Patricia Hall, a behavioral neuroscientist, spoke April 17 at the Pope Family Readiness Group Center. The presentation was sponsored by Fort Bragg’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program as part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Strong support systems like those at Fort Bragg can play a critical role in helping abuse victims, a scientist said.

Advocates also should understand the role childhood development plays in a victim’s hesitancy to leave an abusive relationship, said Patricia Hall, a behavioral neuroscientist.

Hall spoke April 17 at the Pope Family Readiness Group Center. The presentation was sponsored by Fort Bragg’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program as part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Hall said some abuse victims associate love with the “less than ideal” treatment they received from their parents at a young age. Those feelings become “hard-wired” into the neural connections of their brains and carried through into adult relationships, she said.

Those associations can be reversed through strong support systems that reinforce healthy relationships, Hall said.

“Empathy isn’t just hard-wired,” she said. “It can be learned.”

“It becomes hard-wired when it is reinforced.”

Hall said that bystander intervention during an abusive incident also requires empathy. A model developed by social psychologists shows five steps of intervention - notice the event, interpret the need for action, accept responsibility for intervening, know how to intervene and implement the action.

“People need to be willing to take action,” she said. “The next step is, you need to know what to do.”

Taking action requires “backbone,” Hall said.

“When are you going to be the one who puts your tail on the line?” she said.

Those who have greater empathy are more likely to notice an event that needs intervention, Hall said. In general, females are more likely to notice those incidents, she said.

Hall talked about other general differences between men and women. Men want to resolve problems now, while women want to avoid the problem from occurring again, she said. Females are more likely to talk through an issue, while males want to take action, she said.

Hall talked about how brains develop. The brain is the basis for behavior, she said.

Neurons in the brain come together to form nerves, Hall said. The brains for children from two to six-years-old go through a process called branching and pruning, which keeps and strengthens what is used and needed in order to work efficiently.

Hall said children need interaction and stimulation. Empathy is usually formed from ages three to five, she said.