Behavioral epigenetics: Dissociation and repression

Something I have been wondering about as of late is the biological basis for dissociation and repression. I am an identity theorist when it comes to understanding psychological phenomena. Also, I do understand why psychology is around as a science. I, nonetheless, believe psychology is based on biological aspects of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Of interest is dissociation and repression.

I’d like to start this with something I’ve read:

what is the difference between the two defense mechanisms Dissociation and Repression ?
Has it got to do with recent event (Dissociation) and past event (Repression) ?

A person’s reply:

This is a good question because it reminds me all the whimsical nature of USMLE tests.

Basically all about defense mechanisms is bullshit. If we had to say something useful about it, we could say they are just ways for the mind to cope with trouble. Beyond that, as far as I know, nobody has identified the Brodmann’s area in the brain where those defense mechanisms lie. Nobody, to my scant knowledge, has demonstrated any correlation with PET scans of the brain. Nobody, to my little reading, found any mutation in any gene that makes more people prone to use this or the other defense mechanism. There’s no animal model nor a drug that enhances any such mechanism.

However, these so called ‘defense mechanisms’ and their definitions do help psychiatrists make their language sophisticated. For example, blocking a painful memory (repression) or just taking the good side of it (dissociation) which in essence both are DENIAL, help psychiatrists keep their notes organized. Because they are always trying to find the neuron or the ion channel that controls either one, that’s how they can keep submitting grants, writing publications requesting more research on the topic, and we students try to memorize such capricious definitions of something that basically looks like denial. If we fail to get the right score, it’s not because such defense mechanisms are baloney, but it’s because we are repressing the fact we are poor students and don’t deserve to match.

source: (year: 2012)

Ok, first off, I have a couple of problems with the reply, regardless of the English used.

In the 2000s, behavioral epigenetics became more of a popular field of study. As such, I believe that more is to be conducted in the realm of behavioral epigenetics than before. However, the problem with behavioral epigenetics in the realm of human neurobiology is that you cannot easily grab a bunch of humans with dissociated or repressed memories and study them.

There are a few problems:

1) The individuals with repressed or dissociated memories more than likely do not know they have the amnesia
2) There are ethical problems with using humans as experimental subjects
3) If you could find individuals with repressed or dissociated memories, then I’m assuming the individual has been informed of this (they’ve been informed of a logic error).

The only way you could really get a great human subject is if you found individuals with repressed or dissociated, kept them blind to the fact that their memories are dissociated or repressed, and then experimented on them. However, that opens a whole new ethical problem: The individuals would want to know why you’re experimenting on them.

You could attempt to tell them that they have dissociated or repressed memories without telling them which or what memories, but once that occurs, the possibility for the individual to begin questioning the reality of the situation occurs. As such, the experimental data has the possibility for becoming biased.

Regardless, in a world where research scientists grab individuals with dissociated or repressed memories, they could attempt to look into the neurobiological causes of dissociated or repressed memories.

Sure, people could attempt to do MRI scans. They could lie to individuals with dissociated or repressed memories, thus hoping to get MRI scans before making the individuals aware of their memory problems.

Sure, blood work could be done. Some analysis of reflex motor control, REM cycle, and other topical studies could be done.

Beyond that, the molecular biological and electrophysiological work needed would fall into some serious ethical issues, as they would require surgery.

Regardless of having human animal studies, it would be difficult to determine whether or not a mouse or rat has dissociation or repression. I have considered that repression in mice may occur due to various condition training. I have read that when a certain experiment with stimuli is done to a mouse in a particular condition, it will give a particular response. However, when the mouse is put into a different condition (environmental setting) with the same stimuli, it will not give the response.

I believe the example was a toxin, for instance. I assume you could relay this also into drug addiction and overdoses.

With drug addicts, if they do drugs in a particular environment, they learn to develop a tolerance. However, you take the drug addict to a different condition, the tolerance will be decreased, because the condition has an influence on the tolerance, thus increasing the possibility for an overdose to occur.

As such, repression or dissociation in this situation could be analogous with the tolerance to the environment. In other words, developing a tolerance is learning to repress negative outcomes. However, in a different condition, the learned ability to repress a negative outcome is decreased, thus the ability for the negative outcome to surface is increased.

That’s a hypothesis at best, but there seems to be some similarity. And in terms of an animal model, that seems to be as close as things get.

As such, one might be able to develop a model for “love trauma” by giving a mouse drugs, which simulate love.

However, this is but speculation.

I believe there have been epigenetic studies conducted in relation to drug addiction in animal models. Loss of the drug could be considered traumatic. And if the trauma is enough, it could potentially dissociate and repress the animal. However, the thing would be finding a way to determine what the animal has dissociated from. As such, I assume an experiment where the drug is paired with a negative stimulus could eventually lead to the animal repressing/dissociating from the negative stimulus while having a desire for the drug. Dissociation or repression would be noticeable if the animal ignores or gains a tolerance to the negative stimulus. However, the methods whereby the negative stimulus occur would have to be considered. The negative stimulus could be a form of second-order conditioning. If the animal ignores the second-order negative stimulus while in the presence of it and continues to seek the drug, then the animal has dissociated, repressed, or forgotten about the second-order negative stimulus.

As such, it could be assumed that the animal has dissociated, repressed, or forgotten its memories. From this point, you could attempt to do neurobiological research on the animal for an animal model of dissociation or repression. From this point, a behavioral epigenetic relationship between dissociation and repression could be determined.

I think that might work, but it may not.

Either way, behavioral epigenetics in the realm of dissociation and repression are still starting out.

I’ve come across an article:
By: Robert Scaer, M.D.

Published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, (2001), 26(1), 73-91, based on a Keynote Address presented at the 31st annual meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, March 29-April 2, 2000, Denver, CO.

He appears to go into some level of detail about dissociation as a neurobiological event. This is admirable. However, I do not like the animal model based on freeze events. I believe more can be done in developing animal models in relation to conditioning, trauma, stimuli, and dissociation.

  1. You say you don’t like the animal model of the freeze response. It is however very useful in explaining PTSD and the associated symptoms, such as fibromyalgia, conversion disorder, dissociation etc. Also the fight/flight response is present in PTSD.

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