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How Pornography Affects Developing Brains - Dr. Jennifer Brown

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Dr. Jennifer Brown has done extensive research on the effects of pornography on children's developing brains. This PowerPoint presentation details some of the main points of her study. Dr. Brown presented this information to the Prevent Child Abuse Utah Joining Forces Conference in October 2014. This research was also instrumental in passing S.B. 227 in Utah to allow a judge to reduce or restrict custody if a parent has intentionally exposed their child to pornography.

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How Pornography Affects Developing Brains - Dr. Jennifer Brown

  1. 1. HOW PORNOGRAPHY AFFECTS THE DEVELOPING BRAIN DR. JENNIFER BROWN
  2. 2. EXPOSURE TO SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL CAUSES A RELEASE OF STRESS HORMONES ALSO KNOWN AS THE “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” RESPONSE.
  3. 3. When children are shopping with their mothers, and they see a sexually explicit image, their bodies undergo the stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response. Dr. Judith Reisman testified before Congress and explained how pornography activates the fight-or-flight response, triggering an instant, involuntary, and lasting biochemical trail; emotionally arousing images imprint and alter the brain.
  4. 4. THE STRESS COMPOUNDS •Neurotransmitters: •Dopamine •Norepinephrine •Hormones: • Cortisol •Norepinephrine •Testosterone
  5. 5. STRESS NEUROTRANSMITTERS AND HORMONES INHIBIT THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX AND STIMULATE THE BASAL GANGLIA
  6. 6. THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX Self-control Moral judgmen t Emotion al regulatio n Ability to work toward a defined Planning goal Complex cognitive behavior Analysis s
  7. 7. LIMBIC SYSTEM The limbic system has been referred to as the emotional center of the brain. The amygdala is part of the limbic system. It is responsible for signaling to other brain areas in response to emotionally significant visual stimuli (Phan et al., 2002). The amygdala works more efficiently under stress
  8. 8. HIPPOCAMPUS The hippocampus is also part of the limbic system. The hippocampus is involved in learning and memory (McEwen, 2001; 2004). The hippocampus plays a critical role in explicit memory, which is concerned with facts and events (Sapolsky, 2003).
  9. 9. BASAL GANGLIA Compulsive Difficulty linking natural consequences with choices Increased violence and aggression Seek immediate gratification Loss of natural empathy and sympathy for others Loss of willpower Self-centered Much more likely to engage in addictive behaviors
  10. 10. More detail about chemical compounds released in response to SEM: •Amygdala is activated. •The amygdala released a wave of neurotransmitters (Arnsten, 2000; 2009). Neurotransmitters are how brain cells or neurons communicate with each other.
  11. 11. When the wave of neurotransmitters reach the prefrontal cortex it causes a definite reduction in functioning. The prefrontal cortex is very sensitive to the level of neurotransmitters. Too much or too little inhibits functioning.
  12. 12. The wave of neurotransmitters affects the basal ganglia differently than the prefrontal cortex. It works more efficiently. With the basal ganglia in charge, the individual becomes more compulsive and driven by immediate gratification. They essentially become more like animals driven by reward stimulation.
  13. 13. REVIEW: When a minor is exposed to SEM the amygdala is activated and releases a wave of neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine). The wave causes the prefrontal cortex to shut down and the basal ganglia to work more efficiently. The individual becomes more impulsive and driven by immediate gratification.
  14. 14. CORTISOL IS CONSIDERED THE “STRESS HORMONE” • The wave of neurotransmitters activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus activates the adrenal cortex, which secretes cortisol. • Cortisol can directly reduce the functioning of the prefrontal cortex by blocking transporters that clear norepinephrine and dopamine, therefore increasing the levels of neurotransmitters (Grundaman et al., 1998). • Brief exposure to cortisol during 10 days was found to result in marked reduction of the neuronal complexity in the prefrontal cortex, causing less efficient information transmission (Brown et al., 2005).
