Lack of trust and social media echo chambers predict COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

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Will Jennings et al. of the University of Southampton has published the findings of a survey and focus group study of UK adults. The authors found that trust and mistrust are core predictors of vaccine hesitancy, with distrust in vaccines in general and mistrust in government raising vaccine hesitancy.


Abstract


Keywords: COVID-19; vaccination; trust; misinformation

As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out across the world, there are growing concerns about the role that trust, belief in conspiracy theories and spread of misinformation through social media impact vaccine hesitancy. We use a nationally representative survey of 1,476 adults in the UK between
December 12 to 18, 2020 and five focus groups conducted in the same period. Trust is a core predictor, with distrust in vaccines in general and mistrust in government raising vaccine hesitancy. Trust in health institutions and experts and perceived personal threat are vital, with focus groups revealing that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is driven by a misunderstanding of herd immunity as providing protection, fear of rapid vaccine development and side effects, belief the virus is manmade and related to population control. Particularly those who obtain information from relatively unregulated social media sources such as YouTube that have recommendations tailored by watch history are less likely to be willing to become vaccinated. Those who hold general conspiratorial beliefs are less willing to be vaccinated. Since an increasing number of individuals use social media for gathering health information, interventions require action from governments, health officials and social media companies. More attention needs to help people understand their own risks, unpack complex concepts and fill knowledge voids.

COVID-19 Misinformation on Twitter

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An Exploratory Study of COVID-19 Misinformation on Twitter⋆ has been reported here.
The authors are: Gautam Kishore Shahia, Anne Dirksonb and Tim A. Majchrzakc
aUniversity of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
bLIACS, Leiden University, Netherlands
cUniversity of Agder, Norway

Keywords: Misinformation Twitter Social media COVID-19 Coronavirus Diffusion of information


Abstract

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has become a home ground for misinformation. To tackle this infodemic, scientific oversight, as well as a better understanding by practitioners in crisis management, is needed. We have conducted an exploratory study into the propagation, authors and content of misinformation on Twitter around the topic of COVID-19 in order to gain early insights. We have collected all tweets mentioned in the verdicts of fact-checked claims related to COVID-19 by over 92 professional fact-checking organisations between January and mid-July 2020 and share this corpus with the community. This resulted in 1500 tweets relating to 1274 false and 276 partially false claims, respectively. Exploratory analysis of author accounts revealed that the verified twitter handle (including Organisation/celebrity) are also involved in either creating (new tweets) or spreading (retweet) the misinformation. Additionally, we found that false claims propagate faster than partially
false claims. Compare to a background corpus of COVID-19 tweets, tweets with misinformation are more often concerned with discrediting other information on social media. Authors use less tentative language and appear to be more driven by concerns of potential harm to others. Our results enable us to suggest gaps in the current scientific coverage of the topic as well as propose actions for authorities and social media users to counter misinformation.

Covid Comfort

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In the COVID-19 pandemic, one way of dealing with the stress, uncertainty and social isolation has been a greater indulgence in comfort food.  This is one of the most strongly predicted outcomes of our all-too human drive towards equilibrium.

A poll of 2,000 Americans found that two in three are reverting to childhood food favourites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. That includes pizza (55%), hamburgers (48%), ice cream (46%), French fries (45%), mac and cheese (38%), spaghetti and meatballs (32%) among others.

The study looked at the eating habits of a sample of 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18-55+ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results indicated that the average person was enjoying comfort meals at least five times a week and snacks six times a week in 2020. 

Detailed findings

  • 69% say they’ll continue to enjoy the same amount of comfort food that they are now, post-pandemic.
  • Americans are spending 30 more minutes each day cooking in the kitchen compared to the same time last year.
  • 41% reach for comfort food to bring happiness.
  • 85% have gained a few pounds staying at home: an extra six pounds on average.
  • 67% would rather give up alcohol instead of their favorite comfort food dish.
  • 90% say their online and social searches for food inspiration have increased during the pandemic.
  • The comfort food meal everyone is most looking forward to enjoying at a restaurant post-pandemic is steak.

Happiness

The report continues: “When asked what they’d rather give up for a year, 67% would rather give up alcohol instead of their favourite comfort food dish, and 67% would also give up social media over having to be without their go-to indulgent dish for a year.”

Respondents have little reserve in showing off their “crave-worthy plates”: “nearly half (49%) of those aged 26-41 have posted a picture of a meal on social media while in lockdown, with men sharing two times as much as women. Almost everyone is turning to the web and social media for inspiration with all this extra time at home – over 90% say their online and social searches for food inspiration have increased during the pandemic.”

More home time also means more time sharing food around the family dinner table. Two-thirds reveal they’ve been spending more time eating meals together at the kitchen or dining room table. For many this has been a welcome change with 70% saying “they’ll genuinely miss all the time they got to gather around the family table once the pandemic is over and things get back to normal”.

“When things are uneasy, it’s the little joys that get us through, whether that’s FaceTiming with family and friends or stronger bonds made over homecooked meals,” says Ciera Womack, Farm Rich Senior Marketing Manager. “And as these responses show, sometimes it’s seeking comfort in certain foods which provide us more relief.”

According to the poll, 41% say they reach for comfort foods because they bring them happiness, while 39% say these types of foods provide them with something to look forward to in these uncertain times. And 33% say it offers “stress relief.”

Thirty-five percent would name their kid “Pizza” for a lifetime supply!

Boys eating pizza together

Now that would be a really serious commitment! According to the survey report, Americans hold such a special place for feel-good foods and nostalgic childhood dishes that they would even name their kid after their favourite for a lifetime supply of it. Thirty-five percent would name their kid “Pizza” for a lifetime supply of it, 28% would name their kid “Mozz Stick” and 27% “Ice Cream.” Amazing! Imagine these poor kids in a class roll at prep school: Pizza, yes sir, Moxx Stick, please sir, Ice Cream, three bags full!

When asked what characteristics make meals or snacks comforting, 47% associate them with great taste, 36% say foods that enhance their mood or make them feel better are what makes something “comfort food” and 34% associate these types of foods with indulgence. No matter when — whether stressful or happy — 38% reach for indulgent food as a reward or treat.

As more restaurants open back up for business, the comfort food meal everyone is most looking forward to enjoying at these establishments is steak (top spot at 30%), followed closely by burgers (27%) and pizza (26%). 

“Food is a common denominator in what gives us comfort during these stressful times, and this survey throws a spotlight on the changing American table in 2020, and how these types of foods are having a positive impact on our lives right now,” Womack adds.

Other Survey Findings:

TOP 15 MOST DEVOURED COMFORT FOODS OF 2020

Pizza                                                                                                   55%

Hamburgers                                                                                        48%

Ice cream                                                                                            46%

French fries                                                                                         45%

Mac & cheese                                                                                     39%

Potato Chips                                                                                       39%

Cookies                                                                                               38%

Chocolate                                                                                            37%

Cereal                                                                                                  34%

Fried Chicken                                                                                      34%

Spaghetti & Meatballs                                                                         32%

Mashed Potatoes                                                                                32%

Bread                                                                                                   31%

Hotdogs                                                                                               31%

Pancakes                                                                                            30%

TOP 5 REASONS AMERICANS REACH FOR COMFORT FOOD

Tastes good                                                                                        48%

Satisfying                                                                                            43%

Brings happiness                                                                                41%

Something to look forward to                                                              39%

Sense of comfort in uncertain times                                                   38%

TOP 5 COMPONENTS OF COMFORT FOOD

Great taste                                                                                          47%

Food used to enhance mood/feel better                                             36%

Indulgent                                                                                             34%

Simple preparation                                                                              31%

Sweet                                                                                                  31%

TOP 10 COMFORT FOOD SNACKS

Chocolate                                                                                            49%

Chips                                                                                                   46%

Cookies                                                                                               39%

French fries                                                                                         38%

Candy                                                                                                  37%

Mozzarella sticks                                                                                 31%

Popcorn                                                                                               31%

Chicken nuggets                                                                                 27%

Cereal                                                                                                 27%

Peanut butter                                                                                      26%

Conclusion

In times of uncertainty and stress, comfort food supplies a need for stability, equilibrium and – comfort. The phenomenon of comfort eating has become a permanent feature of human existence. For many, this type of comfort is a unique form of solace, enjoyment and control. Sadly, there are consequences. The rates of over-weight and obesity will become ever higher. The laws of human nature make this trend inevitable.

The story of the temperature controlled drinking mug

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As the COVID-19 pandemic enters the second year, with lock-downs, curfews and social distancing being the order of the day, people are finding new ways to regain equilibrium. As human needs in isolation become greater, there is a desire to escape the boredom and inertia, and people with spare time and money are increasingly searching for technological devices to ease their burden, ever more frivolous into the bargain.

One tech company has listed the top 10 most sought-after ‘wellbeing tech products’. These gadgets and gismos are seen as ‘must-have’ items by some consumers in better-off Northern and Western countries, but in many other places basic needs for water and sanitation are not being met.

There is not enough water to drink and to wash the hands.

In first place, smart rings produced a whopping 396,000 global Google searches. These devices have multiple functions from tracking your health to contactless payment and are designed to make life easier.

The second most searched for product is the air quality monitor with 104,500 Google searches, followed by the smart thermometer in third place with approximately 72,600 Google searches.

With gyms being mostly closed, people have switched to getting fit from inside their homes. Electric muscle stimulators had 50,600 Google searches.

With many couples having to quarantine separately, they have begun using couple vibrators, searched for 38,500 times.

Suggesting a possible baby boom in the months to follow, there were 16,500 Google searches for fertility monitors, making them the sixth most sought after wellbeing tech product.

To help de-stress, many people have turned to buying mist diffusers (13,200 Google searches) and therapy lamps (9,900 Google searches), respectively ranking seventh and eighth.

Office working has become a thing of the past for many people who now work from home and data suggests people tend to work harder and longer hours whilst at home. Perhaps this is the reason why there were 9,900 Google searches for kneading massagers as the long hours of working at the desk can lead to many back issues.

In tenth place is the temperature control mug (4,400 Google searches), which helps to keep your drink warm whilst working from home! Personally, I think I can manage well enough without one of these.

Insufficient water

In many regions of the world, the temperature controlled mug is not something many people are looking for. Frivolous doesn’t even come close. Higher on the list of priorities is finding enough water for hand washing and drinking.

What was that about kneading massagers, mist diffusers and temperature controlled mugs?

I must have been dreaming.

Hannah, D.M., Lynch, I., Mao, F. et al. Water and sanitation for all in a pandemic. Nat Sustain 3, 773–775 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0593-7

Vincent Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge

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Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), the Dutch post-impressionist, is one of the most influential figures in Western art.  Many say he was a genius. 

Van Gogh’s paintings Sunflowers, Cafe Terrace At Night, Irises, and The Starry Night were painted while he was living in the southern French city of Arles. Here I explore Vincent Van Gogh’s works featuring the Langlois Bridge in Arles.

After visits to London and Paris, Van Gogh had travelled south to Arles in February 1888 seeking the sun and colourful landscapes of Provence.  I post this on the anniversary of Van Gogh’s arrival in Arles, February 20th.  Vincent was fascinated by Japanese prints and had made a large collection with his younger brother, Theo, a Parisian dealer. Upon his arrival, Vincent must have been surprised by a fall of snow, a rarity in the mild but windy climate of the Rhône valley. Vincent wasted little time before he set to work painting and drawing the local scenery and doing portraits whenever he could find willing subjects. Within a month of arrival Vincent discovered a quaint little bridge designed in Holland that must have given him nostalgic memories. The Réginal Bridge was given the name of the bridge keeper, Langlois, which Vincent occasionally mis-spelled as ‘L’Anglais’.

Location

The Langlois Bridge was a pretty Dutch-style drawbridge situated on the Arles-Bouc canal on the outskirts of the city. At Van Gogh’s time, the canal went from the the River Rhône at a point near the western suburb of Roquette to the Port of Bouc. The canal follows the 47-kilometre route of an old Gallo-Roman canal. Its construction began in 1804 as requested by Napoleon Bonaparte. It allowed vessels to avoid the shallow waters of the Rhône delta as they made their way to and from Marseille. Vincent’s first reference to the bridge appears in a letter dated Sunday 18th March 1888 to his friend Émile Bernard:

Perhaps there’d be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and colour. The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there’s no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I’m sending you a little croquis of a study that’s preoccupying me as to how to make something of it — sailors coming back with their sweethearts towards the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.

659px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_letter_sketch

Vincent continued: “I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen.”

The maps show the canal and bridge today and as they were in Vincent Van Gogh’s era. Note that the position of the canal was diverted in the 20th century to enlargen the entrance at the River Rhöne and make to room for a new autoroute, the N113.

The Pont Réginal (Langlois Bridge) on Maps from 2021 and 1850

Technique

Vincent made several paintings of the Langlois Bridge and also a set of drawings. These works showed different sides of the bridge from the left and right banks of the canal. Here is a work showing the bridge keeper’s house (D) which is known to have been located on the Arles side of the canal as indicated by a photograph taken in 1902. The spire (B) is a well-known landmark in the city.

The Langlois Bridge photographed in 1902 and depicted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1888

One of Vincent’s paintings (F400) depicts the bridge in almost exactly the same frame as the photograph above. Vincent’s painting was made in March 1888, during the early part of Spring when the tree was still leafless. The tower (T) in the painting has evidently been masked by a new tree planted between 1888 and 1902 when the photograph was taken.

Vincent was careful to correctly represent the structure and workings of the drawbridge and he made a detailed preparatory drawing. Vincent also made use of a perspective frame, a wooden, mechanical device for scaling the size and position of distant objects in space in a precise manner.

Another of Vincent’s paintings shows two Cypress trees close to the bridge on one side of the canal and the house on the other side (F570). Infrared analysis showed that Vincent had used one of his perspective frames (50 x 45 cm) to precisely delineate the features of the bridge. A small part of the canvas remained unpainted so that one can see a small part of the drawing that lay underneath the rest of the painting, the image of the horse pulling the small carriage.

Unpainted part of the canvas showing the preparatory drawing

The Langlois Bridge at Arles

The bridge itself, the bridge keeper’s house and the Cypress trees are no longer present today. One can reasonably assume they were destroyed before 1931 when a more sturdy bridge was constructed for the increasingly heavy flow of traffic from Arles to Port St Louis.

Vincent’s Different Viewpoints

By researching the terrain surrounding the bridge at the time Vincent made his visits, it has been possible to define Vincent’s different vantage points for his paintings of the bridge. A newly discovered drawing of the bridge given by Vincent to his friend Émile Bernard conforms to the viewpoint looking South. It has been possible to visualize the layout of the terrain and the objects around the bridge as these must have been in 1888.

The terrain around the bridge as it was in 1888

My drawing of the three viewing positions is shown in the illustration below.

Conclusion

The evidence suggests that Vincent Van Gogh painted the Langlois Bridge landscape as he saw it. Vincent was scrupulously careful to paint what he saw, not what he imagined. The landscape that Vincent knew has changed radically, but it has been possible to re-imagine the scene as he originally encountered it.

A New Depth-Rescaling Illusion

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Most visual illusions are produced using carefully contrived drawings or gadgets to fool the visual system into thinking impossible things.  As described in an earlier post, while waiting at a train station, I encountered an apparently real-life Ponzo illusion. Here I explain why I think the new illusion is more strange and more interesting than the classical Ponzo Illusion.

The Ponzo Illusion

The traditional Ponzo illusion is produced by drawing a pair of receding railway lines. The context suggests different depths in the drawing. An object towards the top of the drawing appears larger than an identical object near the bottom of the drawing.  Using a principle of size constancy, the visual system estimates the size of any object as its retinal size multiplied by the assumed distance. Thus, the ‘most distant’ of the two identical yellow lines appears to be longer than the ‘nearer’ yellow line.

Ponzo_illusion

The Setting for the New Depth-Rescaling Illusion

The setting of this new illusion is a railway station situated at Vitrolles Airport, Marseille (see photo below).  The station has glass panelled shelters on the platforms on each side. The glass panel at the front of each shelter displays two rows of grey rectangles. Apart from their decorative function, one assumes that these rows of rectangles are intended to help prevent people from walking into the glass panel as they move in and around the shelter. The photo below shows the arrangement of the two rows of rectangles on the shelter.

IMG-9407.jpg

The Stimuli

The stimuli for the illusion consist of rectangles that are slightly longer than a credit card, approximately 10.0 cm long x 1.5 cm wide with a separation of about 3.0 cm between successive rectangles. The plate glass window is about 5 mm thick and is marked with rectangles on both sides of the glass in perfect alignment so that a 3-D effect is created indicating a false sense of solidity to these rectangles. This ‘3-D look’ may strengthen the illusory effect illustrated below.

IMG-9426.JPG

An Illusion of Depth and Scaling

The new illusion has two intimately related features: illusory magnification and illusory depth. Looking at the rectangles on the glass, the rectangles appear to be projected into the space behind the glass at a greatly magnified size. The rectangles appear as a set of ‘illusory posts’ on the station platform.

The ‘illusory posts’ appear huge in comparison to the actual size of the rectangles on the shelter window (10 cm). When viewed against the background of the nearby platform, the new illusory size is re-scaled to around 10-15 times the actual size.

The perceived depth of an object or picture is the perceived distance from the nearest to the farthest point. If an object is perceived to be further away, then its magnitude is re-scaled accordingly. The depth and re-scaling are directly proportionate. The further the illusory depth, the greater the illusory magnification. When viewed against the background of the platform on the other side of the railway lines, the rescaling is 40-50 times. The scaling of the lines is driven by the illusory depth.

The Context is Crucial

This new illusion does not occur when the context is incompatible with the existence of ‘rectangular posts’ in the aligned position. When the rectangles appear against incompatible backgrounds, there is no clearly formed illusion, as illustrated below. In the first picture, the rectangles are shown against an incompatible background where ‘posts’ cannot normally float in space above a field of reeds. Hence the two rows of rectangles are perceived in a single plane of a reflecting window.

In the case below, the photograph shows rectangles on the side window of the shelter, which cannot rest as ‘posts’ all the way along the row from the left- to right-hand sides. The illusion does not appear on the left side, but there is a weak magnification effect at the right-hand end of the row, where the platform could be compatible with the existence of ‘posts’.

Conclusion

This powerful new illusion is produced by a combination of illusory depth and illusory rescaling. The illusion is possible when the existence of the projected stimuli is congruent with the observed background. With an incongruent background, the illusion does not occur. The illusion is likely induced by the operation of constancy mechanisms in the visual system of the brain.

Mood Homeostasis in COVID-19 Lockdown

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July 29, 2020

An earlier post suggested that COVID-19 lockdowns create a ‘perfect storm’ of vulnerabilities that huge numbers of people, and services, are ill-prepared to manage. 

I reviewed the science of human needs as they are expected to play out over prolonged periods of domestic confinement. More details were published in our article in the Journal of Health Psychology.

Psychological homeostasis is a natural ability to maintain stability, security and balance, a universal principle in the regulation of behaviour.

A recent Dutch study indicates the role of mood homeostasis before and during the COVID-19 lockdown among students.

Abstract

Maxime Taquet, Jordi Quoidbach, Eiko I. Fried et al. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online July 29, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2389

“The impact of lockdowns implemented in response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on mental health has raised concerns. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this impact to mitigate it is a research priority. We hypothesized that one mechanism involves impaired mood homeostasis (i.e., failure to stabilize mood via mood-modifying activities).”

Taquet et al. conclude: “mood homeostasis appeared to decrease during lockdown due to COVID-19, and larger decreases were associated with larger decreases in mood. The association was larger for vulnerable people with a history of mental illness.” Although their conclusion could not be validated with a control condition in which the lockdown did not occur, the reduced range of activity produced by lockdowns is the likely culprit.

Physical activity enhances homeostasis

The disruption of psychological homeostasis in COVID-19 lockdowns degrades the ability to maintain stability, security and balance by a varied range of activities. In our JHP article, we advocate the increased use of physical activity to bolster the natural ability to enhance well-being during periods of lockdown and isolation:

“One underutilized tool that is freely available to almost everyone can bring profound benefits if applied systematically – regular physical exercise. The impact of exercise is one of the most powerful examples of regulation created by homeostasis. Regular physical activity not only has obvious physical benefits but significant psychological benefits also. During COVID-19 isolation, exercise offers the capability to reset body and mind to a state of equilibrium.

“the whole mess started very early in his career”

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Hans Eysenck’s False Claims Began in the 1950s and 60s

Evidence from Joachim Funke of the Psychologisches Institut, Universität Heidelberg shows that Hans Eysenck’s scholarly output was untrustworthy from the very beginning of his career. In the 1950s and 60s Eysenck positioned himself as the ‘enfant terrible’ of psychoanalysis. Eysenck claimed the evidence in support of the therapy was exceedingly poor or non-existent. Critics pointed out that Eysenck had misrepresented the research literature using incorrect statistics and biased summaries. The paper by A. Dührssen and E. Jorswieck states:

The data published by Eysenck do not concur with the original ones of Fenichel, Alexander, Jones and Knight. According to Eysenck psychoanalysts obtained 43% positive results, yet the authors published results that were 80% positive.

In their paper, A. Dührssen and E. Jorswieck attempted to correct the scientific record. However, the correction was less impactful than Hans Eysenck’s inflammatory diatribes. The full reference is as follows:

Dührssen, A., & Jorswieck, E. (1962). Zur Korrektur von EYSENCKs Berichterstattung über psychoanalytische Behandlungsergebniese. Acta Psychotherapeutica et Psychosomatica, 329-342.

The publication contains a summary in English, which is copied below.

Summary

The publications of Eysenck concerning psychoanalytic literature
have been studied and checked. The data published by Eysenck do not
concur with the original ones of Fenichel, Alexander, Jones and
Knight. Since Eysenck himself stated that he had to evaluate the original
data according to certain view points in order to get comparable
results, his data have been rechecked according to his method. It
became apparent that even then other percentages in all details resulted
as Eysenck had published. Even the number of finished cases,
published by the authors, did not concur with number published by
Eysenck. Especially significant is the difference between Eysenck’s
and the original data concerning positive therapeutic results of
psychoanalysis. According to Eysenck psychoanalysts have 43%
positive results, the authors published 80% positive.

It has all gone very quiet on the retractions front. Apparently, the relevant editors and publishers couldn’t care less, such is the poor state of governance in academic publishing. To quote Joachim Funke, the ‘whole mess’ started very early in his career. Sadly, elements of Hans Eysenck’s mythology live on to this very day.

References

  1. Alexander, F.: Critical evaluation of therapeutic results. In: Five-year report
    1932-1937, p. 30-40 (Institute for Psychoanalysis, Chicago).
  2. Eysenck, H.J.: The effects of psychotherapy: An evaluation. J. consulting
    Psychol. 1952, 16:5, 319 ff.
  3. Eysenck, H. J.: Woran krankt die Psychoanalyse? Monat 88: 18 (1955).
  4. Eysenck, H.J.: Wege und Abwege der Psychologie. In: Rowohlts Deutsche
    Enzyklopädie, p. 10 8-1 10 (Rowohlt, Hamburg 1956).
  5. Eysenck, H.J.: The effects of psychotherapy. In: Handbook of abnormal
    psychology, p. 697ff. (New York, 1961).
    6€ Fenichel, O. : Statistischer Bericht über die therapeutische Tätigkeit 1920-1930.
    In: 10 Jahre Berliner Psychoanalytisches Institut, p. 13-19 (Wien, 1930).
  6. Jones, E.: Report of the clinic work 1926-1936. In: The London clinic of
    psycho-analysis. Decennial Report, p. 10-14 (London, 1936).
  7. Knight, R.P.: Evaluation of the results of psychoanalytic therapy. Amer. J.
    Psych. 1941: 434ff.

VVIQ: Avoid imitations

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A ‘Rolex watch’ sold in a street market is unlikely to be genuine. One avoids an imitator version passed off as the real thing.

The VVIQ is a well-known instrument for the investigation of visual imagery vividness. The instrument has been used in multiple published investigations. Recently an alternative version of the VVIQ has appeared on the Internet under the label “Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz“. The data obtained from the VVIQuiz version have not been shown to be psychometrically valid when compared to the real thing.

Users need to be aware that the VVIQuiz appears to have a systematic bias towards low vividness scores. Pending detailed psychometric testing, scores obtained from the Quiz version cannot be assumed to be valid. It is always best to avoid imitations.

Beware of an In-Built Bias

Operating within a website called the Aphantasia Website, the Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz is passed off as the VVIQ. It is likely that procedural changes from an in-built bias in the VVIQuiz will produce scores of lower average vividness than the VVIQuestionnaire.

The VVIQuiz purports to measure the vividness of one’s visual imagination. The introduction claims that the “VVIQ is proven to be an accurate test of the vividness for which you can imagine people, objects, or settings in your mind. It is the go-to psychometric for researchers studying extreme imagination, and is often used to identify aphantasia.”

The blurb continues:

“This “aphantasia quiz” consists of four scenarios and asks you to rank how vividly you can picture them in your mind on a scale of one to five.  Each scenario asks you to imagine the face of a loved one, the image of your favourite shop, or a beautiful landscape — and to rate the vividness of the details within each scene.

Since the VVIQuestionnaire was first developed in 1973 by British psychologist David Marks, it has been referenced in over 1200 studies of mental imagery and been given considerable attention in the domains of psychology, philosophy, and more recently, cognitive neuroscience.”

Biasing Instructions

The VVIQuiz leads the participant towards ratings of low vividness. They state:

“For each scenario try to form a mental picture of the people, objects, or setting. Consider carefully your experience. Does some type of image come to mind?  Rate how vivid the image is using the five-point scale described below.  If you do not have a visual image, rate vividness as ‘1’. Only use ‘5’ for images that are as lively and vivid as real seeing.

Please note that there are no right or wrong answers to the questions and that it’s not necessarily desirable to experience imagery or, if you do, to have more vivid imagery. [DFM note: A quiz normally does have right and wrong answers, which is one of the reasons the ‘VVIQuiz’ is a misleading instrument.]

The rating scale is as follows:

  1. No image at all, I only “know” I am thinking of the object
  2. Dim and vague image
  3. Moderately realistic and vivid
  4. Realistic and reasonably vivid
  5. Perfectly realistic, as vivid as real seeing

Biasing Slider

The VVIQuiz contains a slider which is set at zero. Most likely the slider setting will tend to bias users towards lower vividness scores. To test this hypothesis it would be interesting to compare a distribution of original VVIQuestionnaire scores with VVIQuiz scores obtained under three conditons:

i) Slider starting position at zero vividness

ii) Slider starting position at maximum vividness

iii) Slider starting position at midpoint vividness

The current version of the VVIQuiz forces all participants to start with the slider at zero. The instructions state:

“For each item, drag the sliding scale to align with the vividness of your visualization.’

After stating the first item, a slider is presented which shows a starting position at zero vividness.

The exact same slider is shown for every single item.

It seems likely that the positioning of the slider and the statement directly above will bias users’ ratings towards the low vividness end of the 5-point scale.

Conclusion

Until the VVIQuiz has been shown to be psychometrically equivalent to the VVIQuestionnaire, users are advised to treat the VVIQuiz with extreme caution. The best policy is to avoid it altogether.

Institutional Logics, the British Psychological Society and Hans Eysenck

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The Journal of Health Psychology has published a new paper on “Research misconduct complaints and institutional logics: The case of Hans Eysenck and the British Psychological Society” [October 28, 2020].

The paper provides an analysis of the reasons Hans J Eysenck’s misconduct has not been fully investigated by the BPS.

The authors, Russell Craig, Anthony Pelosi, Dennis Tourish, urge the BPS to investigate this complaint afresh. They also support calls for the establishment of an independent National Research Integrity Ombudsperson to deal more effectively with allegations of research misconduct.

This paper is on Open Access and should be widely read.

https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320963542Article information

The Abstract and key words are copied below followed by the authors’ Press Release.

Abstract

A formal complaint was lodged with the British Psychological Society in 1995 that

alleged serious scientific misconduct by Hans J Eysenck. The complaint referred

to research into the links between personality traits and the causes, prevention

and treatment of cancer and heart disease. Using a framework of institutional logics,

we criticise the Society’s decision not to hear this complaint at a full disciplinary

hearing. We urge the BPS to investigate this complaint afresh. We also support

calls for the establishment of an independent National Research Integrity

Ombudsperson to deal more effectively with allegations of research misconduct.

Keywords

British Psychological Society, personality and fatal diseases, personality and cancer,

personality and ischaemic heart disease, research misconduct, research policy

PRESS RELEASE PREPARED BY THE AUTHORS: Russell Craig, Anthony Pelosi, Dennis Tourish

Cancer and personality

The British Psychological Society should stop dodging research misconduct claims

against Hans Eysenck. Professor Hans Eysenck was a giant in the world of psychology –

the most frequently cited living psychologist at the time of his death in 1997.

But in 2019, a King’s College London inquiry concluded that 26 of Eysenck’s research

papers with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek were ‘unsafe.’


Now, a new paper in the Journal of Health Psychology urges the BPS to properly

investigate a 1995 complaint it received from Glasgow psychiatrist, Tony Pelosi.

This drew attention to Eysenck’s research into the links between personality and

the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and heart disease. The paper’s

authors, Russell Craig, Tony Pelosi and Dennis Tourish, criticise the BPS’s decision

not to refer the complaint to a full disciplinary hearing. In examining how the

BPS handled the complaint, they highlight how professional societies can be

caught in a bind between preserving the reputation of their field and its

integrity. They say image-management prevailed in 1995, but now urge the

BPS to restore integrity and discharge its duty to the public by agreeing to

a full investigation.

The complaint
Pelosi drew attention to numerous concerns in peer-reviewed articles

about Eysenck’s work, including claims of some data manipulation. He cited

statements by Bernard Fox, the [then] leading authority in biopsychosocial

cancer epidemiology, that the reported results were “simply unbelievable.”

This view was prompted by a conclusion that people with a “cancer-

prone” personality type were 121 times more likely to die from a cancer

than people with a healthy personality. Pelosi’s complaint also mentioned

deficiencies in a clinical experiment in which 41 people with malignant

hypertension, and described as “stressed but healthy,” were included in a

randomised trial. However, the reported clinical features of these

subjects clearly indicated they were far from healthy, and at imminent risk

of stroke, heart failure and kidney failure

The BPS’s investigation
The authors of the Journal of Health Psychology paper use archival

records to explore how the BPS processed the complaint at meetings

of its Investigatory Committee in July and August, 1995. They note the

predicament that professional societies, such as the BPS, face in striving

simultaneously to be “a members’ association” and “an advocate for the public.”

