The effect of trauma on the brain and how it affects behaviors | John Rigg | TEDxAugustaMay 31, 2021
I want to ask you to think of a time in your life when you had an argument with someone in particular someone you loved you cared a lot about a family member a spouse a parent and they really reacted really reacted got really angry you did things you said things like that you ever broke things you said hurtful things and then you reflected on your behavior and wondered what happened where did that come from i want to look at some of the factors that contribute to that kind of overreaction that mechanism that hyperarousal that happens hyperarousal anger hostility where does that come from what generates it?
I'm going to talk about stress, okay, stress as if it's a factor that can influence
behaviorsand look at the anatomy of the human
brain, we actually have two
brains that are contributing to our
behaviorstwo brains contributing to our behaviors and the Stress is particularly influential in one of them stresses that we think the right thing stress doesn't occur to us i It's a reaction to the external environment, so let me talk about the two brains. I have a diagram here of this, the cortex of the cerebrum and this structure under the cortex of the cerebrum, which is labeled the brain stem here, but I'm actually talking. to talk about the subcortical brain all this structure here the cortex of the brain is what i'm going to call the human brain the smart brain is where our personality is our individuality where we make decisions about our partner what we eat we are kind of music we listen to what car we manage where we live what kind of life we live we take in sensory information that is processed in the cortex and we take actions based on sensory information that is where our personality our individuality is all centered in that cortical area note in the human brain, it is actually the, with By far the largest mass in the human brain is the cortex, okay, we rule the world as humans, why not?
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the effect of trauma on the brain and how it affects behaviors john rigg tedxaugusta...
Because we perform animal functions better than any animal, we are not bigger fa. we are stronger than animals we think better we have the largest cerebral cortex and we rule the world but we are animals we eat we make waste products and make babies and that behavior t
riggered by our primitive animal brain is sometimes responsible for t
riggering some of the behaviors we they were i don't like it very much so this primitive animal brain what does it do right the brain reacts to situations whether we want it to or not in particular this animal brain which doesn't think it just reacts to the environment so If I told you, hey.
Let's all go out and run down Broad Street, but don't get your heartbeat up, could you do it now? thought exists in the cortex the human brain but the animal brain is controlling your heartbeat and won't let you do it so you can think all you want to lower your blood pressure and it won't happen that the primitive animal brain is the main controlling the heartbeat, the breathing, the digestion from the moment you're born, at any time, I mean even before birth, you know as a fetus that these structures don't start to function in that central nervous system, the primitive animal brain is running non-stop until until your death is pretty amazing ok i'll ask you to look at another way this primitive animal brain reacts to situations ok then you know this let's pick a picture from a bunch of guys discussing who will win the Super Bowl on Sunday talking about cars whatever men want to talk about when they're engaged in conversation i'm a man so i look at you you know i only have a male perspective on things but you guys are sitting around talking and all of a sudden there that conversation this really hot looking woman walks by wearing an inappropriately short miniskirt and an inappropriately tight t-shirt what's up Let's get on with that conversation, okay, little snickers? in you it's not me man i don't see me you know men will be attracted to that not because they are looking for a partner married men might react that way ok but because of the fact that there is an animal sexual attraction incident why?
Do advertisers put sexually attractive women in ads to draw attention to those ads so people will go buy things they don't need it's okay it's an animal instinct now I can get distracted sometimes but I'm married so I don't go out and chase people the girl you meet married men men engaged or in relationships might be attracted to it might be like a magnetic boom but bring your focus back to hey im married yeah i think the patriots are going to lose or whatever you know no matter what let the conversation pass, you know, but the reaction and I don't know how women react to men.
I mean, you know that luckily you react to those ugly guys. That's good. base you know male elephants are attracted to female elephants female frogs mate with male frogs all species mate sexual attractions basic animal instinct a more powerful animal instinct programmed into that primitive animal brain is survival and how animals survive fight or flight is ok much more powerful instinct so primitive animal brain to check works our body breathing digestion heartbeat blood maintain blood pressure and this program for primitive animal instincts that all animals have eating sexual attractions seeking safety and shelter and then that more powerful instinct survival fight or flight the cortex of the brain is our thinking brain makes decisions takes actions those things are okay based on sensory input thinks that is where our memory is located all our processing now my day job is work i am doctor work i am the director of
traumatic brain injury for the military here at Fort Gordon Eisenhower Army Medical Center and I'm going to use so Give me examples of what happens to soldiers when they are taken out of the United States and sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and they experience the
traumatic experience of war and how does that experience affect their performance?
