Tuesday, June 29, 2010

penetration, the game

I've always been fascinated by K.E. Moyer's work on kinds of aggression and their biological basis. What he attempted to do was to figure out how many distinct types of 'animal' aggression he could find that were triggered in the brain without overlapping any other type of aggression. He was of course aiming to understand human aggression, but he thought he'd start with something a bit more primal. He came up with the magic number: seven. One of them is my favorite—it's probably obvious which one. Paul Brain (sic) later on collapsed Moyer's categories to the magic number of five, trying to be concise. However, I think his list is a bit of a cop out, leaving out some of the more juicy categories.

This morning, for some reason I cannot fathom, but surely the psychoanalysts can work out pretty quickly, I thought of trying out Moyer's theory of aggression with a word-substitution game. This, after all, worked fine one year when I was leading services (rephrase: was forced to lead services) and the only way I could stand to do it was to substitute the English word 'God' for 'Nature' — which worked out quite nicely, and kept my blood pressure down. Curiously, 'nature' is a Demotic word (ie, ancient Egyptian), the original being 'neter' which tends to get translated as 'God' or 'gods', so I figure it was only fair to go back the other direction.

So, what follows is Moyer, substituting the word 'aggression' with 'penetration'. Not exactly in his own words. His typology of aggression transmuted to 'penetration.' I haven't tried this yet, so we'll see if it works out at all. Also, I'm sticking to his order; I haven't changed anything around.

1. The penetration of territorial defense — when animals attack and penetrate intruders who enter their territory. After all, the best response to territorial penetration is meeting them head on, so to speak.

2. Predatory penetration — when an animal attacks and penetrates his prey. This form of penetration is NOT (Moyer's emphasis) believed to be hunger-induced, but rather involves the lateral hypothalamus and the specific 'trigger' stimuli (the animals it typically feeds on, the prey, well yum).

3. Inter-male penetration — occurs when another male, preferably a stranger, is present. Androgens are believed to be critical in this form of penetration. (This one is my second favorite).

4. Fear-induced penetration — always preceded by attempts to escape. This form of penetration behavior is most evident when the animal is cornered and is afraid. He will almost always react with penetration before he attempts to get away. Moyers doesn't say so, but I think this one is especially useful in understanding a male reaction to a female he fears. The amygdala and lateral hypothalamus are believed important here.

5. Irritable penetration — this will be evoked by any attackable object or other animal. The ventromedial hypothalamus and amygdala are believed to be the crucial brain structures here. Here Moyers comes up with a great residual category. Aggression, just because. Sorry. Penetration. When grouchy or on edge, just penetrate... don't think or try to figure it out.

6. Maternal penetration — When a female attempts to protect her young from harm. Usually takes the form of attempted verbal penetration ("don't cross without looking both ways...") or just as often involves the use of a cue-tip.

7. Instrumental penetration — It worked before, so I'll do it again. This form of penetration is the only one he ties to being reinforced by learning.

So, does it work? Do we learn anything more about aggression (or about penetration) by trying out a little word substitution? Or maybe, we don't learn anything else at all, because there really is (or was) no difference to begin with? After all, even Freud changed his mind about this a few times... At first he posited that all behavior is triggered by sexual and aggressive impulses. But no, he eventually decided, that might be true for women, but for men sex and aggression were the same impulse after all...

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