They argue that the complaint’s processing suggests the BPS had abandoned its

“obligation to the public.”

The BPS did not give Pelosi an opportunity to respond to Eysenck’s reply

to his complaint. Nor has the content of Eysenck’s reply been made available.

The BPS’s decision to not fully investigate the complaint was not explained.

Given the public health implications of the disputed research findings, the BPS

should have been highly transparent in its processing

and exercised caution by recommending closer investigation.

There have been several recent calls for the BPS to formally investigate

Eysenck’s wider publications. Although the BPS reaffirms the importance of

ensuring research integrity, it nonetheless seems to consider itself absolved

of any remedial responsibility. It has “passed the buck” by derogating

responsibility for remediation of research misconduct to

“the academic institution which oversees the work carried out by its academics …”

Actions
Professional associations should thoroughly and transparently

investigate complaints they receive alleging research misconduct against

members. They should do so in a way that prioritises integrity over reputation.

The research propriety and reliability of Eysenck’s research on the links

between personality and fatal diseases should be thoroughly investigated.

Specifically, the BPS should reconsider the substance of Pelosi’s 1995 complaint in a way

that accords with best ethical practice.

Media enquiries
Tony Pelosi. E-mail: anthony.pelosi@nhs.net Phone: 07711497617
Dennis Tourish. E-mail: D.J.Tourish@sussex.ac.uk Phone: 07969422365

A New Book with a New Approach to the Investigation of the Paranormal

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From the Preface

[An ESP experiment] “immediately appeals to his [or her] unconscious readiness to witness a miracle, and to the hope, latent in all [people], that such a thing may yet be possible. Primitive superstition lies just below the surface of even the most tough-minded individuals, and it is precisely those who most fight…” 

C.G. Jung, 1952.

It is of natural science to investigate nature, impartially and without prejudice.

J.R. Smythies, 1967.

Anomaly

  • something that defies explanation – adds spice. Beyond spice, anomaly offers hope, the hope that something – whatever it may be – exists beyond the everyday. We humans live in hope eternally. But what exactly is an ‘anomaly’? I do not mean the kind of oddness or peculiarity in human behaviour that is everywhere to be seen. I am referring to things that really should not be so, the weird, the spooky, the face in the mirror that isn’t you. Anomalistic experiences are curious, strange, ‘funny peculiar’.  As we engage with the experience itself, we freely ruminate and craving to understand, we dig to discover something new. The goal here is to do precisely that, to dig below the surface of anomalistic experience, to take a close look at the psychology of the paranormal, to put psi ‘under the microscope’.  One should not be surprised if all is not as it seems and we can expect surprises aplenty here.

I approached the writing of this book with anticipation

wondering where the adventure might lead. I hoped it would lead towards new insights, explanatory theory and nuggets of new knowledge.

In the end, I reached an altogether unexpected conclusion…

How, you may well ask, can that be?  Surely, an ‘expert’ about psychology and the paranormal should already have reached an opinion one way or the other, a strong point of view?

Not so.

I genuinely have no idea where this new investigation will lead.I write as a zetetic.[1] I have a map and a set of place names[2],  but what exists at each place is uncertain. I last visited this field 20 years ago. Now, with ‘new eyes’ and new evidence, one’s understanding could be significantly different compared to 20 years ago.  Unlike previous visits, I am giving the psi hypothesis an initial probability of being a real, authentic and valid experience of 50%.

Please take a minute to consider your own current degree of belief in ESP.  Indicate your current belief with an arrow on the Belief Barometer below.[3]

My objective

is to cut a path through the vast, tangled jungle of publications with a machete that is sharp and decisive. With each new claim, one must reads, reflect, question, reflect some more, and ultimately decide at one particular moment the degree of plausibility that each specific claim possesses. Belief Barometers will be used to mark your and my degree of belief for each individual claim. The amount of variation in one’s degree of belief indicates a sensitivity to evidence.  If somebody simply says ‘0%’’ or ‘100%’ to absolutely everything, that surely indicates intransigence and intolerance of ambiguity.

One cannot profess definite explanations in advance because that would be blinkered. If we already KNEW the answers, we would cease to investigate, I would not be writing, and you would not be reading. The truth would already be out and we would be picking at the flesh of dead learning like vultures at a dead elephant.

No true zetetic starts from a fixed position. She/he suspends judgement while seeking and exploring with an open mind. In any science, all ideas are provisional, pending further investigation. Those who assert a fixed point of view before looking at the evidence break the ‘Golden Rule of Science’, which is to let conclusions follow the evidence.

Anomalistic psychology

includes the entire spectrum of conscious experience in all of its glorious splendour. By examining in-depth the evidence both pro and con any particular claim, one gains an entitlement to offer conclusions. Even then, the conclusions are tentative, pending further investigation by independent investigators. I am also minded to recall Heraclitus’ well-known dictum, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”  Having stepped into the paranormal river on a few occasions, it was each time a different river.

It is impossible here to include everything in Anomalistic Psychology. The selected exemplify phenomena that have received significant attention from researchers over the last 50 years.  Fun though they may be: Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Clever Hans, mediums, Ouija boards, and stage mentalists didn’t make the cut. See them in the ‘red tops’ and on YouTube.

Returning to the world of psi

after a 20-year respite, I am curious to see what has changed. Anomalistic Psychology is now the battle-ground of psi (Luke, 2011) and there is a growing stockpile of sophisticated methods and findings that can be considered to be supportive of paranormal interpretation.

My return to the field is not without some amount of trepidation, for now I risk being the target for pot-shots from both sides!

However, a strongly partisan view is unhelpful to making any progress in this, or any other part, of science.  Progress requires a dialogue between advocates of differing positions. I wish to put down a marker that says: “Peace. Nobody won. Stop fighting.” That’s not to say there won’t be criticism; there must be, otherwise there can never be progress.

To establish a dialogue, I invited seven *stars* of the field to respond to my criticisms and questions: Daryl Bem, Susan Blackmore, Stanley Krippner, Dean Radin, Hal Puthoff, Rupert Sheldrake, and Adrian Parker. Warm thanks to one and all.

Evidence, critique, new theories

In this book, I present evidence, critique, and new theories. Whenever possible, I use verbatim quotations of advocates concerning specific claims. Nobody can ever legitimately say that a claim has been ‘disproved’; if the truth of a claim is undecided, it is only possible to say that it is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed.

Whatever one thinks, the world is always independent of how we might wish it to be. There is nothing wrong about believing in psi if one chooses to, and scientists have no place disparaging such beliefs. Belief in the paranormal is normal.

Sociologist Andrew Greeley (1991) put it this way:

“The paranormal is normal. Psychic and mystic experiences are frequent even in modern urban industrial society. The majority of the population has had some such experience, a substantial minority has had more than just an occasional experience, and a respectable proportion of the population has such experiences frequently. Any phenomenon with incidence as widespread as the paranormal deserves more careful and intensive research than it has received up to now….People who have paranormal experiences, even frequent such experiences, are not kooks. They are not sick, they are not deviants, they are not social misfits, they are not schizophrenics. In fact, they may be more emotionally healthy than those who do not have such experiences.” (Greeley 1975: 7)

Scientists should be agnostic about the ontological status of paranormal experience and examine the circumstances that constrain or facilitate exceptional experiences.  In approaching each claim, I maintain a zetetic viewpoint, neither believing nor disbelieving,  attending to the evidence. Only after one has completed a thorough survey of evidence is one entitled to an informed opinion. A zetetic must not be naïve, however.

Master zetetic, Marcello Truzzi (1987):

Marcellotruzzi

“The ground rules of science are conservative, and in so far as these place the burden of proof on the claimants and require stronger evidence the more extraordinary the claim, they are not neutral. But, we also need to remember, evidence always varies by degree, and inadequate evidence requires a tolerant reply which requests better evidence, not a dogmatic denial that behaves as though inadequate evidence were no evidence” (p. 73).

Astronomer, Carl Sagan (1995) also offers wise advice:

260px-Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Society

“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones.” (Sagan, 1995, p 25).

The first 20 years of the 21st century

brought many astonishing scientific discoveries: the first draft of the Human Genome, graphene, grid cells in the brain, the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cells, the Higgs boson, liquid water on Mars and gravitational waves. Not bad going in such a short time!  During this same period, Anomalistic Psychology has grown at an enormous pace with increased numbers of investigators and publications (Figure P2).  Disappointingly, however, new discoveries or theories are few and far between. If there has been one discovery, it might be stated thus: The science of anomalistic experience is more complex and obscure then most psychologists ever imagined. When we are at the beginning of new venture like this, we must not be deterred by having no real answer to two of the hardest questions in science: What is consciousness and what is it for? [5]

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 10.38.01

One of the greatest scientific minds of the last century, Stephen Hawking, stated:

Stephen_Hawking.StarChild

“Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations” (Sample, 2011).

It has also been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories.

Parapsychology, like its ‘big sister’ Psychology, has always been heavily empirical and short on theory. The rapid growth is indexed by multitudes of empirical studies in the absence of notable theoretical developments.

By becoming more theory-driven, the field of ‘Psychology + Parapsychology’ as an integrated whole seems likely to make faster progress.

It seems counterproductive to treat Parapsychology and Psychology as separate fields.

Bringing the ‘Para’ part back into mainstream Psychology helps to integrate the discipline. This book takes a step in that direction. Parapsychology and Psychology contain myriads of variables, A,B,C…N…X,Y,Z.  An established strategy for developing new research in Psychology and Parapsychology is for the investigator to identity ‘gaps’ in the field and to set about filling those gaps with correlational and experimental studies with almost every possible permutation and combination of variables.  The gap filling approach is one strategy for keeping productivity high but, often, it is at the expense of developing new theories. As already noted, the academic world is based on quantitative measures of performance[6] and the number of publications a researcher can claim matters. This drive towards publications leads to what I call ‘Polyfilla Science’.

Polyfilla Science

For every ‘hole’ investigators can fill, they are almost guaranteed a peer-reviewed publication. ‘Polyfilla Science’ exists on an industrial scale, keeping hundreds of thousands of scientists busily occupied in hot competition. The ‘winners’ of the Polyfilla competition are the ones who tick the highest number of boxes and harvest the most citations.[7]

‘Polyfilla Science’ can be represented as a multidimensional matrix of cells where the task of science is viewed as filling every last cell in the matrix (Figure P3).  This method of doing science is more akin to a fairground shooting gallery than to theory-driven science.  In the absence of theory, many researchers use a Polyfilla ‘shotgun’ by testing a dozen or more “hypotheses” in one shot. Popular though it is, ‘Polyfilla Science’ isn’t the only game in town, and a theory-driven approach is also available.  Theory is used to identify the principles behind questions that need answering in a process of confirmation and disconfirmation of predictions. When one considers the fact that there are one hundred thousand psychology majors in the US alone, all needing a research project, it is no wonder the Polyfilla approach is so popular.[8]

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 10.39.15

The book is geared towards the needs of teachers, researchers and students interested in Anomalistic Experience, Parapsychology and Consciousness Studies.

In comparison to the scientific discoveries in other fields, Psychology or Parapsychology have made no world-changing discoveries in the last 50 years. By this, I mean discoveries that are worth telling your grandchildren. In my opinion, the lack of significant theoretical developments, and the Polyfilla Approach, are two of the main reasons for this lack of progress.  All this needs to change.

Avoiding the drunkard’s search

One must beware – and avoid – the drunkard’s search principle – searching only where it is easiest to look. You probably already know the parable:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his wallet and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost it here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost it in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”.

lost_in_the_dark

We must look wherever psi could be found, not only where it is easiest to look.

The search for psi is a complex, winding trail of traps and pitfalls. When we observe evidence, we must not,  a priori, rule it out as subjective validation or confirmation bias. An openness to being wrong may cause uncomfortable feelings, but knowledge and truth are never givens. When we are lucky enough to discover something new, this is hard-won treasure.

I present here new theories in the spirit of open inquiry. There’s a saying that ‘today’s theories make tomorrow’s fish-n-chip paper’. Possibly, probably, these theories are wrong.  So be it. If possible, falsify my theories, throw them out, and develop better ones. By testing and falsifying existing theories, newer, better theories can be obtained and so on indefinitely. As I share thoughts and conclusions, the reader will be able to contest and challenge  and contrary evidence.

We’ve walked on the Moon and are heading to Mars, but we still don’t yet know the function of consciousness. One of the starting points must be to separate fact from fiction in anomalistic psychology.

Notes

[1] Zetetic from the Greek zçtçtikos, from zçteô [ζητέω (zéteó) — to seek] “to seek to proceed by inquiry”.

[2] [2] Tópos, the Greek name for “place” (τόπος); ‘topic’ in English.

[3] Belief Barometers appear throughout this book.

[4] The majority of so-called ‘skeptics’ are disbelievers and/or deniers who have adopted the label ‘skeptic’ for its more temperate connotations. The late Marcello Truzzi was one of two co-founding chairman of the leading US skeptical organisation CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Truzzi became disillusioned with the organization, saying they “tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion… Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them.” Using the title of ‘skeptic’, Truzzi claimed that this association of debunkers could claim an authority to which they were not entitled: “critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics’ are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label.” Genuine or ‘classical’ skepticism is the zetetic view to suspend judgement and enter into a genuine inquiry that assumes any claim requires justification. Maintaining a zetetic position of open inquiry requires a steady hand and a critical mind. There is no room for naivety but a touch of Socratic irony may at times be helpful. A protracted correspondence between Martin Gardner and Marcello Truzzi , indicating their two contrasting viewpoints, has been published by Richards (2017).

[5] Nagel (2013) and Strawson (2006), among others, argue for the ancient philosophy of pan-psychism, in which all physical objects from atoms to the cosmos all have conscious experience.  Elsewhere, I have described Consciousness  as “a direct emergent property of cerebral activity” (Marks, 2019)..

[6] Numbers of publications, citations, grant monies, prizes, promotions and awards.

[7] One of the world’s most published and ambitious ‘Polyfilla’ psychologists told me a self-effacing story about the occasion he went for an interview at the University of Oxford. A member of the panel asked: “Dr X, you have a huge number of publications. But what does it all mean?” He didn’t know the answer and got rejected for the post.

[8] Polycell Multi-Purpose Polyfilla Ready Mixed, 1 Kg, i#1 best seller on Amazon.co.uk, 16 May 2019.

[9] The history of the field is adequately reviewed by others e.g. John Beloff (1993) or Caroline Watt (2017).

Homeostasis, behavioral adjustment and the concept of health and disease

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G L Engel’s (1953) theory of homeostasis

 

The psychiatrist G L Engel is famous for his concept of the‘biopsychosocial model’(BPSM), which has been cited, to date, 14109 times: 

Engel, G. L. (1977). The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine. Science196(4286), 129-136.

Much less cited but, arguably, a more interesting and significant contribution is Engel’s earlier paper about homeostasis, behavioral adjustment and the concept of health and disease. See details below:


Citation

Engel, G. L. (1953). Homeostasis, behavioral adjustment and the concept of health and disease. In R. R. Grinker (Ed.), Mid-century psychiatry: an overview (p. 33–59). C. C. Thomas. 


Abstract

All the phenomena of disease can be derived from interference with attempts at satisfaction of instinctual needs; inner perception of a disturbed equilibrium or unsatisfied need, with the concept of a danger signal; chemical, physiological, psychological and social adaptive devices coping with the stress; and structural or functional damage resulting from the stress and from attempts at adaptation which are inappropriate or unsuccessful.

Mentalizing homeostasis: The social origins of interoceptive inference

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Fotopoulou, A., & Tsakiris, M. (2017). Mentalizing homeostasis: The social origins of interoceptive inference. Neuropsychoanalysis19(1), 3-28.
Is the self already relational in its very bodily foundations? The question of whether our mental life is initially and primarily shaped by embodied dimensions of the individual or by interpersonal relations is debated in many fields, including psychology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and more recently, cognitive neuroscience. In this interdisciplinary target article, we put forward the radical claim that even some of the most minimal aspects of selfhood, namely the feeling qualities associated with being an embodied subject, are fundamentally shaped by embodied interactions with other people in early infancy and beyond. Such embodied interactions allow the developing organism to mentalize its homeostatic regulation. In other words, embodied interactions contribute directly to the building of mental models of the infant’s physiological states, given the need to maintain such states within a given dynamic range despite internal or external perturbations. Specifically, our position rests on the following three propositions: (1) the progressive integration and organization of sensory and motor signals constitutes the foundations of the minimal self, a process which we have linked to contemporary, computational models of brain function and named “embodied mentalization”; (2) interactions with other people are motivated and constrained by the same principles that govern the “mentalization” of sensorimotor signals in the individual – and hence the mentalization of one’s body can include signals from other bodies in physical proximity and interaction, especially in interaction with particular bodies. (3) Crucially, given the dependency of humans in early infancy, there is a “homeostatically necessary” plethora of such embodied “proximal” interactions, especially as regards interoception. Collectively, such experiences of proximal intercorporeality “sculpt” the mentalization process and hence the constitution of the minimal self, including the progressive sophistication of mental distinctions between “subject-object,” “self-other” and even “pleasure-pain.” Finally, we explore notions of cardiac and more broadly interoceptive awareness as later, cognitive acquisitions that allow us to progressively solidify such distinctions, as well as understand and empathise with other people.
Keywords:
self; affect; emotion; awareness; social cognition; touch; interoception; intersubjectivity; embodiment; skin ego; minimal self

Homeostasis in Philosophy

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“As adults, we live our trust in others by perceiving the objects that surround us in ways that protect, rather than damage, the shared worlds that we create in our relationships with them”

Bredlau, S. (2019). On perception and trust: Merleau-Ponty and the emotional significance of our relations with others. Continental Philosophy Review52(1), 1-14.

Abstract Our perception of the world and our relationships with other people are not, I argue, distinct activities. Focusing, first, on Merleau-Ponty’s description in the Phenomenology of Perception of his playful interaction with an infant, and, second, on contemporary research on the phenomena referred to as neonate imitation, joint attention, and mutual gaze, I argue that perception can be a collaborative endeavor. Moreover, this collaborative endeavor, which is definitive of both infant and adult perception, entails trust; our trust in others is not simply a feeling that we perceive but also a way of perceiving. As infants, our trust in others is our perception of the world we share with our caregivers as the world we will also share with others; it is our perception of the world we share with our caregivers as real. As adults, we live our trust in others by perceiving the objects that surround us in ways that protect, rather than damage, the shared worlds that we create in our relationships with them.

Keywords Merleau-Ponty Perception Trust Infant Collaboration

1 Susan Bredlau sbredla@emory.edu 1 Department of Philosophy, Emory University, 561 S. Kilgo Circle, Atlanta, GA, USA

Homeostasis, Exercise, and COVID-19 Isolation

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The Value of Exercise

A recent post explored human needs during COVID-19 isolation. The success of social isolation policies will depend on minimizing long-term depreciation of mental health. In this post, I explain the benefits of developing a system of daily exercise to bolster well-being.

Exercise is an under-utilised resource that is freely available to almost everyone, which can bring profound benefits if applied systematically. The impact of exercise is one of the most powerful examples of regulation created by homeostasis. Regular physical activity not only has obvious physical benefits but significant psychological benefits also. During COVID-19 isolation, exercise offers the capability to reset body and mind to a more optimum state of equilibrium.

Hawley et al. (2014) state: “Exercise represents a major challenge to whole-body homeostasis, and in an attempt to meet this challenge, myriad acute and adaptive responses take place at the cellular and systemic levels that function to minimize these widespread disruptions.”

template_cell

The Physiological Responses to Voluntary, Dynamic Exercise. Multiple organ systems are affected by exercise, initiating diverse homeostatic responses. Reproduced from ‘Integrative Biology of Exercise’ by Hawley et al. (2014).

Note of caution

Apart from its general ability to challenge homeostasis to reset the body’s biological equilibrium, exercise has a role in two domains of well-being:

(1) the immune system is strengthened through regular physical activity (Campbell and Turner, 2018; Simpson et al., 2020)

(2) psychological well-being is enhanced (Mandolesi et al., 2018).

However, exercise is no panacea.

Exercise must be applied with caution especially by people with chronic conditions. If a person has a heart condition, strenuous physical exercise may put them at risk (Keteyian et al., 2016).

In some chronic conditions such as ME/CFS, exercise tends to make many patients feel much worse (Geraghty et al., 2019).

However, if used safely and appropriately, the majority of people can quickly feel physical and mental benefits from regular exercise.

Physiological Mechanisms

Some significant effects of physical activity can be explained by physiological mechanisms (Lopresti et al., 2013). Exercise within the context of psychological health promotion has also been an active research area (Chekroud et al., 2018; Curioni and Lourenco, 2005; Mikkelsen et al., 2017; Tiggemann and Zaccardo, 2018). Some researchers have focused on neurophysiological mechanisms, which aim to identify the positive outcomes of the relationship between exercise and mental health (Eyre and Baune, 2012). Exercise is understood as a relationship between intensity and frequency, and positive outcomes are mostly based on which exercise protocol will determine a better neurophysiological response (Lopresti et al., 2013). Exercise is recognized as a mediator of primary monoamine neurotransmitters, namely, serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. These three neurotransmitters receive reciprocal regulation, while exercise intensity modulates the stimulation of monoamine system (Lin and Kuo, 2013). However, it is also important to recognize the affective responses of physical activities and psychological variables are likely to mediate the relationship between exercise and mental health (Rodrigues et al., 2019). There is a sound empirical basis for an integrated account of the emotional effects of exercise. A recent study with a representative US sample of 1.2 million individuals linked exercise to mental health and exercising was associated with reduced self-reported mental health burden. Furthermore, motivation and mindfulness-based techniques act as mediators for these relationships, which seem to account for the strongest effect of the exercise on fewer days of poor mental health (Chekroud et al., 2018).

Joy and Happiness

young-people-jumping_23-2148299823

In the context of social isolation, exercise can be an inherently rewarding activity that contributes joy, happiness and satisfaction (Ryan and Deci, 2017; Standage and Ryan, 2012). The positive outcomes also appear as a function of affective consequences of exercise or anticipation of its affective response – the hedonic principle of the law of effect (Marks, 2018). In general, the expected pleasure versus displeasure is a determining principle of the motivation to repeat behaviour (Kwasnicka et al., 2016; Williams, 2008).

Isolation and quarantine are a disagreeable experience, which may lead to sadness and even impose dramatic mental illness for those who undergo it (Brooks et al., 2020). In this context, a daily exercise routine can be crucial to modulating pleasurable situations at some point during the day. People can feel more deeply satisfied through the experience of choice and volition, reinforce their sense of autonomy and competence, and renew a sense of joy (Lubans et al., 2017; Ryan and Deci, 2017; Standage and Ryan, 2012).

The benefits of exercise depend on the degree of internalization of the behaviour. In our daily lives, exercises are normally performed in order to achieve goals, such as social aesthetic standards (Sperandei et al., 2016). These goals are separable from the purpose of the exercise (a person may not enjoy exercising, but will do it to obtain a result); and therefore, people are generally not ‘authentic’. The lack of authenticity represents a person doing an activity for contingent reward or punishment, feeling tense and pressured, lacking intentionality and being oriented to avoid guilt, angst and social judgement or to protect contingent self-worth. Contrarily, people are authentic when exercise choice is aligned with personal goals, interest and is assimilated with the individual’s characteristics, ability and identity (Deci and Flaste, 1995). Identity is associated with ongoing positive experiences attendant on the behaviour (Kwasnicka et al., 2016), such as exercising at home.

Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic causes fear and the lockdown imposes limits on people’s movement (Brooks et al., 2020; Xiang et al., 2020).

The rationale for the positive side of exercising at home is that exercise can be experienced without any strong social pressure, having a totally internal source of inspiration. The behaviour might be accompanied by higher self-esteem and lower psychological ill-being, since we are free to choose the:

  • types of exercise
  • schedule
  • frequency
  • intensity

The fulfilment of basic psychological needs appear within this context.

Authenticity and Self-Compassion

the-scientific-benefits-of-self-compassion-emma-seppala-clip

Another helpful process is that of self-compassion – the ability to treat oneself with the same concern and support in distressing situations; it is related to self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. In fact, it is associated with self-regulation when performing health-promotion behaviours (Holden et al., 2020; Semenchuk et al., 2018). Exercising at home, in a crisis situation, can be performed without self-criticism, which could hinder the process by increasing pressure and self-judgement, which in turn may provide adaptive coping, problem-solving and psychological well-being.

Research has provided empirical evidence on the positive relationship between self-compassion and exercise in providing exercise maintenance and enhancing positive emotions (Holden et al., 2020; Semenchuk et al., 2018).

Mastery and Self-control

Exercising at home can increase the individual’s sense of control. Research suggests that self-mastery is a crucial criterion for promoting positive effects on psychological outcomes (Mikkelsen et al., 2017; Ryan and Deci, 2017). In the face of this pandemic, we have seen many examples across the world showing that exercise can create a social arena in which individuals learn social skills and build social networks by adhering to exercise challenges, exercising in condominiums and encouraging others. These virtual social connections enhance feelings of autonomy and being fully alive. When autonomous forms of regulation guide behaviour, positive affective responses are expected (Ryan and Deci, 2017; Standage and Ryan, 2012). One example is the QuaranTrain launched at HAN University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, an online fitness programme promoting evidence-based information on exercise and resources to stay active during COVID-19 pandemic through blogs and videos (HAN University of Applied Sciences, 2020). They provide daily online support, according to World Health Organization advice on physical activity. Users post their workouts routines in social media using the trending hashtags #quarantrain and #quarantraining, with more than 5000 posts worldwide.

Self-efficacy and Self-esteem

Being engaged in exercise may result in higher levels of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) which can have the knock-on effect of improving one’s ability to carry out other activities (Mikkelsen et al., 2017). The relationship between changes in the ability to perform activities successfully and increased self-efficacy is fundamental, considering the observed association between depression and low self-efficacy (White et al., 2009). In the context of social isolation, physical activity may be one key to enhancing people’s feeling of competence. In addition, achievement of internal goals and satisfaction has been related to greater psychological wellness (Ryan and Deci, 2017; Standage and Ryan, 2012). This hypothesis has been confirmed by an experimental protocol in which mindfulness self-efficacy appeared to mediate the indirect effects of exercise on mental health and perceived stress (Goldstein et al., 2018), reinforcing the positive account of emotion for a better quality of life (Joseph et al., 2014).

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Mikkelsen et al. (2017) observed that exercise influences self-esteem through self-efficacy or mastery, and mood, distracting individuals from negative and worrying thoughts and rumination, improving the retrieval of positive thoughts and allowing time away from negative or stressful aspects of everyday life, and especially, the COVID-19 pandemic itself. These moderating factors might also explain the protection effect of exercise on mental health (Mikkelsen et al., 2017).

Physical activity programmes to improve self-esteem to people of all ages can be effectively delivered at home by DVD (e.g. see Awick et al., 2017) or by You Tube (e.g. PE with Joe).

Peer Support

Moreover, people in social isolation should try to create peer support through social networking services by involving friends and relatives in their exercise routines or challenges.

Resources

 

The negative impacts of COVID-19 lockdown on mental health can be ameliorated by the use of exercise, which should be as vigorously promoted as social distancing itself.

In this context, keeping moving seems to be the key.

Reference:

Thiago Matia, Fabio H Dominski and David F Marks (2020)

Human Needs in COVID-19 Isolation

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A Perfect Storm

These are extraordinary times. Throughout history there have been plenty of pandemics but the human response to COVID-19 is unprecedented. The world will never be the same again. It is estimated that close to four billion people are living in social isolation during this mother of all pandemics (Sandford, 2020). Unless there is a revolt, policies of social isolation in one form or another are expected to continue until a vaccine is available 6, 12 or 24 months from now.  The cumulative impacts of social distancing will be truly profound.

COVID-19 lockdown has created a perfect storm’ of vulnerabilities that huge numbers of people, and services, are ill-prepared to manage. This post reviews the science of human needs as they are expected to play out over a prolonged period of domestic confinement.

The COVID-19 pandemic involves a novel coronavirus characterized by a respiratory illness that results from a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). The disease was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and symptomatic patients frequently present with a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath within 2 to 14 days after exposure. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is receiving intensive interest at all levels: political, economic, social, scientific and in health care.  The epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak moved from China to Europe and a few weeks later to the US. As of 22 April 2020, there were 2,564,038 confirmed cases and 177,424 deaths reported worldwide, affecting at least 201 countries, areas or territories (Johns Hopkins University, 2020). Most cases are in the USA (823,786 cases), followed by Spain (204,178) and Italy (183,957) (Johns Hopkins University, 2020).

Isolation

Owing to the absence of a vaccine, official control measures have been implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as restrictions on people’s movements, including social distancing, closing of gyms and parks, travel restrictions, quarantines and stayathome guidance. The policy of confinement has significant health, economic, environmental and social consequences. In the psychological sphere, recent evidence shows that similar pandemics increased the prevalence of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as confusion, feeling of loneliness, boredom and anger during and after quarantine (Brooks, Webster, Smith, Woodland, Wessely, Greenberg, et al. 2020). 

Stressors during this critical period include fear of infection, fear of death, uncertainty, loss of social contacts, confinement, inadequate information, conflicting advice, loss of outdoor activities, disconnection from nature, loneliness, depression, helplessness, anger, low self-esteem, financial loss and obstacles to supplies of food and water (Brooks et al., 2020; Jiménez-Pavón, Carbonell-Baeza & Lavie, et al., 2020; Xiang, Yang, Li, Zhang, Zhang, Cheung, et al., 2020). A survey in China during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 found that 54% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as moderate or severe; 17% reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms; 29% reported moderate to severe anxiety symptoms, and 8% reported moderate to severe stress levels (Wang, Pan, Wan, Tan, Xu, Ho et al., 2020). Given that a significant proportion of the population live alone or are vulnerable to mental health problems, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing are only now just beginning to be felt.  

 

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In light of these issues, systematic psychological self-care must be given a high priority in coping with the detrimental impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing. Here we discuss one of the most fundamental tools of self-care for health enhancement: increased physical activity. Governmental recognition of the benefits of exercise is evidenced by permitting exercise outdoors during social isolation for indefinite periods of weeks or months. Yet rarely is the issue adequately addressed; an International Task Force of experts to review and advise on psychological and physical self-care would be a welcome initiative.

