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The Polyvagal Theory Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology), 1st Edition

A collection of groundbreaking research by a leading figure in neuroscience.

This book compiles, for the first time, Stephen W. Porges’s decades of research. A leading expert in developmental psychophysiology and developmental behavioral neuroscience, Porges is the mind behind the groundbreaking Polyvagal Theory, which has startling implications for the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and autism. Adopted by clinicians around the world, the Polyvagal Theory has provided exciting new insights into the way our autonomic nervous system unconsciously mediates social engagement, trust, and intimacy.


“[C]hallenges professionals who interact therapeutically, educationally, clinically or even socially with vulnerable populations to share knowledge and work across our specific disciplines, to prevent, identify and treat mental illness.” (Journal of Unified Psychotherapy and Clinical Science)

The Polyvagal Theory gives a thorough overview of Sephen Porges’ research and theoretical contribution to science. . . . [A]n important foundational book. . . . Porges’ contribution to this body of knowledge is considerable.” (Journal of Canadian Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry)

“Stephen Porges has been at the forefront of the investigation of the interplay between neurophysiological processes and developmental status…. It is with The Polyvagal Theory that Porges now presents, in a well-delineated and articulated volume, a highly testable set of hypotheses regarding how the human (and more broadly, mammalian) nervous system has evolved to promote affective regulation and social interaction…. I commend Porges on this effort. Substantial research across a significant career has been well considered and integrated into a quite engaging and stimulating model regarding the relationship between the heart and the brain.” (PsycCritiques)

“[O]ne of the most important books written on the nervous system in the last fifty years. Porges’s ambitious, meticulous, synthetic theory provides a missing link between mind and the nervous system. It also helps explain, in fine detail, how our individual nervous systems influence, and are influenced by, our interactions with others. Suddenly we understand things novelists have described for centuries: how it is that a facial expression, a gesture, a certain tone of voice, can trigger a radical mental reorganization, and lead to engagment, and how our mental and nervous system states shift. Porges’s studies and his theory of the social vagus represents a major advance in human knowledge, and is already improving the practice psychotherapy and mind-body medicine.” (Norman Doidge, MD, author, The Brain That Changes Itself)

“A truly revolutionary perspective on human nature, Porges challenges current theory, illuminates old findings so that we see them differently, and raises dozens of questions for new scientific research. The reach is broad, the depth astounding.” (Paul Ekman, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of California at San Francisco, and President & Founder, Paul Ekman Group, LLC)

The Polyvagal Theory is at the leading edge of psychosomatic medicine and body-mind therapies. It is a vital contribution to scientifically-informed clinical practice. Psychologists, analysts, physicians, bodyworkers, and educators are provided with an essential map to help guide them in tracking the psychophysiological states of their clients, discern where they are ‘stuck,’ and help them to heal and move forward in life. Dr. Porges’s great contribution is now compiled in this one astounding comprehensive volume. It is a must-read for clinicians and psychobiological researchers.” (Peter A. Levine, PhD, author of In Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness)

“Soak in the wisdom of this fabulous book and you’ll see the role of the body’s response to our social interactions in a whole new light. The Polyvagal Theory is a profoundly important contribution to our understanding of how we connect with others through the regulation of our own basic physiological state….Read on and understand our brains, our minds, and our relationships in a rich and extremely helpful way!” (Daniel J. Siegel, MD, author of The Mindful Brain and The Mindful Therapist)

About the Author

Stephen W. Porges, PhD, teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of the 2011 Norton book The Polyvagal Theory.

I am merely a psychology-degree wielding 24 year old with a natural curiosity for anything that influences behavior. This theory, developed by Steven Porges over 40 years of research, is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the influence of the vagus nerves on the physiological and psychological functioning of humans. The theory hinges on the idea that there are three components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS): the reptilian unmyelinated vagus branch, the sympathetic nervous system, and the myelinated neomammalian vagus branch. These branches, in order, correlate to different behavioral responses. The unmyelinated controls homeostatic functions as well as the “freeze” response. As such it develops first, in utero. The sympathetic nervous system, through the spinal cord, controls fight/flight responses by activating the pituitary-adrenal-hypothalamic axis. Finally, exclusive to mammals is the myelinated vagus which acts primarily to control the heart rate via connections to the sinoatrial node of the heart. These components of the ANS act in phylogenetic order, so the myelinated vagus inhibits functioning of the sympathetic nervous system, which inhibits the unmyelinated vagus.

The focal point of Porges’ book is that the development of the myelinated vagus, originating in nuclei called the nucleus ambiguus, is crucial to inhibiting the fight/flight/freeze responses in response to environmental stimuli. The assessing of risk in the environment, which he calls neuroception, is regulated unconsciously and the myelinated vagus helps to resist primal behavioral responses. The strength of the myelinated vagus can be measured using respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), which is an indication of beat-to-beat heart rate variability. When RSA is high, vagal “tone” is high, indicating a strong myelinated vagus. When the RSA is lower, it indicates less vagal “tone” and therefore a weaker myelinated vagus. Humans with low vagal tone are less likely to engage in prosocial behavior because they have less ability to prevent themselves from plunging into fight/flight/freeze behavior when posed with environmental challenges. Porges adds a fourth behavioral adaptation which is “social engagement” (to go along with fight, flight, and freeze responses). In mammals, prosocial engagement is facilitated by high vagal influences on the heart which prevent the individual from entering fight/flight mode. As Porges explains, these vagal influences are strong predictors of positive attachment, healthy social behavior, self-regulation, and even attention span.

The implications of this theory are vast, and it opens up a plethora of research topics for the coming generation of psychophysiologists. Hopefully this book can be as enlightening for other readers as it was for me. I just wanted to give a terse overview of the theory, but nothing can replace actually purchasing the book and delving deep into the subject matter. Enjoy.

Product Details :

  • Series: Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393707008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393707007
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.6 x 9.6 inches

More Details about The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology), 1st Edition

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