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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]

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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]

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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).

A General Theory of Behaviour – Principles

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

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

NEW Needs Pyramid

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

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.

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

VI) Coalescence: Synchronicity in shared activity creates cooperation, cohesion and social bonding.

VII) Law of Effect: (A) All voluntary action is determined, at least in part, by the degree of pleasure or displeasure that the action provokes. (B) Any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated. (C) Any behaviour that is followed by unpleasant consequences is unlikely to be repeated.

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VIII) Behavioural Inhibition: The Behavioural Inhibition System is activated when there is conflict between competing responses to approach or avoid stimuli.

IX) Consciousness: Consciousness is the central process of the brain that builds images, sets goals, predicts the future and executes voluntary actions.

FIG 11.9

X) Mental Imagery: A mental image is a quasi-perceptual simulacrum that includes a goal, schemata, affect and action.

XI) Niche Construction: Any conscious organism strives to enhance the safety, stability and occupation of the socio-physical environment for itself and other organisms under its protection.

XII) Symbiosis: In a symbiotic relationship, each participant experiences an ‘extended self’, a shared set of perspectives, resources and identities in a common pool.

XIII) Emoting: Emoting is rooted in feelings, cognitive appraisal and perceptions. Emoting is artfully constructed to maximise the likelihood of attaining one or more sought-after goal(s).

XIV) Self-Control: Acting as an agent of Type II homeostasis, self-control is one measure of a person’s ability to attain safety and stability, and is predictive of later achievement.

XV) Comfort vs Discontent: In every conscious being exists a tension between comfort and discontent. When the discontent is assuaged, there is comfort. When comfort is resisted, there is discontent. Resolving this conflict is a primary function of Type II homeostasis.

XVI) Addiction: Addiction consists of cyclical alternation between two contradictory goals: an immediate goal to use a substance or activity to reduce negative affect (‘pain’) or enhance positive affect (pleasure) versus a longer-term goal to reduce the use of the substance or activity.

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XVII) Sleeping and Waking: (A) Sleeping and waking are controlled by Type I homeostatic sleep pressure, and the circadian CLOCK in coordination with the Behaviour Control System (BCS)* and Type II homeostasis.  Any of these three processes can override any other but increased sleep pressure, in combination with the CLOCK, ultimately will always produce sleeping. (B) The BCS coordinates the REF, CLOCK, AAI and action schemata systems to produce action in association with affect as shown in this diagram:

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XVIII) Law of Conservation of Energy: In any 24-hour circadian cycle there is a fixed quantity of energy to expend across life goals and domains as behaviour, affect and cognitions.

XIX) Programming: The set ranges of all homeostasis systems are programmed by genetics, epigenetics and early life experience.

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XX) Stability of Subjective Well-Being: Subjective Well-Being (SWB) is homeostatically protected and stable. Changes in SWB are normally reset to a fixed set range within a few months or years.

Book cover small

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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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

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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

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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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Xiang, Y-T., Yang, Y., Li W., Zhang, L., Zhang, Q., Cheung, T., et al. (2020). Timely mental health care for the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak is urgently needed. The Lancet Psychiatry 7:228-9.

Zaka, A., Shamloo, S.E., Fiorente, P., & Tafuri, A. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed in health care: A call for systematic psychological health care for frontline medical staff. Journal of Health Psychology (in press).

Zandifar, A., & Badrfam, R. (2020). Iranian mental health during the COVID-19 epidemic. Asian Journal of Psychiatry 51:101990.

 

 

 

 

 

A General Theory of Behaviour VI: Wayne Rooney, Imaging and Action

Introspections by the footballer Wayne Rooney address key issues in our theory. This post is concerned with the very same issue: how are thinking, feeling and action directly connected?


What do Wayne Rooney and AGTB have in common?

“I always like to picture the game the night before: I’ll ask the kitman what kit we’re wearing, so I can visualise it. It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy. It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen the following day. I think about it as I’m lying in bed. What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way? What movement will I have to make to get on the end of it? Just different things that might make you one per cent sharper”.[1]   Wayne Rooney

Building knowledge requires questions. Many times, asking a ‘good’ question leads straight to another question, and so on, until, at the end, there is an answer that may be useful to somebody. Or we may have no answer at all, and we realise that what we thought we knew, we didn’t know at all.

What is Consciousness, what is it ‘made of’, and what is it for?