During the COVID-19 pandemic special attention to systematic psychological health care is required (Zaka, Shamloo, Fiorente & Tafuri, 2020; Zandifar and Badrfam, 2020). Interventions to deal with the pressing psychological needs of individuals during the pandemic are being investigated but in most parts of the world seriously lacking (Xiang et al., 2020; Wang, Zhao, Fen, Liu, Yao, & Shi, et al., 2020). 

One example is physical exercise, which is one of the most important tools to prevent mental illness and improve well-being (Mandolesi, Polverino, Montuori, Foti, Ferraioli, Sorrentino et al., 2018). However, few public health guidelines include daily physical exercise routines for people living in varying degrees of isolation during the pandemic (Chen et al., 2020; Jiménez-Pavón et al., 2020).  The role of physical exercise in psychological wellbeing during the pandemic is discussed in a later post.

Here I introduce concepts that help to enable effective self-care measures for COVID-19 isolation. These concepts are part of A General Theory of Behaviour.

 Psychological Homeostasis

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a drive towards stability, security and adaptation to change.  In a general theory of behaviour claims that striving for balance and equilibrium is a primary guiding force in all that we do, think and feel.  A behavioural type of homeostasis has been given the descriptive term: “Reset Equilibrium Function” (or ‘REF; Marks, 2018). The REF is thought to be omnipresent, whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, which includes the monotony of COVID-19 isolation. When we are in isolation, the REF stays with us, considers how to restore equilibrium and reduce feelings of unrest. The REF’s monitoring is not normally attended to, but the REF’s products are: feelings of distress, boredom, loneliness and instability can all be a focus for concern. Competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies all pull the flow of thought and feeling ‘off balance’, triggering an innate striving to restore equilibrium. Individuals resort to a variety of methods to restore a sense of balance and equilibrium.

Body and mind continuously regulate and control many domains and levels simultaneously, with multiple adjustments to voluntary and involuntary behaviour guided by two types of homeostasis: Type I – inwardly striving or physiological homeostasis, H[Φ], and Type II – outwardly striving or psychological homeostasis, H[Ψ]. Physiological regulation involves drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates across all behavioural systems that are investigated by psychological science. 

The Reset Equilibrium Function is a general control function that automatically restores psychological processes to equilibrium and stability. The REF is triggered when any processes within a system strays outside of its set range. The REF is innate and exists in conscious organisms, which all have Type I and II homeostasis. The two types of homeostasis work in synergy. Psychological and physiological processes operate in tandem to maximize equilibrium for each particular set of functions. 

These include cognition, affect, chronic stress, and subjective well-being, and also out-of-control conditions such as isolation, boredom, addiction or insomnia that are in need of self-care. When there is goal to make a behavior change, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of one’s personal resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. the need to reduce boredom and instability in COVID-19 isolation.

The Needs Hierarchy

Human experience is controlled by needs and behaviours to satisfy needs. A general theory of behaviour includes Maslow’s (1943) influential statement about human needs(with a few minor modifications). It is assumed that needs occupy a hierarchy of seven overlapping levels (Figure 1). Like any hierarchical structure, the stability of the system relies on the strength of its foundation level.  The first level  Immediate Physiological Needs  incorporates physiological homeostasis (Type I) and the sustenance of all physiological needs.  Higher level needs from level 2 upwards are served by psychological homeostasis (Type II). There is a progression in developmental priority as the individual matures.  The motivational hierarchy reflects evolutionary function, developmental sequencing, and current cognitive priority. Individuals who are unable to meet their immediate physiological needs at level 1 are at a disadvantage in meeting higher-level needs. Think of a building with seven storeys. If level 1 of the building is not strong, then the higher levels will be vulnerable to collapse.

NEW Needs Pyramid 

Figure 1. The Hierarchy of Human Needs. Homeostasis operates at all seven levels. Physiological, or Type I homeostasis operates at level 1. Psychological, Type II, homeostasis operates at level 2 (Self-protection) and above. Reproductive goals are in the order they are likely to appear developmentally. Later developing needs are overlapping with earlier developing needs. Once a need develops, its activation is triggered whenever relevant environmental cues are salient. Adapted from Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg and Schaller (2010) with permission.

 

I consider next the likely impact of COVID-19 social distancing in light of the needs hierarchy. Four needs most directly impacted by social distancing at levels 1 to 4 are discussed in turn.

Immediate Physiological Needs (Level 1)

Physiological regulation involves the drives of hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep. Level 1 is a bedrock for all higher levels. We consider first food, drink and other necessary products, which have been an issue from the very start of the pandemic with panic buying and stockpiling reported everywhere causing supermarkets and stores to run out of supplies. In the UK, in packaged food and beverages, the highest growth has been evident in cereals (38%), vegetables (37%), cocoa (25%), rice (22%) and pasta (19%). There has also been an increase in bottled water and indulgence foods, such as chocolate (23%), olives (68%) and beer (20%) (Kantar, 2020).Comfort eating and drinking is a common strategy of individuals seeking ways to ameliorate anxiety and distress associated with lockdown. Comfort eating and drinking is associated with weight gain and the development of obesity and eating disorders, especially in conditions of isolation and boredom (Crockett, Myhre & Rokke, 2015; Marks, 2015; Figure 2). Sadly, there is likely to be an acceleration in the already high prevalence of obesity over the lockdown period. As the lockdown period is indefinitely extended, with increasing joblessness and poverty, food insecurity is likely to become a major concern for many people. 

 

FIG 2

 

Figure 2.  Panel A shows the homeostasis system linking low self-esteem with negative affect, comfort eating and overweight. Intervention to alter the dynamics of the system towards that shown in Panel B replaces comfort eating with exercise designed to increase self-esteem and control weight gain (Marks, 2015).

 

A well-known and, to many, surprising COVID-19 phenomenon has been the prevalence of toilet-tissue stockpiling (TTS). In the UK, for the week ending 8 March 2020 the sales of toilet tissues rose by 60% year-on-year (Kantar, 2020). Why should this be?  In fact, this behaviour is perfectly logical and in line with the needs hierarchy where utmost priority is given to needs at level 1. TTS provides long-term hygienic support to the necessary act of elimination, which, during isolation, is more frequent at home because people are unable to do itat the workplace. Thus, TTS is consistent with level 1 of the hierarchy of needs.

 

Level 1 needs are automatically more complex in cases of addiction to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other substances. If any of these addictions are present, the entire needs structure can be placed in jeopardy. In any case, disruption of sleep patterns is one prevalent consequence of pandemic distress. A European task force concluded: “In the current global home confinement situation due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most individuals are exposed to an unprecedented stressful situation of unknown duration. This may not only increase daytime stress, anxiety and depression levels but also disrupt sleep. Importantly, because of the fundamental role that sleep plays in emotion regulation, sleep disturbance can have direct consequences upon next day emotional functioning Managing sleep problems as best as possible during home confinement can limit stress and possibly prevent disruptions of social relationships” (Altena, Baglioni, Espie, Ellis, Gavriloff, Holzinger, et al., 2020, p. 1). It has been established that physical exercise improves sleep for people of all ages (Flausino, Da Silva Prado, de Queiroz, Tufik, & de Mello, 2012; Reid, Baron, Lu, Naylor, Wolfe & Zee, 2010;  Yang, Ho, Chen, & Chien, 2012). We return to this later.  

Need for Self-Protection (Level 2)

Self-protection needs during the COVID-19 pandemic are paramount. The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2020) and national governments have required a lockdown of the population with social distancing and ‘stay-at-home’ isolation. These policies have stoked fear of death and infection while incentivizing individuals to carry out frequent handwashing, wearing masks along with social isolation. The advice to stay at home has been the main topic of messaging from health authorities during the pandemic.  

An individual’s responses to COVID-19 lockdown is shown in Figure 3. In lockdown, unmet self-protection needs become ‘normal’ and individuals experience systematic frustration of a deep-seated need to ensure protection of self and their family. This high level of frustration causes fear, anxiety and distress as individuals feel incompetent to guarantee the safety and protection of loved ones, family and self. Fear, anxiety and distress are also associated with insomnia, irritability and aggression. Especially if an  individual uses alcohol or drugs to assuage their fears, aggression may turn into physical violence to family members, women, children and pets(Peterman, Potts, O’Donnell, Thompson, Shah, Oertelt-Prigione, et al., 2020). There are increases in the incidence of  homicides and suicides (e.g. Campbell, 2020).

 

FIG 3

 

Figure 3. Behavioural systems at level 2 of the needs hierarchy in COVID-19 lockdown. In panel A, fear and frustration are accompanied by heightened surveillance of the external environment via TV news channels and social media. In panel B, fear and frustration are replaced by self-compassion and empathy and surveillance is replaced by reaching out to others.

Need for Affiliation (Level 3)

The almost total cessation of full frontal face-to-face affiliation outside of one’s domestic bubble is mandated by policies of home confinement and “social distancing”. Connecting with others normally helps individuals to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and remain resilient (Williams, Morelli, Ong & Zaki, 2018).  Loneliness and social isolation, on the other hand, worsen the burden of stress, and often produce deleterious effects on mental, cardiovascular, and immune health (Haslam, Jetten, Cruwys, Dingle, & Haslam, 2018). Older adults, at the greatest risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19, are also most susceptible to isolation (Luo, Hawkley, Waite, & Cacioppo, 2012). Intergenerational social support, self-esteem, and loneliness are all strongly associated with subjective well-being (Tian, 2016). 

 

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These effects are not peculiar to older people. Even among adolescents, loneliness  is associated with physical inactivity (Pinto, Oppong Asante, Puga Barbosa, Nahas, Dias and Pelegrini, 2019). Thus distancing threatens to aggravate feelings of loneliness that likely will produce negative long-term health consequences in many vulnerable people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the population of people at risk is enormous. After the lockdown period ceases, sadly mental health services are expected to be overwhelmed.

People with unmet needs for affiliation at level 3 are also at risk of failing to meet needs for status and self-esteem at level 4.

Need for Status/Self-esteem (Level 4)

As noted, status and self-esteem needs are vulnerable if needs at levels 1 – 3 are unmet. Failure at levels 1-3 accumulates with larger knock-on effects as cumulative failure develops. Furthermore, the pandemic is producing huge increases in  unemployment and poverty, vulnerability factors for lowered self-esteem and social status (e.g. Goldsmith, Veum & Darity, 1997). Self‐esteem is associated with responses to success and failure (Baumeister & Tice, 1985). Low self-esteem also creates a vulnerability to depression (Sowislo & Orth, 2013) and to drinking alcohol (Hull & Young, 1983)  if affordable. Self-esteem moderates the associations between body-related self-esteem, conscious emotions and depressive symptoms (Brunet, Pila, Solomon-Krakus, Sabiston & O’Loughlin, 2019).  Self-esteem also appears to be an important antecedent of the development of self-compassion (Dona, Parker, Sahdra, Marshall, & Guo, 2018).  

 

Conclusion

COVID-19 lockdown has created a perfect storm’ of vulnerabilities that huge numbers of people, and services, are ill-prepared to manage. The success of social isolation policies will depend on minimizing long term depreciation of mental health. 

 

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COM-B System Fatally Flawed

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The COM-B System

In 2011, three psychologists, Susan Michie, Maartje M van Stralen and Robert West (MSW, 2011), proposed “a ‘behaviour system’ involving three essential conditions: capability, opportunity, and motivation…This forms the hub of a ‘behaviour change wheel’ (BCW).”

MSW mention two sources for the idea of the COM-B:

“a US consensus meeting of behavioural theorists in 1991 [see this], and a principle of US criminal law dating back many centuries…Under US criminal law, in order to prove that someone is guilty of a crime one has to show three things: means or capability, opportunity, and motive.”

They continue:

“This suggested a potentially elegant way of representing the necessary conditions for a volitional behaviour to occur…We have built on this to add nonvolitional mechanisms involved in motivation (e.g., habits) and to conceptualise causal associations between the components in an interacting system.”

However, the hub of the COM-B is incomplete and doesn’t work  Here I explain why. Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 10.34.04.png

In the COM-B system, Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation ‘interact’ to generate Behaviour. C, O and M are claimed to be sufficient and necessary conditions for B.

I show below that this claim is incomplete …but first we need some definitions:

Definitions

MSW give the following definitions:

‘Capability’ is defined as the individual’s psychological and physical capacity to engage in the activity concerned. This includes having the necessary knowledge and skills. In plain language – what I call ‘plang’ – ‘capability’ equates with ‘fit to’. 

‘Motivation’ is defined as all those brain processes that energize and direct behaviour, not just goals and conscious decision-making, e.g. habitual processes, emotional responding, as well as analytical decision-making.  In plang, motivation equates with ‘need to’.  

‘Opportunity’ is defined as all of the factors that ‘lie outside the individual that make the behaviour possible or prompt it’. In plang, opportunity means ‘can do’. 

Robbing a Bank

According to the COM-B, capability and opportunity cause changes in motivation and changes in behaviour.  I refer to that well-know character Joe Blow (pronouns: him/her/their). 

According to the COM-B:

Joe Blow (JB) would (X rob a bank, Y kiss the queen, Z fly to the moon, whatever) if JB is fit to, needs to, and can do X, Y or Z.

Yet this account is plainly incomplete. A key element is missing from the COM-B. JB must want to carry out X, Y or Z.  If JB doesn’t want to, he/she/they simply won’t do it, no matter what.

Imagine the following:

1) JB is fit to rob a bank because he/she/they is physically strong and has a jemmy and a set of tools for breaking open doors and safes – (fit to).

2)  JB is hugely in debt (to a bank, as it happens) so he/she/they need(s) money very badly, and so they have a strong motive to rob a bank – (needs to).

3) JB knows there is a back alley and a back door with an alarm that a friend who works in the bank will leave switched off on any night of their choosing – (can do).

JB ticks all three boxes but  JB chooses not to rob a bank. Why? There could be a million and one  reasons, e.g.  JB believes that he should not rob the bank because:

robbing the bank would be wrong,

it would be risky – i.e if he is found out he would go to prison,

it would look bad in front of the neighbours,

it would upset the bank manager who he drinks beers with in the local pub,

it would be an unreasonable and unfair act , etc.

For a host of different reasons, JB may desperately need money but does not want to rob the bank to get it.

In spite of JB ticking all three of COM-B boxes, the COM-B fails to correctly predict JB’s behaviour. There is a hidden barrier. In multiple situations people do not do something, even something they need to do, because they simply do not want to do it.

Another quite similar individual who ticks all three COM-B boxes might actually proceed to commit the bank robbery. Imagine: Joe Blow has a twin, Les Blow (LB/him/her/their) who lives on the other side of town. JB tells LB about the bank, the back alley and the dodgy security guard,  LB meets all three criteria – LB is fit to, needs to, and can do the bank robbery. Significantly, however, LB has none of the moral and social scruples held by JB and LB proceeds to rob the bank.

The twins act differently under essentially similar circumstances.  JB didn’t want to rob the bank but  LB wanted to – so LB did – revealing a crucial difference between the twins.

The COMA-B Reformulation

I have suggested that the COM-B requires reformulation because there is a crucial process missing. Also four of the so-called ‘interactions’ do not exist and none of the interactions work in both directions.

Only one ‘interaction’ in the COM-B diagram is anywhere near causal.  In order to do something, a person also has to want to do it more than they want not to do it. This is a delicate balancing act that goes on when we make decisions every day of our lives.

The reformulated ‘COMA-B’ is shown below.

(A = ‘Agrees to’, which makes a better acronym than using W for Wants : COMW-B).

amended COM-B model.png

Adding a box for wants, COM-B is converted into COMA-B.  A further change is the removal of arrows for imaginary interactions. In removing arrows, it is necessary to distinguish enablers from causes. Fit-to capability and can-do opportunity are both enablers of need-to motivation .

Conclusion

All together there are four necessary and sufficient conditions for any action X:

  1. needing to do X
  2. having the capability to do X
  3. having the opportunity to do X
  4. wanting to do X

 

 

A New General Theory of Behaviour IV: Entrainment, Rhythm and Synchronicity

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The fourth part in a series about A General Theory of Behaviour. I examine homeostasis, synchronicity and circadian systems in the regulation of arousal, behaviour and sociality.


                                                  

This is a beautifully engineered system where homeostatic and circadian influences at multiple levels are integrated to permit optimal integration of mediators in the internal milieu and external world.

Silver and LeSauter, 2008, p. 272

WHAT IS ENTRAINMENT?

Flashing fireflies, singing cicadas, parading flamingos, murmurating starlings, marching soldiers, chanting sports fans, and crowd participation at rock concerts – all have something in common. To varying degrees, they have  ‘got rhythm’ –  a shared, synchronized, irresistible rhythm of entrainment.

Entrainment is manifested by an endogenous rhythm that is synchronized with an external cycle such as the light-dark cycle with the result that both oscillations converge towards the same frequency. Behavioural entrainment involves a dynamic coupling of behaviour and brain activity between two or more individuals, which may include ‘mirroring’ [1] or other forms of coordinated joint action. In this post I examine the contribution of entrainment, rhythm and synchrony to individual and social behaviour.

Entrainment is a biological construct borrowed from classical mechanics. It is alleged that, in 1666, the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens noticed that when two pendulum clocks are set on the same flexible surface, they eventually become synchronized. This interesting phenomenon has been observed with many kinds of devices and also in living organisms that exhibit rhythmic behaviour with a periodic oscillation. Two necessary conditions for rhythmic synchronicity to qualify as entrainment are: (i) at least two autonomous oscillating systems must be present; and (ii) the two systems must interact.  The first condition, autonomy, differentiates entrainment from resonance, an increase in an object’s natural frequency amplitude following exposure to another object with a similar frequency. The oscillations of a resonating system cease when the influence of the original impulse emitting system is removed while an entrained oscillation continues.

Over hundreds of millions of years in an environment that changes dramatically over every 24-hour cycle, evolution has produced universal rhythms throughout the plant and animal kingdoms such that each organism’s biochemistry, physiology, and behaviour are organized in diurnal cycles. Many circadian rhythms are persistent even in the absence of the normal diurnal cues of night and day or temperature changes, e.g. while living in caves.  Such demonstrations are interpreted as reflecting the operation of an internal biological clock or clocks. The circadian clock system serves as a biological ‘alerter’ that lets us know when significant events are due to happen.

Principle V (Entrainment): The internal CLOCK controls physiological and behavioural processes in synchrony with regular changes in the environment.[2]

Figure 2Figure 1. The circadian clock and disease. Relationships and interactions between the circadian clock and disease may either be direct or indirect via behaviour and/or sleep (for description of arrow numbers see main text). Social schedules exert their influence on physiology mainly via behaviour (arrow S). The regular daily changes in the environment that the clock uses for its synchronisation (entrainment) to the 24-h world are indicated by arrow Z. Reproduced with permission from The Circadian Clock and Human Health’ by Till Roenneberg & Martha Merrow (2016).

The light-dark (LD) cycle is the most reliable of the external signals enabling entrainment[3] and is referred to as a zeitgeber (i.e. time-giver). LD information is perceived by mammals with retinal photoreceptors and conveyed directly to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, where it entrains oscillators in what is regarded as the master clock of the organism [4]. Other cyclic inputs, such as temperature, noise, social cues, or fixed mealtimes, also can act as entraining and predictive agents, although usually to a less reliable extent than LD.

An entrainable circadian clock is present in the SCN during fetal development and the maternal circadian system coordinates the phase of the fetal clock to environmental lighting conditions. Even before birth, the organism is entrained to the LD cycle.[5]

Having a CLOCK system is advantageous for predicting and preparing for important events.  When food is available only for a limited time each day, it has been observed that rats increase their locomotor activity 2 to 4 hours before the onset of food availability [6]. Similar anticipatory behaviour occurs in other mammals, and in birds, accompanied by increases in body temperature, adrenal secretion of corticosterone, gastrointestinal motility, and activity of digestive enzymes.[7]

It has been proposed that a common design principle applies to the CLOCK in all organisms, from bacteria to humans, and that the circadian clock has existed for at least 2.5 billion years.[8]  The predictive mechanism in which physiology and behaviour are ‘tuned’ to the timing of external events allows a competitive advantage.

CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS

A zeitgeber can entrain or synchronize an organism’s biological rhythms to the 24-hour LD cycle and 12-month seasonal cycle. Normal circadian rhythms depend upon zeitgebers. When zeitgebers are absent, for example, when a person is placed in a cave or a windowless room, an endogenous rhythm with a period close to that of the Earth’s rotation is provided.

The human CLOCK system consists of a ‘master clock’ in the SCN of the hypothalamus and secondary clocks in different bodily organs. The endocrine system regulates the circadian rhythm and sleep/waking cycle by producing regular hormone releases. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland under the control of the central circadian pacemaker in the SCN. Melatonin production is low in the light of day and high during the dark of night when it induces and supports sleep. Melatonin supplementation can be used for the treatment of winter depression, sleep disorders, and as a therapy for epilepsy.

Precise estimates of the periods of endogenous circadian rhythms of melatonin, core body temperature, and cortisol in healthy individuals show that the period of the human circadian clock averages 24.18 hours.[9] Cell-autonomous clocks consist of a ‘transcription–translation-based auto-regulatory feedback loop’.[10]

The coupling of internal and external changes by entrainment enables the organism to predict environmental changes. In humans, the circadian rhythm of melatonin production by the pineal gland and of core body temperature are good markers of circadian rhythms when collected under constant conditions. These markers are closely associated with the circadian component of the sleep-wake rhythm as well as with the circadian variation in neurobehavioural performance. [11]

Body temperature reflects predominantly the CLOCK and neurobehavioral functions are affected by a sleep pressure homeostasis which increases with time awake and may contribute to the phase delay through interaction with the circadian clock. Neurobehavioral functions usually show a circadian decline at night as is observed in CBT, but they continue their decline after CBT begins to rise, making the subsequent 2–6 hour period (clock time approximately 0600–1000) a zone of maximum vulnerability to loss of alertness and to performance failure.[12]

Sleep homeostatic pressure is produced by the SLEEP-REF, which is indexed behaviourally by intensified feelings of sleepiness that occur the longer the time we are awake. Sleep pressure automatically increases during wakefulness and declines during sleep and the feeling of sleepiness that it generates enables us to keep our wake-sleep balance in equilibrium. To some degree sleep pressure can be placed under voluntary control. We can force ourselves to remain awake when there is a strong reason to do so. In addition to subjective sleepiness, sleep homeostatic pressure is indicated by electroencephalographic (EEG) slow wave activity (SWA), which is prominent early in sleep but decreases over the course of sleep.  We return to sleep homeostasis in a later post.

Millions of years of evolution have equipped living organisms with two versatile systems that are designed to fine-tune tasks of daily living such as eating, drinking, eliminating, mating and sleeping, with the outside environment. By entraining essential activities to environmental zeitgebers, the CLOCK schedules the servicing of daily needs at optimal and non-overlapping times. In parallel, the REF provides corrective responses to the organism’s continuously changing needs including any unexpected challenges that may come over the horizon.  These two complementary systems seamlessly regulate the waking-sleeping cycle and integrate the internal milieu with the contingencies of the proximal world.[13] The CLOCK and REF systems successfully moderate levels of alertness enabling behaviour to be controlled and executed in a coordinated and coherent manner. To quote Silver and LeSauter (2009):  “This is a beautifully engineered system where homeostatic and circadian influences at multiple levels are integrated to permit optimal integration of mediators in the internal milieu and external world” (p. 272).

 AFFECTIVE AND SOCIAL ENTRAINMENT

As if the advantages of the CLOCK and REF were not already enough, they also provide a fringe benefits. The most important is that they are responsible for a lot pure, unadulterated fun. When people share stories, singing, dancing, ceremonies, rituals and rites of passage, they experience special feelings of joy, social cohesion and fulfilment.

Principle VI (Coalescence): Entrainment and synchronicity occur in shared activity to create cooperation, cohesion and social bonding.

Behavioural entrainment and synchronization in movement, vocalization or beat enable people to match their actions in timing and rhythm and it is this synchronized form of matching that seems to be most beneficial to enjoyment.[14] Many types of joint action transition naturally towards synchrony such as smiling, laughing, cheering, dancing, marching, drumming, stamping, clapping, singing and chanting are all aspects of sociality that contain elements of synchonicity and/or rhythm. When Ed Sheeran packs a stadium of fifty thousand fans and invites them to sing along with him, they absolutely love it and come back for more.  Other social behaviours carried out on a reciprocal basis such as conversation, reciting, poetry reading, playing musical instruments in a band or orchestra involve similar levels of shared appreciation of timing and rhythm: The universality of synchronised action across time and space suggests an evolutionary advantage. Apart from having fun, synchronised shared action offers the advantage of increased social cohesion. [AP 014].

Synchrony in all of these types of group performance involves sharing of intentionality in the deliberate production of rhythmic joint actions.[15]  Reinforcement of synchrony by the building of trust and cooperation flows from the group performance of music, chanting, drumming or dance and cooperative actions are reinforced by increasing levels of synchrony.  Indigenous music and dance facilitates synchrony and strengthens cooperative action and social cohesion.[16] Enjoyment of music and dance as performers or observers is universal to human beings. [AP 015].

When individuals participate in musical performances, even only as observers, any form of  joint action involves affective entrainment.[17]  More seems to be going on here than simply temporal entrainment because there is a strong affective tone. [18]  Group drumming is known to produce endocrinal and immunological responses that indicate relief of stress.[19]

Affective entrainment of rhythm and beat are associated with interpersonal bonding initiated by the pleasure of moving the body to music and keeping in time with others. The affective components of entrainment are  associated with temporal synchronization creating a ‘groove’ which carries a sense of affiliation.[20] This shared trance-like enjoyment can lead to ‘manic’ form of appreciation such as occurred with the “Beatle-mania” of the 1960s.[21]

 

 

Jackson et al. investigated the effects of synchrony and physiological arousal on cohesion and cooperation in large naturalistic groups.[22]  They manipulated the synchronous and physiologically arousing affordances of a group marching task within a sports stadium with large samples of strangers.  Participants’ subsequent movement, grouping, and cooperation were observed via a camera hidden in the stadium’s roof. Synchrony and arousal both showed main effects, predicting larger groups, tighter clustering, and more cooperative behaviour. Synchrony and arousal among participants in cultural rituals strengthen social cohesion. [AP 016].

The origins of social-affective entrainment appear in early-life musical and rhythmic interactions between infants and caregivers e.g., rocking of the cradle, rhythmic ‘baby talk’ and singing of lullabies.  When individuals exchange information reciprocally about each other’s mental processes, alignments unfold over time and space, creating a special form of social interaction, an intrinsically shared activity.[23] Alignment of words, thoughts, bodily postures and movements are all forms of “social entrainment” that can produce increases in positive affect, social cohesion and bonding. [AP 017].

Social entrainment can be detected at many levels both physical to the mental.  Gallotti, Fairhurst and Frith argue that interacting individuals are dynamically coupled. When people participate in cultural events such as concerts, plays and operas, alignment is detected in brain activity of the participants. Socio-affective entrainment involves continuous mutual adaptation, complementarity, reciprocity and a division of labour including leader–follower roles.[24] As we shall see, social forms of entrainment conspire to bond people together. Cultural events such as concerts, plays and operas, there is an alignment both in brain activity and behaviour of the participants.  [AP 018].

CONCLUSIONS:

  • An entrained circadian CLOCK, which is universal to living organisms, synchronizes internal physiology and external behavior with the light-dark cycle and other zeitgebers.
  • The predictive CLOCK and reactive REF coordinate behaviour and physiology, including continuous modulation of alertness, waking and sleep.
  • Socio-affective entrainment synchronizes shared cultural activities and reinforces social cohesion and bonding.

REFERENCES:

[1] Mirroring occurs when one member of a couple does the same thing as the other member, at the same time.

[2] For simplicity’s sake, we will call the ‘internal circadian clock system’ the ‘CLOCK’.

[3] Entrainment can be understood as a form of classical conditioning.

[4] Stokkan, K. A., Yamazaki, S., Tei, H., Sakaki, Y., & Menaker, M. (2001). Entrainment of the circadian clock in the liver by feeding. Science291(5503), 490-493.

[5] Reppert, S. M., & Schwartz, W. J. (1983). Maternal coordination of the fetal biological clock in utero. Science220(4600), 969-971.

[6] Mistlberger, R. E., & Rechtschaffen, A. (1984). Recovery of anticipatory activity to restricted feeding in rats with ventromedial hypothalamic lesions. Physiology & behavior33(2), 227-235.

[7] A conservation project at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe provides meat to vultures every day at 1 o’clock. Dozens of vultures roost nearby for a few hours every day before feeding time.

[8] Loudon, A. S. (2012). Circadian biology: a 2.5 billion year old clock. Current Biology22(14), R570-R571.

[9] Czeisler, C. A., Duffy, J. F., Shanahan, T. L., Brown, E. N., Mitchell, J. F., Rimmer, D. W., … & Dijk, D. J. (1999). Stability, precision, and near-24-hour period of the human circadian pacemaker. Science284(5423), 2177-2181.

[10] Takahashi, J. S. (2016). Transcriptional architecture of the mammalian circadian clock. Nature Reviews Genetics.

[11] Cajochen, C., Chellappa, S., & Schmidt, C. (2010). What keeps us awake?—the role of clocks and hourglasses, light, and melatonin. In International review of neurobiology (Vol. 93, pp. 57-90). Academic Press.

[12] Goel, N., Basner, M., Rao, H., & Dinges, D. F. (2013). Circadian rhythms, sleep deprivation, and human performance. In Progress in molecular biology and translational science (Vol. 119, pp. 155-190). Academic Press.

[13] Silver, R., & LeSauter, J. (2008). Circadian and homeostatic factors in arousal. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1129(1), 263-274.

[14] Reddish, P., Fischer, R., & Bulbulia, J. (2013). Let’s dance together: Synchrony, shared intentionality and cooperation. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e71182. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0071182.

[15] Reddish et al. (2013) experimentally examined the importance of shared intentionality in reinforcing cooperation from group synchrony.