  15. 15. The prefrontal cortex is exquisitely sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress. In some cases, even mild uncontrollable stressors may lead to compromised cognitive abilities, including deficits in working memory, cognitive flexibility, and emotional control (Arnsten, 2009).
  16. 16. STRESS The amygdala and basal ganglia are affected oppositely of the prefrontal cortex in response to stress. “Chronic stress appears to expand the intricate web of connections among neurons in our lower emotional centers, whereas the areas engaged in flexible, sustained reasoning begin to shrivel” (Arnsten, 2012, pg. 51).
  17. 17. The hippocampus has abundant glucocorticoid receptors and is very sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol (McEwen, 2001; 2004). *Remember that the hippocampus has to do with remembering facts and events. • Cortisol and stress suppress neurogenesis and cause neurons to retract (McEwen, 2001; Radley, 2005). • Chronic stress can cause permanent damage to the hippocampus (McEwen, 2001). • Animal models have shown that periodic stress responses over a period of three weeks were sufficient to cause neural retraction (Brown et al., 2005).
  18. 18. The hypothalamus also activates the testes to secrete testosterone. “SEM, crafts a brain that is constantly generating testosterone and heightens sexual desire” (Struthers, 2009, pg. 100). Instead of allowing boys to focus on school, sports, and music, SEM causes a ramped up sex-drive where their minds are inundated with sexual thoughts.
  19. 19. Elevated testosterone is also linked to increased aggressiveness and violence (Nelson et al., 2005). • A study of 4,462 men linked high testosterone levels with delinquency, substance abuse and a tendency toward excessive aggressive behavior (Dabbs, 1990). • Another study found that delinquent college students had raised levels of testosterone when compared with similar counterparts (Dabbs, 1996).
  20. 20. NEURONS The brain is made up of neurons, which are brain cells. Neurons use neurotransmitters for communication between them. Neurons have a cell body and dendrites that protrude out of the cell body. Dendrites can be thought of as information grabbers. They “grab” information from the adjacent neuron. The axon branches into synaptic terminals. The cell body also has an axon that protrudes from it.
  21. 21. NEURONAL PLASTICITY • In recent years there has been a paradigm shift among the neuroscience community. The brain was once considered to be inflexible. Science has now confirmed that the brain is actually very adaptable. The brain stem that controls breathing and heart rate is rigid. • Obviously, constant changes there would be detrimental to good health. What area of the brain is most susceptible to change? …PREFRONTAL CORTEX
  22. 22. In humans the development of the prefrontal cortex lags behind the development of the limbic system and basal ganglia. This is generally why teenagers are more emotional and impulsive. The prefrontal cortex is more vulnerable to adaptation because maturation takes longer.
  23. 23. THE BRAIN IS VERY ADAPTABLE TO STIMULI IT RECEIVES NEURONS CAN UNDERGO DENDRITIC PRUNING OR BUDDING.
  24. 24. BUDDING & PRUNING • Budding refers to an increase in the number of dendrites on a neuron. The neuron is now able to “grab” more information, which allows for more efficient information transmission. • Pruning is the opposite of budding. Pruning results in less dendrites on a neuron and a decreased ability to transmit information. • A neuron’s anatomy can actually change based on the level of activation (Vigil et al., 2011). Repeated activation of a specific collection of neurons will actually strengthen the connection among those neurons, which will make them function more efficiently (Steinberg, 2011).
  25. 25. Budding & Pruning
  26. 26. SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIAL CAUSES PRUNING IN PREFRONTAL CORTEX AND BUDDING IN BASAL GANGLIA
  27. 27. DENDRITES “Dendrites in the prefrontal cortex begin to change after only one week of stress or possibly even a single exposure. Chronic stress during brain development or childhood may have a particularly large effect on prefrontal cortex structure and function in adulthood.”
  28. 28. Consider an athlete who only did exercises to build up his biceps. His arms would soon be out of proportion. We do not want our youth continually doing basal ganglia exercises and have a prefrontal cortex that is neglected.
