My topic of discussion is: "The mind-body connection and how this impacts how we learn." Currently I am a Infantryman in the United States Army. Being deployed for my third tour of duty in Afghanistan, this topic has intrigued me to say the least. Since 2001, The United States has seen a growing number of men and women volunteering for military service. This service requires these brave souls to learn set skills required to finish a task in battle. Most agree that there are two school of thought, classical conditioning and operant conditioning, when it comes to learning. However, I am going to examine how physical fitness can improve mental capacity even when in the extreme situations seen in war. The paper compares the aforementioned schools of thought on learning and how they relate to the military service members.While the United States Military spends a lot of time developing new skills for their recruits, what ultimately allows a soldier to kill the enemy; mind, body or both? My research will demonstrate how the mind-body connection is impacted in the learning process and how it relates to those in a combat situation.
The Mind-Body Connection and How This Impacts How We Learn
Schools of Thought on Learning
As human beings much of what we learn is a result of conditioning. There are two types of conditioning; classical and operant. Classical conditioning was pioneered by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. He is credited for his research of "mental reflexes" in dogs when food was either present or if there was a possibility of food. Pavlov observed the dogs drooling before the food was even given. Here we see the mind body connection played out. The idea of food caused an unconditioned stimulus which for the dogs and their unconditioned response thus was the drooling of the mouth. After a while, through training, the dogs became conditioned. Pavlov introduced a ringing bell before feeding (conditioned stimulus) and just as before the conditioned response from the dogs after hearing the bell ring was drooling. Pavlov's findings showed the world that learning can come from classical conditioning. The second school of thought for learning is operant conditioning. Defined as "training a person or animal to behave in a certain way by way of punishment or reward." (Intellectual Development, 2010). Psychologist B.F. Skinner invented operant conditioning chamber. Skinner discovered that consequences for the organism played a large role in how the organism responded in certain situations. (Benjamin, L.T, 2007). There are two types of positive reinforcement; primary and secondary. Primary occurs when something that an animal likes instinctively which is not learned like eating. Animals learning to enjoy something is the secondary type of positive reinforcement. Skinner used his operant conditioning chamber to observe and train rats. His rats were trained to press a lever to get food. If the rats lever pressing is reinforced only when there is a tone being played then the rat would wait for the tone. A key component of the research was positive punishment. Postive punishment aimed to reduce behavior by taking away the desired good. Man or animal, if they enjoy the reward they will work to avoid losing and thus are less likely to repeat the behavior that threatens to take it away. In October of 2001, the United States began its retaliation against the al Qaeda backed terrorists responsible for September 11, 2001. According to Martinez and Bingham (2011) " 22,658,00 American personnel had be deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or both as of August 30, 2011." That number has only grown since that data was taken. What we see are men and women joining the service to learn a new job to support the wars abroad. They endure months of training in both physical and mental capacities before they are shipped off to fight. As discussed previously, there are operant and classical conditioning, which both occur in the various training received before ultimately deploying. Classical conditioning or mental reflexes rely heavily on what our animal instincts. Before going to basic training, I had never shot a gun in my entire life. There were times when had to rely on my gut to get a task finished. However, all the military training focuses heavily on this operant style of learning. Our instructors pounded proper procedures on a daily basis and if we screwed something up then there would be a negative consequence like performing pushups until your arms fall off. Eventually, I no longer thought about how to fire my weapon at a target, it was like second nature. Physical Fitness
CDC states that "Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you mental health benefits." There's no mystery as to why the military requires its members to be in great physical fitness. The physical state of one's body can have a direct relation to the amount of stress in the mind. Studies have shown that "physical activity can improve concentration, enhance memory and mental awareness." (Mo, 2010). One of the worst things that can occur admists battle is self doubt and confussion. There is not a moment to lose when its a life or death situation. It is that moment where all that training kicks in and one reacts, a mental reflex, as you will. Being physically fit increases the chances of making the correct decision coupled with the amount of training received. Here is when the "flight or fight" mentality sets in. In my last deployment in Iraq, I had the chance to read Dave Grossman's On Killing. His research really digs into how and why in battle we either fight or flee. The body, despite how trained it is to ultimately kill someone, the mind has a harder time executing. This is a great example of the mind-body connection. Grossman states, "You do not rise to the occasion in combat, you sink to the level of your training. Do not expect the combat fairy to come bonk you with the combat wand and suddenly make you capable of doing things that you never rehearsed before. It will not happen." Basically, what I have been taught and those fellow veterans before have been taught is how we are able to react accordingly. Again, I will throw out the term reflex. One does not think but rather react.
"Under the condition of stress, the entire sympathetic nervous system is activated, producing an immediate, widespread response. Characterized by the release of large quantities of epinephrine, an increased heart rate and skeletal muscle vasodilation…. The overall effort is to prepare the individual for danger." (A.D.L, 2007 pg. 820)