[16] Mogan, Fischer and Bulbulia (2017) meta-analyzed 42 studies of synchrony effects on: (1) prosocial behaviour, (2) perceived social bonding, (2) social cognition, and (3) positive affect. Synchronous actions affected all four domains and synchrony in larger groups increased prosocial behaviour and positive affect, but did not influence synchrony effects on perceived social bonding and social cognition. See: Mogan, R., Fischer, R., & Bulbulia, J. A. (2017). To be in synchrony or not? A meta-analysis of synchrony’s effects on behaviour, perception, cognition and affect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology72, 13-20.

[17] Musical entrainment appears in different species within the animal kingdom, e.g. synchronization to a beat in a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora). Schachner, A., Brady, T. F., Pepperberg, I. M., & Hauser, M. D. (2009). Spontaneous motor entrainment to music in multiple vocal mimicking species. Current Biology, 19(10), 831-836).

[18] Phillips-Silver, J., & Keller, P. (2012). Searching for roots of entrainment and joint action in early musical interactions. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 6, 26.

[19] Bittman, B. B., Berk, L. S., Felten, D. L., Westengard, J., Simonton, O. C., Pappas, J., & Ninehouser, M. (2001). Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects. Alternative therapies in health and medicine7(1), 38.

[20] Janata, P., Tomic, S. T., and Haberman, J. (2012). Sensorimotor coupling in music and the Psychology of the groove. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 141, 54–75. This study suggested that perceptions of ‘being in the groove’ depend on a strong underlying beat, feeling a part of the music, and wanting to move with the beat.

[21] Like the Beatles, the fans of Franz Lisz, the Hungarian pianist, are claimed to have displayed ‘mania’.

[22] Jackson, J. C., Jong, J., Bilkey, D., Whitehouse, H., Zollmann, S., McNaughton, C., & Halberstadt, J. (2018). Synchrony and Physiological Arousal Increase Cohesion and Cooperation in Large Naturalistic Groups. Scientific reports8(1), 127.

[23] Gallotti, M., Fairhurst, M. T., & Frith, C. D. (2017). Alignment in social interactions. Consciousness and cognition48, 253-261.

[24] Hasson, U., & Frith, C. D. (2016). Mirroring and beyond: coupled dynamics as a generalized framework for modelling social interactions. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B371(1693), 20150366.

A New General Theory of Behaviour III: Homeostasis, Balance and Stability

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This post describes homeostasis as a fundamental principle in behaviour and motivation.


The fixity of the milieu supposes a perfection of the organism such that the external variations are at each instant compensated for and equilibrated…. All of the vital mechanisms, however varied they may be, have always one goal, to maintain the uniformity of the conditions of life in the internal environment…. The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878)

What is homeostasis? 

Sixty-one years after Bernard (1865) wrote about the ‘internal milieu’, Walter B. Cannon (1926) coined the term ‘homeostasis’.[1]  Then, 16 years later, psychobiologist Curt Richter (1942) expanded the homeostasis idea to include behavioural or ‘ total organism regulators’ in the context of feeding.[2]  From this viewpoint, ‘external’ behaviours that are responses to environmental stimuli lie on a continuum with ‘internal’ physiological events. For Richter, behaviour includes all aspects of feeding necessary to maintain the internal environment. Bernard, Cannon and Richter all focused on a purely physiological form of homeostasis, ‘H[Φ]’. I wish to convince the reader that the idea of the ‘external milieu’, the proximal world of socio-physical action, is equally important.

A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB) extends homeostasis to all forms of behaviour. Psychological homeostasis can be explained in two stages, starting with the classic version of homeostasis in Physiology, H[Φ], followed by the operating features of its psychological sister, H[Ψ].  The essential features are illustrated in Figure 2.1.

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 11.27.44.pngFigure 2.1 Upper panel: A representation of Physiological (Type I) Homeostasis (H[Φ]). Adapted from Modell et al. (2015). Lower panel: A representation of Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ]).

To be counted as homeostasis, H[Φ], a system is required to have five features:

  1. It must contain a sensor that measures the value of the regulated variable.
  2. It must contain a mechanism for establishing the “normal range” of values for the regulated variable. In the model shown in Figure 2.1, this mechanism is represented by the “Set point Y”.[3]
  3. It must contain an “error detector” that compares the signal being transmitted by the sensor (representing the actual value of the regulated variable) with the set range. The result of this comparison is an error signal that is interpreted by the controller.
  4. The controller interprets the error signal and determines the value of the outputs of the effectors.
  1. The effectors are those elements that determine the value of the regulated variable. The effectors may not be the same for upward and downward changes in the regulated variable.

Identical  principles apply to Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ] with two notable differences (Figure 2.1, lower panel). In Psychological Homeostasis, there are two sets of effectors, inward and outward, and the conceptual boundary between the internal and external environments lies between the controller and the outward effectors of the somatic nervous system, i.e. the muscles that control speech and action.  Furthermore, Psychological Homeostasis operates with intention, purpose, and desire.

The individual organism extends its ability to thrive in nature with Type II homeostasis. Self-extension by niche construction creates zones of safety, one of the primary goals of Type II homeostasis. Niche construction amplifies the organism’s ability to occupy and control the environment proximally and distally. The use of tools for hunting, weapons for aggression, fire for cooking, domestication of animals, the use of language, money, goods for trade and commodification, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, medicine, culture, music literature and social media are all methods of expanding and projecting niches of safety, well-being and control. Individual ownership of assets such as land, buildings, companies, stocks and shares reflect a universal need to extend occupation, power and control but these possessions do not necessarily increase the subjective well-being of the owner [AP 007].

Initiated by the brain and other organs, homeostasis of either type can often act in anticipatory or predictive mode. One principal function of any conscious system is  prediction of rewards and dangers. A simple example is the pre-prandial secretion of insulin, ghrelin and other hormones that enable the consumption of a larger nutrient load with minimal postprandial homeostatic consequences. When a meal containing carbohydrates is to be consumed, a variety of hormones is secreted by the gut that elicit the secretion of insulin from the pancreas before the blood sugar level has actually started to rise. The blood sugar level starts lowering in anticipation of the influx of glucose from the gut into the blood. This has the effect of blunting the blood glucose concentration spike that would otherwise occur. Daily variations in dietary potassium intake are compensated by anticipative adjustments of renal potassium excretion capacity. That urinary potassium excretion is rhythmic and largely independent on feeding and activity patterns indicates that this homeostatic mechanism behaves predictively.[4]

Similar principles operate in Type II homeostasis acting together with the brain as a “prediction machine”. When we anticipate a pleasant event such as a birthday party, there is a preparatory ‘glow’ which can change one’s mood in a positive direction, or thinking about an impending visit to the dentist may be likely to produce feelings of anxiety, or the receipt of a prescription of medicines from one’s physician may lead to improvements in symptoms, even before the medicines are taken.

At societal level, anticipation enables rational mitigation, e.g. anticipation of demographic changes influences policy, threat from hostile countries influences expenditure on defence, and the threat of a new epidemic influences programmes of prevention. [AP 008].

Homeostasis involves several interacting processes in a causal network.  A homeostatic adjustment in one process necessitates a compensatory adjustment in one or more of the other interacting processes.  To illustrate this situation, consider what happens in phosphate homeostasis (Figure 2.2). Many REF-behaviours that we shall refer to are isomorphic with the 4-process structure in Figure 2.2.[5]  However, in nature there is no restriction on the number of interconnected processes and any process can belong to multiple homeostatic networks.

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Figure 2.2 Phosphate homeostasis. A decrease in the serum phosphorus level causes a decrease in FGF23 and parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels. Increase in serum phosphorus leads to opposite changes. Calcitriol increases serum phosphorus and FGF23, while it decreases PTH. Increase in FGF23 leads to decrease in PTH and calcitriol levels. PTH increases calcitriol and FGF23 levels. Reproduced from Jagtap et al. (2012)[6] with permission.

Homeostasis never rests. It is continuous, comprehensive and thorough. With each round of the REF, all of the major processes in a network are reset to maintain stability of the whole system. The REF process goes through a continuous series of ‘reset’ cycles each of which stabilizes the system until the next occasion one of the processes falls outside its set range and another reset is required.[7]

Processes in Type II homeostasis may vary along quantitative axes or they can have discrete categorical values. For example, values, beliefs, preferences and goals can have discrete values, as does the state of sleep or waking.

Any change in a categorical process involves change throughout the network to which is belongs. [AP 009].

Such changes may be rapid, in the millisecond range, e.g. a changed preference from chocolate chip cookie flavoured ice cream to Madagascar vanilla that may occurs an instant after arriving at the ice-cream kiosk. At the other end of the spectrum of importance, in buying a new apartment, the final choice might also occur in the instant the preferred option is first sighted. Or the decision could take months or years even though it is of precious little consequence, e.g. deciding that one is a republican rather than a monarchist, or it may never occur because we simply do not care one way or the other. These considerations lead to a surprising proposition that:

The speed of a decision is independent of its subjective utility [AP 010].

One objective of A General Theory of Behaviour is to explain the relevance of the REF system to Psychology.  We know already that the regulation of action is guided by three fundamental systems: (i) the brain and central nervous system (CNS), (ii) the endocrine system (ES) and (iii) the immune system (IS). It is proposed in A General Theory that, as a ‘meta-system’ of homeostatic control, these systems collectively govern both physiology and behaviour using the two types of homeostasis, H[Φ] and H[Ψ], respectively. We can understand how this might be possible in light of a recently discovered ‘central homeostatic network’.

THE CENTRAL HOMEOSTATIC NETWORK

Recent analyses of the CNS have explored new methods for discovering cortical and subcortical networks in the brain’s anatomical connectivity termed the ‘connectome’. These studies of the connectome are revolutionary in showing that the CNS is at once both more complex and more simple that previously assumed. Let me explain why.

Regions of interest (ROI) are observed as coherent fluctuations in neural activity at rest as well as distributed patterns of activation or ‘networks’.  A network is any set of pairwise relationships between the elements of a system—formally represented in graph theory as ‘edges’ linking ‘nodes’. Neurobiological networks occur at different organizational levels from cell-specific regulatory pathways inside neurones to interactions between systems of cortical areas and subcortical nuclei. Architectures which support cognition, affect and action are normally found at the highest level of analysis.[8]  In a landmark study, Brian Edlow and his colleagues investigated the limbic and forebrain structures that form the ‘Central Homeostatic Network’.[9] The Central Homeostatic Network (CHN) plays a major role in autonomic, respiratory, neuroendocrine, emotional, immune, and cognitive adaptations to stress. Collectively, these forebrain structures include the limbic system close to the hypothalamus with strong mono- and/or oligo-synaptic connectivity to one another, and shared participation in homeostasis. Homeostatic forebrain nodes receive sensory information concerning extrinsic threats and interoceptive information from the brainstem, resulting in arousal, attention and vigilance during waking, and visceral and somatic motor defences.

There is complexity here but a well-organized complexity. CHN connectogram shows all six brainstem seed nuclei are interconnected with all seven limbic forebrain target sites, but with markedly different streamline probabilities (SPs) (Figure 2.3).  The SP measures the probability of a streamline connecting a seed ROI and target ROI, but does not reflect the strength of the neuroanatomic connection. To ensure that the target ROI size was not the only factor contributing to the SP, Edlow and colleagues verified that the SP measurements were derived from anatomically plausible pathways from animal or other studies of subcortical pathways in the human brain.

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Figure 2.3.  The connectogram of the human Central Homeostatic Network (CHN). Brainstem seed nodes are displayed on the outside of the connectogram and limbic forebrain target nodes at its center. Connectivity is represented quantitatively, with line thickness being proportional to the streamline probabilities for each dyad. Brainstem seed nodes consist of 7 structures as follows:  the hippocampus (Hypo); amygdala (Amg); subiculum (Sub); entorhinal cortex (Ent); superior temporal gyrus (anterior) (STGa); superior temporal gyrus (posterior) (STGp); and insula (Ins).  Connectogram lines go to the brainstem nucleus of origin: dorsal raphe DR; median raphe MR; locus coeruleus, LC; paragigantocellularis lateralis, PGCL; caudal raphe, CR; vagal complex, VC. Reproduced in slightly adapted form by permission from Edlow, McNab, Witzel & Kinney (2016).

Brian Edlow’s group study findings suggest that H[Φ] is mediated by ascending and descending interconnections between brainstem nuclei and forebrain regions, which together regulate autonomic, respiratory, and arousal responses to stress.  The limbic system has been regarded as the neuroanatomic substrate of ‘emotion’, but its role in the regulation of homeostasis is also now being recognized, and the limbic system has been added to the central autonomic network of “flight, fight or freeze”.  Edlow et al. concluded as follows: “connectivity between forebrain and caudal brainstem regions that participate in the regulation of homeostasis in the human brain. These nodes and connections form, we propose, a CHN because its nodes not only regulate autonomic functions such as ‘‘fight or flight’’ and arousal (e.g., median and dorsal raphe, and locus coeruleus) but also non-autonomic homeostatic functions such as respiration (i.e., PGCL) and regulation of emotion/affect (e.g. amygdala)” (Edlow et al., op cit., p. 196).  This study supports the idea that interconnected brainstem and forebrain nodes form an integrated Central Homeostatic Network in the human brain. To put this in the simplest terms, the forebrain is involved in homeostatic regulation of both autonomic (Type I) and non-autonomic (Type II) human responses to disturbances of equilibrium. These observations demonstrate that the forebrain provides a common central mechanism for both types of homeostasis, H[Φ] and H[Ψ].

Principle III (Communality): Homeostasis of Types I and II are controlled by a single executive controller in the forebrain.

That the forebrain evolved to control both types of homeostasis, inside the body and in outwardly directed behaviour, supports our contention that homeostasis is a unifying concept across Biology and Psychology. Everything we know about the executive role of the forebrain in action planning and decision-making suggests that this must indeed be the case. Why have two control systems when only one is necessary? The simplicity is beautiful.

HOMEOSTASIS A UNIFYING PRINCIPLE 

In the Epilogue to ‘The Wisdom of the Body’, Walter Cannon inquired whether there are any general principles of homeostasis acting across industrial, domestic and social forms of organization? He suggested that the homeostasis of individual humans is dependent on ‘social homoeostasis’ via cooperation within communities. He talks analogously of the system of distribution of goods in society as a stream: “Thus the products of farm and factory, of mine and forest, are borne to and fro. But it is permissible to take goods out of the stream only if goods of equivalent value are put back in…Money and credit, therefore, become integral parts of the fluid matrix of society” (p. 314). He believed that “steady states in society as a whole and steady states in its members are closely linked.” (p. 324).[10]

Compared to more economically stable societies, societies in steep economic growth or decline are expected to have a relatively high prevalence of mental illness  [AP 011].

Compared to more egalitarian societies, societies with high levels of inequality are expected to have a relatively high prevalence of mental illness  [AP 012].

Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968)[11] was critical of these externally directed, social forms of homeostasis (Type II). He did not support the idea that homeostasis could be applied to spontaneous activities, processes whose goal is not reduction but building up of tensions, growth, development, creation, and in human activities which are non-utilitarian. There are good reasons to think that von Bertalanffy was wrong.  The reach of homeostasis extends well beyond Physiology into many realms of Psychology and even into Society as a whole.  H[Φ] and H[Ψ] serve identical stabilizing functions internally in the body and externally in socio-physical interactions of behaviour respectively. With Cannon, we accept that “steady states in society as a whole and steady states in its members are closely linked.”  H[Φ] and H[Ψ] exist in a complementary relationship of mutual support. It could not be otherwise.

Principle IV (Steady Stable State): Homeostasis Type II serves the same function for Behaviour as Homeostasis Type I serves for Physiology: the production of a stable and steady state.

According to this principle, behaviour produced by most people most of the time is intended to generally calm ‘waves of unrest’ rather than to make the waves larger, to reduce conflict and to produce cooperation, safety and stability. People with high levels of self-control tend to create social stability and have more, and longer-lasting,  friendships than people with relatively low levels of self-control. [AP 013].

Individual set ranges for any particular process vary across people and are not the same for all individuals. Individual set ranges are based on unique interactions of genetics, epigenetics and early infant experience.  Set ranges may be changed in a few specific disorders and individual differences exist in the rate and extent of the reset following perturbations to equilibrium. The General Theory carries the expectation of wide individual differences across time and space in set ranges, rates of reset, and adaptations over time.

CONCLUSIONS:

1) All behaviour involves Type II homeostasis, which strives for a stable and steady state

in the socio-physical world.

2) A single executive controller in the forebrain regulates both type of homeostasis.

3) Individual set ranges are based on genetics, epigenetics and early infant experience. They are normally fixed, changing only with major disorders of function.

REFERENCES:

[1] Cannon, W.B. (1926). Physiological regulation of normal states: some tentative postulates concerning biological homeostatics. In A. Pettit. A Charles Richet : ses amis, ses collègues, ses élèves. Paris: Les Éditions Médicales. p. 91.

[2] Richter, C. P. (1942). Increased dextrose appetite of normal rats treated with insulin. American Journal of Physiology-Legacy Content135(3), 781-787.

[3] It is accepted that so-called ‘set points’ are really ‘set ranges’, e.g. the “normal” human body temperature is a range from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C). We use the terms ‘set point’ and ‘set range’ interchangeably.

[4] Moore-Ede, M. C., & Herd, J. A. (1977). Renal electrolyte circadian rhythms: independence from feeding and activity patterns. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology232(2), F128-F135.

[5] Unless stated otherwise, an arrow in any diagram in this book represents a causal effect.

[6] Jagtap, V. S., Sarathi, V., Lila, A. R., Bandgar, T., Menon, P., & Shah, N. S. (2012). Hypophosphatemic rickets. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism16(2), 177.

[7] The term ‘homeorhesis’, meaning a stabilized flow, has also been proposed because reference sets are liable to change. The terms “allostasis” and “heterostasis,” are overlapping with “homeostasis” but are not generally adopted. See: Day, TA (2005). Defining Stress as a Prelude to Mapping Its Neurocircuitry: No Help from Allostasis, Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 29, 1195–1200.

[8] Petersen, S.E.  & Sporns, O. (2015) Brain networks and cognitive architectures. Neuron 88, 207 – 219.

[9] Edlow, B. L., McNab, J. A., Witzel, T., & Kinney, H. C. (2016). The structural connectome of the human central homeostatic network. Brain connectivity6(3), 187-200.

[10] Evidently this is the opinion of one of Bill Gates who holds that foreign aid helps to stabilize the developing world and thereby the security and stability of the USA. See: http://time.com/4704550/bill-gates-cutting-foreign-aid-makes-america-less-safe/

[11] Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968). General system theory. New York.  See p. 210.

 

A New General Theory of Behaviour II: Restructured Hierarchy of Needs

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This second post on A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB) incorporates an amended form of Abraham Maslow’s (1943) motivational needs hierarchy described by Douglas T. Kenrick and colleagues  to which AGTB has added the process of Type II homeostasis.


 

Modifying Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was best known for the foundation of humanistic psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

A brief introduction to Maslow’s needs hierarchy  is here.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a landmark publication for its ability to account for so many aspects of behaviour. The first level of the original Maslow hierarchy – Immediate Physiological Needs – already incorporates homeostasis (Type I).

AGTB inserts Psychological Homeostasis (homeostasis Type II) to give the hierarchy more explanatory power.

In discussing the second level for “Safety Needs”, Maslow states:

“The safety needs.—If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in lesser degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be wholly dominated by them. They may serve as the almost exclusive organizers of behaviour, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly describe the whole organism as a safety-seeking mechanism.” (p.376).

In describing this in detail, Maslow turned to the needs of children for a predictable, orderly world, a world which is reliable, safe and predictable:

“Another indication of the child’s need for safety is his preference for some kind of undisrupted routine or rhythm. He seems to want a predictable, orderly world. For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a child feel anxious and unsafe. This attitude may be not so much because of the injustice per se or any particular pains involved, but rather because this treatment threatens to make the world look unreliable, or unsafe, or unpredictable. Young children seem to thrive better under a system which has at least a skeletal outline of rigidity, in which there is a schedule of a kind, some sort of routine, something that can be counted upon, not only for the present but also far into the future. Perhaps one could express this more accurately by saying that the child needs an organized world rather than an unorganized or unstructured one.”  (p. 377)

Maslow specifically links safety with ‘stability’:

“we can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds (medical, dental, unemployment, disability, old age). Other broader aspects of the attempt to seek safety and stability in the world are seen in the very common preference for familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown.”(p. 379).

Maslow’s bracketing of safety with stability connects the needs pyramid with Type II homeostasis. It is noted that, in the amended pyramid, “Safety Needs” has been relabelled as “Self-Protection”. Thus all motives above level I are part and parcel of the striving for stability and equilibrium that is the function of homeostasis Type II. (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 15.00.28Figure 1. The Hierarchy of Fundamental Human Needs. This figure integrates ideas from life-history development with Maslow’s needs hierarchy. This scheme adds reproductive goals, in the order they are likely to first appear developmentally. The model also depicts the later developing goal systems as overlapping with, rather than completely replacing, earlier developing systems. Once a goal system has developed, its activation is triggered whenever relevant environmental cues are salient. Type I homeostasis operates at level 1. All motives from self-protection at level 2 and above engage Type II homeostasis.  This figure is from Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg and Schaller (2010).

Principle II (Needs Hierarchy)

The newly amended Hierarchy leads to Principle II (Needs Hierarchy) of AGTB, which states:

AGTB Principle II (Needs Hierarchy): In the hierarchy of needs, Physiological Homeostasis Type I is active at level I (Immediate Physiological Needs) and Psychological Homeostasis Type II is active at all higher levels from II (Self-Protection) to level VI (Parenting).

 As priorities shift from lower to higher in the hierarchy we see a progression in developmental priority as each individual matures.  In fact, it is possible to apply the motivational hierarchy at three different levels of analysis: evolutionary function, developmental sequencing, and current cognitive priority (the proximate level). In agreement with Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010), the basic foundational structure of Maslow’s pyramid, buttressed with a few architectural extensions, remains perfectly valid.  Need satisfaction is allowed to be a goal at more than one level simultaneously. In light of the amended pyramid, three auxiliary propositions are stated as follows:

Individuals unable to meet their immediate physiological needs at level I of the hierarchy are at a disadvantage in meeting needs at higher levels in the hierarchy. [Auxiliary Proposition, AP, 004].

People with unmet needs for self-protection (level 2) are at a disadvantage in meeting their needs for affiliation (level 3). [AP 005].

In general, people with higher than average unmet needs at any level (n) are at a disadvantage in meeting higher level needs at levels n+m. [AP 006].

The universality of Abraham Maslow’s original needs hierarchy is supported by a survey of well-being across 123 countries. Louis Tay and Ed Diener (2011) examined the fulfilment of needs and subjective well-being (SWB), including life evaluation, positive feelings, and negative feelings.[2] Need fulfilment was consistently associated with SWB across all world regions. Type II homeostasis defined within the General Theory provides a close fit to the natural striving of conscious organisms for security, stability and well-being, described in later chapters. The needs hierarchy amended by Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010) is expected to be a close fit to nature.

CONCLUSIONS:

  • Behaviour is at root an expression of Type II homeostasis. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates in all conscious organisms with purpose, desire and intentionality.
  • When equilibrium is disturbed, the REF strives to reset psychological processes to equilibrium.
  • In the hierarchy of needs, Type I Homeostasis strives to satisfy Physiological Needs at level 1. Type II Homeostasis strives to satisfy all remaining developmental needs.

Reference

Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on psychological science5(3), 292-314.

Investigating the Paranormal: Part II

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Parascience has so far failed to produce a single repeatable finding and, until it does, will continue to be viewed as an incoherent collection of belief systems steeped in fantasy, illusion and error.

Originally appeared in Nature Vol. 320, 13 March 1986, pp. 119-124. 
The first part of this article is here.

Psychological Factors

Many factors of a psychological nature foster paranormal beliefs and make them a common feature of human thinking and behaviour. Our cultural traditions are steeped in religion and magic, many features of which lend themselves to belief in supernatural agencies. Scientific thinking is a recent departure in human history and scientific ideas have had little time to affect the magical thinking from which science itself evolved.

Sociologist D. O’Keefe argues that paranormal research has evolved from within the traditions of magic which themselves evolved from religion51. The current occult revival is seen as a reaction to the excessive rationalism which many perceive in science. O’Keefe argues that religion created the ‘cloud-cuckoo land’ in which magic, and thence the paranormal, can flourish. Yet scientists are often ill-prepared to provide the necessary counterbalancing rational account of the paranormal. Against this background of magi co-religious entrenchment, there are some extra psychological processes that make paranormal beliefs an inevitable characteristic of human consciousness and thinking.

Mental Imagery

A mental image is a quasi-perceptual experience in the absence of an objective stimulus. There are huge individual differences in the reported vividness and controllability of images. In Western cultures 1-5% of the population appears regularly to experience fantasies which seem as real as actual events even though they are entirely fictional52. Such individuals often experience vivid, uncontrollable ‘eidetic’ images of almost hallucinatory quality53, are highly suggestible and can be easily hypnotized52. They report more putatively paranormal experiences, such as telepathy, precognition, ghosts and out-of-the-body experiences. While mental imagery has a large number of practical uses in thinking, memory and problem solving, it can also occur in altered states of consciousness in which the normal level of lucidity is no longer present53.

Research conducted a century ago by E. Gurney and F. W. H. Myers described 27 cases of ‘spirit communication’ from deceased persons54. Eighteen of the apparitions occurred in sleep-related states normally associated with highly vivid and autonomous images which are easily mistaken for reality. The remaining cases occurred in subjects who were fully awake and these could easily have been structural eidetic images stimulated by thought-processes of the daydreaming kind53. H. Sidgwick noted that 9.9% of 17,000 subjects had experienced at least one vivid visual, auditory or tactile image of a living being or object while completely awake55. The appearance of ghosts is shaped by cultural expectancies and beliefs about what a ghost should look like56. Mental images can be easily misinterpreted in terms of pre-existing beliefs57.

Expectancy

Otherwise known as mental set, expectancy provides the framework within which we organize new experience. Human cognition is not a simple copying process but entails a constructive striving or ‘effort after meaning’. What we experience is often more a confirmation of belief than a matter of plain fact. Beliefs are not automatically updated by the best evidence available, but have an active life of their own and fight tenaciously for their own survival. They tell us what to read, what to listen to, who to trust and how to rationalize contrary information4,5,57.

Selective exposure protects beliefs from more dramatic forms of contradiction. When the mentalist U. Geller visited the city of Dunedin in New Zealand there were seven different opportunities to obtain information abut his alleged psychic abilities: four media interviews, two newspaper stories and one stage performance. Of 17 subjects who, before Geller’s visit, were already ‘believers’ 15 selected three or more of the available exposures. Of 20 ‘non-believers’, only 10 selected as many as three exposures (X2(1) = 6.13; P<0.02).

A further problem is that when we are exposed to relevant information, our opinion revisions are often less than optimal, and we act like conservative Bayesians58, with a confirmation bias59. In a recent ‘ESP’ demonstration to a class of 226 psychology students, presented as an exercise in observation, I performed five mentalists’s tricks consisting of: (I) correctly naming a colour written out of sight; (2) correctly transmitting a colour name to a volunteer who, like me, had not previously seen it; (3) helping a volunteer correctly to read messages sealed inside envelopes or to appear to transmit messages to me; (4) producing bent keys which I had not previously touched; and (5) moving or stopping the hands of a watch in a mysterious manner.

Although at no time did I claim to be psychic, 90% of the class stated that I had demonstrated psychic ability. When the results from subjects who had previously been classified as ‘believers’ and ‘sceptics’ were analysed separately, 79% of believers thought at least three of the five effects were psychic compared with only 43% of sceptics (P < 0.001).

Naturally, we often encounter information that is unexpected or ambiguous. In such instances, there is a second line of defence: the data can be selectively perceived or even misperceived so that they still appear to support our beliefs by ‘subjective validation’4. One illustration of this powerful cognitive defence in the context of ESP research is the strong conviction that one has successfully viewed a complex target site by ESP in a remote-viewing experiment even when one is completely wrong (Fig. 2).

There are many now-classic examples of subjective validation: the prophecies of the Delphic Oracle and Nostradamus60, the discovery of N-rays61, phlogiston, Vulcan, the canals on Mars, flying saucers, Freud’s interpretation of dreams, prejudice, faith-healing, the placebo effect, bone pointing and the ‘evil eye’. Beliefs of all kinds tend to be self-perpetuating.

Coincidences

Psi phenomena consist of an experience, image or thought matched by some other similar experience, image or thought. Collections of such coincidences have been published by A. Koestler62, L. Rhine,63 and others based on the assumption that odd-matches of events cannot occur purely by chance.

Probability theory shows that an event which is improbable over a short run can become highly probable over the long run. If five coins are tossed all at once on a single occasion the probability of obtaining five heads is 2 -5 or approximately 0.03. If the coin tossing is repeated 100 times the probability of five heads somewhere in the series is approximately 0.96.

The principle of the long run is easy to grasp in simple situations but much less visible in the more chaotic world of spontaneous human experience. Calculation shows how easily Koestler could obtain his 40-plus odd-match anecdotes. Assuming that in an ordinary day a person can recall 100 distinct events, there are 100Cor 4,950 pairs of events per day. Odd-matches can be remembered for years, perhaps 10 yr or 3,650 days. If Koestler knew 1,000 people, he could draw upon a total pool of 4,950 x 3,650 x 1,000, or more than 18 x 109 pairs of events. That Koestler obtained 40 striking odd-matches seems hardly surprising.

Koestler’s fallacy (see ref. 4) is certainly not unique to him, although he was one of a small group of analysts who wanted to make a scientific revolution out of it. The fallacy is widespread and several biases contribute to it. First, we notice and remember odd-matches. Second, we do not notice non-matches. This triggers the short-run illusion that makes the oddmatch seem improbable. Third, we are normally poor estimators of probabilities, especially for combinations of events.

Unseen Causes

Another class of psychic-looking experiences is generated by invisible chains of cause and effect which bias the probabilities away from chance levels. Failure to randomize target stimuli properly in ESP experiments is a good example of this. Thus, Tart reported a successful ESP experiment in which his subjects learned to score above chance in guessing which of 10 digits was displayed by an apparatus in another room following the presentation of feedback)4. The random number generator mistakenly avoided using the same digit twice in succession, a bias which is matched by the pervasive ‘gambler’s fallacy’. When Tart removed this bias, the ‘ESP’ also disappeared65.