No topic in Psychology prompts more questions than the issue of Consciousness.[2] When I taught a university course called ‘Consciousness’ 40 years ago it was seen as ‘off the wall’. Now it’s a part of the  mainstream, and we know more, but certainly not as much as we’d like to know. We have more questions than answers. In attempting to answer these questions, it is sensible to consider what we think we mean when we speak about Consciousness and to work from there

Thirty Claims about Consciousness

Based on large quantities of empirical observations, I summarise here thirty claims about Consciousness , and which have a fair-to-good chance of being true:

i) It is agentic: i.e. it has purpose, desire  and intentionality; [3]

ii)  It is deeply social in nature;

iii) It is the centre for feelings and moods;

iv) It operates with an inbuilt motivation to drive the organism towards pleasure and away from pain;

v) It is a centre for perceptions, interoceptive and exteroceptive;

vi) It serves as a ‘storehouse’ of memories including autobiographical memories from which information and images can be retrieved;

vii)          It is the control centre for action, perception, attention, affect regulation, cognition, information processing all of which require the making of predictions;

viii)         It has ‘layers’ and ‘levels’ and is capable of dissociation, splitting and confusion;

ix) It constructs a personal and a public identity for the ‘self’;

x) It is a centre for constructing and changing values and beliefs;

xi) It can set both altruistic and selfish goals, and anything in between;

xii) It can represent information, beliefs and values in an honest way or it can simulate, pretend, lie and be deceitful;

xiii)         It can be subject to hearing of voices and other hallucinations;

xiv)         It can be subject to illusions and delusions;

xv)          It can be accessed by introspection;

xvi)         It can be described symbolically in speech, writing and in works of art but it can also be ineffable;

xvii)        It varies in state of arousal from waking to sleep;

xviii)      It references values, beliefs, rules and customs, and has pragmatic methods for following them;

xix)         It strives the satisfaction of needs including equilibrium;

xx) It can pay close attention to detail or its concentration can wander;

xxi)         It fantasizes, ‘daydreams’;

xxii)        It plans new goals for the future;

xxiii)      It thinks and makes decisions;

xxiv)       It imagines and weighs consequences pro and con before acting;

xxv)        It receives feedback on the outcomes of action;

xxvi)       It ‘delegates’ well-practiced routines, tasks and habits to a lower level of automatic processing;

xxvii)     Automatic functioning such as autonomic system is also below the threshold of consciousness as long as it is performed as expected, but it becomes conscious if it fails to performs normally;

xxviii)   It dreams;

xxix)       It maintains Type II homeostatic responses of the whole organism;

xxx)        It remains imperfect.[4]

IMAGE, PREDICT, ACT

Based on the above observations, Principle IX  can be stated as follows:

Principle IX (Consciousness): Consciousness is the central process of the brain that builds images of the world, makes predictions about future events and selects which voluntary actions to execute.[5]

One of the major outputs of Consciousness is something that we could not do without: predictive simulations involving ‘what-if’ or ‘if-then’ relationships: ‘If I do X, will Y or Z happen’. The major input is exteroceptive, sensory stimuli – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, temperature, vibration and pain – and also interoceptive stimuli, which form a cortical image of homeostatic afferent activity from the body’s tissues. This system provides experiences and visceral feelings such as pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and ‘air hunger’. In humans, interoceptive activity is represented in the right anterior insula, providing subjective imagery of the material self as a feeling (sentient) entity, that is, emotional awareness.[6]

Everything that goes on in between stimulus input and output of behaviour is based on if-then operations and simulation geared towards prediction.  It’s mainly a matter of private fantasies and daydreams that studies suggest take up at least a half of our waking time. We also know that there is a huge quantity of pre-conscious automatic processing of sensory information and behaviour that does not require the effortful attention of Consciousness.  The controlled processing of Consciousness is serial, attention demanding, methodical and slow, e.g. preparing a meal using a a cookery book or reading a manual on how to operate a dvd player.[7] Automatic processing, on the other hand, is efficient and economical, and, quite often, quick, e.g. reading, writing, walking,  riding a bicycle, driving a car.

Brain research supports the idea that the forebrain of the cerebral cortex is the site of the Central Control System of Consciousness. The forebrain itself is involved in regulation of both autonomic and non-autonomic human responses in stress and affect. As we have seen, it is also the seat of both Type I and Type II homeostasis.

A significant part of the contents of Consciousness is mental imagery, the quasi-perceptual mental imagery that gets us from one point on our mental model of the world to the next.[8]  We turn to explore the nature and function of mental imagery.

ACTION SCHEMAS AND MENTAL SIMULATION

“The purpose of a brain is not to think, but to act”  (Laborit, 1980).[9]  The central organising executive of the brain, Consciousness, enables organisms to mentally map the environment, predict what might happen next, and to act. One of the major processes for modelling, predicting and acting is mental imagery [AP 025]. Mental imagery is ideally suited to these purposes by providing preparatory images, which can exist in any sensory modality but, for the majority of people,  this is predominantly visual.  However, imagining the smell and taste of a delicious meal, ‘hearing’ the sound of some enchanting music, and imagining scenes and feelings of relaxation from a recent holiday are all equally possible.

Visual images are similar to perceptual images, but more faint and dim. If I am walking along a street and spy a delicious chocolate cake in a patisserie window, I do not automatically go inside to buy it. I may decide to buy it, but usually I will not. I know I do not need it, even if I want it and the impulse to buy it is strong. Similarly, if I am feeling peckish at home and imagine that same chocolate cake in that same window only a few minutes away, I do not automatically drop everything and go quickly to the store to buy it. Unless of course, my ‘addiction’ to chocolate is so strong, having resisted the temptation to eat chocolate cake for last three weeks, and feeling that I have earned a reward, then, yes, I may well go and get it.

