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The Activation Programs

Chapter 8

The Innate Activation Programs of the brain - the emotional ones and the non-emotional ones - are very primitive. They lack the flexibility, intricacy and the complexity needed for adult life. They are not even fit the somewhat simpler life of an infant. They are really not intended for these tasks. It is most important that the new baby responds with disgust and vomiting to stale food.

But it is not so good if children and adults respond with a reflex like vomiting to each feeling of disgust. Especially if the disgusting element is a medicine or the reaction is to the disgusting behavior of others.

The main purpose of the innate activation programs is to equip the young baby for his first days of life. Then, the two main functions are:

  1. to be the basic strata and building blocks for activation programs built during the years of growth and maturing;
  2. to function as a defense system in emergency situations when the swift, automatic and reflex-like responses, based on genetic memory is the preferred mode. When one is in an unexpected emergency, it is possible to observe the effects of archaic versions of activation programs - especially the emotional ones.

For instance, when an adult finds that his overdraft in the bank has almost reached the limit, the operation program of the basic emotion of fear v. serenity triggered is not the innate one. Instead, this situation activates the mature and updated version of the operation program (Supra-Program(8) in the following, Supra-Plan in the theory of Bowlby). The duty of this version is twofold:

Firstly, to initiate a more thrifty pattern of behavior or other appropriate measures to take care of the overdraft; secondly, to prevent the activation of the innate program of the emotion which would cause him to run away every time he learned about a dangerous condition caused by his overdraft at the bank.


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One of the results of the plasticity of activation programs of the emotional supra-program type is demonstrated in the vast number of ways individuals respond to similar circumstances. Part of these different ways are of relatively good quality, and their activation brings about the needed results. Part of the different ways are relatively harmless - though inefficient and costly.

They can be an exaggeration of one sort or another of right steps, or be embedded with various mistakes which are not fatal. Other variations - private or common to whole groups of people - are not reliable ways to achieve the basic targets. If one is lucky, they may be merely a costly or funny means of achieving the right end; if one is not lucky enough - as are most people - one cannot expect to lead a happy life.

Other ways in which people behave are results of programs involving too little effort, or activities with a wrong or clearly damaging direction. Thus, these ways cannot bring about the desired results. Sometimes they are even clearly damaging. They are always self-defeating.

In adulthood, and especially in modern industrial countries, very few of our activities can rely on the innate emotional programs. For instance, the emotional subsystem of people who find during their visit to the bank that their overdraft is too big, relay specific "emotional announcements" to the awareness. However, in these instances people cannot rely on the activation of innate operating programs to solve the problem for them.

Some of them examine their accounts - income and expenditure and change their plans. Others may react with anxiety first, and only later make some constructive amendments. Still others with a less adaptive repertoire may only get in a bad mood, but refrain from doing anything to meet the demands of the problem.

People of another group get away from the bank very fast, and divert their attention from the sad news, using the consumption of alcohol drugs or other substances, or do many other things, irrelevant to the problem, just in order to improve their feelings.

next: Ad Hoc activation Programs

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, November 30). The Activation Programs, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sensate-focusing/the-activation-programs

Last Updated: July 22, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD