Saturday, July 30, 2016

James W. Prescott - Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence (1975)

James W. Prescott, a neuropsychologist, is a health scientist administrator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Humanist Association. This article appeared in part in the April 1975 issue of The Futurist, published by the World Future Society, and is reprinted here with their permission. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Institutes of Health.

A neuropsychologist contends that the greatest threat to world peace comes from those nations which have the most depriving environments for their children and which are most repressive of sexual affection and female sexuality... Violence against sexuality and the use of sexuality for violence, particularly against women, has very deep roots in Biblical tradition...

Human violence is fast becoming a global epidemic. All over the world, police face angry mobs, terrorists disrupt the Olympics, hijackers seize airplanes, and bombs wreck buildings. During the past year, wars raged in the Middle East, Cyprus, and Southeast Asia, and guerrilla fighting continued to escalate in Ireland. Meanwhile, crime in the United States grew even faster than inflation. Figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that serious crimes rose 16 percent in the first six months of 1974—one of the largest crime increases since FBI record-keeping began.

Unless the causes of violence are isolated and treated, we will continue to live in a world of fear and apprehension. Unfortunately, violence is often offered as a solution to violence. Many law enforcement officials advocate 'get tough' policies as the best method to reduce crime. Imprisoning people, our usual way of dealing with crime, will not solve the problem, because the causes of violence lie in our basic values and the way in which we bring up our children and youth. Physical punishment, violent films and TV programs teach our children that physical violence is normal. But these early life experiences are not the only or even the main source of violent behavior. Recent research supports the point of view that the deprivation of physical pleasure is a major ingredient in the expression of physical violence. The common association of sex with violence provides a clue to understanding physical violence in terms of deprivation of physical pleasure.

Unlike violence, pleasure seems to be something the world can't get enough of. People are constantly in search of new forms of pleasure, yet most of our 'pleasure' activities appear to be substitutes for the natural sensory pleasures of touching. We touch for pleasure or for pain or we don't touch at all. Although physical pleasure and physical violence seem worlds apart, there seems to be a subtle and intimate connection between the two. Until the relationship between pleasure and violence is understood, violence will continue to escalate.


John Mack: The Enemy System

As a developmental neuropsychologist I have devoted a great deal of study to the peculiar relationship between violence and pleasure. I am now convinced that the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the principal root cause of violence. Laboratory experiments with animals show that pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship, that is, the presence of one inhibits the other. A raging, violent animal will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain can terminate the animal's sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior. When the brain's pleasure circuits are 'on,' the violence circuits are 'off,' and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure goes up, the other goes down.

Sensory Deprivation
The reciprocal relationship of pleasure and violence is highly significant because certain sensory experiences during the formative periods of development will create a neuropsychological predisposition for either violence-seeking or pleasure-seeking behaviors later in life. I am convinced that various abnormal social and emotional behaviors resulting from what psychologists call 'maternal-social' deprivation, that is, a lack of tender, loving care, are caused by a unique type of sensory deprivation, somatosensory deprivation. Derived from the Greek word for 'body,' the term refers to the sensations of touch and body movement which differ from the senses of light, hearing, smell and taste. I believe that the deprivation of body touch, contact, and movement are the basic causes of a number of emotional disturbances which include depressive and autistic behaviors, hyperactivity, sexual aberration, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.

These insights were derived chiefly from the controlled laboratory studies of Harry F. and Margaret K. Harlow at the University of Wisconsin. The Harlows and their students separated infant monkeys from their mothers at birth. The monkeys were raised in single cages in an animal colony room, where they could develop social relationships with the other animals through seeing, hearing, and smelling, but not through touching or movement. These and other studies indicate that it is the deprivation of body contact and body movement—not deprivation of the other senses—that produces the wide variety of abnormal emotional behaviors in these isolation-reared animals. It is well known that human infants and children who are hospitalized or institutionalized for extended periods with little physical touching and holding develop almost identical abnormal behaviors, such as rocking and head banging.

Although the pathological violence observed in isolation-reared monkeys is well documented, the linking of early somatosensory deprivation with physical violence in humans is less well established. Numerous studies of juvenile delinquents and adult criminals have shown a family background of broken homes and/or physically abusive parents. These studies have rarely mentioned, let alone measured, the degree of deprivation of physical affection, although this is often inferred from the degree of neglect and abuse. 

One exceptional study in this respect is that of Brandt F. Steele and C. B. Pollock, psychiatrists at the University of Colorado, who studied child abuse in three generations of families who physically abused their children. They found that parents who abused their children were invariably deprived of physical affection themselves during childhood and that their adult sex life was extremely poor. Steele noted that almost without exception the women who abused their children had never experienced orgasm. The degree of sexual pleasure experienced by the men who abused their children was not ascertained, but their sex life, in general, was unsatisfactory. The hypothesis that physical pleasure actively inhibits physical violence can be appreciated from our own sexual experiences. How many of us feel like assaulting someone after we have just experienced orgasm?

The contributions of Freud to the effects of early experiences upon later behaviors and the consequences of repressed sexuality have been well established. Unfortunately time and space do not permit a discussion here of his differences with Wilhelm Reich concerning his Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The hypothesis that deprivation of physical pleasure results in physical violence requires a formal systematic evaluation. We can test this hypothesis by examining cross-cultural studies of child-rearing practices, sexual behaviors, and physical violence... read more

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