We know that conscious imagery is not equally vivacious in all people. Imagery vividness is a combination of clarity and liveliness. Assessment of vividness using introspective report can be validated by objective means such as fMRI. Vividness of visual imagery is determined by the similarity of neural responses in imagery to those occurring in perception and performance of activities. [AP 026]. Two thousand published studies have used the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ; Marks, 1972) or the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ; Isaac, Marks and Russell, 1986).

For a small minority of people, voluntary visual imagery is entirely unknown. These few people lack any experience of mental imagery, a condition termed ‘aphantasia’. In the absence of mental imagery, Consciousness is a pallid and abstract affair consisting of entities such as ‘unheard’ words, ‘unheard’ music and ‘invisible’ imagery. One such person, a scientist, describes his conscious experiences as follows: “I am unaware of anything in my mind except these categories: i) direct sensory input, ii) “unheard” words that carry thoughts, iii) “unheard” music, iv) a kind of “invisible imagery”, which I can best describe as sensation of pictures that are in a sense “too faint to see”, v) emotions, and vi) thoughts which seem too “fast” to exist as words.” [10]  For these exceptional people, there must be non-imagery ways to plan goals and future actions yet to be investigated. Actions are guided by schemata, generic representations, in combination with goals and affect. [AP 027].

According to Frederic Bartlett,[11] schemata are much more than elementary reactions ready for use: “they are also arrangements of material, sensory at a low level, affective at a higher level, imaginal at a higher level yet, even ideational and conceptual”.[12]

THE ACTION SYSTEM

The action system is inextricably linked to the perceptual system so that perceiving something generally leads to activity in either covert or overt form triggered by schemata (Bartlett, 1932). Imagined simulation consists of covert performances in which specific intentions, purposes and actions are fulfilled  (Marks, 1990, p. 6). A system with these features is shown in Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 11.13.24.png

Figure 1 The General Theory of Action, or ‘VOAGA’ Model.  Action schemata (As) control voluntary action (V) in response to salient objects (O) in the immediate environment which are the focus of action in accordance with current goals (G).  Affect (Af) influences the goal and the schemata. Action simulation using mental imagery occurs in the same system as that used for overt action.

Principle X (Mental Imagery): A mental image is a quasi-perceptual experience that includes action schemata, affect and a goal.[13]

The VOAGA Model encompasses both overt and covert (implicit) actions. ‘Covert’ or implicit actions are neurally similar to the equivalent overt action. Sensory-affective mental images are an essential component of memory and imagination.[14]  We would be ill-equipped for these two functions without them.

FEELINGS

Evidence for an affective component to Consciousness has been investigated by experimental psychologists for at least a century. Wundt (1907) wrote: “Often there is vividly present … the special affective tone of the forgotten idea, although the idea itself still remains in the background of consciousness. .. . In a similar manner . . . the clear apperception of ideas in acts of cognition and recognition is always preceded by feelings” (pp. 243-244).

Silvan Tomkins argued that the primary motivational system is the affective system and biological drives have impact only when amplified by the affective system (Tomkins, 1962). A similar view was reached by Zajonc (1980). When people imagine emoting happy, sad, and angry situations, different patterns of facial muscle activity are produced that can be measured by electromyography (Kinzel & Kubler, 1971). Similar affective responses occur when people mentally image faces, complex, scenes and look at pictures but the physiological responses are generally less intense in mental images (Lang, 1979). [AP 028]. A special link exists between imagery and anxiety and attempting to ‘suppress’ emoting may cause degraded mental imagery.[15] Individuals who inhibit emoting tend to experience less sensory, contextual and emotional details when imaging.[16] [AP 029].

Involuntary images and difficult to control visual memories are associated with psychopathology, e.g. patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and psychosis frequently report repeated visual intrusions concerning real or imaginary events, “usually extremely vivid, detailed, and with highly distressing content”.[17]

It is worth considering different scenarios from the perspective of action  schemata. Activation of a schema can occur in any of four possible combinations associated by the presence or absence of physical activity and objects, namely:

(A) Activity and Object both absent: covert action as sensory-affective imagery. The more vivid the associated imagery, the more a covert action resembles the corresponding overt action. [AP 030]. The more an imagined object resembles the real object, the more closely the imagined activity towards the imagined object resembles real behavior. [AP 031].

(B) Activity absent, Object present: private/covert action which simulates or practices overt action with associated feedback and affect. Humans and other organisms use the capacity to adopt a simulation routine. [18]

(C) Activity present, Object absent: publicly observable action in the form of playing, pretending, or miming, associated with feedback and affect.

(D) Activity and Object both present: overt behavior, with associated feedback and affect.

In cases A, B and C, the strength of affect can depend upon many factors including experience with the particular activity, but the vividness of the imagery is the major determinant. [AP 032]. The term ‘affect’[19] always refers to the emotive feelings generated by an image. Vivid imagery plays a key role in planning all goal-directed behavior. The cognitive system needs a meta-level to control and monitor the object-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour to be conducted at the object-level.

