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Memory and Art. Carr eds , Art Therapy and Clinical Neuroscience. Zeanah, C. London, New York: Guilford Press. During the last two to three million years, we attained a brain to body mass ratio measured on a logarithmic scale to eliminate overall animal size effects of six to seven times the average in the animal kingdom Dawkins ; Schoenemann For humans, the neocortex or new brain embodies many of these changes. The larger neo or cerebral cortex shown with major divisions in Figure 2.

Determining PFC ratio to brain volume on a logarithmic scale establishes humans as having the largest such ratio in the animal kingdom Schoenemann For mammals, including humans, this ratio cor- relates with the size of typical social groups in which the species congregates Sapolsky From this we might surmise that during evolution regulating psychosocial awareness became more critical than regulating survival moments.

Consequently, prior- ities within sensory processes shifted somewhat from those driven by survival needs that are defined by nature to those defined by psychosocial determinants. Over time, instead of chasing, attacking, or running from those who angered or threatened us, we learned to manipulate vocal cords in order to talk or yell—sometimes even managing to reduce threats through psychosocially sensitive expressions of empathy. Organizing around psychosocial cues continues to reprioritize complex human perceptions of and interac- tions with the world.

Our prefrontal cortex has become specialized in executive functions: problem- solving, anticipating events that affect us, conjuring how to reconfigure perceptions, and deciding how to direct actions. The PFC helps us alter and diversify our living environment. The dark outlined area shows the cerebral neo cortex. Orienting directions: dorsal, ventral, anterior and posterior are also shown. Illustration by Tise Chao. It is quite possible that our abilities to gesture, take aim and throw elevated us from prey to predator, strengthening goal orientations while weakening our survival orientation Sapolsky Sophisticated hand gestures also integrate many brain functions that contribute to making art.

Red and black pigments found in ,year-old early human sites suggest body art or tool decoration. A female stone figure from 3 to , years ago, the earliest known art piece, while possibly a by-product of nature, appears to have been humanly enhanced and reddened with ocher. It represents a significant shift towards externalizing or objectifying our mental experience during our psychological evolution Potts The archeological record reveals that humans increasingly manifested their inner life by making visibly concrete, symbolic creations that exposed human emotion and thought Bradshaw Further innovations that made gathering food easier, life safer and more comfortable, convenience more obtainable continue to show artistic adornment.

Did art-making embody a primal process for expressing and accessing awareness of self and other? These artistic expressions arose from the artists altering their state of mind so that attunement with the habits of prey or with illnesses shared with prey became easier to understand.


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Flowers strewn over a gravesite, decorations on bone and shell necklaces, cave paintings, Egyptian murals, and eventu- ally modern art and architecture command that we acknowledge repeated and spirited attempts to understand, represent, change, share and define a world altered by psychosocial sensory and emotional creations. Sensing the world Sensory prompts subliminally continue to shape and influence verbal and non-verbal communication processes. Neural pathways and mechanisms facilitate humans sensing their environment.

Incoming signals are directed into discrete information-carrying neural networks destined to reach more evolved brain areas. Passing the message from neuron to neuron continues until specific brain areas receive and start a response to the sensations Figure 2. If strong enough, a stimulus replicates many times on its way towards awareness or reaction.

When neocortical areas engage, complex, conscious responses awaken that can lead to subtle experiences such as feeling enveloped by music or poetry. However, sensory signals traversing and neuronally engaging specialized brain structures do not always attain awareness. The brain recorded our evolutionary journey by stacking later evolving brains on top of early ones.

Sometimes this evolutionary hierarchy prevents stimuli responses from reaching awareness, as earlier evolutionary adaptations found in our reptilian or earlier mammalian brains usurp the processing. Blindsight, for instance, stimulates even blind people to respond to certain movements not visually conscious Ramachandran Beneath the thalamus Figures 2. Thus, a moving, unidentified object can orient self-protective reactions that protect us from unseen stimuli, such as turning or blinking without our knowing why Ramachandran How a stimulus becomes conscious is determined by which brain structure—the new and specifically human neocortex; the less changed, mammalian limbic cortex; or the ancient, reptilian brain—regulates behavior.

When lower brain centers exclusively engage, responses range from reflexive to affective, typical in reptiles, non-primate mammals Panksepp , and frightened people. For example, the subcortically driven, startle response remains outside of consciousness until after the body reacts.

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Dominance in the right or the left hemisphere alters conscious awareness. Processing in the left hemisphere increases explicit awareness as conscious memory activates and influences perception, communication, and behavior. Both right and left hemispheric neocortical orientations enact percep- tions proven advantageous throughout evolution. Ontogeny, environment, genes, and responses built from learned patterns of attention selectively modify brain structures, functions and interactions within neural pathways. Exceptionally vulnerable and malleable critical and sensitive developmental periods, such as learning to walk and talk, occur when specific structures and neural networks initially link and become refined.

These influences combine ultimately to define later abilities with which a person imagines and anticipates the world. Early unconscious or preconscious processing engages neuroanatomical structures like the thalamus, the amygdala, the somatosensory cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, the insula, and the prefrontal cortex displayed in Figure 2. Feedback loops between the thalamus and reciprocal structures dynami- cally alter interactions, so that as we become aware of something, it is as if different brain areas simultaneously gain access Edelman and Tononi When anticipation of pain increases, the thalamus, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and other brain regions increase intercommunication.

If decreased pain is anticipated, activity in these structures decreases reducing nearly 25 percent of the subjective pain experience Koyama et al. Anticipating meaningful occurrences causes brain areas to refine incoming sensory information and shift awareness. Imagine the expressive outcome as portions of the neocortex direct some body parts to respond in a uniquely human fashion, while others, directed by reptilian brain areas, respond more reflexively, similar to a lizard. In the end a single outcome or behavior needs to achieve coherency.

Imagine an orchestra composed of different musical sections.

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Each combines their effects, creating a harmoni- ous, meaningfully conscious, personal experience of reality. If misattunements occur, like those that accompany drug-induced hallucinations, head trauma or psycho- pathology, the experienced reality becomes distorted.

Responses and response patterns misalign and trouble follows.


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  7. The thalamus: sensation and action gateway between body and brain Nearly all the senses, except the olfactory, initially route their neurons to the thalamus. This structure, consisting of two walnut-sized, egg-shaped masses centrally situated in the brain, forms the key relay station of sensations from the body to the rest of the brain Figure 2. Sensory input is assembled there and sent to multiple processing destina- tions in the brain. Stimulation destined to become conscious connects with specialized neural networks linking the thalamus to specific sensory processing areas in the cerebral cortex Castro et al.

    Stimulation needing to affect consciousness indi- rectly is sent to nearby, more rapidly processing limbic structures in the central brain region beneath the neocortex Figure 2. The thalamus, potentially subject to overwhelm and imbalance, very actively facilitates communication with and between cortical sites. Cortical feedback to the thalamus, more than twice the sensory input from the body, brakes the flow of incoming thalamic information as needed.

    Imagine quick, terse messages—redundant, enough, or more—dynamically feeding back to the thalamus and helping to regulate distribution of sensory information further Castro-Alamancos and Calcagnotto Corticothalamic communication creates a complex, constant dialogue about stimuli inhibition and simultaneous occurrences Figure 2.


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    7. The VPL conveys body sensations from the spinal cord to the somatosensory cortex, while the facial trigeminal nerve conveys facial information to the somatosensory cortex. The central sulcus a groove separating the front and back portions of the neocortex delineates the anterior motor cortex discussed in Chapter 3 from the posterior sensory cortex Figure 2. Each representational area is proportional to the receptor density in its respective body part. Therefore, the highly sensual lip and tactile hand areas are large in the SSA when compared with the less sensual stomach or tactile calf and forearm areas.