How does that experience affect their behaviors based on the influence that the traumatic experience has on their brain, whether they wanted to or not, okay, so I what they do is go to a place like Iraq or Afghanistan what is the enemy trying to do to them when they are there, kill him, trying to keep the enemies trying to kill these men and women so that their fight or flight instinct primitive animal, intensify and magnify on big all the time not like 20 minutes here in ten minutes here but non-stop for 24 24/7 throughout their deployment time I was with the pa cient this morning seven deployments seven deployments 14 month minimum of those seven on those seven deployments hyperactive fighter flight and when you're in a place where you know how the bad guys are trying to kill you having your fight or flight on to respond really fast is the best thing to do It can happen to you and it works great when you're in a combat zone, but now let's take that soldier and put him back. to the United States then you get on a plane you return to the United States get off the plane hello I'm back home which part of the brain is recognizing the geographic change back to the United States the cortex the thinking brain intelligent human but where was this hyperactivated fight or flight located and the primitive animal brain, the subcortical brain specifically a structure called the amygdala that becomes hyperactive and triggers fight or flight now that it was very, very powerful and essential in a combat zone but the soldier now comes home and he's still hyper, so to give you an example, one of my men went there.
He was home for a few months. He was feeling pretty good. He went to a rock and roll show in Atlanta. Hanging out in Atlanta. He was fine. w With the crowd but all of a sudden the fireworks go off BAM he bought he hits the ground now he didn't hear the explosion he does that sounds like a bomb I better duck ok he reacted without thinking so Now let's look at the anatomy of the brain because there's another super important point to make here: the fascinating sensory information that comes in: you know, we see here the taste, touch, and smell that sensor information enters our sensory organs and is sent to a structure in the brain, except for smell which bypasses the thalamus, but all the rest is sent to the thalamus, which is a relay station that sends a signal to both the human intelligent cortical brain and the primitive animal brain, so in this case of this explosion at a rock show the explosion hits the cortex and the cortex is going to think about exploding it sounds like a whitman bomb i'm in atlanta oh my god the terrorists by the way the band are still e knocking, no one is running for cover, no one saw the romance, the fireworks, the ceiling, I'm fine and the cortex could figure that out very quickly simultaneously that signal went to the animal brain the animal brain doesn't understand geography it's hyperactive he's hyperactive particular to explosions which in war meant what i a DS rocket propelled grenades mortars blood guts death body parts here's the second key point about this primitive animal brain number one doesn't understand geography number two it's faster than the thinking brain the animal brain is actually physiologically wired to respond faster than the thinking brain so before the soldier could take that soldier there were fireworks that the explosion was a fireworks boom he's on the ground jumping for take cover you know about the moment it hits the ground carry on like god i feel like a jerk here ab garlic you know because everyone else is cheering and he's on the ground okay but it was a non thinking response you know non thinking response triggered by the animal brain which is wired to respond faster when you think about it from a point from view survival perspective a survival perspective the quicker we react the more likely you are to survive so in fact through an evolutionary period you know the human species has been around for about 300,000 years but for 300 million years we've had animals that have had a fight or flight reaction I don't know who realizes this but that's what it says in the biology books 300 million years of fight or flight, you know, the faster they react, the more likely they are to survive.
The animal brain is not very intelligent. it's fast it's fast the faster you respond to dangerous and threatening situations the more likely you are to survive a child growing up in an abusive environment, you could take them out of that home and put them somewhere else but if you have experience he or she has experienced significant abuse in that home that abuse is affected their arousal system their primitive animal brain no matter how much in their cortical brain they want to overcome they are still reacting to situations programmed into that primitive animal brain, but you can't change by thinking more than what you can change your heartbeat, your blood pressure, okay, eat and hold your food, your belly for four hours before you digest it, so let me talk a bit. about irritability, okay, so there was a man and a wife or at home and the wife asked her husband, honey, can you take out the garbage for me?
Sure, maybe no problem. I'll take out the trash for the man who gets up to take out the trash. a good job cleaned everything up a good homecoming that job done now meanwhile his wife went into another room and their two little boys the two little boys had spilled chocolate milk all over this beautiful new white sofa she was angry now she has this new sofa with big nasty stains she's not happy it's ok why are you looking at these kids to break the chocolate milk here why did i buy a white sofa my relatives come to visit i have this nasty stain here boy is s he mad she doesn't she's mad at her husband, okay, but she comes back to her husband with an angry look on her face, okay, and now our husbands are maybe fatigued, stressed with you know things going on at work or whatever you know not in a particularly good mood she comes back to him now and he has an angry look on his face and she says did you take that crap off like i asked you to?
Did she approach her husband? Aggressive? Host? recognize hey, that's my wife talking about the garbage, he needs his memory in his cerebral cortex to recognize his wife and recognize the English language, did you take out the garbage, so when he replied that he did not answer his wife, he replied to the aggregate? restless tone of voice and the aggressive face he had now of course when he yells at his wife she doesn't like that ok so she barks at him and he barks back and now they're in a big argument over nonsense nonsense made a smart thought human brains made a decision hey i love you baby let's get married and live happily ever after have a wonderful life together your amazing husband daddy but now in the heat of the moment that smart decision and the primitive animal the brain reactedand it got him in a situation that the smart thinking brain would never have where the brain is hyper excited if it's stressed you know this is a situation I see in military personnel who have been involved in combat but you know everyone they get stressed, bills, family relationships, neighbors, they make too much noise or whatever.