Consciousness facilitates Type II homeostasis, providing a significant  advantage in striving towards equilibrium in the surrounding environment. [AP 033].

The General Theory [20] proposes a cyclical system of schemata, objects, affective expression and actions. The control system has both an Executive-level and a Schema-level. The Executive-level, which is what we normally refer to as ‘Consciousness’ , controls and monitors the Schema-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour at the Schema-level. Goals are set at the Executive-level of Consciousness. Goal-setting is guided by values and beliefs which, together with goals,  inform actions, inhibit actions, or reflect, as the situation requires.

Speech and other complex behaviours in competent performers normally does not require Consciousness. The motor system is largely served by an extensive sensory system which operates at a subconscious level. Afferents from the muscles and the activity of the cerebellum, where movement is organized, operate entirely subconsciously and produce no conscious sensations. Conscious imagery participates in the planning and organization of behavior through enabling the simulation of action sequences at the object-level without energy expenditure or risk. [AP 034]. The object-level interfaces with the social-level in the public domain of shared activities and object-levels. The possible outcomes of alternative future actions can be appraised prior to a course of action. In this way, conscious mental imagery serves as a mental toolbox, producing its internal contents for the user to explore and manipulate in the selection and preparation of future physical and social activity.

The principal role is to perform ‘thought experiments’ by rehearsing activation of ‘what-if’ schemata to evaluate potential outcomes before making any actions physically (Figure 1). Thought experiments enable the imager to generate a sequence of interacting processes consisting of goals, schemata, actions, objects and affects. Once triggered, implementation of activity cycles gives rise to actual physical activity, perception, and affect.

Imagery that is vivid, through virtue of being as clear and as lively as possible, closely approximates actual perceptual-motor activity, and is of benefit to action preparation, simulation and rehearsal. [AP 035].

NEUROSCIENTIFIC STUDIES

Imagery, observation, and execution share similar neural processes. [AP 036]. The physiological mechanisms that are active during physical skill acquisition are also active during imagery and observation of the same skill. [21] Visual ideas may or may not be fleshed out as actions and not all ideas in human thought are visual. However, a significant category of ideas consists of images of varying force and vivacity. Without vividness, no Midsummer’s Night Dream, Le Malade Imaginaire or Don Quixote, and no Maxwell’s demon, Einstein’s elevator or Schrödinger’s cat. Whatever else humans may be, we are thinkers, schemers, idea-generators. Visual thoughts are an important part of what makes us human.  Antonio Damasio points to the huge value of  mental imagery to ‘creative intelligence’ in human evolution: “Creative intelligence was the means by which mental images and behaviors were intentionally combined to provide novel solutions for the problems that humans diagnosed and to construct new worlds for the opportunities humans envisioned”. [22]

There is an extensive literature on ‘mental practice’, otherwise referred to as `imagery rehearsal’ or ‘mental simulation’ (Richardson, 1965; Jeannerrod and Decety, 1995). Imagery is routinely and systematically employed in preparation and rehearsal of sports activity and has been shown to produce enhanced performance across a wide variety of skill-sets (Feltz & Landers, 1983; Markman, Klein and Suhr, 2009). Studies of skilled performers show that activity cycles are more effectively rehearsed when they incorporate vivid imagery (Isaac & Marks, 1990). Studies of Olympic athletes and performers capable of specialist skills suggest that high imagery vividness is of most benefit to performances that have significant perceptual-motor components or require visualization of complex interactions at the object-level (Isaac & Marks, 1994).

Converging evidence suggests that mental simulation of movement and actual movement share similar neurocognitive and learning processes leading to considerable interest in imagery simulation of movement as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation of stroke patients, patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological syndromes.[23] Conscious imagery enables the user to explore, select and prepare physical and social activity.  [AP 037].

A common neural basis exists for imitation, observational learning and motor imagery. During mental simulation, the excitatory motor output generated for executing the action is inhibited. The autonomic system is also activated during motor imagery. The principal function of Consciousness is to analyse actions and predict their consequences. Simulation enables the imager to mentally try out a sequence of goals, schemata and actions that minimize hazard, loss and pain.

The principal measure of vividness, the VVIQ, is strongly associated with performance in different kinds of task: self-report, physiological motor, perceptual, cognitive and memory (Marks, 1972, 1973; McKelvie, 1995; Runge, Cheung and D’Angiulli, 2017). To quote Runge et al. (2017): “[V]ividness can be considered a chief phenomenological feature of primary sensory Consciousness, and it supports the idea that Consciousness is a graded phenomenon”.[24] Recent research has shown that reported vividness is associated with early visual cortex activity relative to the whole brain activity measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the performance on a novel psychophysical task.

