Friday, May 21, 2010

Mental Models

I suppose the main reason why I put up the posts on post natal depression was to illustrate that the assumption, that the natural role of a woman is motherhood, is false. The fact is that some women suffer in assuming a a motherhood role, and forcing them into that role is detrimental to themselves and most probably to their children. However, what's interesting when one tries to dissect the causes of the depression, is the insights it gives into the operation of the female mind.

What becomes apparent when you talk to women is that there seem to be a variety of factors which contribute to the condition, but when you distill them they boil down to three factors: Instinctive, social and cognitive. Now if we assume that there may be cognitive process which correspond to these factors, much like Freudian theory (which I despise by the way) we can divide the female cognitive process into three sub entities which I will call Rational, Primitive and Social cognitive processes And by using this,try and construct a model of post-natal depression.

The Primal processes concerns itself with the operation of the primal functions, sex , eating mothering etc. The instincts.

The Rational processes concerns itself with day to day though processes and facts which we have been taught. (This bit of the brain is most influenced by education)

The Social processes concerns itself with the social dimension of our actions. (This bit of the brain is mostly influenced by perceived social convention and habit)

Now it's my belief that these cognitive process are probably "hardish" wired (i.e mostly genetically based and environmentally modified). But more importantly, the "weighting" that each of these is assigned by cognitive process is different in the sexes and this difference is by and large genetically determined, and it's this weighting which distinguishes the difference between male and female cognitive processes. Now if we attempt to illustrate this we get the following.

Girl Brain:
Boy Brain:

What we see here is that in a woman, her primitive and social processing seem to carry a greater weighting in her global cognitive processing. She is more likely to be influenced by feelings and social consequences and less influenced by rationality. Now I'm not saying that women are irrational, what I'm saying is that social and emotional factors have a much greater weighting in her cognitive functioning than in a man; an important distinction. ( With willed concentration i.e such as when performing a maths test, the weightings can change but this seems to be a task orientated phenomena and the system reverts to its default state once the task is finished)

Now post-natal depression can basically be thought of as an end result of the conflict between the three thought processes. This conflict gives rise to perceptible stress which over time leads to depression and feelings of detachment from the child.

Now the primal processes are what we commonly think as the "animal instincts" and are the ones seem most likely to be influenced by hormones, and it does seem to explain why some women are affected by hormonal issues when it comes to bonding with the baby. But what I postulate is just as some women are more "sexed" than others, it also appears that some women are more "motherly" than others. (perhaps there is a genetic basis to this) These "motherly" women derive pleasure from the mother baby interaction and the interaction is calming, not stressful. On the other hand, there are women who lack this "motherly" instinct or pleasure from bonding with their child, and it's these women who find mothering stressful and who probably form the group of women who want to work and not stay at home. These women may want to be good mothers but the mother baby thing just doesn't a happen. The cognitive processes are "expecting" the bond and joy of motherhood but its not there, stress ensures.

On the other hand, a woman who has a good mothering instinct but has been taught bad mothering skills, usually due to a desire to conform to social normal, will also experience stress in motherhood because of her inability to settle the child, breastfeed, etc. In this instance the source of stress comes from the conflict between the cognitive process and the mothering instinct. And while Mother wants to bond with the baby, the constant crying, feeding and sleep difficulties are source of stress which poison the relationship and her belief in herself.

Finally a mother who has good parenting skills and bonds well with the baby might also feel stressed and unhappy if she is placed in an environment which is hostile to motherhood. Such a woman may enjoy her child but become depressed due to the social opprobrium generated by other women.

The point here to realise is that there are several pathways which can lead to post natal depression and that trying to find that one size fits all cure, is likely to help only a small proportion of the women with the condition. Hormonal aberrations have been postulated as causes for PND, however many women with the condition don't have perceptible hormonal abnormalities, nor has hormonal therapy been accepted as a conventional therapy for this condition.

For motherhood to really work three things have to come together in synch. The mother must have a maternal instinct, she must be taught how to mother properly, society must view her role positively. Variations from this ideal will stress the mother in some way. In most women the stress generated is mild, but in those with cultural or genetic predispositions it's enough to lead to depression.

So what's all this got to do with Conservatism?

Firstly, the reality is that a significant portion of women are not born with a maternal instinct and the concept that a woman's natural place is in the home would seem to be at odds with the scientific evidence. It's an observed fact that some women, who are otherwise normal, find caring for children stressful to the point that it objectively injures their health. This is not my opinion, it's a fact.

Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that whilst the maternal-child care arrangement is probably the best arrangement for looking after children, it's not necessarily so if the mother is having difficulties with the child. There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest the good child care is better than dysfunctional mothering.

Thirdly,given the given the differences in cognitive process between men and women, especially the fact that women give greater weighting to social and cultural factors, means that women are far more influenced by culture and opinion than men are. This fact has profound societal implications. The type of culture we expose our women to is the type of women they become. Men on the other hand tend to be culture resistant. Trying to indoctrinate men to like fat women is just not going to work since their cognitive processes are less influenced by culture.

Finally the mechanics of mother-child bonding parallels the mechanics of male-female bonding, as well as their pathologies. The insights gained from looking at the mechanisms of post natal depression lead directly to the insights of Game. The successful baby like like the successful male, pushes all the right buttons.

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