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The Origins of Compassion: A Phylogenetic Perspective Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. Translational Research in Neural Medicine Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


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The neural origin for compassion is uniquely mammalian and dependent on the phylogenetic changes in the ANS from reptiles to mammals. Compassion is neurophysiologically incompatible with judgmental, evaluative, and defensive behaviors and feelings that recruit phylogenetically older neural circuits regulating autonomic function. The effectiveness of mediation, listening, chant, posture, and breath on fostering mental states and health is due to a common phylogenetic change in the neural regulation of the ANS. Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Unique Mammalian Modifications 1.  Diaphragm – separates the heart and lungs from subdiaphragmatic organs 2.  Two vagal circuits 1.  Ancient unmyelinated vagus regulates gut and subdiaphragmatic organs 2.  Mammalian myelinated vagus regulates supradiaphragmatic organs (lung and heart). 3.  Myelinated baroreceptors 4.  Detached middle ear bones 5.  Adrenal with separate blood supply from the kidney 6.  Adrenocortical cells clustered as a cortex of the adrenal 7.  Oxytocin and vasopressin as separate neuropeptides with specialized receptors Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Unique Mammalian Modifications Bi-directional interactions among brainstem source nuclei of the myelinated vagus and several cranial nerves that regulate the striated muscles of the face and head result in a faceheart connection with portals that regulate state.

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Emergent Portals Face – heart connection •  Voice – heart connection (chants) •  Listening – heart connection (music) •  Breath – heart connection (pranayama)

Posture-heart connection (Dance and other movements)

Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Compassion requires turning off defenses •  How we feel determines whether we become friends, lovers, or enemies. •  Our feelings are dependent on our physiological state (autonomic nervous system). •  Defense turns off the mammalian innovations of the ANS and the face-heart connection. •  Compassion requires turning off biobehavioral defense systems in the dyad to enable both the compassionate individual the other to feel safe to be proximal, and to enable physical contact. Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Polyvagal Theory The Polyvagal Theory explains the functional relevance of the mammalian modifications of the ANS and emphasizes the adaptive consequences of detecting risk (i.e., safety, danger, or life threat) on physiological state, social behavior, psychological experience (including compassion), and health.

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


The Polyvagal Theory 1.  Evolution provides an organizing principle to understand neural regulation of the human autonomic nervous system as an enabler of positive social behavior. 2.  Three neural circuits form a phylogeneticallyordered response hierarchy that regulate behavioral and physiological adaptation to safe, dangerous, and life threatening environments. 3.  Neuroception of danger or safety or life threat trigger these adaptive neural circuits. Copyright © 2012 Stephen W. Porges


The Quest for Safety: Emergent Properties of Physiological State Environment outside the body inside the body

Nervous System Neuroception

Safety

Danger

Spontaneously engages others eye contact, facial expression, prosody supports visceral homeostasis

Life threat Defensive strategies death feigning/shutdown (immobilization)

Defensive strategies fight/flight behaviors (mobilization)

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory head

limbs

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory head

old vagus

limbs

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Immobilization With Fear:


Vasovagal Syncope


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory head

limbs

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory Corticospinal Pathways

Sympathetic Nervous System

limbs

head

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Mobilization: Flight Behaviors


Mobilization: Fight Behaviors


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory head

limbs

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Phylogenetic Organization of the ANS: The Polyvagal Theory Corticobulbar pathways

limbs

head

new vagus

viscera trunk

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Social Engagement

©  Jeff Hunter/ The Image Bank


A Neural Love Code: The Role of Social Engagement


People Need People: A Biological Basis for Social Behavior Regulators of physiology are embedded in relationships Myron Hofer, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons


Mammalian Interactions: Regulators of physiology are embedded in relationships


Mammalian Interactions: Regulators of physiology are embedded in relationships


A Neural Love Code: Phase I The importance of face-to-face interactions

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Deconstructing the Mammalian Social Engagement System cortex brainstem Muscles of Mastication

Cranial Nerves V,VII,IX,X,XI

Head Turning

Middle Ear Muscles Facial Muscles

Bronchi

Larynx

Pharynx

Heart

environment Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Immobilization Without Fear

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Immobilization Without Fear


Immobilization Without Fear


Immobilization Without Fear


Immobilization: Without Fear


Immobilization Without Fear


Immobilization Without Fear


Immobilization Without Fear


A Neural Love Code: Phase II The importance of physical contact while immobilizing without fear

Immobilization without fear, can only occur following the establishment of safety via the social engagement system. Without feeling safe, immobilization triggers life threat experiences.

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Social engagement and immobilization without fear are features of compassion and compassionate behaviors.


Bodily feelings influence our awareness of others and either potentiate spontaneous social engagement behaviors and feelings of compassion or displace spontaneous social behaviors and feelings of compassion with defensive reactions and judgmental feelings. Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges


Summary Compassion is a manifestation of our biological need to engage and to bond with others. Compassion is a component of our biological quest for safety in proximity of another.

Copyright Š 2012 Stephen W. Porges

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