Vividness of visual imagery correlates with fMRI activity in early visual cortex scores demonstrating that higher visual cortex activity indexes more vivid imagery. Variations in imagery vividness depend on a large network of brain areas, including frontal, parietal and visual areas. The more similar the neural response during imagery to the neural response during perception, the more vivid or perception-like the imagery experience. [AP 038]. From these findings, it can be concluded that an image is an idea with visual attributes. The more vivid the image the more strongly we will be aware of it. Upon reflection of the alternative actions available, it is possible to inhibit certain actions and implement others, or to keep actions ‘on hold’ for the future. Thus Consciousness of the BCS is able to facilitate successful striving towards goals, and thereby the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage.

THE BEHAVIOUR CONTROL SYSTEM

Executive functions are cognitive processes such as working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control that direct goal-directed behaviours. The Behaviour Control System (BCS) co-ordinates the REF, CLOCK AAIS and SCHEMATA systems to produce voluntary and involuntary action, affect and cognition. In its regulation of the REF,  Consciousness, at the top of the BCS, facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis and provides a significant  evolutionary advantage to the organism.  Figure 5.2 shows the different parts of the BCS together with other major processes involved in the planning and execution of behaviour.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 11.09.47 Figure 2  The Behaviour Control System consisting of nine integrated processes for the generation of action. Schemata exist for all actions, designed to satisfy physiological and psychological needs that are striving towards equilibrium. The REF, CLOCK and AAIS systems (see previous post, black and dark grey) interconnect with the Action Schemata system (see Figure 1, light and dark grey).  Levels of control include sensory input, executive control, voluntary behaviour (including speech) and the AAIS, action schemata and REF, goals, sociality and affect, and automatized action. The AAIS and Action Schemata system trial implicit voluntary action in the absence of overt behaviour. Actions are generated in direct response to goals, the actions of others and the individual’s affective feelings.  Automatized, involuntary and habitual behaviours run off subconsciously and do not normally require executive control, unless there is an ongoing conscious effort to change them.

CONCLUSIONS:

1)    The Behaviour Control System (BCS) coordinates the REF, CLOCK, AAIS and action schemata to plan goals and regulate action.

2)    The BCS employs conscious mental imagery to plan, simulate and execute goal-directed action to satisfy needs.

3)    Consciousness of the BCS facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage. 

REFERENCES

[1] Quoted from Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney “Big match preparation”. In FourFourTwo Peformance.

[2] I will introduce Consciousness with some facts about what is established beyond any reasonable doubt rather than that cottage-industry of mental masturbation appropriately termed the ‘hard problem’. See: Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness studies2(3), 200-219.

[3] It has been suggested that agency includes the following: “intentionality and forethought, self-regulation by self-reactive influence, and self-reflectiveness about one’s capabilities, quality of functioning, and the meaning and purpose of one’s life pursuits”; see: Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of Psychology52(1), 1-26.

[4] This list is not exhaustive but it encompasses much of what is known about Consciousness.

[5] Feinberg, T. E., & Mallatt, J. M. (2016). The ancient origins of Consciousness: How the brain created experience. MIT Press.

[6] Craig, A. D. (2003). Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current opinion in neurobiology13(4), 500-505.

[7] Schmidt, R. A., Lee, T., Winstein, C., Wulf, G., & Zelaznik, H. (2018). Motor Control and Learning, 6E. Human kinetics.

[8] Mental imagery is often categorized into types such as ‘after-imagery’, ‘eidetic’, ‘memory’, ‘imagination’ and ‘dream’ imagery. We consider in this chapter the visual imagery of wakefulness and reserve research on dreaming to a later chapter.

[9] In “Mon Oncle d’Amérique” (My American Uncle), a 1980 movie by Alain Resnais, where Laborit explains several of his ideas.

[10] Watkins, N. (2017). (A) phantasia and SDAM: Scientific and Personal Perspectives.

[11] My tutor Maggie’s prof at Cambridge way back when.

[12] Bartlett, F.C. (1926). Review of Aphasia and kindred disorders of speech, by Henry Head. Brain, 49, 581-587.

[13] Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585.

[14] See: Marks (1999); Feinberg and Mallatt 2016) op. cit.

[15] Holmes, E. A., & Mathews, A. (2005). Mental imagery and emotion: a special relationship?. Emotion5(4), 489.

[16] D’Argembeau, A., & Van der Linden, M. (2006). Individual differences in the phenomenology of mental time travel: The effect of vivid visual imagery and emotion regulation strategies. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 342-350.

[17] Brewin, C. R., Gregory, J. D., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010). Intrusive images in psychological disorders: characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological review117(1), 210.

[18] It has been suggested that this capacity may have evolved from an action execution/observation matching system using mirror neurons. See: Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V., & Fogassi, L. (1996). Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Cognitive brain research3(2), 131-141.

[19] Affect is discussed in detail in Chapter Six.

[20] This part of the theory was previously termed ‘Action Control Theory’ or ACT. See: Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585. A similar theory was independently developed by Marc Jeannerod. See: Jeannerod, M. (1999). The 25th Bartlett Lecture: To act or not to act: Perspectives on the representation of actions. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A52(1), 1-29.

[21] Holmes, P. S., Cumming, J., & Edwards, M. G. (2010). Movement imagery, observation, and skill. The neurophysiological foundations of mental and motor imagery, 245-269.