Another unseen factor, used by illusionists, is the ‘population stereotype’. The performer ‘sends a message to the audience, saying “I am thinking of a number between 1 and 50, both digits are odd, and different“. Controlled experiments show that the most common response for the 1-50 problem is 37, which accounts for 30-35% of all responses, and the second most common response is 35 (20- 25%)4. If the performer always says he had been thinking of 35 and then changed his mind to 37, at least 50% of the audience will be thinking of the ‘correct’ number.

Human beings never behave randomly. Our experiences contain many culturally shared elements such that particular items are associated with particular verbal contexts. This causes associative networks to be set up and a tendency towards nonrandom, stereotypical responses even when there is freedom to choose.

Other unnoticed causes of putatively psychic effects include subliminal and non-verbal sensory cues66 which may lead to common thought patterns in different people, presenting the illusion of telepathy.

The ‘Will to Believe’

What factors differentiate believer from sceptic? Psychologists down the ages have puzzled over the question of what motivates different world-views and the so-called will to believe. Research conducted by J. Waugh used Kelly’s personal construct theory. In this framework67, people vary in the quality and extent of their investigatory procedures so that, while some may be working to establish an ordered and meaningful world which is not highly predictable or readily explained, others may be content that they already have all the necessary explanatory constructs.

In Kelly’s theory, each individual deals with the world in terms of a hierarchial system of constructs with which people, objects and events are compared, contrasted and predicted. Core constructs have relatively superordinate positions and a large range of convenience while peripheral constructs are relatively subordinate and more easily altered. Waugh compared the personal construct systems of sceptics and believers in the paranormal using a belief questionnaire. Ten subordinate and ten superordinate67constructs were generated using standard procedures and each subject’s constructs were tested for their relative resistance to change and the number of implications entailed by changing the subject’s preferred pole on the 20 constructs and 10 paranormal beliefs (Fig. 3).

Believers’ core constructs were significantly more resistant to change and there was a parallel difference in the number of implications resulting from changes at the superordinate level. Compared with sceptics, believers seem to possess much tighter construct systems in which any change at the core level implies a significantly greater upheaval or threat. Waugh also found that believers had significantly higher neuroticism scores than sceptics (see also ref. 68). These data are congruent with those reported by Zusne and Jones57 who found that believers are less flexible than sceptics when confronted with disconfirming evidence. Content analyses of believers’ construct systems indicate the presence of spiritual, non-materialist constructs at superordinate level. Such core constructs are not easily shaken because they are closed off from empirical considerations and appear to be impermeable to rational persuasion. Hence the feeling of futility experienced in trying to hold rational discussion between believer and sceptic; one could well be arguing about the existence of God. Belief in the paranormal is metaphysical and therefore not subject to the constraints of empirically based science.

Parascience has all the qualities of a magical system while wearing the mantle of science. Until any significant discoveries are made, science can justifiably ignore it, but it is important to say why: parascience is a pseudo-scientific system of untestable beliefs steeped in illusion, error and fraud.

I thank Jerry Andrus, Bob Audley, Ray Hyman, A. R. Jonckheere, Peter McKellar, J. Randi, Christopher Scott, Jean Waugh and many colleagues in CSICOP for useful discussions and information. The late Richard Kammann contributed substantially in the earlier stages of this research.

Notes

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  4. Marks. D. & Kammann, R. The Psychology of the Psychic (Prometheus, Buffalo, 1980).
  5. Alcock. J. E. Parapsychology: Science of Magic? (Pergamon, Oxford, 1981).
  6. Frazier. K. (ed.). Paranormal Borderlands of Science(Prometheus, Buffalo. 1981).
  7. Gardner, M. Science Good Bad and Bogus (Prometheus, Buffalo. 1981).
  8. Randi. J. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP. Unicorns. and Other Delusions(Prometheus. Buffalo. 1982).
  9. Kurtz. P. Skeptical Inquirer 8, 239-246 (1984).
  10. Frazier. K. (ed.) Science Confronts the Paranormal (Prometheus. Buffalo, 1985).
  11. Kurtz, P. (ed.) A Skeptics Handbook of Parapsychology (Prometheus. Buffalo, 1985).
  12. Bunge, M. Skeptical Inquirer 9, 36-46 (1984).
  13. Tiller, W. A. New Scient. 62, 160-163 (1974).
  14. Pehek, J.O.,Kyler, H.J. & Faust. D. L. Science 194, 263-270 (1976).
  15. Houdini Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (Prometheus, Buffalo, 1981).
  16. Leikind, B. J. & McCarthy, W. J. Skeptical Inquirer 10, 23-34 (1985).
  17. Vogt, E. H. & Hyman, R. Waterwitching USA 2nd edn (Chicago University Press. 1979).
  18. Randi, J Skeptical Inquirer 8, 329-333 (1984).
  19. Martin. M. Skeptical Inquirer 8, 138-140 (1983).
  20. Randi, J. The Magic of Uri Geller (Ballantine, New York, 1975).
  21. Fuller, U. Confessions of a Psychic (Karl Fulves, Box 433, Teaneck, New Jersey, 1975).
  22. Fuller, U. Further Confessions of a Psychic (Karl Fulves, New Jersey, 1980),
  23. Marks, D. &Kammann. R. Zetetic 1(2),9-17 (1977).
  24. Hyman, R. Zeteric 1(2). 18-37 (1977).
  25. Soal, S. G. & Goldney, K. M. Proc.. Soc. psychical Res. 47, 21-150 (1943).
  26. Scott, C. & Haskell, P. Nature 245, 52-54 (1974).
  27. Marwick, B. Proc.. Soc. psychical Res.56, 250-281 (1978).
  28. Hoebens, P. H. Skeptical Inquirer 6, 32-40 (1981).
  29. De Mille, R. Castandeda’s Journey2nd ed (Capra. Santa Barbara, 1978).
  30. Skinner, B. F. Science and Human Behavior (Macmillan, New York, 1953),
  31. Bunge, M. Method, Model and Matter (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973).
  32. Schmeidler, G. R. & McConnell, R. A. ESP and Personality Patterns (Yale University Press, 1958).
  33. Collins, H. M. & Pinch. T. J. Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1982).
  34. Taylor, J. Superminds: An Inquiry into the Paranormal (Macmillan, London, 1975).
  35. Barratt, W. Proc.. Soc. psychical Res34, 275–297 (1924)..
  36. Rhine, J. B. The Reach of Mind, 209-214 (Sloane. New York, 1947).
  37. Tart, C. T. Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, vii-viii (Dutton. New York, 1977).
  38. Flew. A. in Science, Pseudo-Science and Society (edsHanen, M. P., Osler, M. J. & Weyant, R. G.) 55-75 (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, 1980).
  39. Cooper. D. E. in Philosophy and Psychical Research (ed. Thakur, S. C.) 59-80 (Allen & Unwin. London, 1976).
  40. Scriven, M. in Philosophy and Psychical Research (ed. Thakur, S. C.) 181-194 (Allen & Unwin. London. 1976).
  41. Wolman, B. J. (ed.) Handbook of Parapsychology (Van Nostrand. New York. 1977).
  42. Beloff, J. Zetetic Scholar 6, 90-94 (1980).
  43. Morris. R. L. J. Am. Soc. psychical Res. 74, 425-443 (1980).
  44. Akers, C. in Advances in Parapsychological Research Vol. 4 (ed. Krippner, S.) 112-164 (McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1984).
  45. Hyman, R. J. Parapsychol. 49, 3-49 (1985).
  46. Targ, R. & Puthoff, H. E. Nature 252, 602-607 (1974).
  47. Marks, D: F. & Kammann, R. Nature 274. 680-681 (1978).
  48. Hyman, R. Skeptical Inquirer 9, 125~ 145 (1984-5).
  49. Tart, C. T.. Puthoff, H. E. & Targ, R. Nature 284. 191 (1980).
  50. Marks, D. F. Skeptical Inquirer 6, 18-29 (1982).
  51. O’ Keefe, D. Stolen Lightning (Robertson, Oxford, 1982).
  52. Wilson, S. C. & Barber, T. X. in Imagery: Current Theory, Research and Application (ed. Sheikh, A. A.) 340-387 (Wiley. New York, 1983).
  53. Marks, D. & McKellar, P. J. mental imagery 6, 1-124 (1982).
  54. Gurney, E. &Myers, F. W. H. Proc. Soc. psychical Res. 5, 403-485 (1889).
  55. Sidgwick, H. Proc. Soc. psychical Res. 10, 25-422 (1894).
  56. Finucane, R. C. Appearances of the Dead (Prometheus, Buffalo. 1985).
  57. Zusne, L. & Jones, W. H. Anomalistic Psychology (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1982).
  58. Edwards, W. in Formal Representation of Human Judgement (ed. Kleinmuntz, B.) 17-52 (Wiley, New York, 1968).
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  63. Rhine, L E. J. Parapsychol. 15, 164-190 (1951).
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H J Eysenck’s ‘Unsafe’ Publications Total 148

Featured

This post updates the situation regarding publications by Hans J Eysenck that are deemed ‘unsafe’. The 148 publications include 87 publications identified by David F Marks and Roderick D Buchanan and 61 papers in two journals flagged by SAGE Publications on 10 February 2020 (details below).

To date, only fourteen of HJ Eysenck’s 148 suspect papers have been retracted. A list containing  details of 61 of the suspect papers was published more than a year ago.

Why are journals so slow to retract such obviously dubious papers?

Complacent, Complicit Institutions

A large part of the blame lies with King’s College London, where Hans J Eysenck’s Institute is affiliated. The institution has been slow and reluctant to act. KCL conducted a review of Eysenck’s publications but failed to complete the job. A recent editorial with Eysenck’s biographer, Rod D Buchanan, called on KCL to properly complete their review. To date, KCL has given no response.

Equally culpable is the British Psychological Society. The only professional association of psychologists in Britain has refused to do anything at all.  How can the British public feel protected from ‘fake news’ and fraud if the Society responsible for policing psychological practice in the UK sticks its head in the sand?  An utter disgrace!

Remember that according to HJE, the connection between smoking and cancer was unproven. Moreover cancer and heart disease can be caused by one’s own personality!

Yet the BPS has done nothing to correct these blatant falsehoods.

To this day, the Society continues to bolster up HJE’s flagging reputation.

The Society’s magazine published a letter claiming that this author’s request for an inquiry into H J Eysenck: “…is representative of the very type of smear campaign and witch-hunting which Eysenck was subjected to previously.”

The British Psychological Society’s complicity in Eysenck’s discredited publication record and its refusal to take any action whatsoever is shameful. It is evident that the BPS is more interested in protecting its own than the British public.

Shared responsibility

The responsibility for H J E’s many suspect publications cannot be laid only at Eysenck’s door.  The many co-authors of the long list of suspect publication were required to vouch for the authenticity of the data, analyses and conclusions when the papers were accepted for publication.

Many of the suspect papers were co-authored with well-known figures in the Psychology discipline including HJE’s second wife, Sybil  B.G Eysenck. Other co-authors include professors holding chairs in the University of London, Professors Adrian Furnham,  and Chris Frith at University College London.  Paul Barrett, was co-director with Hans Eysenck of the Biosignal Lab at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry for 14 years, and currently is Chief Research Scientist at Cognadev (UK and SA).

Another of HJE’s co-authors is Richard Lynn, a former professor of psychology at Ulster University, having had the title withdrawn by the university in 2018, and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Mankind Quarterly, which has been described as a “white supremacist journal”. Hans Eysenck’s eugenicist convictions will be the subject of a later post.

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No publications in the two journals founded by HJE have yet been retracted. However, three have been listed in an Expression of Concern: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.109855

In spite of the obvious fraud, the journal Personality and Individual Differences, one of the journals founded by HJE, retracts nothing. PAID cannot bring itself to publicly acknowledge that HJE was a charlatan. Many who signed an expression of concern are Eysenck’s co-authors, including Barrett, referred to above. No conflict of interest there then.

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Full bibliographic details can be found at the Retraction Watch database: 14 retractions and 64 expressions of concern.

Journals Slow to Act

73 items are pending any response by the relevant publishers. The publishers are listed in the KCL enquiry report as follows:

Professor Roger Pearson (Editor) Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies Council for Social and Economic Studies PO Box 34143 Washing DC 20043, USA (1 paper).

Michelle G. Craske (Editor) Behaviour Research and Therapy Department of Psychology University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563 California, USA (4 papers).

Dr Donald Saklofske Personality and Individual Differences Department of Psychology University of Western Ontario Canada (4 papers).

Jaan Valsiner (Editor-in-Chief) Intergrative Psychological and Behavioral Science Department of Psychology Clark University Worcester, MA 01610-1477, USA (1 paper).

Professor Oi Ling Siu (Editor) International Journal of Stress Management WYL201/1 Dorothy Y L Wong Building Department of Applied Psychology Lingnan University Tuen Mun Hong Kong (1 paper).

Werner Strik (Editor) Neuropsychobiology University Hospital of Psychiatry Waldau Page 8 of 9 CH-3000 Bern 60 Switzerland (1 paper).

Adam S. Radomsky (Editor) Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry L-PY 101-4 Psychology Building 7141 Sherbrooke W. Concordia University in Montreal Canada (1 paper).

Timothy R Elliott (Editor) Journal of Clinical Psychology Education & Human Development Texas A&M University 713A Harrington Office Building (2 papers).

How much longer do these journals need to wait?

Two journals published by SAGE have already listed 13 retractions and expressions of concern on 61 papers. Other journals need to follow suit.

Psychological Reports Expression of Concern

https://doi.org/10.1177/0033294120901991

The Journal Editor and SAGE Publishing hereby issue an expression of concern for the following articles:

  1. Eysenck, H. J. (1955). Psychiatric Diagnosis as a Psychological and Statistical Problem. Psychological Reports1(1), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1955.1.g.3
  2. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1964). “Acquiescence” Response Set in Personality Inventory Items. Psychological Reports14(2), 513–514. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1964.14.2.513
  3. Eysenck, H. J. (1956). Diagnosis and Measurement: A Reply to Loevinger. Psychological Reports2(3), 117–118. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1956.2.3.117
  4. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1967). Physiological Reactivity to Sensory Stimulation as a Measure of Personality. Psychological Reports20(1), 45–46. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1967.20.1.45
  5. Sartory, G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1976). Strain Differences in Acquisition and Extinction of Fear Responses in Rats. Psychological Reports38(1), 163–187. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1976.38.1.163
  6. Bruni, P., & Eysenck, H. J. (1976). Structure of Attitudes—An Italian Sample. Psychological Reports38(3), 956–958. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1976.38.3.956
  7. Eysenck, H. J. (1976). Structure of Social Attitudes. Psychological Reports39(2), 463–466. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1976.39.2.463
  8. Eysenck, S. B. G., White, O., & Eysenck, H. J. (1976). Personality and Mental Illness. Psychological Reports39(3), 1011–1022. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1976.39.3.1011
  9. Eysenck, H. J. (1958). The Nature of Anxiety and the Factorial Method. Psychological Reports4(2), 453–454. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1958.4.h.453
  10. Hewitt, J. K., Eysenck, H. J., & Eaves, L. J. (1977). Structure of Social Attitudes after Twenty-Five Years: A Replication. Psychological Reports40(1), 183–188. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1977.40.1.183
  11. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1977). Personality Differences between Prisoners and Controls. Psychological Reports40(3_suppl), 1023–1028. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1977.40.3c.1023
  12. Eysenck, H. J. (1977). National Differences in Personality as Related to ABO Blood Group Polymorphism. Psychological Reports41(3_suppl), 1257–1258. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1977.41.3f.1257
  13. Hewitt, J. K., Fulker, D. W., & Eysenck, H. J. (1978). Effect of Strain and Level of Shock on the Behaviour of Rats in PSI Experiments. Psychological Reports42(3_suppl), 1103–1108. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1978.42.3c.1103
  14. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1978). Impulsiveness and Venturesomeness: Their Position in a Dimensional System of Personality Description. Psychological Reports43(3_suppl), 1247–1255. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1978.43.3f.1247
  15. Eysenck, H. J. (1979). Personality Factors in a Random Sample of the Population. Psychological Reports44(3_suppl), 1023–1027. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1979.44.3c.1023
  16. Eysenck, H. J. (1980). Psychology of the Scientist: XLIV. Sir Cyril Burt: Prominence versus Personality. Psychological Reports46(3), 893–894. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1980.46.3.893
  17. Eysenck, H. J. (1980). Personality, Marital Satisfaction, and Divorce. Psychological Reports47(3_suppl), 1235–1238. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1980.47.3f.1235
  18. Eysenck, H. J. (1959). Comments on a Test of the Personality-Satiation-Inhibition Theory. Psychological Reports5(2), 395–396. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1959.5.h.395
  19. Eysenck, H. J. (1959). Personality and Verbal Conditioning. Psychological Reports5(2), 570–570. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1959.5.h.570
  20. Eysenck, H. J. (1959). Personality and Problem Solving. Psychological Reports5(3), 592–592. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1959.5.3.592
  21. Eysenck, H. J. (1982). The Biological Basis of Cross-Cultural Differences in Personality: Blood Group Antigens. Psychological Reports51(2), 531–540. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1982.51.2.531
  22. Eysenck, H. J. (1987). Comments on “the Orthogonality of Extraversion and Neuroticism Scales.” Psychological Reports61(1), 50–50. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1987.61.1.50
  23. Eysenck, H. J., & Barrett, P. (1993). The Nature of Schizotypy. Psychological Reports73(1), 59–63. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1993.73.1.59
  24. Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Some Comments on the Gough Socialization Scale. Psychological Reports76(1), 298–298. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1995.76.1.298
  25. Eysenck, H. J., Eysenck, S. B. G., & Barrett, P. (1995). Personality Differences According to Gender. Psychological Reports76(3), 711–716. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1995.76.3.711

Perceptual and Motor Skills Expression of Concern

https://doi.org/10.1177/0031512520901993

  1. Frith, C. D., & Eysenck, H. J. (1982). Reminiscence and Learning: One or Many? Perceptual and Motor Skills54(2), 494–494. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1982.54.2.494
  2. Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1960). Reminiscence on the Spiral After-Efect as a Function of Length of Rest and Number of Pre-Rest Trials. Perceptual and Motor Skills10(2), 93–94. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.10.2.93
  3. Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Reminiscence, Extraversion and Neuroticism. Perceptual and Motor Skills11(1), 21–22. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.11.1.21
  4. Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Reminiscence as a Function of Rest, Practice, and Personality. Perceptual and Motor Skills11(1), 91-94E. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.11.1.91
  5. Eysenck, H. J., & Holland, H. (1960). Length of Spiral After-Effect as a Function of Drive. Perceptual and Motor Skills11(2), 129–130. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.11.2.129
  6. Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Reminiscence and Post-Rest Increment after Massed Practice. Perceptual and Motor Skills11(2), 221–222. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.11.2.221
  7. Holland, H., & Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Spiral After-Effect as a Function of Length of Stimulation. Perceptual and Motor Skills11(2), 228–228. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1960.11.2.228
  8. Lynn, R., & Eysenck, H. J. (1961). Tolerance for Pain, Extraversion and Neuroticism. Perceptual and Motor Skills12(2), 161–162. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1961.12.2.161
  9. Costello, C. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1961). Persistence, Personality, and Motivation. Perceptual and Motor Skills12(2), 169–170. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1961.12.2.169
  10. Eysenck, H. J., & Willett, R. A. (1962). Cue Utilization as a Function of Drive: An Experimental Study. Perceptual and Motor Skills15(1), 229–230. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1962.15.1.229
  11. Eysenck, H. J., & Willett, R. A. (1962). Performance and Reminiscence on a Symbol Substitution Task as a Function of Drive. Perceptual and Motor Skills15(2), 389–390. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1962.15.2.389
  12. Eysenck, H. J. (1962). Figural After-Effects, Personality, and Inter-Sensory Comparisons. Perceptual and Motor Skills15(2), 405–406. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1962.15.2.405
  13. Eysenck, H. J. (1964). Involuntary Rest Pauses in Tapping as a Function of Drive and Personality. Perceptual and Motor Skills18(1), 173–174. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1964.18.1.173
  14. Eysenck, H. J. (1966). On the Dual Function of Consolidation. Perceptual and Motor Skills22(1), 273–274. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1966.22.1.273
  15. Eysenck, H. J. (1967). Factor-Analytic Study of the Maitland Graves Design Judgment Test. Perceptual and Motor Skills24(1), 73–74. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1967.24.1.73
  16. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1967). Salivary Response to Lemon Juice as a Measure of Introversion. Perceptual and Motor Skills24(3_suppl), 1047–1053. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1967.24.3c.1047
  17. Eysenck, H. J. (1969). A New Theory of Post-Rest Upswing or “Warm-up” in Motor Learning. Perceptual and Motor Skills28(3), 992–994. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1969.28.3.992
  18. Eysenck, H. J. (1970). An Application of the Maitland Graves Design Judgment Test to Professional Artists. Perceptual and Motor Skills30(2), 589–590. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1970.30.2.589
  19. Eysenck, S. B. G., Russell, T., & Eysenck, H. J. (1970). Extraversion, Intelligence, and Ability to Draw a Person. Perceptual and Motor Skills30(3), 925–926. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1970.30.3.925
  20. Eysenck, H. J. (1971). Relation between Intelligence and Personality. Perceptual and Motor Skills32(2), 637–638. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1971.32.2.637
  21. Eysenck, H. J., & Iwawaki, S. (1971). Cultural Relativity in Aesthetic Judgments: An Empirical Study. Perceptual and Motor Skills32(3), 817–818. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1971.32.3.817
  22. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1971). Attitudes to Sex, Personality and LIE Scale Scores. Perceptual and Motor Skills33(1), 216–218. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1971.33.1.216
  23. Wilson, G. D., Tunstall, O. A., & Eysenck, H. J. (1971). Individual Differences in Tapping Performance as a Function of Time on the Task. Perceptual and Motor Skills33(2), 375–378. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1971.33.2.375
  24. Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1971). The Orthogonality of Psychoticism and Neuroticism: A Factorial Study. Perceptual and Motor Skills33(2), 461–462. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1971.33.2.461
  25. Eysenck, H. J. (1972). Preference Judgments for Polygons, Designs, and Drawings. Perceptual and Motor Skills34(2), 396–398. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1972.34.2.396
  26. Bone, R. N., & Eysenck, H. J. (1972). Extraversion, Field-Dependence, and the Stroop Test. Perceptual and Motor Skills34(3), 873–874. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1972.34.3.873
  27. Eysenck, H. J., & Soueif, M. (1972). An Empirical Test of the Theory of Sexual Symbolism. Perceptual and Motor Skills35(3), 945–946. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1972.35.3.945
  28. Allsopp, J. F., & Eysenck, H. J. (1974). Personality as a Determinant of Paired-Associates Learning. Perceptual and Motor Skills39(1), 315–324. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1974.39.1.315
  29. Götz, K. O., Lynn, R., Borisy, A. R., & Eysenck, H. J. (1979). A New Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test: I. Construction and Psychometric Properties. Perceptual and Motor Skills49(3), 795–802. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1979.49.3.795
  30. Iwawaki, S., Eysenck, H. J., & Götz, K. O. (1979). A New Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test (VAST): II. Cross-Cultural Comparison between England and Japan. Perceptual and Motor Skills49(3), 859–862. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1979.49.3.859
  31. Chan, J., Eysenck, H. J., & Götz, K. O. (1980). A New Visual Aesthetic Sensitivity Test: III. Cross-Cultural Comparison between Hong Kong Children and Adults, and English and Japanese Samples. Perceptual and Motor Skills50(3_suppl), 1325–1326. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1980.50.3c.1325
  32. Frith, C. D., & Eysenck, H. J. (1981). Reminiscence—Psychomotor Learning: A Reply to Coppage and Payne. Perceptual and Motor Skills53(3), 842–842. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1981.53.3.842
  33. Chan, J. W. C., Eysenck, H. J., & Lynn, R. (1991). Reaction Times and Intelligence among Hong Kong Children. Perceptual and Motor Skills72(2), 427–433. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1991.72.2.427
  34. Lynn, R., Chan, J. W. C., & Eysenck, H. J. (1991). Reaction Times and Intelligence in Chinese and British Children. Perceptual and Motor Skills72(2), 443–452. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1991.72.2.443
  35. Eysenck, H. J., & Furnham, A. (1993). Personality and the Barron-Welsh Art Scale. Perceptual and Motor Skills76(3), 837–838. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1993.76.3.837
  36. Eysenck, H. J. (1959). Personality and the Estimation of Time. Perceptual and Motor Skills9(3), 405–406. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1959.9.3.405

CONCLUSION

The list of unsafe publications grows and grows. How many more can there be? And when will the scientific record finally be corrected?

Update

In a recent comment, Paul Barrett claims that nothing is wrong with his and HJE’s paper on schizotypy: Eysenck, H. J., & Barrett, P. (1993). The Nature of Schizotypy. Psychological Reports73(1), 59–63. 

Paul says nothing about: Eysenck, H. J., Eysenck, S. B. G., & Barrett, P. (1995). Personality Differences According to Gender. Psychological Reports76(3), 711–716. 

The jury is still out about this, and the remaining 146 Eysenck papers that have been flagged by journal editors and the King’s College London enquiry.

It is doubtful we will ever know the truth about this significant body of work.

 

 

 

 

 

A reset for Psychology as natural science

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A NEW GENERAL THEORY OF BEHAVIOUR
Homeostasis, the state of steady internal conditions, is a well-established principle in living systems. Here I discuss ‘Psychological Homeostasis’, a construct which gives rise to three ‘big ideas’: a new general theory of behaviour; an alternative theory of evolution; and unifying Psychology as part of natural science.

My aim is to persuade you that these ideas have legs. Psychology’s fragmentation and its separation from the natural sciences can – and must – be repaired. Here I offer one way to take this unification project forward.

We are all familiar with the thermostat on the wall that we use to regulate the room temperature. We are also familiar with a process inside the body called ‘physiological homoeostasis’ which controls variables such as our body temperature and fluid balance to keep them within pre-set limits (Cannon, 1929). What is new and less well established is the idea of a ‘Behavioural Thermostat’, a type of psychological homeostasis striving to control the equilibrium and stability of the external environment. Let’s call this concept ‘Homeostasis Type 2’ or ‘HT2’ for short.

PSYCHOLOGICAL HOMEOSTASIS

I wish to argue that Psychological Homeostasis is every bit as important as its physiological counterpart. It is designed to keep everything in the surrounding environment ‘ticking over’, not too ‘hot’ and not too ‘cold’. HT2 is an innate process built to quietly keep everything ‘cushty’ (as Jamie Oliver might put it).

There are several popular idioms about this process: it is said that ‘we don’t like to rock the boat’, ‘cause waves’, ‘ruffle feathers’ or ‘upset the apple cart’. I want to suggest that the HT2 is so indispensably routine that most of us for most of the time simply aren’t aware of its existence. Just as fish don’t know they’re in water, we don’t know we’re in homeostasis. Yet – I wish to argue – all of our behaviour, thinking, and feelings are ultimately controlled by it.

If that sounds a little bit scary, it doesn’t need to be. Homeostasis isn’t a malevolent force, it’s doing good, making our lives easier. HT2 brings multiple forms of help and healing free at the point of delivery, like an in-built NHS. HT2 is one of those rare, ‘good-news’ stories. It’s all about preventing and fixing things before there is a breakdown. If we see an apple cart about to turn over, we stop it from happening. If we see one that’s already overturned, a situation in need of repair, then we set about repairing it. HT2 repairs and ‘resets’ on a routine basis, guiding our behaviour.

I explain why this is possible in my new book A General Theory of Behaviour (Marks, 2018). The General Theory consists of 20 principles and 80 auxiliary propositions that make predictions at individual, social and societal levels.

Admittedly there is ‘nothing new under the sun’, and the theory has links with other motivational theories, especially Conservation of Resources Theory (Hobfoll, 1989). Yet the construct of Psychological Homeostasis as an analogue of its physiological cousin has never been systematically developed. In 1848 German physicist Gustav Fechner used the term Lustprinzip. Fifty years later Sigmund Freud copied this idea with the ‘Pleasure Principle’, which has an almost exact equivalent in Cannon’s concept of homeostasis, which in turn has the goal of tension reduction for the sake of maintaining, or restoring, the inner equilibrium (Marks, 2018, p.40). The General Theory holds that striving for equilibrium is a primary motivation of behaviour, not only pleasure seeking or pain avoidance, as suggested by the Law of Effect.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty – how exactly does Psychological Homeostasis work? Firstly, the theory proposes an internal director (a ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ or ‘REF’) that strives to keep everything ‘cushty’. If, as Shakespeare viaJaques famously asserts, ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players’, actors must each have an internal director. The REF-director guides each individual towards winning rewards and avoiding losses. Individuals can’t win Oscars but they can appear authentic, smooth and convincing to participants and onlookers. The goal of the REF is to strive for the best performance of the actor in balance with, and collaboration from, the other actors in the ‘drama’. By persuasion, recruitment and/or manipulation, gains are maximised and losses minimised in a zero-sum game.

The REF thus directs individual actions, prevents and fixes problems and eliminating barriers before any situation becomes uncontrollable. It helps to make the world livable and as comfortable as possible, an internal fixer and mixer. Wherever we go and whatever we are doing, the REF within us is striving to maintain good family and public relations, and a tolerable balance of safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. If there are competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies pulling the flow of events ‘off balance’, our innate REF system guides us back inside our comfort zones.

THE REF

The REF is triggered whenever a process moves beyond its set point or set range. As a general rule, the majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them.Of course, nobody has the power to win the battle for ‘calm’, ‘balance’ and ‘control’ on every occasion. Inconveniences, mistakes and an occasional calamity raise their ugly heads sooner or later. A measured response is necessary to restore equilibrium and there are certainly different styles and  ‘personalities’ influencing the best way to go about this. Potentially a single action can push a system out of its comfort zone requiring reset. When a process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ tends to occur when other interconnected processes require a reset also.

One drink too many might bring on a sleepless night and an early morning hangover causing a missed meeting and a ticking off from the boss. An angry outburst from one unhappy individual may provoke others and the boss might have to send round an email about the importance of punctuality. It’s all grist to the homeostasis mill. Yet we cannot live without homeostasis, and evolution itself would not have progressed so much in our favour.

AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY OF EVOLUTION

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a driving force towards stability, security and adaptation to change. One way in which homeostasis guides evolution is through niche construction (Lewontin, 1983). Like many other organisms, humans actively adapt the environment, not simply adapt to it. Niche construction alters ecological processes, modifies natural selection and contributes to inheritance (Laland, 2017).  The sweep of niche construction is broad, incorporating many aspects of behaviour including ownership of goods and property, self-decoration and design, and the marking of identity.

