group).   

These rats were first trained to press a food bar to get a reward.  First they got a food pellet every time they pressed it, but after a couple of days, the reward was made more random so that they would only get a reward on average after about 20 tries.  Both the stressed and the non-stressed rats learned the task equally well and tried equally often to get the reward.  Then the investigators tested whether being full had any effect on how hard the rats tried to get the reward.  Among the non-stressed rats, being full resulted in their pushing the level much less often than when they were hungry, but the stressed rats pushed the lever just as much whether they were hungry or full. 

In another group of rats, a different task was chosen.  Rats were trained to press the left lever or pellets and the right level for sucrose, except that once a day the left lever work and the other time it was the right.  Both groups quickly figured out which level to press.  Again, after a couple of days, the reward was made more random and both groups of rats learned this task equally well.  But then the rules were changed and either the reward was delivered whether the rat pressed the lever or not, or else the reward was delivered but had no relationship to the lever presses.  The control rats caught on to this change, but the stressed rats just kept pressing both levers the same way as before.  In other words, once they had formed their habitual way of responding, the chronically stressed rats lost their ability to make good decisions based on the changing results of their decisions.

I think this sounds a lot like the actions of our wounded selves, doesn't it?  The chronic stress of our childhoods created automatic programs, habits of thinking that no longer serve us in our present lives.  But wait, there is more.

When the brains of the stressed rats were examined, the part of the brain associated with executive decision making and goal-directed behavior had shriveled and the part of the brain that is associated with habit formation had blossomed.   So this would be the biological equivalent of the programmed wounded self having more say over our actions than our adult self.

But there was good news too.  These changes were actually reversible.  When the formerly stressed rats were put in a supportive environment for 4 weeks, they looked just like the control rats and the changes in their brains were reversed. 

So I think this explains a lot.  As we develop our spiritually connected loving adult, that is the equivalent of putting our stressed brains into a more supportive environment.  And then our brains do change.  Our brains are not fixed, they are plastic.  As we spend more time in a nurturing inner environment, we become less and less controlled by our old programmed behaviors and more and more able to make good decisions based on the truth rather than our programmed beliefs.  I think this also explains why Inner Bonding is a process, not an instantaneous cure.  It just takes awhile for our brains to reorganize themselves, to prune out the overgrown wounded part and to re-grow the healthy part.

I think this also points to the critical important of taking care of ourselves on the outside too and not simply ignoring the stressors in our lives.  Living on a diet of scary news stories and being around stressful environments actually does change our brains.  I think it also helps explain why in our current political environment people are getting less and less able to discern the truth and also why more fear, no matter how well intentioned, cannot be part of the solution.  It suggests that only positive energy and caring can heal our inner kids and have any chance of healing the planet. 


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