[22] Damasio, Antonio. (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 71). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[23] Pichiorri, F., Morone, G., Petti, M., Toppi, J., Pisotta, I., Molinari, M., … & Mattia, D. (2015). Brain–computer interface boosts motor imagery practice during stroke recovery. Annals of neurology77(5), 851-865.

[24] T Cui X, Jeter CB, Yang D, Montague PR, Eagleman DM. (2007). Dijkstra N, Bosch SE, van Gerven MA. (2017).

A General Theory of Behaviour V: Learning, Striving and Inhibiting

In this fifth article concerning AGTB. I describe basic principles of learning, striving and inhibiting behaviour. Among other things, it includes the Law of Effect which was derived from studies with cats.


“responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation.”

Edward Thorndike, 1898

LEARNING

 For at least a century from the late 1800s theories of learning were the dominant concern of experimental psychologists. This was the era of ‘Grand Theories’ designed to bring a new dawn to the Science of Behaviour.  The School of ‘Behaviourism’ would strive ultimately to explain all of behaviour. The animal laboratory became a crucible for a vast edifice of findings with hundreds of doctoral candidates cutting their teeth with a thousand different variables. For this, we can thank Edward Lee Thorndike (1874 –1949), an American psychologist who pioneered ethology, theories of learning and pedagogy. Our focus here is specifically Thorndike’s work on animal learning and the Law of Effect.[1]

Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour that cannot be explained by temporary states, maturation, or innate response tendencies.[2]  An organism learns because: i) it needs to satisfy physiological and psychological needs, ii) it needs to adapt to new situations based on experience of similar situations in the past, and iii) because there is an intrinsic value in learning of and for itself.

Thorndike was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. He attended the oldest school in North America, Roxbury Latin School in Boston. Roxbury Latin was founded in 1645 by the Rev. John Eliot,  a puritan missionary, under charter from King Charles I of England.  Eliot’s mission was “to fit [students] for public service both in church and in commonwealth in succeeding ages.” After his time at Roxbury, Thorndike took an English degree at Wesleyan and a master’s degree at Harvard under no less a person than William James, and then a doctoral degree from Columbia in 1898 which was supervised by James Cattell. His doctoral thesis, Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of Associative Processes in Animals, established a learning theory that dominates all others for nearly 50 years, a notable achievement.[3]

Like many scientists of that era, Thorndike was a eugenicist.  He argued that “Selective breeding can alter man’s capacity to learn, to keep sane, to cherish justice or to be happy. There is no more certain and economical a way to improve man’s environment as to improve his nature.”[4] One should not jump to judgement about this, because eugenics was in the zeitgeist, but whatever his – and the majority of his colleagues’ – views, Thorndike is one of the historical giants of theoretical Psychology.

Although there are precursors, Thorndike proposed the ‘Law of Effect’ (LOE) in 1898, laying a foundation stone for theories of learning for more than a century.[5]  The law has never been rescinded.

Thorndike invented the concept of ‘reinforcement’ that was to become especially important to the study of operant conditioning, in which the effect of a response influences the likelihood of the future production of that response. The LOE applies to the entire universe of behaviour in which stimuli yielding satisfaction or pleasure are approached and those yielding dissatisfaction or pain are avoided.

The motivation system is crucially interdependent on the ability to remember what leads to pain and what leads to pleasure. The organism requires a mechanism for learning which is at the heart of all behaviour and performance.

The LOE is central to AGTB and the kernel of Principle VII:

Principle VII (Law of Effect): (A) All voluntary action is determined by the degree of pleasure or displeasure that the action provokes. (B) Any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated. (C) Any behaviour that is followed by unpleasant consequences is unlikely to be repeated.

Thorndike was best known for his work with cats inside his famous “puzzle box”.[6] A hungry cat was confined in a box with ‘manipulandum’ (i.e. a lever) that allowed the cat to escape by opening a door and receive a food morsel outside the door.[7] Initially cats engage in semi-random exploratory behaviours that characterise many animals in confinement such as clawing, biting, meowing, rubbing, and so on.  Ultimately the cat would accidentally  activate the release mechanism and escape the box to consume the food. When returned to the box,  the cat would again engage in a series of  exploratory behaviours and eventually, once again, accidentally activate the release mechanism. Thorndike observed that the time between initial placement and escape slowly decreased over a series of trials, providing a learning curve.

 

By any account, Edward Lee Thorndike was a successful scientist. In 1912, Thorndike was elected president for the American Psychological Association and, in 1917, he became a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, and in 1934, he was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Thorndike also composed three ‘word books’ to assist teachers with word and reading instruction.

Thorndike’s theoretical ideas were founded on his repeated observations. He concluded that cats learn by selecting and connecting, what others called “trial and error learning”, a “stamping in” of correct responses and a “stamping out” of incorrect responses. Thorndike proposed that learning consists of connecting stimuli (bits and pieces found inside the puzzle box) with responses (pushing the lever), producing stimulus-response (S-R) ‘connections’ or ‘bonds’.  The instigator of the cats’ behaviour in the puzzle box was thought to be a ‘drive’ to escape.

