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Marc Hauser — Vulnerable Minds: The Harm of Childhood Trauma and the Hope of Resilience

Vulnerable Minds: The Harm of Childhood Trauma and the Hope of Resilience (book cover)

Each year at least a billion children around the world are victims of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that range from physical abuse and racial discrimination to neglect and food deprivation. The brain plasticity of our most vulnerable makes the adverse effects of trauma only that much more damaging to mental and physical development. Those dealt a hand of ACEs are more likely to drop out of school, have a shorter life, abuse substances, and suffer from myriad mental health and behavioral issues.

The crucial question is: How do we intervene to offer these children a more hopeful future? Neurobiologist and educator Dr. Marc Hauser provides a novel, research-based framework to understand a child’s unique response to ACEs that goes beyond our current understanding and is centered around the five Ts—the timing during development when the trauma began, its type, tenure, toxicity, and how much turbulence it has caused in a child’s life. Using this lens, adults can start to help children build resilience and recover—and even benefit—from their adversity through targeted community and school interventions, emotional regulation tools, as well as a new frontier of therapies focused on direct brain stimulation, including neurofeedback and psychedelics.

While human suffering experienced by children is the most devastating, it also presents the most promise for recovery; the plasticity of young people’s brains makes them vulnerable, but it also makes them apt to take back the joy, wonder, innocence, and curiosity of childhood when given the right support. Vulnerable Minds is a call to action for parents, policymakers, educators, and doctors to reclaim what’s been lost and commit ourselves to our collective responsibility to all children.

Marc Hauser

Marc Hauser is an educator, neuroscientist, and the founder of Risk Eraser, a program that helps at-risk kids lead healthier lives. He is a former professor of evolutionary biology and psychology at Harvard University and the author of over three hundred papers. His books include Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think, Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong, Evilicious: Cruelty = Desire + Denial, and his new book Vulnerable Minds: The Harm of Childhood Trauma and the Hope of Resilience.

Shermer and Hauser discuss:

  • Hauser’s personal adversities, from childhood bullying to academic misconduct at Harvard
  • LJ: LeBron James story from childhood trauma to NBA triumph
  • WHO: a billion children annually suffer from ACEs
  • Types of adversity: physical and sexual abuse, racial and sexual discrimination, emotional and physical deprivation, domestic violence, disease, neglect, cruelty, torture, war
  • ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • DSM-5: limited prosocial emotions/callous-unemotional: a highly heritable trait
  • Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, Narcissism: the Dark Triad
  • Attachment Theory: John Bolby
  • Disorganized Attachment: when attachment is broken: hyperactive amygdala: reach puberty at an earlier age, have heightened sexual activity, less investment in offspring (even 3 generations later)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: (1) a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and (2) marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.
  • Sexual abuse and eating disorders
  • Consequences: substance abuse, suicide, obesity, depression, liver disease, school dropout, lower life expectancy
  • Do different types of ACEs result in different consequences?
  • Why some people meet traumatic experiences with resilience while others don’t?
  • Timing, duration, severity, and predictability of ACEs.

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This episode was released on June 8, 2024.

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