  29. 29. DOPAMINE • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter found in the reward area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, and is located in the basal ganglia (Jones, 2010). Dopamine can cause pleasure all the way up to euphoria. It has the unique ability to cause craving. • When a young man is exposed to SEM, his normal physiological response will evoke pleasure and the desire for more. The seeds of desire are planted and there is often a desire to seek out more stimulating material.
  30. 30. DOPAMINE • Responsible for feeling of pleasure all the way up to euphoria • Released from viewing sexually stimulating images and illegal drugs • Has unique ability to cause craving • Exploitation of dopamine system actually causes reduced baseline levels of dopamine. Diminished dopamine is directly linked to impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention.
  31. 31. DOPAMINE BURNOUT • An interesting phenomenon has been discovered. Although initial exposure to SEM causes an increase in extracellular dopamine levels, chronic over stimulation actually leads to a decreased extracellular level of dopamine (Hou, 2011). This is referred to as the dopamine depletion hypothesis.
  32. 32. DOPAMINE DISRUPTION IS LINKED TO ADHD Dopamine is critical to proper functioning of the brain. The development of the dopamine system is very sensitive and excessive activation can lead to long-term functional changes (Beauchaine, 2011). Disruption of the dopamine system is directly linked to a variety of neurological conditions including ADHD (Fox, 2012; Wu, 2012).
  33. 33. A person who has disrupted their dopamine system due to overstimulation is trying to get “straight” rather than get “high.” Low dopamine activity is unpleasant, causing a chronically depressed or anxious mood (Beauchaine, 2011). Individuals who have disrupted their dopamine system are desperate to obtain more of the stimulant that will help them just feel normal again. This is why any kind of addiction will make a person irrational and desperate to receive a momentary dopamine boost.
  34. 34. Dopamine is directly tied to mental cognition, and reduced levels have been found to impair cognitive flexibility (Garcia & Garcia, 2010). The prefrontal cortex is very sensitive to the levels of neurotransmitters. The prefrontal cortex uses dopamine and if dopamine burnout has occurred, the prefrontal cortex will not have the appropriate levels of dopamine required for optimal functioning. This can result in symptoms that include difficulty concentrating and impaired behavioral inhibition.
  35. 35. One study found that when dopamine transmission was brought back to normal levels, neurophychological tests did not improve to the same extent.
  36. 36. The reason illegal drugs are so addicting for some people is because they also manipulate the dopamine reward system. It is not the drug itself people desire, it is the release of dopamine that causes a person to become “high.” Another interesting study about dopamine dealt with video games. This study demonstrated that the level of dopamine released in the basal ganglia while playing a video game was similar to an intravenous injection of the illegal drugs amphetamine or methylphenidate as recorded by positron emission topography (Koepp, 1998). This certainly makes the point that natural rewards can
  37. 37. REVIEW • Dopamine causes pleasure all the way up to euphoria. Dopamine is the impetus of any kind of addiction. Dopamine burnout occurs when levels of dopamine decrease because of overstimulation.
  38. 38. REASONS WHY ADOLESCENTS HAVE AN INCREASED RISK FROM THE EFFECTS OF SEXUAL CUES • When something is developing it is much more susceptible to manipulation for good or bad. • Next to infancy the most organization brain development occurs during adolescence (Vigil et al., 2011). • “Profound neuronal rewiring takes place during adolescence (Sisk & Zehr, 2005, pg.170).”
  39. 39. Adolescents have reduced inhibitory effect from the prefrontal cortex, because that area of the brain does not fully form until the twenties. The amygdala is over reactive in adolescents (Nelson et al., 2005).
  40. 40. • Stress pathways are heightened during adolescence (Walker et al., 2004). Adolescence is characterized by a prolonged activation in response to stressors as compared to adulthood, which may render ongoing development of the brain vulnerable (McCormick & Matthews, 2007). • A teenage boy has an increased release of cortisol, as compared to his dad, when viewing the same sexually explicit image. Cortisol impairs functioning of the prefrontal cortex and chronic stress causes dendritic retraction in the prefrontal cortex.