The drive concept

was originally defined by Robert S. Woodworth in 1918 as an “intense internal force that  motivates behaviour.”[8]  The concept became the foundation stone for Hull’s drive theory of behaviour, viz. that whether learned or innate, drive automatically motivates behaviour (Hull, 1943). Drive was viewed as the primary instigator of behaviour, a bodily state that renders behaviour ‘reinforceable’. Unlearned or innate sources of drive include ‘deprivation of biologically important substances such as food, water, or oxygen.  Such deficits threaten survival and the organism make adjustments to restore the system to the  normal set range via homeostasis.  Drive also may be induced by aversive stimuli such as loud noise or electric shock that are not life threatening.

The first half-century of learning theory, culminating with Hull, generated a circle of concepts with ‘drive’ at the centre, and stimuli, responses, connections, and reinforcements of the circumference. Like all systems in the history of Psychology, however, there would be a rise and a fall. Hull’s theory fell into disfavour and the drive concept went into sharp decline.[9] With the demise of the drive concept in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Psychology threw away with the water, not only the baby, but the entire bath tub.  We turn to consider an alternative ‘bath tub’ in the form of the concept of striving.

STRIVING

“Every person on the planet (barring illness) can tell good from bad, positive from negative, pleasure from displeasure”.[10]  Not only can we tell it, we can feel it. From the pre-Socratics philosophers until the present day, the role of pleasure and pain as motivators of human behaviour has been universally accepted. Psychological hedonism, the idea that all action is determined by the degree of pleasure or displeasure that imagining the action provokes, dates back to Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) who is alleged to have said: “We begin every act of choice and avoidance from pleasure…”

In 1789 the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham formulated the principle of utility in which any action that promotes the greatest amount of happiness is morally right. Happiness is identified with pleasure and the absence of pain. In 1848 the German physicist Gustav Fechner used the term Lustprinzip.  Fifty years later Sigmund Freud copied this idea by formulating the ‘Pleasure Principle’ which  has an almost exact equivalent in Cannon’s concept of homeostasis which has the goal of tension reduction for the sake of maintaining, or restoring, the inner equilibrium.[11]

Interestingly, pleasure and pain are both objective and subjective at the same time, a double-sided feature that carries evolutionary benefits.  If subjective and objective pain could get out of step, one can only imagine the disastrous consequences.  The idea that organisms strive for pleasure and the avoidance of pain has been accepted for aeons.

What exactly do we mean by ‘the degree of pleasure’ and ‘displeasure?  Michel Cabanac of Laval University in Québec suggested that the pleasure or displeasure of a sensation is directly related to the biological usefulness of the stimulus to the subject.The seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of displeasure are behaviours which have useful homeostatic consequences. [AP 019]. That is, they depend on the internal state of the stimulated subject at the particular moment of the stimulation.  Pleasure indicates a useful stimulus and motivates the subject to approach it. Pain indicates a useful stimulus and motivates the subject to avoid it.[12]

Emerging evidence indicates similarities in the anatomical substrates of painful and pleasant sensations in the opioid and dopamine systems.[13] The experience of positive and negative affect is based on neural circuits that evolved to ensure survival.  These circuits are activated by external stimuli that are appetitive and life sustaining or by stimuli that threaten survival. Activation of the pain and pleasure circuits alert the sensory systems to pay attention and prompt motor action.[14]

The approach-avoidance concept has captured the imagination of many theorists and been extraordinarily pivotal.[15] The approach-avoidance system also includes behavioural inhibition which takes over when there is approach-avoidance conflict.[16]

Action schemata are also necessary precursors to action, as we shall see in the next post.  This leads to a four-pronged system for regulating approach-avoidance-inhibition (AAIS). Operating together with action schemata, the REF, CLOCK and AAIS regulate voluntary action (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 09.07.46

Figure 1. The REF, CLOCK and AAIS interconnect with action schemata to execute voluntary action.

Two necessary conditions are required by the AAIS: a need state or drive (e.g. hunger) and the ability to reset the need by homeostasis (eating of a food reward).[17]  These conditions are stated in Hull’s Law which contains the assumption that the ‘excitatory potential’, E, or homoeostatic pressure, determining the strength of a response is a multiplicative function of a learning factor, H, and a generalized drive factor, D, i.e., E = H x D. When D (drive/motivation) is zero, E automatically becomes zero also.  In mature organisms, the inability to learn when drive is lacking is something that occurs in both operant and classical conditioning.[18]  Without motivation, learning does not generally happen, and behaviour is not performed.[19]

A century of research on learning and the AAIS was conducted under laboratory conditions where food- or drink-deprived animals are all normally tested during the 9-5, traditional working day.  We know that that the reward potential of the environment varies dramatically across the LD cycle as modulated by the CLOCK system.[20]  Free-living rats and mice normally sleep during daytime hours and so all of the lab research with them has been imposing ‘jet lag’ on the animals’ usual rhythms. The edifice of findings has been achieved with both the Type I homeostasis and CLOCK systems fully switched on. This, and other reasons, leads one to question the generalizability of the lab findings to the behaviour of free-living animals.  In spite of the many reservations, it is necessary to accept that, within certain well-known biological constraints, there can be confidence that the LOE is not purely a laboratory artefact and that free-living organisms follow it.[21]