      Stimulating body areas initiates thalamic activation in the corresponding SSA areas Figure 2. Specifically, the activated SSA hand area matches proportionately the quantity of stimulation experienced at the hand. From the SSA, this information transfers to more refining cortical areas until awareness of the hand touching something becomes conscious.

      Cortical feedback helps diminish awareness of irrelevant sensations, like a hand resting on an armrest. Diminishing irrelevant awareness facilitates conscious processing of other relevant stimuli, perhaps a steering wheel held by the other hand. Cortical control over the thalamus essentially coordinates widespread impacts from body sensations coherently Destexhe Signals to the thalamus about basic body functions like arousal, breathing, heart rate, and so forth can be disrupted by very high or low intensity brainstem stimulation Castro-Alamancos and Calcagnotto Overwhelming trauma leading to PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder and disso- ciation displays significant thalamic inactivation Lanius et al.

      In neglect, insufficient stimulation of thalamic circuits during critical developmental periods minimizes the creation of effective feedback loops Schore b. During trauma, overpowering sensory stimuli test the strength of feedback loops to decrease cortical input and to recover quickly when traumatic stimuli stop. Weakened or diminished corticothalamic feedback creates a vulnerability culminating in various brain dysfunctions and increased prioritizing of subcortical, survival-based brain functions.

      Sensory art therapy practices stimulate thalamic connections to and from cortical and subcortical brain regions. Frequently engaged, these regions may be tested, tuned, and strengthened. It reacts long before conscious awareness begins, between approximately 20 and milliseconds ms after a stimulus Repa et al. This speedy response dramatically alters important brain and body functions through connections to the sympathetic nervous system SNS , the fastest nervous system in the body. By comparison, conscious actions like pushing a button after seeing a flashed light generally take individuals about ms.

      More discriminating tasks, like pushing a button in response to a flashed red stimulus but not a white one, require nearly half a second ms; Kosinski The difference in reaction times reflects cortical decision-making needed to inhibit rapid impulses that begin non-conscious reactions. One amygdaloid resides in the right hemisphere and the other in the left. Almost all brain structures share the lateral division seen in Figure 2. Dark areas are ventricular spaces. The central dark space, the third ventricle, has no twin like the other brain ventricles.

      The axis for this brain section is shown to the right. Experiential cues become charged with positive or negative valances so that memory in emotional contexts can be more easily and effec- tively searched and activated Adolphs, Tranel, and Denburg ; Atkinson and Adolphs Non-conscious, aversive or fear-causing stimuli frequently activate the amygdala Schore b; Zald , review.

      However, it also activates during appetitive learning, recognition of members of the same species Izquierdo and Murray , happiness Haman et al. The right amygdala reacts more to angry faces than the left, while both react to discern fearful faces consciously Suslow et al. Thalamic input to the right amygdala is assessed for shape and movement that might signal stimulus threat potential. Further evaluation occurs as the right amygdala references imprinted experiences and a very rudimentary and potentially genetic memory system. The results are conveyed to the hypothalamus HY , an endocrine gland in the brain Sapolsky The SNS connects to all of the organs in the body, causing preconscious rapid, global, emotional, and bodily arousal Figure 2.

      The response ensures rapid response to survival threats as the amygdala stimulates the hypothalamus, which in turn engages the sympathetic nervous system. They also travel the high road from the thalamus through the hippocampus to cortical sites where evaluations based upon memory and cognitive processes consciously determine which actions need inhibition or initiation.

      Quick right amygdala evaluations of potential threats prevent death or damage. Imagine being startled. You jerk back and freeze as the thalamus processes more infor- mation. Heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and energy to large muscles increase because the right amygdala has sensed movement signaling a potential threat. Action before thought is its credo. If no actual danger materializes, then your heart and other organs were exercised.

      In the left amygdala, arousal reflects reactivity to stimuli details that need decoding Table 2. The left amygdala helps consolidate declarative memory for emotionally arousing events Adolphs et al. Once consciously appraised, the startle produced by the right amygdala may prove irrelevant. The left amygdala may help redirect flight or fight impulses as your spouse emerging from the shadows speaks. The ensuing relief could shift impulses to flee towards laughter. See Table 2.