The individual organism extends its ability to thrive in nature by using HT2 to build niches. Humans are prolific cultivators of food, clothing, construction materials, fuel, alcohol, drugs, and ornaments. All are forms of self-extension designed to create zones of safety and identity. Classic examples in nature are the dam-building of beavers and the propogation of fruit by bowerbirds for use in sexual display. It has been suggested that male spotted bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchus (Chlamyderamaculata use the fruit of Solanum ellipticum not as food but as components of sexual display. Madden et al. (2012) observed that males indirectly cultivate plants bearing these fruit – the first known cultivation of a non-food item by a non-human species.

Niche construction promotes identity, security and survival, which in some cases (e.g. houses) can be passed to the next generation. I believe that niche construction is homeostatically-driven. To quote J. Scott Turner’s book Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It: ‘Niche construction …[allows] organisms to manipulate environments to suit themselves, essentially constructing their own ecological niches, and so, in some sense controlling the selective milieus they inhabit.’

We humans are prolific niche constructors. Tools, weapons, fire, domestication of animals, language, money, goods, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, medicine, culture, music, literature, the Internet and social media all enhance safety, identity and control. By constructing inhabitable zones of safety, humans have learned to survive in extreme environments such as the polar regions, outer space, on the surface of the moon and there are plans to settle on the planet Mars. When a human habitat is extended with possessions, the possessions themselves become part of personal identity. William James (1890) wrote: ‘a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions’.

Other examples of niche construction as identity-marking include clothing and the beauty industry, and the motor car. Enzo Ferrari, once said: ‘The fact is I don’t drive just to get from A to B. I enjoy feeling the car’s reactions, becoming part of it.’ ‘Becoming part of it’, whether driving to maximise safety or to gain the adrenaline rush of speeding, the feeling of oneness is palpable. Driver and car are as one (Marks, 2018, pp. 66-67).

In producing safety, security and thriving, HT2 and niche construction co-direct adaptive evolution. They provide a second pathway for an adaptive fit between organisms and the environment. I agree with Turner who suggests: ‘homeostasis does not derive from natural selection; it is homeostasis that drives selection.’ And note the down-side to niche construction – niche destruction by climate change. Psychological perspectives on this, ‘the largest social dilemma in history’, are reviewed in a recent article in The Psychologist (Brick and van der Linden, 2018).

UNIFYING PSYCHOLOGY AS PART OF NATURAL SCIENCE

Homeostasis is a reset and repair agent, a DIY specialist. The Psychology Discipline itself is one object in need of an urgent DIY makeover. The General Theory springs into action to bring unity to Psychology as part of natural science.

Psychology claims to be a science, yet there are so many sub-regions, mini-theories and models, and no generally accepted paradigm. Our professional society for psychologists in the UK, the British Psychological Society, is emblematic of the discipline. The extreme diversity of the Society with dozens of divisions, special groups and sections, is an undoubted strength. Yet it is also reveals weakness. Where is the collective vision of our science? We do not have one. We are lacking a backbone.

Commentators suggest that a major redesign of the discipline is long overdue. The majority of psychologists agree that integration is necessary. Fragmentation has been a longstanding and difficult problem. Over more than a century, fragmentation has been called a ‘crisis’. The extreme plight of the discipline has been the subject of a penetrating book, Psychology in Crisis by Brian Hughes, who wrote about it recently in this very magazine.

So I humbly offer my General Theory as a unifying force, both for psychology research currently out there and to drive future study. I argue that the theory can make falsifiable predictions on a vast range of topics, encompassing the whole of Psychology… learning, striving, action, making friends, falling in love, self-control and addiction, surfing the internet, work, sleep and so much more.

I already see published research which chimes with my thinking on the General Theory:

–       Natural field experiment in a public car park found that subjects for whom other drivers stopped were more than twice as likely to extend a similar act to a third party, indicating indirect reciprocity (Mujcic & Leibbrandt, 2018). This mirrors my prediction that we strive to achieve goals while maximising cohesion and cooperation with kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or minimise the suffering and pain of others.

–       Social observational studies find that police officers frequently employ de-escalation tactics, including the ‘respect’ tactic, the ‘human’ tactic and the ‘honest’ tactic, which are associated with a calming of a citizen’s demeanour (Todak & James, 2018). This mirrors my prediction that the majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them.

–       Studies suggest that the forebrain provides a common central mechanism for both physiological and psychological homeostasis (Edlow et al., 2016). This suggests that, as I propose in my book, homeostasis of both Types I and II is controlled by a single executive controller in the forebrain.

NEXT STEPS

I have given only the briefest taste of what the theory holds. I know these are bold, wide-ranging claims. If you disagree with what I have set out, challenge me. If you find aspects you agree with, join me on this journey. The next steps require investigations aimed at falsification of the General Theory. However long it takes, our broken discipline needs to be put together into one beautiful whole. It needs a backbone.

REFERENCES

Brick, C. and van der Linden, S. (2018). Yawning at the apocalypse. The Psychologist, September, 30-35.

Cannon, W. B. (1929). Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiological reviews9(3), 399-431.

Edlow, B. L., McNab, J.A., Witzel, T. and Kinney, H.C. (2016). The structural connectome of the human central homeostatic network. Brain Connectivity, 6(3), 187–200.

Marks, David F.. A General Theory of Behaviour (SAGE Swifts) (p. 23). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Hobfoll, S.E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44(3), 513–524.

Hughes, B.M. (2018). Psychology in crisis. London: Palgrave.

Hughes, B.M. (2018). Does psychology face and exaggeration crisis? The Psychologist, October, 8-10.

James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt and Company. pp. 291–292.

Laland, K.N. (2017). Darwin’s unfinished symphony how culture made the human mind. Princeton, NJ: Printeton University Press.

Lewontin RC (1983). Gene, organism and environment. In: Bendall, D. S. (Ed.). Evolution from molecules to men. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Madden, J. R., Dingle, C., Isden, J., Sparfeld, J., Goldizen, A. W., & Endler, J. A. (2012). Male spotted bowerbirds propagate fruit for use in their sexual display. Current biology22(8), R264-R265.

Marks, D. F. (2018). A General Theory of Behaviour (SAGE Swifts) SAGE Publications.

Mujcic, R., & Leibbrandt, A. (2018). Indirect reciprocity and prosocial behaviour: Evidence from a natural field experiment. The Economic Journal128(611), 1683-1699.

Todak, N. & James, L. (2018). A Systematic Social Observation Study of Police De-Escalation Tactics. Police Quarterly, 1098611118784007.

Turner, J.S. (2017). Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. New York: HarperCollins.

Personality and Fatal Diseases: Revisiting a Scientific Scandal

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During the 1980s and 1990s, Hans J Eysenck conducted a programme of research into the causes, prevention and treatment of fatal diseases in collaboration with one of his protégés, Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. This led to what must be the most astonishing series of findings ever published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature with effect sizes that have never otherwise been encounterered in biomedical research. This article outlines just some of these reported findings and signposts readers to extremely serious scientific and ethical criticisms that were published almost three decades ago. Confidential internal documents that have become available as a result of litigation against tobacco companies provide additional insights into this work. It is suggested that this research programme has led to one of the worst scientific scandals of all time. A call is made for a long overdue formal inquiry.

Read paper at:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1359105318822045

‘An obscure public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’

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23rd August 2018

At 30,000 feet on the midday flight from Marseille to Heathrow, I am thinking how to spend the afternoon. Unable to go straight home because an estate agent has arranged a viewing with a potential tenant, how would I fill this time?  I decide to go for lunch at one of my local haunts on the Thames bank, the City Barge.

Set aside for a moment the fact that the estate agent who had arranged the viewing was Chesterton’s, a family firm with connections to the writer GK Chesterton (1874 – 1936), ‘the prince of paradox’.  A few seconds after I made the  decision to go for a pub lunch ‘on the Chiswick bank of the river’, I open my kindle and make a fairly random decision to continue reading ‘The Man Who Was Thursday, a Nightmare by Gilbert K Chesterton (GKC).

I flip over the page to see in stark black and white a description of that very place which, moments previously, I had decided to visit, viz:

“”I think,” said Gregory, with placid irrelevancy, “that we will call a cab.” He gave two long whistles, and a hansom came rattling down the road. The two got into it in silence. Gregory gave through the trap the address of an obscure public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river. The cab whisked itself away again, and in it these two fantastics quitted their fantastic town.”

Coincidence is both puzzling and remarkable, a contiguity of events that appear to have no causal connecting principle between one another. A coincidence that seems to go way beyond the laws of chance can elicit a strong sense of the paranormal. I analyse here the ‘Chiswick Coincidence’ for the light it may shed on anomalistic experience.[1]  The correspondence between the free and voluntary thought of going to the pub on the Chiswick side of the river and Gregory’s choice to do the identical thing is particularly striking. This coincidence, like others that I,  or close family members, have experienced is multi-layered. I discuss here each of these 7 layers.[2]

First layer

The ‘Chiswick Coincidence’ consists of two contiguous elements:

Element 1: My decision to go to the City Barge for lunch (because my flat was being viewed by Chestertons).

Then seconds later:

Element 2:  I read the line ‘an obscure public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’ in the book by GKC.

Thus, the  first layer of coincidence is the fact that the estate agent and the author GKC are members of the same family.

Second layer

The second layer is the fact that the decision to go to the Chiswick riverside pub was followed only a few seconds later by reading a piece of text referring to a ‘public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’. My immediate reaction being “Wow!”, “Whoa!” “WTX!” in no particular order.

SdP35CityBarge1930s_900

Historical records indicate that The City Barge has existed since 1484 when it was known as ‘The Navigator’s Arms’. Its first appearance in the licensing lists was in 1787 when it was the ‘City Navigation Barge’. As the ‘City Barge’ it was refurbished in 2014.  Historical sources point to at least 5 or 6 pubs on the Chiswick side of the river at the time of GKC’s story. The pub mentioned by GKC could have been any or none of these, perhaps only a figment of GKC’s fluid imagination. Two clues make the City Barge a good candidate however. Photographs of the City Barge from 1910, two years after the publication of TMWWTAN, show Thames barges actually tied up directly outside the City Barge. Also, when the two characters in GKC’s story, Gregory and Syme, leave the pub, they go out by the door and “close to the opening lay a dark dwarfish steam-launch”. This description fits the immediate riverside proximity of The City Barge perfectly.[3]

A kindle is a portable library. Mine is 1.33 GB of books, both fiction and non-fiction – the complete works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, Joyce, Austen, Pepys, Swift, Zola and much more.  On the date in question, there were 498 works containing 146,817 pages [4]. With 350 words per page, there were around 50 million words on my kindle.  The odds of seeing the words “public-house on the Chiswick bank” on the first page I opened is around one-in-10 million (10-7).

Third layer

I checked my diary for the days immediately following the date of this event (23rd August 2018). My diary says that I would be meeting my publisher Robert Patterson to discuss a new book on Psychology and the Paranormal.. Was I perhaps on the lookout for anomalistic experience at this time? If so, I had been presented with a brilliant example.

Fourth layer

The idea of writing this book meant that I would soon be seeking new material. Although I was at the early stages when this incident happened, I can imagine no more suitable an illustration for a book on anomalous experience than this very incident. Reflecting back on this period, I can see how helpful the coincidence was in resetting my paranormal ‘Belief Barometer’.

Fifth layer

Enter – or, I should say, re-enter – Martin Gardner.  Martin had kindly contributed Forewords to editions of my previous book on ‘psi’ (Marks and Kammann, 1980; Marks, 2000).[6]  Sadly, Martin died in 2010 leaving a huge legacy of 100s of literary and scholarly works with a readership of millions. I have copies of many of Martin’s books including Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Dover, 1957), Mathematics, Magic and Mystery (Dover, 1956), The Annotated Alice. The Definitive Edition. Lewis Carroll (W W Norton, 2000).

th

In researching TMWWTAN I made the discovery that Martin had written a Special Annotated Edition of TMWWTAN (Gardner and Chesterton, Ignatius Press, 1999). Goose bump territory! How very strange. Discovering this Special Annotated Edition seemed enigmatic and enthralling in equal measure. The three-way connection between Gilbert K Chesterton, Martin Gardner and the very book I am writing does not end here.

Sixth layer

As Chesterton noted, “hardly anybody who looked at the title ever seems to have looked at the sub-title; which was “A Nightmare,” and the answer to a good many critical questions” (Autobiography, Kindle Locations 1301-1303). Two key themes of TMWWTAN are free will and evil.  The Chiswick Coincidence triggered a change in my stance from disbelieving skeptic to neutral inquirer.  My eyes were opened to the genius of Gilbert K Chesterton, certainly a special writer and TMWWTAN is no ordinary book. It has been rated as one of the greatest works of 20th century literature. To quote from the American Chesterton Society website (https://www.chesterton.org/who-is-this-guy/):

“Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) cannot be summed up in one sentence. Nor in one paragraph…But rather than waiting to separate the goats from the sheep, let’s just come right out and say it: G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century…The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century… What was it he defended? He defended “the common man” and common sense. He defended the poor. He defended the family. He defended beauty. And he defended Christianity and the Catholic Faith.”

I was pleasantly surprised to read the above description that GFK defended the “common man”, common sense and the poor, my own values exactly.  Clearly, Gilbert Chesterton also made no secret of the fact that he believed in God, prayer and the afterlife.

Seventh layer

 Like GKC, and he also made no secret of it, Martin Gardner believed in God, prayer and the afterlife. In his autobiography, Martin stated he loved reading “anything by G. K. because of his never-ceasing emotions of wonder and gratitude to God, not only for such complicated things as himself, his wife, and the universe, but for such “tremendous trifles” (as he once called them) as rain, sunlight, flowers, trees, colours, stars, even stones that “shine along the road / That are and cannot be,” (Undiluted Hocus-Pocus.The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, 2013, p. 205).

GKC, together with the Basque philosopher and poet Miguel de Unamuno, were Martin’s two mentors. Martin’s autobiography mentions God no less than 128 times.[7] According to Martin Gardner (2013):

“Just as knowing how a magic trick is done spoils all its wonder, so let us be grateful that wherever science and reason turn they plunge finally into stygian darkness. I am not in the least annoyed because I do not understand time and space, or consciousness, or free will, or evil, or why the universe is made the way it is. I am relieved beyond measure that I do not need to comprehend more than dimly the nature of God or an afterlife. I do not want to be blinded by truths beyond the capacity of my eyes and brain and heart. I am as contented as a Carnap with the absence of rational methods for penetrating ultimate mysteries” (p. 341).

For a lot of different reasons, and in completely unexpected ways, the Chiswick Coincidence opened my eyes.  At a seventh layer, I find that the coincidence revealed another synchronicity: the shared values and beliefs of Martin Gardner, in many ways one of most precious mentors, and a man I could never have met, GKC, the author of the metaphysical thriller TMWWTAN.

Combined Probability of Seven Layers

I give estimates here of the probabilities for each layer followed by a combined probability estimate.

Layer 1: The probability that the estate agent and GKC himself are from a single family is estimated to be 10-3. This estimate takes into account the number of West London estate agencies (500+) and the chance that the agent that I had selected would have a strong familial connection with GKC, the central character in this episode.

Layer 2: The probability that my plan to visit the Chiswick riverside pub would be followed a few seconds later by seeing the words ‘public-house on the Chiswick bank ’on the first page of my kindle is estimated to be 10-7. This estimate takes into account the huge quantity of kindle text (in excess of 50 million words) that I could have selected to read on this occasion.

Layer 3:The probability that on the same visit to London I would be meeting my publisher Robert Patterson to discuss a new book is estimated to be 10-1 . This accords with the frequency of such meetings which is approximately once a year.

Layer 4:Taking into account the fact that no contract for the paranormal book existed at the time, the probability that the Chiswick Coincidence would be useful material for this book is estimated to be 10-1   

Layer 5:Taking into account of the fact that, before this incident, I knew almost nothing about GKC,  the probability that somebody I knew, somebody I regarded as a mentor, somebody who had written forewords to two of my  books, Martin Gardner, would also be somebody who had written a Special Annotated Edition of TMWWTAN is estimated to be 10-4

Layer 6: The probability that lifelong personal values, to defend the “common man”, common sense and the poor, I later discovered to be GFK’s values is estimated to be 10-1 [8].

Layer 7: The synchronicity in values and beliefs between Martin Gardner and Gilbert K Chesterton, author of TMWWTAN, is estimated to be a certainty. Martin loved GKC’s writing and shared his values and beliefs.

In addition, it is necessary to consider the boundary conditions. Sitting on an aeroplane on a short-haul flight, offers a variety of activities, viz: doing nothing, doing a puzzle, watching a film, listening to music, snoozing,  chatting,  looking out of the window, drinking a tea or coffee, reading a non-kindle item (newspaper, magazine or book), or reading a kindle. I estimate the probability that I would have chosen to read my kindle on this occasion as one-in-ten ( 10-1 ).

The combined probability P of the seven synchronicities and the boundary condition is:

P  = 10-3 X  10-7 X  10-1 X  10-1   X  10-4   X 10-1  X 1 X  10-1   = 10-18

= one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000  

i.e. one in one quintillion (a million, million, million) [9]

 These odds are so astronomical in scale, one must consider the possibility of a paranormal explanation. Not to do so would seem irrational and contrary to science.

Explaining the Coincidence

How might this remarkable 7-layered coincidence, together with its impact and meaning, all be explained?  Let’s consider the explanations that are available from each side of the theoretical divide.

Hypothesis 1 – N Theory Explanation: Coincidences are bound to occur every once in a while purely by chance.

From the perspective of N Theory, I give the first type of explanation. The nugget of the Chiswick Coincidence lies within Layer 2:

Event A: choosing by free will to go to the City Barge for lunch.

Event B: choosing by free will to read, only moments later, a story, I would soon discover, that contains an incident about a  ‘public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’.

When considered independently, neither event is in any way extraordinary. Only their near simultaneity appears extraordinary. If I had read the passage a few months, weeks or even days previously or sometime later, I would have noted that I knew just such a place but would not have blinked an eyelid.  Any Londoner is familiar with the experience of coming across familiar places in novels or movies.

It is necessary to consider the possibility of a hidden cause, something that might create the illusion of synchronicity when it isn’t really there. One possibility is that GKC may have been frequently mentioning things in and around Chiswick. In this case the coincidence might not be so odd after all.  It is possible to test this hypothesis relatively easily. It is said that Chesterton was one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. I downloaded the Delphi Collected Works of GK Chesterton onto my kindle. Using the kindle search function I found that there only 7 occurrences of the word “Chiswick” in GKC’s Collected Works. This fact makes the Chiswick Coincidence seem even odder than before.

Another possibility that must be considered is that I had already seen the crucial passage on a previous occasion. This possibility can be safely eliminated for two different reasons. Firstly, if I had already seen this passage, I would already noticed the connection between one of my favourite riverside haunts and GFC’s mention of it. In this case, seeing it for a second time would not have seemed the least bit remarkable. Secondly, a kindle automatically remembers the point reached at a previous reading and obligingly opens the selected book at that page.

The ultimate skeptical explanation is possibly the most accurate. It says that coincidences are just – coincidences!  A coincidence is a coincidence is a coincidence; a random, chance kind of thing. Something similar to the Chiswick Coincidence is occurring with someone somewhere almost every second of the day. When this extremely striking kind of coincidence occurs, it is bound to attract the experiencer’s attention. It is purely the wheels of chance turning and nothing else – once-in-a-blue-moon ‘Lady Luck’ and ‘Father Time’ jump into bed together and another coincidence sucker is born.

Hypothesis 2 – P Theory Explanation: Reverse causality by unconscious reading of the text triggers the decision to visit the pub on the Chiswick side of the river.

What of a paranormal interpretation? It is essential to air all possible explanations and the P Theory warrants a fair hearing.  The two key elements of the Chiswick Coincidence remain :

Event A: deciding by free will to go to the City Barge for lunch.

Event B: deciding by free will to read, only moments later, a story, which contains an incident about a ‘public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’.

What about the possibility of reversed causality such that Event B occurs immediately before Event A.  This P Theory explanation goes like this: I read the part of the story about the Chiswick pub by an unconscious process of clairvoyance, clairvoyantly seeing the text about a ‘public-house on the Chiswick bank of the river’ inside my kindle.  Reading this text at an unconscious level triggers my decision to go to the City Barge for lunch. Afterwards, at a conscious level, when I switch on the kindle and actually read the text, I feel a sense of wonderment and surprise. This is no coincidence at all – reading about the Chiswick pub naturally and logically led to my plan to visit it.

If one is open to psi processes as scientific possibilities, then there should be no problem in accepting the P Theory explanation. In fact the P Theory nails it. If the skeptic demurs that there is no evidence for clairvoyance, unconscious perception or reverse causality and it just cannot be so, the P Theorist might well retort: “Normally, yes, but on this occasion all three happened.” There is no rational way of resolving the matter; which interpretation one accepts rests entirely upon subjective judgement.

Summary and Conclusion

On a homeward journey, involving multiple free choices, a striking coincidence happened. The laws of chance suggest the odds against the Chiswick Coincidence are around one-quintillion-to-one.  Both an ‘N Theory’ interpretation and a ‘P Theory’ interpretation remain logical possibilities. There can be no definitive method of proving which explanation is the correct one. This incertitude requires a neutral stance and a degree of humility about one’s reaction to striking anomalous experience.[11]

My search for a scientific explanation was matched by an equally compelling realisation that there might not be one. Which interpretation is true cannot be decided by reason. Only personal preference –based on one’s a pre-existing bias – allows one to reach a definite conclusion.


Footnotes


[1] I freely acknowledge some readers may well view my ‘Chiswick Coincidence’ with skepticism.  If for no other good reason, ‘One person’s coincidence can be another person’s yawn’; https://wordpress.com/post/coincidences.blog/251

[2] The reader is encouraged to explore personal coincidences using this method of ‘layer analysis’.  Looking for layers of meaning enables one to grasp the full significance of a synchonicity.

[3] The City Barge is a 10-minute drive from Bedford Park, the “queer artificial village” of  ‘Saffron Park’, that features in GKC’s novel.

[4] With the settings on the kindle as they were at that time, there are 4-5 kindle pages to every printed page.

[5] To specify these distributions, a large sample of data points with exact odds values would be required.

[6] Martin Gardner (Foreword to the Second Edition, Marks, 2000) wrote: “It will rank as one of the strongest and best exposés ever directed at the more outlandish claims of parapsychology”(p. 13).

[7] By comparison, Chesterton’s autobiography mentions ‘God’ 62 times.

[8] I share GKC’s values as listed but not his religious beliefs.

[9] A quintillion is cardinal number represented by 1 followed by 18 zeros (US) and by 1 followed by 30 zeros (UK). Here I use the US definition.

[10] I adopt this response from Gardner (2013) The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (p. 235).

[11] Michael Thalbourne (2006) dismisses skeptical explanations based on chance “as a bottomless pit, able to swallow up each and every coincidence that does not already have a normal explanation.” The fact is, in regard to this coincidence, there is no fool-proof method to say whether the P Theory of the N Theory interpretation is correct. It comes down to making one’s own subjective evaluation.

Psychology and the Paranormal

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“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Thanks for the visit!

I approach this blog site with a sense of anticipation, wondering where it may lead…

I hope it might lead towards light, new treasure, in the form of new knowledge and theory.  

How can that be, you might well ask ?  Surely, a so-called ‘expert’ must already have an opinion one way or the other about the paranormal? Wrong!

The truth is that I have no fixed ideas about which direction the evidence will lead. 

One thing I do know – it is necessary to step beyond old assumptions, seek new objects of knowledge. 

If we already KNOW the answer, the TRUTH, why would we bother to read, write or even THINK for that matter, because the truth must already be determined, already out there, written by somebody, somewhere and all that would be left to do would be to pick up dead learning.

Believers vs. Disbelievers

It is quickly apparent to any observer that the paranormal field is heavily divided between two armies of believers (so-called ‘sheep’) and skeptics (so-called ‘goats’ who are actually dis-believers) battling it out with no holds barred.

The stakes are high. The fight is not about empirical studies, observations and anecdotes.  The very nature of science, life and reality are being contested.  

There are ‘dead bodies’ and ‘unexploded land mines’ all over the place and one would be lucky to leave the field in one piece. One can surmise that there can only be losers, never winners, in this futile type of war. In the end every soldier in the affray is a loser. It’s an intellectual version of World War I with permanent trenches and barbed wire fences that has been waging for over a century.  

I know this because I have been there on the battle field.  I entered the field and did several tours of duty. Then, battle-weary with the affray, I walked away.

Recently I returned to see if anything has changed.

As I stuck my head over the trench top waving a white flag of peace, a few warning shots were fired. The same old battle is raging but with the difference that many new foot soldiers have been recruited and there have been scores of  new studies over the last 20 years. These studies have been weaponised to provide increased power, precision and impact.

The army of non-believers now possesses a stockpile of findings consistent with scientific explanations of the paranormal. The believer army, meanwhile, has accrued an equally large stockpile supportive of paranormal interpretations.  

White Flag of Neutrality

Offering the white flag of peace and neutrality causes no small amount of trepidation.  Am I now to be a target for both sides – because, in the battle of the paranormal, nobody is permitted to be neutral?  It’s a ‘do or die’ scenario like no other in science.

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The blog posts here are written from a dispassionate point of view. If I am passionate about anything, it is about the importance of neutrality. My purpose is to create a balanced and even-handed review based on the best contemporary evidence on paranormal claims in science and medicine.

I present here the evidence, both pro and con, explain the relevant psychological processes, present scientific arguments, and produce a final balance sheet at the end.

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Out soon:

“Psychology and the Paranormal

Exploring Anomalous Experience”


June 2020 | 400 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

 

 

 

Personality, Heart Disease and Cancer: A Chequered History

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Type A and B Personality

We discuss here the chequered history of the claims by Psychologists and others about the links between personality and illness, particularly heart disease and cancer. The research has been marred by dirty money and allegations of fraud.

Speculation about ‘Type A’ and ‘Type B’ personalities and coronary heart disease (CHD) has existed for at least 70 years. The distinction between the two personalities was introduced in the mid-1950s by the cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman (1974) Type A behavior and your heart.  Their ideas can be traced to Franz Alexander one of the ‘fathers’ of psychosomatic medicine.

The Type A personality is described this: highly competitive and achievement oriented, not prepared to suffer fools gladly, always in a hurry and unable to bear delays and queues, hostile and aggressive, inclined to read, eat and drive very fast, and constantly thinking what to do next, even when supposedly listening to someone else. Type A was thought to be at greater risk of CHD,

The Type B personality is: relaxed, laid back, lethargic, even- tempered, amiable and philosophical about life, relatively slow in speech and action, and generally has enough time for everyone and everything.

The Type A personality is similar to Galen’s choleric temperament, and Type B with the phlegmatic.  It is well known that men are at greater risk of CHD than women.

‘Classic’ Studies

The key pioneering study of Type A personality and CHD was the Western Collaborative Group Study (WCGS).  Over 3,000 Californian men, aged from 39 to 59, were followed up initially over a period of eight-and-a-half years, and later extending to 22 years plus. At the eight-and-a-half-year follow-up, Type As were twice as likely compared with Type Bs to suffer from subsequent CHD. 7% developed some signs of CHD and two-thirds of these were Type As. This increased risk was there even when other risk factors, such as blood pressure and cigarette smoking, were statistically controlled.

Similar results were obtained in another large-scale study in Framingham, Massachusetts.  This time the sample contained both men and women.  By the early 1980s, it was confidently asserted that Type A characteristics were as much a risk factor for heart disease as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and even smoking.

Failure to Replicate

Later research failed to support these early findings. When Ragland and Brand (1988) conducted a 22-year follow-up of the WCGS, using CHD mortality as the crucially important measure, they failed to find any consistent evidence of an association.

Further research continued up to the late 1980s, yielding few positive findings. Reviewing this evidence, Myrtek (2001) suggests that the modest number of positive findings that did exist were the result of over-reliance on angina as the measure of CHD. Considering studies that adopted hard criteria, including mortality, Myrtek concludes that Type A personality is not a risk factor for CHD.

Enter the Tobacco Industry

With such disappointing results, why did Type A obtain so much publicity over more than 40 years? The reason is in part connected with the involvement of the US tobacco industry.

Mark Petticrew et al. (2012) analysed material lodged at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. This is a vast collection of documents that the companies were obliged to make public following litigation in 1998. These documents show that, for over 40 years from the 1950s, the industry heavily funded research into links between personality, CHD and cancer. The industry was hoping to demonstrate that personality variables were associated with cigarette smoking.

Any such links would undermine the alleged causal links between smoking and disease. Thus, for example, if it could be shown that Type A personalities were both more likely to smoke than Type Bs, and more likely to develop CHD, then it could be argued that smoking might be just an innocent background variable.

The Philip Morris company funded Meyer Friedman, the originator of Type A research, for the Meyer Friedman Institute. The research aimed to show that Type A personalities could be changed by interventions, thereby presumably reducing proneness to CHD even if they continued to smoke.

Petticrew et al. show that, while most Type A–CHD studies were not funded by the tobacco industry, most of the positive results were tobacco-funded. As has been pointed out in many areas of science, positive findings invariably get a great deal more publicity than negative findings and rebuttals.

Hans J Eysenck

The late H J Eysenck was one of the most controversial psychologists who ever lived. Generations of UK psychology students had to study his books as gospel.

The German-born, British psychologist worked at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London.  He did a PhD under Sir Cyril Burt  who was proved to have fabricated researchers and data to support his eugenic theory of intelligence.  (Kamin, 1974, The science and politics of IQ).

Eysenck used the tobacco industry as a source of funding for his research on psychological theories of personality. According to Pringle (1996), Eysenck received nearly £800,000 to support his research on personality and cancer.  Eysenck’s results were a spectacular exception to the general run of negative findings in this field.  Eysenck (1988) claimed that personality variables are much more strongly related to death from cancer than even cigarette smoking.

One of my lecturers while I was an undergraduate had worked for Eysenck as a research assistant for a year. It had seemed clear to him that data massaging was required before placing Eysenck’s studies into publication. Data manipulation or even worse, outright fraud, has surfaced in a major re-analysis of Eysenck’s work on tobacco and personality.

