By: John D. Hartman
By: John D. Hartman
January 31, 2022

The Brain Behind Behavior

I was asked to consider writing this blog post just a few months into my new career here at Rogers and I had to ask myself; Why me?  Is it because of my Disability?  Is it because of any particular skill, knowledge, or my experience and I realize this is the stigma?  What is a stigma? Two simple dictionary definitions I found are

  1. A mark of disgrace associated with a particular quality circumstance,  or a person. or 
  2. A visible sign of an illness or a disease.

Taking a closer look at these definitions I came to two conclusions or realizations.  The first definition is clearly an internal perception, my disgrace relating to a particular quality or characteristic that I see about me and am uncomfortable with.  Second, an external perception the visible sign or symptom of the disease.  One is clearly what I see or feel and the second is what others see or feel.  One of the two, therefore, I have control over and the other I clearly do not.  As a result, it seems there are two specific logical responses.

First, what I can assert some control over is engaging in positive strategies to manage my illness.  Among those are: medication management, coping skills and strategies along with the life and daily choices that support my recovery and prolonged mental health.

Second is the items I cannot control.  What do others think, do or say when encountering symptoms of mental illness.  If I have no control over a particular aspect of the illness, then I have no rational need to be affected by that or attend to it or it’s associated feelings and thoughts;  Rational behavioral therapy?  Let’s consider these particular responses from a purely brain or neurologic perspective.  If I have no control, I do not need to attend to the issue and if I have to attend there are specific ways in which I can and/or will attend to them. 

Attention control can be understood from a neurologic perspective and then has purely neurologic  or sensory based solutions.  Dr. Michael Thaut professor and researcher in neuroscience and Neurologic Music Therapy, at the University of Toronto and Dr. Gerald C. Mcintosh, chief Neurologist in the Powder Valley hospital system in and around Colorado State University in Ft. Collins writes in “Rhythm Music and the Brain” and countless research studies; there are three specific types of attention to be mastered.  Initially, sustained attention is the ability to focus on one thing over time.  Second divided attention is the ability to focus on one thing while other things are occurring in the environment.  Third is the skill of alternating attention, that is the ability to rapidly alternate between multiple tasks and not lose your place, or your cool.  Each is a learned and rehearsed skill that can be positively or negatively impacted by the nature of the environment wherein it is learned; including at eight weeks of gestation. Yes in the womb when the auditory cortex is developed.  This introduces the need for a discussion of how lifestyle and environmental choices not only impact us, but begins the brain training of the baby in our or another womb.  We can begin to shape and improve a perception of circumstances in this way and in these moments thus reshape the future of our field and more importantly for those who will not need our services simply because they were not wired for the anxiety responses we now treat.  Think for a moment about patients or anyone with disrupted neurologic patterns and attention control needs.  The inability to sustain, divide or alternate attention will not only manifest in attention problems, but consider the associated anxiety and depression and the effect it has on life, learning and relationships.

First consider a biomedical application of rhythm perception.  When consistent patterns of perception, rhythm, are present it regulates impulse patterns in the amygdala that sends the neural impulse to the kidneys and stops the production of Cortisol, the stuff that causes stress. 

John Hopkins research into the brain reveals being stuck in sustained attention or vigilance can cause or look like repetitive behavior.  This can also keep us focused on the negative emotions and behaviors associated with that brain loop.     

Another consideration from this neurologic perspective is then how we train our brain, or that of our patients through consistent sensory, sensorimotor and patterns of behavior.  In a recent discussion with Dr. Clifford Sanders, the Brain Reprogramming Doctor, and in his research, we learn the following.  through our intentional choices and in clinical approaches it is not only possible, but very effective to re-wire brain processes through specific standardized auditory and motor techniques.

Additionally, if we or others struggle with alternating and/or divided attention, think of the stress and anxiety related to keeping your schedule, appointments and all the other daily distractions etc. 

So what?  Our perceptions, experiences and associations form our perspectives and that of those around us.  Fostering and nurturing healthy relationships, environments and habits  will not only improve our mental health, but will build the bridges necessary to remove  the barriers and stigma that cripple our communities and societies     

Considering stigma associated with mental health and understanding some of these basic principles of the brain function in them; let us renew our passion not only in what we know, but what we are learning about the brain, perception and then our preconceptions about why we are doing what we are doing and does what we are doing positively impact ourselves, our mental health and more importantly those we treat in our organization.

Have questions about this perspective and the related research I reference?  Let’s blog about it!  Looking forward to meeting you in the blogosphere.

John D. Hartman
John D. Hartman

John D. Hartman

John D. Hartman is a neurologic Music Therapy Fellow in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  He is sought out as a speaker, trainer and clinician relating to adults and children with complex neurologic disabilities. He has a personal connection to his field having lost his own vision at age nine due to brain cancer.  This gives him a unique insight and perspective on disabilities services and solutions to produce prosperous and exciting outcomes for all. John believes that only by tearing apart the system and putting it back together with fundamental principles; we can realize dramatic results and life changing miracles. His engaging and entertaining clinical work,  speaking and writing style are sure to inspire and motivate readers and leave them with tools to make a difference.  To learn more about his work and experience visit him at