      Table 2. Conscious evaluation of high road communication ends in the PFC, which contains the OFC, for emotional assessments, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex DLPFC , for working memory and more contextual memory process- ing. Emotion- and fact-based memory-informed processes inhibit the limbic system as needed and direct the thalamus, the muscles, and the organs in the body towards more refined action Schore Psychosocially stimulating stressors ignite current amygdala responses more often than nature-based, survival threats.

      Movie images of people rushing or sounds of background music in a minor key paired with unexpected, aversive stimuli, like blood-curdling screams, startle us. Though produced for our entertainment, this illusion causes an amygdala response, despite foreknowledge. Pleasure sometimes consciously follows half to a second later as higher neocortical structures assemble sensory details and discover the illusory threat.

      Fear becomes relief—laughter discharges muscle tension and hypervigilance diminishes as the slower, more cautious, refined inhibitory, cortical feedback arrives. If conditioned cues repeat often, the amygdala habituates or ceases responding to the stimuli. Thrill-seekers and moviegoers endlessly seek new twists to prevent amygdala habituation or de-conditioning.

      Conditioned, amygdala-based, unconscious memory forms more rapidly and efficiently during dangerous and emotional situations than during non-threatening and neutral events. Paired or conditioned stimuli like those mentioned above may not reflect external stimuli. Blends of memory, patterned responses, schemas, fear-based assumptions, feelings, and reactive thoughts can combine to create seemingly irrational or nonsensi- cal implicitly conditioned responses.

      Superstitions often vary with cultures and regions. The number four, which sounds like the word for death in Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese, excites unconscious fear Phillips et al. Americans may eliminate the unlucky thirteenth floor of a building, while Britons, who also fear Friday the thirteenth, endure statistically reported increases in traffic accidents on that day.

      The conscious calm needed to sort out different perspectives and meanings slips away. Privately formed and unconsciously held interpretations of events motivate and create internally held psychosocial stressors that predispose stress responses. If startle or flight or fight responses happen too often, they escalate aging, deplete energy resources, dysregulate the thalamus, cause chronic stress and autoimmune illnesses, and establish response patterns that occur too fast or too slow McEwen During development and functional integration into the nervous system, the amygdala, like all forming structures, displays significant vulnerability to many influ- ences.

      The right amygdala, active both during late pregnancy and after birth, seems to lead in integrating stimuli and body functions during the first three months of postnatal life Schore a, b. This outcome seems to apply to humans also Salm et al. As a result, future conditioning to aversive stimuli occurs more easily predisposing amygdala-enhancing, emotion-based interac- tion patterns like those shaping later attachments between mother and child Lemche et al.

      A valence attached by the amygdala modulates perceptual processes in perpetuity, especially visual processes Hendler, Rothstein and Hadar Propensities towards fear, anxiety, or soothing oneself vary from person to person; often reflecting conditioned responses placed by the amygdala into procedural memory during formative developmental periods.

      Yet, all subsequent developmental stages reflect and build upon limbic amygdala-based reactivity patterns. Gender differences express during amygdala functioning. Women show increased left amygdala activation during depression and irritable bowel syndrome Cahill The amygdala prioritizes emotional cues for the visual cortex and acts as an automatic orchestrating force during affective learning Schupp et al. Anxiety and fear-based reactions may be stimulated while making, discussing, titling or simply looking at art that reveals previously stored amygdala-based memories.

      What art therapy aspect could help interrupt and recondition amygdalar processes? Schupp et al. From this, we might hypothesize that creating art in a therapeutic environment slows amygdala guidance of emotional attention. Making artwork therapeutically may generate a sense of entering a mental space in which fear and anxiety disruptive emotions decrease, while action, intuition, thoughtfulness and positive emotions increase. Perhaps previously provocative memories and stimuli processing are de-conditioned or habituated.

      The anterior cingulate cortex If the amygdala alone shaped our response to the world, life would be a string of fast arousals and survival reactions with fear and anxiety more common than joy. For most people, these modi- fications increase reward-based experiencing Bechara, Damasio, and Damasio The cingulate cortex, the largest limbic structure, rests atop the corpus callosum at the interface between the limbic area and the cortex. Many cortical and subcortical structures, like the OFC, the insula, the hippocampus and the amygdala, interconnect with the cingulate cortex Tamminga et al.

      Physiologically, the cingulate cortex divides into anterior front and posterior back sections Figure 2. More refined designations, like rostral towards the mouth , caudal back , dorsal top and ventral bottom , add meaning to discussions of anterior cingulate cortex ACC or the posterior cingulate cortex PCC functions, such as affect regulation, response selection, visuospatial processing or memory access. The ACC functions during emotional self-control, focused problem-solving, error recognition, and adapting to changing conditions Allman et al. The ACC detects and corrects errors during cognitive and emotional processing Raz About , years ago, human and great ape cingulate cortices evolved unique neurons called spindle cells, which connect and coordinate diverse brain regions Allman et al.

      Spindle, or Von Economo, neuron VEN distribution helps solve difficult problems with fast intuitive assessments of complex situations Allman et al. VENs may enable a sense of agency through representations of mental and intentional states in oneself and others Frith Integrating a multitude of sensory, memory and executive functions reflects cingulate activation. Conscious experiencing activates many ACC functions. Participants given immediate feedback about their successful activation of the rostral area of the ACC gained control over chronic clinical pain deCharms et al.

      Emotional and physical pain share areas of activation in the ACC. Being aware of an affect while focusing upon feedback may encourage changes in rostral ACC function- ing. Experiences like waiting for adverse outcomes in one case, electric shock or feeling dread also activate the rostral ACC area Berns et al. The ACC helps a person consciously sort and attend to relevant information while ignoring the irrelevant.

      It enables decision-making when conflicting tendencies in responding to a stimulus occur Awh and Gehring Working memory tasks, planning, hypothesis testing, and guessing activate the ACC Elliott and Dolan Selecting motor movements, while processing reward-based information, also excites the rostral ACC Shima and Tanji Neuroimaging research in the future may show that the desire to produce satisfying and coherent art expressions, while conceptualizing and selecting art materials, activates the ACC in the presence of difficult or shifting emotions.

      Error processing, conflict monitoring, motor control and response selection mediate bodily arousal. These responses are modulated by the dorsal ACC Critchley et al. For example, during effortful cognitive and motor behavior, the dorsal ACC contributes to autonomic cardiovascular arousal. The dorsal ACC also activates during short duration failed attempts at inhibiting neural impulses, while longer inhibitory failures activate the ventral ACC, known to influence emotion regulation Matthews et al. Numerous connections from the thalamus and amygdala to the ACC suggest it strongly influences affect processing Derbyshire In low risk art therapy contexts repeated opportunities to experience and recover from short- and longer-term failures occur.

      If the contrary condition occurs, the limbic input is inhibited. Conflict and detected errors cause ACC reactions that favor habitual limbic responses to stimuli. Orbitofrontal cortex functioning supports novel responses Schore Habituation, extinction, and memory reconsolidation processes shape coping strategies that allow ACC habitual responses and OFC novel solutions to influence amygdala reac- tivity and possibly art-making effectively.

      Gaining functional access through these processes to ACC functioning and understanding PCC influences facilitates various forms of therapy, perhaps most especially art therapy. Summary Humans evolved a unique ability to concretize, understand and transform their inner experiences through art long ago. Interdependence upon large social groups promoted complex interactive processes that required higher brain functions to regulate affectively driven subcortical functions successfully in both familiar and novel contexts.

      Rich, dynamic sensory input distributed by the thalamus flows through intricate, inter- locking feedback relationships with cortical areas that shape awareness and perception. Art therapy invokes these feedback functions while revealing and engaging disruptive areas of affective expression emerging from subcortical structures, such as the amygdala. Invoking higher limbic structures, like the ACC, to inhibit amygdala impulsivity and possibly initiate more regulated and familiar processing patterns is known to help remodel internal processing errors.