The sleep-interfering ss hormones that keep you awake can hijack a memory because as you think about all the stress, even subconsciously, remember that I'm not talking about the conscious brain where you're thinking and plotting and using your cortex and probably a hyperarousal to the animal brain. that it's been stimulated by some sort of thing it could well be trauma it could just be day to day things that add up and are hard to deal with but the stress hormones are released it activates that part of the brain and memory becomes difficult because concentration and attention is not that memory storage and recall is a problem as attention is diverted to all these other things ok stressors for example a lot of soldiers will tell me they have problems with memory.
One time I was talking to a guy in my office and we had started having a conversation about sports and we got up and walked down the hall and I'm talking about you. I know what we had been talking about we got to the end Holly becomes a doctor and I told you my memory sucks I don't remember anything she just said ok what happened was when I opened the door. we retraced our steps to analyze this, so when I opened the door, he saw other doors in the corridor and began to think who is in those rooms, what kind of weapons they have there, whose steps are the ones that go down to connect me. grenade what are we going to do it was about time we got to the end of the hall he wasn't he didn't forget what I said he never heard it because his primitive animal brain was hyper excited so what are we going to do about it you?
I know, I mean being a neuroscientist, I went back to school later in life, became a doctor, and I've been fascinated by being a brain mechanic, that's what I consider myself to be. depression and all that kind of stuff, but what I love is the way the brain works, it's a machine, the most complex machine in the whole universe, and what's really amazing to me is that we have this part of the brain that reacts before we think and is triggered. r hormonal releases and consequently behaviors that actually lead us to situations that we don't necessarily want when we look back well why did I do that during the day the brain is constantly generating ideas constantly generating thoughts goes back to that you know I like to think about in terms of ontology you know Descartes 1650 said there I think, therefore I am, how did he define his being? the person seeing my thoughts thoughts can occur but they are spontaneously generated by the brain are not necessarily who you are you are the person seeing those thoughts I love that definition because that is the cortex of the brain that I want to amplify I want to magnify when you use that cortex to determine in my life how i live my life what i do i can see thoughts coming into my head you know maybe get excited about things angry about someone ch challenging me or cutting me on the way or something that is challenging but its always good for me to stop i stop at think wow i feel my reaction is not necessarily what i want to happen here what i want to happen here i can control i can do with my cerebral cortex i still react is that brain that primitive brain reacts so in my experience so much at work for i have been working for the military for almost seven years and you know there has been a question of brain injury for a few to Years more than that I see a lot of people in this state who end up going to the doctor and they get headache prophylaxis and a table of therapies they get sleep meds that don't work they get mood meds they get pain meds OK?
I know oh let me talk about one more thing I forgot so stress well when you're always walking wrong all these muscles are tensing you know you're walking around the neck back pain is sore you know this is pain generated by stress you know with particular attention to headache generation and then migraine headaches the neck muscles are tense from that you know stress almost every soldier I see has been in the war they have this so it's a solution to give them headache meds to fix the headache or do we get to the cause of the problem we're going to the cause of the problem this isn't rocket science ok a person is stressed it changes the way your body works because these stress hormones kick in so we can do things to reduce stress you don't need that much time well I mean I'm not talking patient s psychiatric that need medication, but cases where there is a clear cause of hyperarousal, hyperstress, that's fine, where these physical symptoms are generated not by abnormalities in the brain, but by a set of circumstances that awaken the primitive animal brain to creating stress hormones and triggering this thing we call stress, so what we do when we treat men and women with i've gone to war is try to come up with a solution, okay?
So how do we treat headaches? Send them to a physical therapist. They learn a stretching program. They get devices. heating devices. Massage devices to relax muscles. sleep hygiene learn relaxation techniques okay we have yoga classes okay we teach meditation meditation has been an amazing tool you know meditation relaxes the brain what happens? the biggest proponent of it's okay we have a lot of patients who are on profiles meaning they are not allowed to exercise at a normal military high level so we use these programs to really help soldiers lower their stress level and look for an organic holistic solution instead of using pharmaceuticals which of course have significant side
effects so I leave you the message to consider in and our own lives how your primitive animal brain reacts to situations that trigger actions and urge you to consider alternatives to the pharmaceutical industry I'm about to demonstrate something I do to relax before I'm a doctor I was a professional guitar player for many years and I'm about to plug this beautiful Gibson Les Paul in here and do some.
I'm going to do this as a tribute to the men and women who have served in the military. I have had an amazing opportunity in my life to not only be a professional musician but go to medical school and become a doctor at 40 because I live in this amazing country called the United States and I play this for all the veterans and current soldiers in service active and people involved with the military that have allowed me to have the freedom to live this crazy life i've had so thank you and this will be for you ok let it break.
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