  41. 41. BOTH CORTISOL AND TESTOSTERONE ARE STEROID HORMONES. STEROID HORMONES ARE DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN ADOLESCENT BRAIN ORGANIZATION.
  42. 42. • Steroid hormones play a critical role in brain development. Steroid hormones are testosterone and cortisol. “Glucocorticoids (cortisol) are hormones that influence ongoing brain development and program future behavioral and psychological responses” (McCormick and Mathews, 2007 pg. 228). • An experiment was conducted in which adolescent rats were exposed to stressors. These rats were given cognitive tests as adults. The rats that were stressed all tested inferior to controls, and those exposed earlier in adolescence showed a greater decline in cognitive abilities (McCormick and Mathews, 2007) This again highlights the fact that adolescence is a critical and vulnerable time of brain development and that an overabundance of steroid hormones is going to favor the more emotional centers of the brain.
  43. 43. Testosterone literally organizes neural circuits during adolescence that will stay with them throughout adulthood (Somerville & Jones, 2010). The effect of testosterone on the maturing brain predicts agnostic behaviors as an adult (Schulz & Sisk). Agnostic means aggressive, defensive, or combative. Higher than average levels of testosterone correspond to an increased volume in the amygdala (Cunningham et al., 2007; NuFeng et al., 2009).
  44. 44. Adolescence can be understood as a unique opportunity in which the changes taking place in the brain affect the individual throughout his or her entire adult life.
  45. 45. REVIEW • The steroid hormones, cortisol and testosterone, play a very important role in brain organization that is unique to adolescence. During adolescence these hormones help organize neuron circuits that will be part of the brain through adulthood.
  46. 46. In adolescence, an unusually large amount of synaptic pruning takes place. “The most frequently used connections are strengthened and preserved, while synapses that have shown scarce activation degenerate” (Vigil et al., 2011, pg.334). If the amygdala is strengthened from continuous activation by SEM there are direct consequences that can include increased aggressiveness, promiscuity, and risk taking.
  47. 47. “ ” LARGE AREAS OF UNCOMMITTED BRAIN TISSUE CAN BE MOLDED…… TO THE DEMANDS OF A PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT (Healy, 1991, pg. C5). We do not want the amygdala-basal ganglia connections strengthened at the expense of the prefrontal cortex. The inundation of SEM in our society favors the connections between the basal ganglia and amygdala.
  48. 48. There is normal synaptic pruning that takes place during adolescence. Think of a sculptor that begins with a block of marble and removes material to make his finished masterpiece.
  49. 49. ADOLESCENT DOPAMINE SYSTEM IS IN A STATE OF OVERDRIVE • Particularly in early adolescence the dopamine system is augmented compared to adults and children. Research has found that adolescent nucleus accumbens (or the pleasure center of the brain) is more active than an adult’s (Ernst et al., 2005). • When a teenager is exposed to a sexually explicit image, more dopamine is going to be released than an adult. This makes a teenager more vulnerable to addictions than children or adults.
  50. 50. “There is accumulating evidence that repeated exposure to stressful situations-particularly when these are unpredictable, uncontrollable and/or taking place at vulnerable periods in life can introduce an added risk for psychopathology” (Joels, 2011, pg. 407).
  51. 51. An imbalance between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala is the basis for emotional and mood disorders, which include: •ADHD •Anxiety •Depression
  52. 52. Hormones are the engineers of the brain. Manipulation of hormones critical to brain development WILL cause a different brain to form. Even slight changes in optimal brain development can have tremendous long-term consequences for individuals.
  53. 53. IS THIS KIND OF BRAIN DAMAGE REVERSIBLE? • “If not too far advanced, brain damage and loss of brain cells can be stopped and genetically rehabilitated. Prolonged negative stimulation may produce permanent results that can even be transferred to those yet unborn” (Belnap, 2008, pg. 8). • Changes that develop due to the environment have been found to be intergenerational (Rossiter, 1996; Francis et al., 1999).

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