      Art therapy practices seem to engage the ACC as well as complex regulatory centers in the PFC that utilize explicit and implicit memory to problem solve and create novel ways to diminish expressed conflicts. Multimodal contexts available during art therapy invite creative, comprehension-oriented and expressive possibilities that avoid becoming simplistically linear or impulsive. The bilateral orientation of art therapy draws upon the functional differences in both hemi- spheres to facilitate individualized, coherent and integrative resolutions of present, past and evolution-based disruptions in self-functioning within a safe, manageable psychosocial context.

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      Visual emotion perception: Mechanisms and processes. Feldman-Barrett, P. Niedenthal, and P. Winkielman eds Emotion and Consciousness pp. Awh, E. The anterior cingulated cortex lends a hand in response selection. Bechara, A. Role of the amygdala in decision-making.

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      Cognitive Brain Research, 21, — Zald, D.

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      The human amygdala and the emotional evaluation of sensory stimuli. Brain Research Reviews, 41, 88— Brain struc- tures and functions in the cortex contribute to conscious choice, action, complex emotions, and meaningful social interactions. A discussion of cortical structures and functions is essential for understanding how these relational processes develop out of the processing of sensory experience.

      Information processing pathways The cerebrum is divided from front to back by the longitudinal fissure, creating two cerebral hemispheres covered by the cortex or neocortex. Manipulating clay for five minutes can reduce stress hormones more than squeezing a stress ball. As part of a comprehensive treatment program, art therapy can help students feel in control. A study that paired academic assistance with weekly art therapy sessions found that the addition of art therapy contributed positively to the social-emotional adjustment of children with learning disabilities.

      He is sensitive to smells and sounds. He is energetic. I always keep paper and a pen with me, so that he can use them, especially in a restaurant or the mall. He has made medieval castles and has built models of blood pressure monitors. They encourage him to talk about what he creates. The key for parents is not to set the bar too high or to direct their child. Other children with learning differences produce visually sophisticated pieces. Here are some guidelines that art therapists use in school:.

      Focus on making the art, not the final product. The goal is not perfection, a piece that can be exhibited in school or a museum. Encourage the child to concentrate on how it feels to paint, build, draw, or sculpt. Lower the pressure to produce something similar to what his peers might produce. Have a child talk about her artwork. Keep the questions simple and give the child time to think before answering.

      If a child expresses disappointment about his artwork, ask what he would have done differently, instead of automatically reassuring him that you think his painting is beautiful. This plants the idea that he can problem-solve and try again. Balancing stimulation and structure will maximize the impact of art activities.

      Projects that inspire excitement enhance focus, but routine is also critical to managing impulsive behavior. Too many choices of art materials is overwhelming. It is a good rule of thumb to start with a handful of materials; more can be added later. For some kids, it means a choice between markers or clay. For others, it means using only two paint colors at a time. He has executive function challenges , and he needs time to organize his thoughts before speaking.

      When Ayden was 18 months old, and his brother Ashton was nine months, Kent had them outside painting on boxes in the driveway. Now in the fourth grade, Ayden is interested in sculpture, and dreams of being an architect. Inviting other kids over to make art together is an opportunity for Ayden to socialize with friends. It is the process that counts. Feel free to jump in and make art with your child. You may create something more magnificent than either of you could have imagined.

      Doing art at home with a parent can calm and focus a child who has had a hard day at school, or finds it difficult to settle down. Here are a few pointers for parents:. Give your child boundaries when doing art projects. Art trays, on which a child can place all of her materials, are useful. Trays can hold materials, such as paint, clay, and plaster. Start with projects that have three or fewer steps color, cut, glue, for instance.

      Movement burns excess energy and allows a child to hit the reset button when she is getting bored with a project. It slows down kids who have a poor sense of time , and who feel the need to rush through a project. Patterned mandala designs are free online. Coloring is a relaxing, non-threatening activity for children and adults.