Ronald Grossarth-Maticek

Two of Eysenck’s papers, with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek (pictured above), based  in Crvenka, Serbia, claimed to have identified personality types that increase the risk of cancer by about 120 times and heart disease by about 25 times (Grossarth-Maticek and Eysenck, 1991; Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek, 1991). They also claimed to have tested a new method of psychological treatment that could reduce the death rate for disease prone personalities over the next 13 years from 80% to 32%. These claims are too good to be true.

These extraordinary claims were not received favourably by others in this field. Fox (1988) dismissed earlier reports by Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek as ‘simply unbelievable’ and the 1991 papers were subjected to devastating critiques by Pelosi and Appleby (1992, 1993) and Amelang, Schmidt-Rathjens and Matthews (1996).  The ‘cancer prone personality’ was not clearly described and seems to have been an odd amalgam of emotional distance and excessive dependence.

A Case of Fraud?

After pointing out a large number of errors, omissions, obscurities and implausible data, in a manner reminiscent of Leon Kamin’s  analysis of Burt’s twin IQ data, Pelosi and Appleby comment:

It is unfortunate that Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek omit the most basic information that might explain why their findings are so different from all the others in this field. The methods are either not given or are described so generally that they remain obscure on even the most important points . . . Also essential details are missing from the results, and the analyses used are often inappropriate.

(Pelosi and Appleby, 1992: 1297).

They never used the word “fraud”. They didn’t need to. For an update of this story,  see this post

and this post

Update

I wrote to Ronald Grossarth-Maticek on 3rd December 2018 and again on 5th March 2019 inviting him to respond to the allegations.
Dr. Grossarth-Maticek has responded saying that he will give me an answer within the next month.
He also says that he will send me the results of his actual research.
To be continued…

Psychology – Science or Delusion?

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‘Mass Delusion’

Psychology is full of theories, not ‘General Theories’, but ‘Mini-Theories’ or ‘Models’.  Most Mini-Theories/Models are wrong.  Unfortunately these incorrect theories and models often persist in everyday practice. This happens because Psychologists are reluctant to give up their theories. These incorrect theories then act like ‘mass delusions’, which can have consequences for others, especially students and patients.

Academic Psychology suffers from ‘delusions of grandeur’. It is as if an entire academic discipline is manifesting a chronic disorder – a kind of  ‘Scientific Psychosis’.   Psychologists claim that Psychology is a Science but there is no objective evidence to support it.  In fact, the evidence suggests the exact opposite.

Aping Science

The ability to ape proper science is not in doubt. Laboratories, experiments and grants, thousands of journals, books, institutes and universities all espouse Psychology as a Science.  Many psychologists even wear white lab coats and poke around in animals’ brains. The ability to mimic genuine scientists like Physicists or Biologists, however, does not make Psychology a science. It actually makes a mockery of science.

There are many reasons why this is the case. I mention here two:

1) Psychology does not meet even the most essential criterion for an authentic science – quantitative  measurement along ratio scales.

2) Unlike all the true natural sciences, Psychology lacks a general theory. A general theory is held by the majority of scientists working in the field.

The shared belief of the vast majority of psychologists that they are scientists, when all of the evidence suggests that this can’t be true,  is a form of professional ‘mass hysteria’.  Psychologists share a belief system of scientific delusion, thought disorder and conceptual confusion. They then impose their beliefs, not only on one another, but on their students and their patients.

Students and Patients

Many students and patients are having none of it.  They refuse to be suckered in by the claim.  But they have to be courageous enough to come out of the closet and say it. If they dare to say it in an essay or exam, then they’d better be prepared for a grade C, D, E or F.

Researchers have found that  “medical students think their psychology lectures are “soft and fluffy”students think psychology is less important than the other natural scienceschildren rate psychological questions as easier than chemistry or biology questions; and expert testimony supporting an insanity defence is seen as less convincing when delivered by a psychologist than a psychiatrist.”

On a few rare occasions, established psychologists have expressed their doubts about the scientific credentials of Psychology. For example, Jan Smedslund wrote about: “Why Psychology Cannot be an Empirical Science.” There is increasing evidence that many patients are skeptical about Psychology also.

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Folie Imposée

Folie à deux (“madness of two”) occurs when delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another.  When one dominant person imposes their delusional beliefs on another, it is folie imposée. In this case, the second person probably would never have become deluded if left to themselves. The second person is expected ultimately to reject the delusion of the first person, due to disproof of the delusional assumptions, and protest. This protest, however, will fall upon deaf ears.

The situation I describe is far from hypothetical.  It exists day in, day out, for millions of patients. One particular patient group are those labeled with ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’ (MUS).  Within this group is a particular group of patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (“ME”) and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“CFS”).

Delusional thinking certainly can hurt and embarrass the individuals having the delusion (Psychologists and Psychiatrists). It can also be imposed upon others, for example, people in their care (Patients). To the help-seeking Patient, the Psychologist (or Psychiatrist) is an expert who follows the rules of Science. The Science informs the aetiology, diagnosis, and treatment of the Patient.

Treating Patients with ME/CFS

I consider here how many psychologists in the UK treat people labeled with ME/CFS. This treatment comes with the full backing of NICE (currently under review).

Psychological treatment for patients labeled with ME/CFS is based on a Psychological Theory of the illness. This theory is highly contested and has caused major controversies that has divided Patients from Psychologists and Psychiatrists.

The main Psychological Theory of ME/CFS asserts that ‘maladaptive’ cognitions and behaviours perpetuate the fatigue and impairment of individuals with ME/CFS (Wessely, David, Butler and Chalder, 1989). These authors represent the two main professions concerned with psychological illness, Psychology and Psychiatry.  They state: “It is essential to agree jointly on an acceptable model, because people need to understand their illness. The cognitive – behavioural model …can explain the continuation of symptoms in many patients.” This is where the imposition of the therapist’s model snaps in. “The process is therefore a transfer of responsibility from the doctor, in terms of his duty to diagnose, to the patient, confirming his or her duty to participate in the process of rehabilitation in collaboration with the doctor, physiotherapist, family and others.” (p. 26).

Although the Psychological Theory is contested by many scientists, patients and patient organisations who assume that their symptoms have an organic basis, i.e. a Physical Theory.

Vercoulen et al. (1998) developed a model of ME/CFS based on the Psychological Theory. However, Song and Jason (2005) suggested that the Psychological Theory was inaccurate for individuals with ME/CFS. In spite of the evidence against it, the Psychological Theory continues as the basis for cognitive behavioural and graded exercise therapies (GET) offered to individuals with ME/CFS. One reason for the continued use of an unsupported Psychological Theory is the PACE Trial, a lesson in how not to do proper science. Like most research, this trial was organised by a team and, in this case, the majority of principle investigators were Psychiatrists. This trial has been described as “one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.”

New Approach Needed

In spite of the lack of empirical support, the Psychological Theory of ME/CFS lives on. ME/CFS patients are subjected to CBT and GET.  Patients and patient organisations protest about the treatments and are opposed to the Psychological Theory.  Perhaps Psychologists need to turn the Psychological Theory of unhelpful beliefs upon themselves.  If  ME/CFS has a physical (e.g. immunological) cause, then once the cause has been established, patients will have the chance of an effective treatment and decent care and  support.

The problems that exist for Psychologists’ treatment of patients with MUS and ME/CFS exist more generally across the discipline. A totally new approach is necessary.  Instead of tinkering with the problems at a cosmetic level by papering over the cracks, there is a need for root-and-branch change of a radical kind. The measurement problem must be addressed and there is a need for a general theory.   A new General Theory of Behaviour takes a step in that direction.

Psychology in Crisis – Sail On

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‘Psychology in Crisis’ by Brian M Hughes has much in its favour. Like a knife through soft butter, it cuts through the huge swathes of BS that permeate Academic Psychology.  Brian Hughes addresses many different crises in Academic Psychology:

the Replication Crisis

the Paradigmatic Crisis (aka as the Theory Crisis or Fragmentation)

the Measurement Crisis 

the Statistical Crisis

the Sampling Crisis

the Exaggeration Crisis

None of these crises is new. The problem is the different crises are all getting bigger and more insoluble over time.

In his delightful book,  Psychology in Crisis, Hughes explains that there is little momentum to change because the discipline has taken over a century to build the mould. “The fact that the majority of those who teach psychology see no problem with the status quo, and so say nothing about it, does not indicate that their discipline is healthy. If anything, it implies the presence of groupthink. One might even consider it an instance of a mass delusion.” (p. 148, my italics).

A ‘mass delusion’! Strong words, but fully justified. The biggest delusion of all is the claim that Academic Psychology is a Science. There is no justification for this claim if Hughes’ allegations are true. Which they are.

As an academic discipline, Psychology continues to grow. The American Psychological Association reports that in 2012 – 2013, 1.84 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded to students. Of those, 6.2 percent of the degrees (or 114,080) went to psychology majors. The psychology major is the fourth most popular college major after business, health-related majors, and social science and history. In the 2013 academic year, 6,496 psychology doctorates were awarded in the U.S., a 32 percent increase from 2004.

One of simplest measures of Academic Psychology’s growth is publications numbers. The figures are plotted below for each quarter century since 1900. I got these numbers from Google Scholar.  Bearing in mind that the current quarter century still has 6 years to run, the increases are huge. The dotted line is an estimate for 2000-24 based on current trends. The line goes way off the chart.

Number of Publications about Psychology

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As the Psychology enterprise continues to grow, it becomes ever more difficult to turn it around. To use a nautical analogy, the radius of the Turning Circle widens. The momentum to ‘Sail On’ becomes ever greater.

The Elephant in the Room – the Persistence of Error

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There is an embarrassing, unanswered question about theories and models in Psychology that is screaming to be answered. If the evidence in support of Psychology’s models and findings is so meagre and feeble, how have they survived for such a long time?

The scientific method is intended to be a fail-safe procedure for abandoning disconfirmed hypotheses and progressing with hypotheses that appear not to be disconfirmed. The psychologists who dream up these theories and test them claim to be scientists, so what the heck is going on?

One reason that theories and models become semi-permanent features of textbooks and degree programmes is that simple rules at the very heart of science are persistently broken. If a theory is tested and found wanting, then one of two things happens: either (1) the theory is revised and retested or (2) the theory is abandoned. The history of science suggests that (1) is far more frequent than (2). Investigators become attached to the theories and models that they are working with, not to mention their careers, and they invest significant amounts of time, energy and funds in them, and are loath to give them up, a bit like a worn-out but comfortable armchair.

We’ve all been there – seen it, done it, even have the T-shirt:

t-shirt-homme-le-petit-encule

Nothing dishonest seems to be happening in such cases, simply an unwitting bias to confirm one’s theoretical predilections. This is the well-known confirmation bias studied by, yes, you guessed it, psychologists (e.g. Nickerson, 1988).

The process of theory or model testing is illustrated in the diagram. The diagram shows how the research process insulates theories and models against negative results, leading to the persistence of error over many decades. Continuous cycles of revisions and extensions following meagre or negative results protect the model from its ultimate abandonment until every possible amendment and extension has been tested and tried and found to be wanting.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 08.51.32What textbooks don’t tell you: the persistence of error – the manner in which a model or theory is ‘insulated’ against negative results

Several protective measures are available to insulate investigators from ‘negative’ results:
(1) Amend the model and test it again, a process that can be repeated indefinitely.
(2) Test and retest the model ignoring the ‘bad’ results until some positive results appear that can happen purely by chance (a type 2 error).
(3) Carry out some ‘statistical wizardry’ to concoct a more favourable-looking outcome.
(4) Do nothing, i.e. do not publish the findings, and/or:
(5) Look for another theory or model to test and start all over again!

Beside all of these issues, there is increasing evidence of lack of replication, selective publication of positive findings, and outright fraud in psychological research, all of which militate against authentic separation of fact from fantasy (Yong, 2012).

Little attention has been paid to the cultural, socio-political and economic conditions that create the context for individual health experience and behaviour (Marks, 1996). Thousands of studies have accumulated to the evidence base that is showing that socio-cognitive approach provides inadequate theories of behaviour change. Any theory that neglects the complex cognitive, emotional and behavioural conditions that influence human choices is unlikely to be fit for purpose. Furthermore, health psychology theories are disconnected from the known cultural, socio-political, and community contexts of health behaviour (Marks, 2002). Slowly but surely these issues are becoming more widely recognized across the discipline and, at some point in the future, could become mainstream.

As we have seen, critics of the socio-cognitive approach have suggested that SCMs are tautological and irrefutable (Geir Smedslund, 2000). If this is true, then no matter how many studies are carried out to investigate a social cognitive theory, there will be no genuine progress in understanding.

Weinstein (1993: 324) summarized the state of health behaviour research as follows: ‘despite a large empirical literature, there is still no consensus that certain models of health behaviour are more accurate than others, that certain variables are more influential than others, or that certain behaviours or situations are understood better than others.’ Unfortunately, there has been little improvement since then. The individual-level approach to health interventions focuses on theoretical models, piloting, testing and running randomized controlled trials to demonstrate efficacy.

It has been estimated that the time from conception to funding and completing the process of demonstrated effectiveness can take at least 17 years (Clark, 2008). Meta-analyses, reviewed here, suggest that the ‘proof of the pudding’ in the form of truly effective individual-level interventions is yet to materialize.  Alternative approaches for the creation of interventions for at-risk communities and population groups are needed. A fresh approach requires a general theory of behaviour that encompasses human intentionality, desire and purpose within an ontology of change.

Psychology Bankrupt?

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Is Psychology a bankrupt science? The majority of theories are wrong, the majority of methods do not work and the majority of studies cannot be replicated. In A General Theory of Behaviour I argue for a complete redesign of the discipline.

There are several reasons why the most popular techniques used by psychologists to help people change are ineffective. The evidence does not justify any confidence in the theories, in the methods used or in the explanations provided. Meta-analyses of theory testing studies paint a gloomy picture. The overall pattern of findings suggests that current psychological theories and models cannot provide a viable foundation for effective interventions.

One core limitation with many theories and therapies is their use of the ‘Social-Cognitive Model’ (SCM). The SCM holds that a person’s ability ‘get better’ or to change is a social-cognitive problem, i.e. the person is said to have the ‘wrong’ thoughts and beliefs. According to the theory, these ‘unhelpful’ cognitions must be changed to produce a change in behaviour. But what if the beliefs are correct, or are only a small part of the whole picture, and what if they have little relevance to the behaviour or symptoms that the person is wishing to change?

Other reasons for the failure of the SCM in real-world behaviour change are briefly described below.

Individualistic Bias
Choice and responsibility are internalized as processes within individuals similar to the operating system of a computer. The human ‘operating system’ is assumed to be universal and rational, following a fixed set of formulae that the models attempt to describe. Yet even within its own terms, the programme of model testing and confirmation is failing to meet the goals it has set.

Lack of Ecological Validity and Questionable Statistical Methods
Thousands of published studies have used null hypothesis testing with small samples of college students or patients. The power, ecological validity and generalizability of these studies is questionable. We do not really know their true merit because of uncertainties about representativeness, sampling, and statistical assumptions. Rarely are alternative approaches to theory testing utilized, for example, Bayesian statistics and power analyses, to assess the importance of the effects rather than their statistical significance (Cohen, 1994).

businessman-would-be-bankrupt_1253-1590

Self-report measures
Most studies use self-reported measures of intention and behaviour rather than objective measures. Always a huge problem! It means that the academic studies have little contact with the universe of real-world, objective behaviour.

Neglect of Culture, Religion and Gender
Religion, culture and gender are neglected by most socio-cognitive models. The models aim at universal application that is unachievable.

Unfalsifiable
Some strident critics have suggested that the models are tautological and, therefore, unfalsifiable (Smedslund, 2000). A tautology is a statement that is necessarily true, e.g. ‘Jill will either stop or not stop smoking’ or “The earth is round (p<.05)” as one famous paper would have it (Cohen, 1995). Whatever data we obtain about Jill’s smoking, the statement will always be true – a very safe prediction. Smedslund (2000) deduced that, if tautological theories are disconfirmed or only partially supported by empirical studies, then the studies themselves must be flawed for not ‘discovering’ what must be the case!

Bad models can only be supported by bad research. Others have argued that behavioural beliefs (attitudes) and normative beliefs are basically the same thing. Ogden (2003) analysed empirical articles published between 1997 and 2001 from four health psychology journals that tested or applied one or more social cognition models (theory of reasoned action, theory of planned behaviour, health belief model, and protection motivation theory). Ogden concluded that the models do not enable the generation and testing of hypotheses because their constructs are unspecific. Echoing Smedslund (2000), she suggested that the models focus on analytic truths that must be true by definition.

Unsupported Assumptions
The transtheoretical model has received particular criticism. Sutton (2000b) argued that the stage definitions are logically flawed, and that the time periods assigned to each stage are arbitrary. Herzog (2008) suggested that, when applied to smoking cessation, the TTM does not satisfy the criteria required of a valid stage model and that the proposed stages of change ‘are not qualitatively distinct categories’.

Procedural Issues
Studies measuring social cognitions rely upon questionnaires which presuppose that cognitions are stable entities residing in people’s heads. They do not allow for contextual variables which may influence social cognitions. For example, an individual’s attitude towards condom use may well depend upon the sexual partner with whom they anticipate having sexual contact. It may depend upon the time, place, relationship and physiological state (e.g. intoxication) within which sex takes place.

French et al. (2007) investigated what people think about when they answer TPB questionnaires using the ‘think aloud’ technique. French et al. found problems relating to information retrieval and to participants answering different questions from those intended and they concluded that: ‘The standard procedure for developing TPB questionnaires may systematically produce problematic questions’ (p. 672).

Neglect of Motivation
Another problem with the SCMs is that they do not adequately address the motivational issues about risky behaviours. Surely it is their very riskiness that in part is responsible for their adoption. Willig (2008) questioned the assumption that lies behind behind much of health and sex education ‘that psychological health is commensurate with maintaining physical safety, and that risking one’s health and physical safety is necessarily a sign of psychopathology’ (p. 690).

Redesign of the Discipline
Many people love taking risks; they find taking risks enjoyable, exciting, and exhilarating. If you doubt this fact, take a stroll into any casino or race track, or wait at the bottom of Mount Everest for the body bags.

Until psychology addresses the causes of behaviour, it will never succeed in helping people to change. For this, we need a complete redesign of the discipline. For an in-depth analysis, see my book A General Theory of Behaviour.

Ontologies of Behaviour Change

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The vast majority of people change their behaviour with no external help. They just do it. ‘Experts’ including psychologists offer help when needed and often advocate behaviour change techniques in their interventions. A behaviour change technique (BCT) is any systematic procedure (or a category of procedures) included as an active component of an intervention designed to change behaviour. The defining characteristics of a BCT are that it is:
• Observable
• Replicable
• Irreducible
• A component of an intervention designed to change behavior
• A postulated active ingredient within the intervention (Michie et al., 2011)

The description, classification and investigation of BCTs has become a cottage industry. Places like UCL, Aberdeen and Cambridge Universities, together with IBM, have received several millions of pounds from the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust to construct an ‘ontology’ of behaviour change.

According to the project website, “Behavioural Scientists are developing an ‘ontology’: a defined set of entities and their relationships” which will be used to “organise information in a form that enables efficient accumulation of knowledge and enables links to other knowledge systems.”

bs-diagramdetailed The top level of the Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology (from the project website)

An ontology is a set of concepts and categories in a subject area that shows their properties and the relations between them. An ontology can only be helpful when nothing of importance to the system as a whole is left out.

A ‘BCT Taxonomy’ has been employed to code descriptions of intervention content into BCTs (Michie et al., 2011, 2013). The taxonomy aims to code protocols in order to transparently describe the techniques used to change behaviour so that protocols could be made clearer and studies could be replicated (Michie and Abraham, 2008; Michie et al, 2011). A taxonomy also can be used to identify which techniques are most effective so that intervention effectiveness could be raised and more people would change behaviour.

In one recent study, two reviewers independently coded BCTs and then discussed their presence/absence. Fidelity of treatment refers to confirmation that the manipulation of the independent variable occurred as planned. A 30-item Treatment Fidelity Checklist (Borrelli, 2011) was used to assess whether treatment fidelity strategies were in place with regard to study design, interventionist training, treatment delivery, treatment receipt and treatment enactment. Percentage scores for each area were awarded to reflect the proportion of items with evidence of at least one treatment fidelity strategy.

Twenty-seven BCTs were identified across five interventions with a mean (SD) number of BCTs coded per intervention of 10 (4.53), with a range of 4 to 15. (Michie et al., 2011) found that the most frequently occurring BCT was ‘problem solving’, which occurred in four of the five interventions. Three BCTs were coded in three out of five interventions: ‘information about social and environmental consequences’, ‘reduce negative emotions’ and ‘pros and cons’. All studies measured outcomes using self-reports.

The production of a structured list of BCTs provides a ‘compendium’ of behaviour change methods which helps to map the domain of behaviour change and inform practitioner decision-making. However it also risks becoming a prescriptive ‘cook-book’ of what therapeutic techniques must be applied to patients presenting with a specific behavioural problem.

Another problem with the compendium approach is that BCTs are not all optimally effective when combined in ‘pick-and-mix’ fashion. There needs to be coherence to the package that is provided by a theory that offers power and meaning and connects the components into a working set.

To use the analogy of a model train set, if you have a station, signals, railway lines, carriages crew and passengers but no engine, the train remains immobile. There is a need for a coherent theory that provides structure and meaning both for the change agent and the client.

I can illustrate this point by considering an intervention for smoking cessation, Stop Smoking Now (Marks, 2017). This therapy is an effective method for clearing the human body of nicotine. The desire to smoke and any satisfaction from smoking are abolished using different forms of CBT and mindfulness meditation. Stop Smoking Now includes 30 BCTs integrated within a coherent theory of change based on the concept of homeostasis. In Stop Smoking Now a structured sequence of BCTs is provided that takes into account the nesting of BCTs such that guided imagery works best in combination with relaxation and both of these work best following enhancement of self-efficacy, achieved using self-recording, positive affirmations and counter-conditioning.                     

bs-diagramdetailedWith so many missing elements, is this a ‘Clockwork Orange’ Model of Behaviour Change?

Where is the person in this model, their feelings and their own striving for new balance and equilibrium?  Of as much importance as the nature and number of individual BCTs (the intervention) is the quality of the change agent, their clinical and interpersonal skills and the quality of the therapeutic alliance (Hilton & Johnston, 2017). With so many missing elements, this is beginning to appear like a top-down, ‘Clockwork Orange’ model of behaviour change. Or, to return to the analogy of the model train set, the locomotive does not have an engine.

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Behaviour change involves a collaboration between the client who is wishing to make the change, with their own personal purposes, desires and feelings, and the change agent. The therapeutic alliance between these two parties is crucial to the the project’s final ‘outcome’. The situation is far more complex than the prescribed ‘Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology’. It is never as simplistic as an ‘Intervention’,  ‘Mechanisms of Action’ and ‘Target Behaviour’.

Including intentionality, purpose and desire, A General Theory of Behaviour offers an alternative ontology of change. It puts an engine inside the locomotive of change.

Changing Behaviour

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The vast majority of people change their behaviour with no external help. They just do it. ‘Change experts’ include psychologists who advocate behaviour change techniques in their interventions. A behaviour change technique (BCT) is any systematic procedure (or a category of procedures) included as an active component of an intervention designed to change behaviour. The defining characteristics of a BCT are that it is:

• Observable
• Replicable
• Irreducible
• A component of an intervention designed to change behaviour
• A postulated active ingredient within the intervention (Michie et al., 2011).

The description, classification and investigation of BCTs has become a cottage industry. Places like UCL, Aberdeen and Cambridge Universities, together with IBM, have received several millions of pounds from the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust to construct an ‘ontology’ of behaviour change.

According to the project website, “Behavioural Scientists are developing an ‘ontology’: a defined set of entities and their relationships” which will be used to “organise information in a form that enables efficient accumulation of knowledge and enables links to other knowledge systems.”

bs-diagramdetailedThe top level of the ‘Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology’ (project website)

An ontology is a set of concepts and categories in a subject area that shows their properties and the relations between them. An ontology can only be helpful when nothing of importance to the system as a whole is left out.

A ‘BCT Taxonomy’ has been employed to code descriptions of intervention content into BCTs (Michie et al., 2011, 2013). The taxonomy aims to code protocols in order to transparently describe the techniques used to change behaviour so that protocols could be made clearer and studies could be replicated (Michie and Abraham, 2008; Michie et al, 2011). A taxonomy also can be used to identify which techniques are most effective so that intervention effectiveness could be raised and more people would change behaviour.

The production of a structured list of BCTs provides a ‘compendium’ of behaviour change methods which helps to map the domain of behaviour change and inform practitioner decision-making. However it also risks becoming a prescriptive ‘cook-book’ of what therapeutic techniques must be applied to patients presenting with a specific behavioural problem.

Another problem with the compendium approach is that BCTs are not all optimally effective when combined in ‘pick-and-mix’ fashion. There needs to be coherence to the package that is provided by a theory that offers power and meaning and connects the components into a working set.

I can illustrate this point by considering an intervention for smoking cessation, Stop Smoking Now (Marks, 2017). This therapy is an effective method for clearing the human body of nicotine. The desire to smoke and any satisfaction from smoking are abolished using different forms of CBT and mindfulness meditation. Stop Smoking Now includes 30 BCTs integrated within a coherent theory of change based on the concept of homeostasis. In Stop Smoking Now a structured sequence of BCTs is provided that takes into account the nesting of BCTs such that guided imagery works best in combination with relaxation and both of these work best following enhancement of self-efficacy, achieved using self-recording, positive affirmations and counter-conditioning.   In addition, our field evidence shows that the outcome is enhanced by having a personable delivery from a charismatic person who builds a positive therapeutic alliance.                  

bs-diagramdetailedWith so many missing elements, this an Incomplete Model of Behaviour Change

Where is the client person in the ‘Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology’, and what about their feelings and their own striving for new balance and equilibrium?  Where is the therapist and the therapeutic alliance?  The quality of the change agent, their clinical and interpersonal skills and the quality of the therapeutic alliance can be more important than the BCTs (Hilton & Johnston, 2017) .With so many missing elements, this is beginning to appear like a top-down model of behaviour change. One may be excused for wondering whether the people designing the ‘ontology’ have any real-world hands-on experience of delivering interventions.

Hagger and Hardcastle (2014) suggest that “Interpersonal style should be included in taxonomies of behavior change techniques”. The whole point is that the therapeutic alliance is something the therapist and the client need to strive for. The alliance creates a more equal power balance between therapist and the client. It is more important than another technique, another item on the list. It is more about the ‘chemistry’ of the client-therapist relationship than about a finely polished set of BCTs. The trouble is that the advocates of the BCT compendium/ontology appear unwilling to engage with the problem. Somewhat ironically, they are resistant to change. However, the problem will not just go away, but rears its head each and every time a therapist swings into action.

Behaviour change involves a collaboration between the client wanting to make the change, with their own desires and feelings, and the change agent/therapist. The therapeutic alliance between the two parties is crucial to the project’s ‘outcome’.  Therapist’s attributes such as being flexible, honest, respectful, trustworthy, confident, warm, interested, and open contribute to that alliance. From all of this it can readily be seen that the situation is far more complex than the proposed ‘Behaviour Change Intervention Ontology’. It is never as  simplistic as an ‘Intervention’,  ‘Mechanisms of Action’ and ‘Target Behaviour’.

To use an analogy, there is so much more to baking a cake than a set of ingredients. Of course one needs a set of ingredients (the BCTs) but one also needs a baker – the behaviour change agent (BCA). The BCA/therapist must be fully trained to prepare, mix and cook the ingredients, to be fully competent to deliver the BCTs in a stylish manner. The qualities of effective therapists have been studied for at least 50 years. The stock piling of a compendium of BCT ingredients without attending to the mixing and ‘baking’ of the ingredients by the BCA on the front line is a recipe for disaster.

smart chef character cooking behind kitchen table with various o

Including therapist attributes of flexibility, authenticity, respect, trustworthiness, confidence,  warmth, interest, and openness, along with the client’s goals, desires and striving provides a more accurate and comprehensive approach to behaviour change.

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“Milestone text of the 21st century”

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In ‘A General Theory of Behaviour, David Marks has applied scientifically established theory to conceptualize disparate areas of Psychology in a manner that both unifies and brings greater insight, establishing this book as a milestone text of the 21st century.

Dr David A Holmes, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Founder of the Forensic Research Group, Manchester Metropolitan University

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“Inspiring book…compelling read”

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This inspiring book applies the seemingly simple biological concept of homeostasis to human behaviour.  There is beautiful historic detail about key researchers, whilst considering modern issues such as stress, lack of sleep and addiction. A compelling read, which feels like an engaging lecture, by a passionate and considered speaker.

Janine Crosbie, Psychology Lecturer, University of Salford,

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“Exceptional insights and a driving logic”

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‘In A General Theory of Behaviour, David Marks embarks on the rare journey of creating a central theory of human behaviour, the things that underpin how we think, what we do, how we affiliate with others, and who we become.  Marks brings exceptional insights and a driving logic to bear to navigate through many fragmented theories of behaviour that are by their nature partial and limited.  It is not that these more fragmented theories are not often important, but that we need the grander theory to hold disparate ideas together.  Marks does so convincingly and in a way that is testable, refutable, and often even entertaining.  He demands that the reader think, question, and grasp a broad framework, and doing so will require the kind of thought that our internet-based, 140 character thinking has been reversing.  His ideas are truly worth the effort to sit back with a cup of coffee, and if necessary even a scotch, and think through, ponder, go back over, and incorporate into our appreciation of the eternal question of “what drives human behaviour.”  In A General Theory of Behaviour Marks has made a true contribution to psychology that comes from his careful listening, watching, and thinking over a decades-long career. It is his major contribution and one everyone interested in grasping the essence of human behaviour should tackle.’

Stevan Hobfoll, Rush University Medical Centre

Thank you most kindly Stevan E. Hobfoll!

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Homeostasis Theory of Well-being

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Homeostasis is a singular unifying principle for all living beings. Homeostasis operates at all levels of nature in every living system: in molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems and the planet as a whole (Lovelock, 2009). Tissue homeostasis regulates the birth (mitosis) and death of cells (apoptosis); many diseases are directly attributable to defective homeostasis leading to over production or under production of new cells relative to cell deletion (Fadeel & Orrenius, 2005).

Biochemical and physiological feedback loops regulate billions of cells and thousands of compounds and reactions in the human body to maintain body temperature, metabolism, blood pH, fluid levels, blood glucose and insulin concentrations inside the body (Matthews et al., 1985). A body in good physical health is in biochemical and physiological homeostasis. Severe disruptions of homeostasis cause illnesses or can be fatal.

The General Theory of Behaviour (GTB) extends the principle to behaviour, experience and psychological well-being.

ABCD tetrad
A basic structure for homeostasis of behaviour
[Illustration credit: Graham McPhee]

The General Theory proposes that all behaviour and experience follow the principle of homeostasis (Marks, 2015, 2016, 2018). The GTB distinguishes between Physiological or ‘Type I’ Homeostasis and Psychological or ‘Type II’ Homeostasis. Other types of homeostasis operate at higher levels of organisation including the social level (Type III Homeostasis) and the ecological level (Type IV Homeostasis).

A person in good health is in a state of homeostatic balance that operates across systems of biochemical/physiological, psychological, social and ecological homeostasis. Outward and inward stability in a living being is only possible with constant accommodation and adaptation. All living beings strive to maintain equilibrium and stability with the surrounding environment through millions of micro-adjustments and adaptations to the continuously changing circumstances. Adjustments and adaptations can be both conscious and unconscious. The majority of fine adjustments are occurring at an unconscious level, hidden from both external observers and the individual actor.

The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being utilises the fact that human beings are natural agents of change. Humans adapt, accommodate and ameliorate under continuously changing conditions, both external and internal, to maximise the stability of physical and mental well-being. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being (HTW) is illustrated below.

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The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being (Marks, 2015)

Well-being is the outcome of a multiplex of continuously changing feedback loops in a system of psychological homeostasis with four main component processes: well-being; cognitive appraisal; emotion; and action. Homeostasis maintain both physical and psychological equilibrium with the ever-changing external and internal environments, courtesy of an infinitude of micro-feedback-systems that fall within four macrosystems.

Psychological homeostasis regulates through feedback loops that control thought, emotion and action. Continuously flexible micro-adjustments of activity within feedback loops maintain equilibrium from moment to moment. Psychological homeostasis occurs in response to the infinite variety of circumstances that can affect well-being, including both internal adjustments (e.g. emotional regulation) and external adjustments using deliberate behavioural regulation (e.g. communicating, working, eating and drinking). In synchrony and synergy with all of the body’s other homeostatic mechanisms, psychological homeostasis operates throughout life during both waking and sleep.

In prevention and treatment of clinical conditions, individuals can help themselves and be helped by external techno aids to monitor and maintain physiological variables using behavioural forms of homeostasis, e.g. in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, thyroid problems, skin disorders such as urticaria, or obesity. Biochemical, physiological and psychological homeostasis are of similar complexity. Behavioural forms of homeostasis occur in actions designed to support neural systems of regulation. Social homeostasis in supportive actions by other humans, requested or volunteered, provides another way to support and protect an individual’s well-being.

Inputs to homeostasis include technological systems such as: (1) scales for measuring body weight; (2) thermometers to measure body temperature; (3) pulse measurements; (4) electro-mechanical homeostasis, developed by engineers to enhance human control systems such as heating (thermostat), driving (cruise control), navigation (automatic pilot), and space exploration (computer navigation systems); (5) life support systems (e.g. artificial respirators, drip feeding, kidney dialysis, intensive care units); (6) medical and surgical interventions; (7) pharmaceutics; (8) alternative and complementary therapies; (9) yoga and meditation.

People are social and emotional beings and these features need to be restored into theories of behaviour. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being needs to be tested in randomised controlled trials and prospective studies to determine its scientific validity and applicability to health care.

Homeostasis, Balance, Stability

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The fixity of the milieu supposes a perfection of the organism such that the external variations are at each instant compensated for and equilibrated…. All of the vital mechanisms, however varied they may be, have always one goal, to maintain the uniformity of the conditions of life in the internal environment…. The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.

Claude Bernard

The central principle of the General Theory in the construct of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’. Sixty-one years after Bernard (1865) wrote about the ‘internal milieu’, Walter B. Cannon (1926) coined the term ‘homeostasis’. Then, 16 years later, psychobiologist Curt Richter (1942) expanded homeostasis to include behavioural or ‘ total organism regulators’ in the context of feeding. From this viewpoint, ‘external’ behaviours that are responses to environmental stimuli lie on a continuum with ‘internal’ physiological events. For Richter, behaviour includes all aspects of feeding necessary to maintain the internal environment. Bernard, Cannon and Richter all focused on a purely physiological form of homeostasis, ‘H[Φ]’. I wish to convince the reader that the hypothesis of the ‘external milieu’, the proximal world of socio-physical action, is equally important.

The General Theory extends homeostasis to all forms of behaviour. Psychological homeostasis can be explained in two stages, starting with the classic version of homeostasis in Physiology, H[Φ], followed by the operating features of its psychological sister, H[Ψ]. The essential features are illustrated in Figure 2.1.

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Figure 2.1 Upper panel: A representation of Physiological (Type I) Homeostasis (H[Φ]). Adapted from Modell et al. (2015). Lower panel: A representation of Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ]).

To be counted as homeostasis, H[Φ], a system is required to have five features:
1. It must contain a sensor that measures the value of the regulated variable.
2. It must contain a mechanism for establishing the “normal range” of values for the regulated variable. In the model shown in Figure 2.1, this mechanism is represented by the “Set point Y”.
3. It must contain an “error detector” that compares the signal being transmitted by the sensor (representing the actual value of the regulated variable) with the set range. The result of this comparison is an error signal that is interpreted by the controller.
4. The controller interprets the error signal and determines the value of the outputs of the effectors.
5. The effectors are those elements that determine the value of the regulated variable. The effectors may not be the same for upward and downward changes in the regulated variable.

Identical principles apply to Psychological (Type II) Homeostasis (H[Ψ] with two notable differences (Figure 2.1, lower panel). In Psychological Homeostasis, there are two sets of effectors, inward and outward, and the conceptual boundary between the internal and external environments lies between the controller and the outward effectors of the somatic nervous system, i.e. the muscles that control speech and action. Furthermore, Psychological Homeostasis operates with intention, purpose, and desire.

The individual organism extends its ability to thrive in nature with Type II homeostasis. Self-extension by niche construction creates zones of safety, one of the primary goals of Type II homeostasis. Niche construction amplifies the organism’s ability to occupy and control the environment proximally and distally. The use of tools for hunting, weapons for aggression, fire for cooking, domestication of animals, the use of language, money, goods for trade and commodification, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, medicine, culture, music literature and social media are all methods of expanding and projecting niches of safety, well-being and control. Individual ownership of assets such as land, buildings, companies, stocks and shares reflect a universal need to extend occupation, power and control but these possessions do not necessarily increase the subjective well-being of the owner [AP 007].

Initiated by the brain and other organs, homeostasis of either type can often act in anticipatory or predictive mode. One principal function of any conscious system is prediction of rewards and dangers. A simple example is the pre-prandial secretion of insulin, ghrelin and other hormones that enable the consumption of a larger nutrient load with minimal postprandial homeostatic consequences. When a meal containing carbohydrates is to be consumed, a variety of hormones is secreted by the gut that elicit the secretion of insulin from the pancreas before the blood sugar level has actually started to rise. The blood sugar level starts lowering in anticipation of the influx of glucose from the gut into the blood. This has the effect of blunting the blood glucose concentration spike that would otherwise occur. Daily variations in dietary potassium intake are compensated by anticipative adjustments of renal potassium excretion capacity. That urinary potassium excretion is rhythmic and largely independent on feeding and activity patterns indicates that this homeostatic mechanism behaves predictively.

Similar principles operate in Type II homeostasis acting together with the brain as a “prediction machine”. When we anticipate a pleasant event such as a birthday party, there is a preparatory ‘glow’ which can change one’s mood in a positive direction, or thinking about an impending visit to the dentist may be likely to produce feelings of anxiety, or the receipt of a prescription of medicines from one’s physician may lead to improvements in symptoms, even before the medicines are taken.

At societal level, anticipation enables rational mitigation, e.g. anticipation of demographic changes influences policy, threat from hostile countries influences expenditure on defence, and the threat of a new epidemic influences programmes of prevention. [AP 008].

Homeostasis involves several interacting processes in a causal network. A homeostatic adjustment in one process necessitates a compensatory adjustment in one or more of the other interacting processes. To illustrate this situation, consider what happens in phosphate homeostasis (Figure 2.3). Many REF-behaviours that we shall refer to are isomorphic with the 4-process structure in Figure 2.2. However, in nature there is no restriction on the number of interconnected processes and any process can belong to multiple homeostatic networks.

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Figure 2.2 Phosphate homeostasis. A decrease in the serum phosphorus level causes a decrease in FGF23 and parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels. Increase in serum phosphorus leads to opposite changes. Calcitriol increases serum phosphorus and FGF23, while it decreases PTH. Increase in FGF23 leads to decrease in PTH and calcitriol levels. PTH increases calcitriol and FGF23 levels. Reproduced from Jagtap et al. (2012) with permission.

Homeostasis never rests. It is continuous, comprehensive and thorough. With each round of the REF, all of the major processes in a network are reset to maintain stability of the whole system. The REF process goes through a continuous series of ‘reset’ cycles each of which stabilizes the system until the next occasion one of the processes falls outside its set range and another reset is required.
Processes in Type II homeostasis may vary along quantitative axes or they can have discrete categorical values. For example, values, beliefs, preferences and goals can have discrete values, as does the state of sleep or waking.

Any change in a categorical process involves change throughout the network to which is belongs. [AP 009].

Such changes may be rapid, in the millisecond range, e.g. a changed preference from chocolate chip cookie flavoured ice cream to Madagascar vanilla that may occurs an instant after arriving at the ice-cream kiosk. At the other end of the spectrum of importance, in buying a new apartment, the final choice might also occur in the instant the preferred option is first sighted. Or the decision could take months or years even though it is of precious little consequence, e.g. deciding that one is a republican rather than a monarchist, or it may never occur because we simply do not care one way or the other. These considerations lead to a surprising proposition that:

The speed of a decision is independent of its subjective utility [AP 010].

One objective of A General Theory of Behaviour is to explain the relevance of the REF system to Psychology. We know already that the regulation of action is guided by three fundamental systems: (i) the brain and central nervous system (CNS), (ii) the endocrine system (ES) and (iii) the immune system (IS). It is proposed that, as a ‘meta-system’ of homeostatic control, these systems collectively govern both physiology and behaviour using two types of homeostasis, H[Φ] and H[Ψ], respectively. We can understand how this might be possible in light of a recently discovered ‘central homeostatic network’.

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

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Hierarchy of Needs

The General Theory incorporates an amended form of Abraham Maslow’s (1943) motivational needs hierarchy. The diagram shows the hierarchy amended by Douglas T. Kenrick and colleagues [1] to which the General Theory adds the process of Type II homeostasis. The first level of the hierarchy for Immediate Physiological Needs already incorporates homeostasis (Type I).  In discussing the second level for “Safety Needs”, Maslow states:

“The safety needs.—If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in lesser degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be wholly dominated by them. They may serve as the almost exclusive organizers of behaviour, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly describe the whole organism as a safety-seeking mechanism.” (p.376).

In describing this need in detail, Maslow turns to the needs of children’s for a predictable, orderly world, a world which is reliable, safe and predictable:

“Another indication of the child’s need for safety is his preference for some kind of undisrupted routine or rhythm. He seems to want a predictable, orderly world. For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a child feel anxious and unsafe. This attitude may be not so much because of the injustice per se or any particular pains involved, but rather because this treatment threatens to make the world look unreliable, or unsafe, or unpredictable. Young children seem to thrive better under a system which has at least a skeletal outline of rigidity, in which there is a schedule of a kind, some sort of routine, something that can be counted upon, not only for the present but also far into the future. Perhaps one could express this more accurately by saying that the child needs an organized world rather than an unorganized or unstructured one.”  (p. 377)

Maslow specifically links safety with ‘stability’:

“we can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds (medical, dental, unemployment, disability, old age). Other broader aspects of the attempt to seek safety and stability in the world are seen in the very common preference for familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown.”(p. 379).

Maslow’s bracketing of safety with stability connects the needs pyramid with Type II homeostasis. It is noted that, in the amended pyramid, “Safety Needs” has been relabelled as “Self-Protection”. Thus all motives above level I are part and parcel of the striving for stability and equilibrium that is the function of homeostasis Type II. (Figure 1.2).

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Figure 1.2. The Hierarchy of Fundamental Human Needs. This figure integrates ideas from life-history development with Maslow’s needs hierarchy. This scheme adds reproductive goals, in the order they are likely to first appear developmentally. The model also depicts the later developing goal systems as overlapping with, rather than completely replacing, earlier developing systems. Once a goal system has developed, its activation is triggered whenever relevant environmental cues are salient. Type I homeostasis operates at level 1. All motives from self-protection at level 2 and above engage Type II homeostasis.  This figure is reproduced by permission from Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg and Schaller (2010).

Principle II (Needs Hierarchy): In the hierarchy of needs, Physiological Homeostasis Type I is active at level I (Immediate Physiological Needs) and Psychological Homeostasis Type II is active at all higher levels from II (Self-Protection) to level VI (Parenting).

 

As priorities shift from lower to higher in the hierarchy we see a progression in developmental priority as each individual matures.  In fact, it is possible to apply the motivational hierarchy at three different levels of analysis: evolutionary function, developmental sequencing, and current cognitive priority (the proximate level). In agreement with Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010), the basic foundational structure of Maslow’s pyramid, buttressed with a few architectural extensions, remains perfectly valid.  Need satisfaction is allowed to be a goal at more than one level simultaneously. In light of the amended pyramid, three auxiliary propositions are stated as follows:

Individuals unable to meet their immediate physiological needs at level I of the hierarchy are at a disadvantage in meeting needs at higher levels in the hierarchy. [AP 004].

 

People with unmet needs for self-protection (level 2) are at a disadvantage in meeting their needs for affiliation (level 3). [AP 005].

 

In general, people with higher than average unmet needs at any level (n) are at a disadvantage in meeting higher level needs at levels n+m. [AP 006].

The universality of Abraham Maslow’s original needs hierarchy is supported by a survey of well-being across 123 countries. Louis Tay and Ed Diener (2011) examined the fulfilment of needs and subjective well-being (SWB), including life evaluation, positive feelings, and negative feelings.[2] Need fulfilment was consistently associated with SWB across all world regions. Type II homeostasis defined within the General Theory provides a close fit to the natural striving of conscious organisms for security, stability and well-being, described in later chapters. The needs hierarchy amended by Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010) is expected to be a close fit to nature.

[1] Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on psychological science5(3), 292-314.

[2] Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal of personality and social psychology101(2), 354.

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

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A Dangerous Idea: The ‘Milieu Extérior’

“The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.” [Claude Bernard’s statement about the ‘milieu intérior’].

The starting point for ‘A General Theory of Behaviour’ is Claude Bernard’s ‘dangerous idea’, quoted above, the concept of the ‘milieu intérior’. This idea was put on the back burner for several decades because nobody quite knew what to do with it. It looked too dangerous.

FIG 1.1 Claude Bernard small
Photos taken by the author in and around Claude Bernard’s home, now part of a museum

Then, in the early Twentieth Century it was taken up by J.S. Haldane, C.S Sherrington, J. Barcroft and a few others. In 1926 the concept gained currency when Harvard physiologist Walter B Cannon coined the term homeostasis for milieu intérior. In Cannon’s view, his book The Wisdom of the Body had presented a modern interpretation of vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature posited by Hippocrates. Cannon also believed he had shown how the automatic function of homeostasis freed the brain for the more intellectual functions of intelligence, imagination and insight.

At this point, the homeostasis story picks up apace. Add to the mix of Bernard and Cannon, spice the pot with the work of Wiener (1948), Von Bertalanffy (1968) and season it with the work of biologist J Scott Turner (2017) and we have a ‘stew’ to die for. As the contents of the pot bubble and coalesce, we sense that homeostasis is not only advantageous for any living system, but it could even be the defining characteristic of life itself.

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a drive towards stability, security and adaptation to change. In an infinite variety of forms, omnipresent in living beings, is an inbuilt function with the sole purpose of striving for equilibrium, not only in the milieu intérieur but in the milieu extérieur also.

We take a gigantic leap…but that’s why we are here – even if we feel we are at the edge of a cliff – we must go for it…

Cliff edge

On the other side of Bernard’s scientific coin, we imagine we find the following:

“The stability of the external environment is the condition for the free and independent life.”

By changing a single word ‘internal’ to its antonym, we create a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour. Voila – “A General Theory of Behaviour”. Striving for balance and equilibrium is the guiding force in all we – and all other conscious beings – do, think and feel. This newly defined homeostasis deserves a descriptive name: “Reset Equilibrium Function” (REF).

All organisms automatically regulate essential physiological functions by homeostasis and it is a matter of everyday observation that drives are maintained in equilibrium by comportment, e.g. eating, drinking, fornicating, sleeping, excreting, etc. This type of homeostasis has been established since the time of Bernard. Far more than this, and as a matter of routine, without any special reflection in most instances, all conscious beings reconcile discrepancies among their thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and in the differences with those with whom they have social relationships. Conscious organisms strive to achieve their goals while maximizing cohesion and cooperation with both kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or to minimize the suffering and pain of others. [Auxiliary Proposition, AP 001].

The goal is to minimize all forms of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and tooth-and-claw competition and to live in a culture where the thriving of all is in the self-interest of every individual. The hypothesis has been described by Antonio Damasio thus: “cultural instruments first developed in relation to the homeostatic needs of individuals and of groups as small as nuclear families and tribes. The extension to wider human circles was not and could not have been contemplated. Within wider human circles, cultural groups, countries, even geopolitical blocs, often operate as individual organisms, not as parts of one larger organism, subject to a single homeostatic control. Each uses the respective homeostatic controls to defend the interests of its organism” (Damasio, 2018, p. 32).

Whether we are aware of it or not, the REF is omnipresent, wherever we go and whatever we are doing. The process is not something we normally focus attention on, the process through which our behavioural systems are perpetually striving to maintain balance, safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. Competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies all can pull the flow of events ‘off balance’, triggering this innate striving to restore equilibrium. The majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them. [AP 002]. It is not a battle that we can always win; there is always the possibility of instability, error, calamity or catastrophe even.

There are abundant links to other theories inside and outside of Psychology. Piaget’s notion of equilibration was concerned with the attempt to balance psychological schemas when new information is encountered. In equilibration, children accommodate new information by changing their psychological schemas in a process of assimilation. This same idea applies to other psychological domains when there is a departure from a set range of equilibrium. Advocates of Buddhist philosophy, for example, the Dalai Lama, have identified a need for inner peace.

Body and mind continuously regulate and control many domains and levels simultaneously, with multiple adjustments to voluntary and involuntary behaviour guided by two types of homeostasis: Type I – inwardly striving or physiological homeostasis, H[Φ], and Type II – outwardly striving or psychological homeostasis, H[Ψ]. Physiological regulation involves drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep. Influenced by Cannon, Clark Hull (1943) suggested a drive theory of regulatory mechanisms in which an organism can only rest when it is in a state of equilibrium. When a need such as hunger or thirst develops, the organism engages in need-satisfying behaviour. However, ‘drive’ can be mental as well as physical so that misery, fear and worry – often lumped together as ‘stress’ – create a state of unrest that prevents calmness, relaxation and sleep. Whenever we feel unrest, there is a need to ‘press the reset button’ and restore equilibrium. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates across all behavioural systems and processes of relevance to the Science of Psychology.

A General Theory of Behaviour pivots on the Reset Equilibrium Function (or ‘REF’) by integrating the principle of homeostasis with our understanding of psychological processes and behaviour. We employ systems theory with cyclical negative feedback loops as a central feature. Feedback loops in Cybernetics and Control Theory mirror homeostasis within Biology and Neuroscience. Claude Bernard’s ‘milieu intérnal’, Cannon’s (1932) ‘homeostasis’, Wiener’s (1948) Cybernetics and von Bertalanffy’s (1968) general systems theory all converge toward the ubiquitous role of feedback in self-regulating systems. Psychologists have employed control theory as a conceptual tool for large areas of Psychology (e.g. Carver and Scheier, 1982) and, notably, one objective of control theory has been to provide a “Unified Theory of Human Behaviour”.

A General Theory of Behaviour employs systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This hypothesis is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology, the subject of this book.
The Reset Equilibrium Function extends the reach of homeostasis to a general control function that automatically restores psychological processes to equilibrium and stability. The REF is triggered when any processes within a system strays outside of its set range. The REF is innate and can exist only in conscious organisms, which all have Type I and II homeostasis. Non-conscious organisms have one type of homeostasis (Type I).

Figure 1.1 shows Type II homeostasis in a system of four processes, each with its own set range, making a series of resets. Any set of processes such as the four in Figure 1.1 is a sub-set of thousands of interconnected processes responsible for coding, communicating and controlling inside the body and the brain. Any process can be connected to hundreds or thousands of others in one huge lattice structure. Potentially any single one of these processes can push any other process out of its set range requiring it to reset. When any process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ is possible when other interconnected processes require a reset also. The two types of homeostasis work in synergy. Psychological and physiological processes operate in tandem to maximize equilibrium for each particular set of functions. [AP 003].

Many examples of the REF featured in this book have a similar structure to that shown in Figure 1.1. However, there is no restriction on the number of participating processes or interconnected networks.

ABCD tetrad

Figure 1.1. The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes (A-D).

My main objective here is to demonstrate that the REF is relevant to numerous psychological functions. These include functions where frequent reset is a condition for stability, e.g. cognition, affect, chronic stress, and subjective well-being, and also where out-of-control behaviour, such as addiction or insomnia, is in need of correction. For all psychological functions, conscious awareness of the state of equilibrium being preserved is not necessary, e.g. subjective well-being. However, when there is goal to change behaviour, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. addiction to alcohol.

In Psychology, biological approaches automatically fall under the suspicion that material reductionism is required. This suspicion is widespread among psychologists who are anti-reductive. With good reason, mind and behaviour are viewed as having properties that extend beyond ‘cogs and flywheels’ or other physico-chemical energy exchanges. We do not doubt the basic ‘clockwork’ model of homeostasis is the dominant one; witness the frequent use of the domestic heating thermostat as the prototypical example of homeostasis in Biology, Physiology and Psychology textbooks. However, the ‘clockwork’ approach is a simplistic caricature and the hypothesis that all behaviour is reducible to physico-chemical reactions is robustly rejected:

Principle I (Agency): The voluntary behaviour of conscious organisms is guided by universal striving for equilibrium with purpose, desire and intentionality.

Following G.E.M. Anscombe, we assert that agents act intentionally if they know what they are doing, i.e. they are aware of the purpose of the act and the reasons for doing it. Type 2 homeostasis, which is associated with the REF, falls into this category. In arguing that homeostasis (Type II) is intentional and purposeful, we adopt two non-reductionist principles, holism and critical realism. In applying the General Theory it is never necessary to assume that mental processes and behaviours are reducible to physico-chemical reactions. We only require that the mind/body system as a whole can be studied using objective methods. Von Bertalanffy (1968) sums up the issue thus:

“We cannot reduce the biological, behavioural, and social levels to the lowest level, that of the constructs and laws of physics. We can, however, find constructs and possibly laws within the individual levels. The world is, as Aldous Huxley once put it, like a Neapolitan ice cream cake where the levels-the physical, the biological, the social and the moral universe-represent the chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla layers. We cannot reduce strawberry to chocolate – the most we can say is that possibly in the last resort, all is vanilla, all mind or spirit. The unifying principle is that we find organizational levels. The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found its expression in a civilization which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time. Possibly the model of the world as a great organization can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.”

Von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 49.

Bene dictum.

There are connections and overlaps with other theories of motivation. For example, there is almost complete convergence between the General Theory and Stevan E Hofoll’s Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, which holds the basic tenet that “Individuals (and groups) strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect those things they centrally value.”. Principle I (Agency) concerning the universal striving for equilibrium requires the basic COR tenet to be true or equilibrium could never be attained.

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

A Redesign for Psychology

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Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations.

Stephen Hawking

It has been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories. With this thought in mind, A General Theory of Behaviour has the potential – or so I aim to convince the reader – to advance understanding of human nature and to integrate the discipline of Psychology. In A General Theory of Behaviour I explain why this is (a) necessary, and (b) possible.

I think the majority of psychologists agree that integration is necessary. Fragmentation has been a longstanding and difficult problem for Psychology. Over more than a century, fragmentation has been called a ‘crisis’. The problem has been described thus: “a nexus of philosophical tensions, which divide individuals, departments, and psychological organizations, and which are therefore primarily responsible for the fragmentation of Psychology.” In many years’ experience as a student, researcher and professor of Psychology, I can testify to persistent and intractable tensions in every quarter of the discipline, worse in some places than others, but the fragmentation is evident everywhere.

The discipline can sometimes feel like a medieval country split into fiefdoms by moats, walls and a haphazard set of paltry roads, odd rules and customs (Figure P1, left panel). As the visitor approaches the border of the country, a smart road sign reads: “Welcome to the Science of Psychology”. Full of expectation, one passes through the guarded gates at border control (sniffer dogs, disinfectant spray guns, x-ray machines and millimetre wave scanners).

After screening by unsmiling officers in peaked caps, the traveller explores what excitement exists inside this guarded place. Each fiefdom provides glossy brochures, catalogues, and travel guides in which skies are always blue, buildings chateaux, and fountains high reaching with crystal waters.

Fountain, chateau, blue sky

Each area invites the visitor to drive over the draw bridge and take a detailed look. However, on close inspection, one senses a deep-seated problem. Something strange and slightly sinister appears to be going on. The locals appear defensive and ill at ease when one makes inquiries and asks even the simplest of questions such as “What does X mean?” As we travel around the country, barbed wire fences of ‘no-man’s land’ are everywhere and the few connecting roads are potholed and ill-made.

No man's land

In each sub-area, there is evidence of industrialisation with companies of artisans ploughing long straight furrows, planting pest-resistant seeds, spraying fields with Roundup®, harvesting their crops and filling rodent-proof silos with carefully sifted data, e.g. long-eared corn tastes better that short-eared, short-eared corn tasted better than oats, oats tastes better that long-eared corn (!) in cycles of planting, harvesting, testing and analysing.

Ploughed fields

Producers with the largest silos rule. In spite of all of the graft, one senses tension, disharmony and technical disputes is causing ill-feeling. If somebody breaks the famine with a bold new idea, s/he risks being pilloried, dunked or quarantined in the cut-off region called “Critical Psychology”. One wonders if Psychology really were a Science, would there be so many sub-regions, stretches of ‘no-mans-land’ and unrewarding customs?

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 12.00.57

Figure P1.The Science of Psychology. In its fragmented state (left panel), each sub-field acts as a defended niche with its own specific theories and data. In a unified state (right panel) the discipline would consist of a single General Theory that encompasses the entire field with a minimum number of assumptions, a large set of falsifiable hypotheses, and a body of empirical studies aimed at falsification of the General Theory.

Most commentators agree that a major redesign is long overdue to re-engineer the discipline. Travel between sub-areas needs to be made more navigable, moats emptied, walls razed and bridges built. It’s an Isambard Kingdom Brunel the science needs as much as another Charles Darwin.

BRUNEL

The objectives of A General Theory of Behaviour are to take a few measured steps towards advancing Psychology as a natural science and, in so doing, to unify it (Figure P1, right panel). This brief introduction of 40,000 words offers twenty principles and eighty auxiliary propositions, 100 empirically falsifiable propositions. The principles and multiple auxiliary propositions make the General Theory fully and transparently capable of falsification. In embracing intentionality, purpose and desire, the General Theory is non-reductive while, at the same time, drawing upon principles from other sciences, in particular, Biology and Physiology. Following in the footsteps of Claude Bernard, Walter B Cannon and others, I try to convince the reader of the usefulness of the metamorphosed concept of behavioural homeostasis and, in so doing, explain the implications for the Science of Behaviour.

My thesis is that organisms are not adapted to each other and the environment because natural selection made them that way, but they are made that way owing to an inbuilt striving towards stability and equilibrium. A General Theory of Behaviour is an introductory ‘User’s Guide’ aiming towards a reconfigured Science of Psychology – the target in the right-hand panel of Figure P1. In Chapters One and Two I describe the core elements of the theory. Chapters Three, Four and Five contain additional parts of the theory concerning biological rhythms, concepts of behaviour, Consciousness and the central Behaviour Control System. The remaining five chapters each cover three core topics from the perspective of the theory. These 15 topics indicate the ability of the theory to cover a broad cross-section of the discipline.

Heavy traffic

In building roads and bridges, one must neither over-design nor under-design. Nobody knows how sturdy the structure is until it is tested with a fleet of trucks. Should cracks occur (or worse), other ‘engineers’ might be persuaded to renovate the project. Surely it should be worth the effort. However long it takes, our broken discipline needs to be put together into one beautiful whole.

Book cover

Misinformation

This post shares the WHO advice on misinformation.

As the world responds to the  COVID-19 pandemic, we face the challenge of an overabundance of information related to the virus. Some of this information may be false and potentially harmful.

Inaccurate information spreads widely and at speed, making it more difficult for the public to identify verified facts and advice from trusted sources, such as their local health authority or WHO.

However, everyone can help to stop the spread. If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the hosting social media platform. 

Here’s how to do it

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WHO works with the Government of the United Kingdom to tackle misinformation

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WHO has joined forces with its communications teams to raise awareness of misinformation around COVID-19 and encourage individuals to report false or misleading content online.

This cooperation started with  the joint  Stop the Spread campaign in May-June 2020, which encouraged the use of trusted sources such as WHO and national health authorities for accurate COVID-19 information. The new phase of the joint campaign focuses on proactively identifying and reporting potentially wrong or misleading information, as part of WHO’s efforts to address the spread of inaccurate and harmful information during the pandemic.

Learn more about inaccurate information on theWHO myth busters pages.

Visit our infodemiology pages to familiarize yourself with this emerging field of science.

Play Go Viral! to uncover the latest tactics used to spread false information, build your resistance to misinformation and help stop the spread of COVID-19. Go Viral! is brought to you by the Government of the United Kingdom and the University of Cambridge. 

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