As we have seen, major authorities agree that a drive underlies approach and avoidance energised by a striving toward pleasure and away from pain. Every living being strives towards a fixed set range of positive well-being. [AP 020]. Organisms approach sources of potential pleasure and satisfaction and studiously avoid potentially aversive stimuli and confrontations with danger. There really isn’t much difference between striving for something and having a drive for something.  Both concepts involve a felt need to satisfy an unmet need, whether biological or behavioural.  When the need has been satisfied, drive is reduced, striving ceases, and the organism resets to equilibrium and can rest. For this reason, we are pleased to return the ostracised drive concept from its exile.

In encountering a threatening stimulus, the organism fights, takes flight or freezes, in which case inhibition of behaviour minimizes the risks that come with a collision of interests or confrontation.

Miller’s (1944) summary of data on approach-avoidance conflict showed that the tendency to approach is stronger far from the feared goal, while the tendency to avoid is stronger near the goal.  Inhibition of action occurs when approach or avoidance are impossible, when a danger cannot be accurately predicted or when there is no previous response pattern to fall back on. In these cases, the système inhibiteur de l’action, or ‘behavioural inhibition system’ (BIS), is activated, stimulating the neuroendocrinal responses described by Walter Cannon and Hans Selye.

Inhibition is a regular, everyday occurrence in the life of free-living animals. For example,  consider the plains zebra (Equus quagga) drinking at a waterhole. With crocodiles always a danger, a cycle of approach, avoidance and inhibition will be repeated several times over before a zebra drinks.  In many instances, the drive to drink water exceeds the drive to keep safe and thirsty zebras are frequently killed by crocodiles.[22] Freezing until danger passes is necessary for the zebra’s long-term survival, as long as the suspense of drinking does not continue for too long.

‘Freezing’ is an option in many commonly occurring circumstances for humans also.  A worker dealing with an exploitative boss cannot fight or flee because they would be out of a job.  They may be forced to let months and years go by while they inhibit their behaviour. Behavioural inhibition causes arousal and anxiety which, if unchecked, ultimately has deleterious effects on physical and mental well-being. [AP 021].

The BIS was the discovery of the French surgeon and neuropsychopharmacologist Henri Laborit (1914-1995). Laborit  is known for his work on the synthesis of chlorpromazine, the discovery of the neurotransmitter gamma-OH, the antidepressant minaprine, and the sedative clomethiazole.[23]  In regard to inhibition, Laborit stated: “… this situation in which an individual can find himself, this inhibition of action, if it persists, induces pathological situations. The biological perturbations accompanying it will trigger physical diseases and all the behaviours associated with mental illness.” [24]

Principle VIII (Behavioural Inhibition): The Behavioural Inhibition System is activated when there is conflict between competing responses to approach or avoid stimuli.

The BIS suppresses pre-potent responses and elicits risk assessment and displacement behaviours. [AP 022]. Displacement behaviours include head scratching, fidgeting and playing with the car keys when we are uncertain about what to do. Another AP relevant to both P(VI) and P(VIII) states: A primary source of behavioural inhibition is anxiety about actual or imagined failure. [AP 023].

Anxiety can lead one to foresee so many negative scenarios that we may end up doing nothing at all. To do nothing, and to maintain a dream often may be a better option than taking an action and falling flat on one’s face. Whichever way one looks at the oscillation of inhibition, it has a connection with the drive for equilibrium.  We turn to consider an influential approach to the approach-avoidance-inhibition system. 

GRAY AND MCNAUGHTON’S THEORY OF THE AAIS

 If all human actions involved either approaching rewarding goals or avoiding punishing ones, life would be perfectly simple, albeit a little boring.  A multitude of situations contain strongly competing goals of approach-approach, approach-avoidance or avoidance-avoidance conflict. To understand how an organism is to deal with such conflicts, we must unpack how the approach-avoidance-inhibition system might actually work in practice. In this regard, the work of Jeffrey A Gray and Neil McNaughton is of particular relevance.[25]

Gray and McNaughton’s influential account of the approach and avoidance systems involves goal representations which have both cognitive (or identifying) and motivational (or consummatory) properties. The properties of a goal distinguish it from other kinds of stimuli and this includes the ability to be attractors (rewards) or repulsors (punishments). In the McNaughton-Gray theory, responding to attractors or repulsors brings three output systems into play: the Behavioural Approach System (BAS), the BIS, which we have already encountered, and the Freeze-Fight-Flight System (FFFS) (Gray & McNaughton, 2000).

According to McNaughton, DeYoung and Corr (2016), the “Behavioral Inhibition System” has outputs that: “inhibit the behaviour that would be generated by the positive and negative goals (without reducing the activation of the goals themselves), increases arousal and attention (generating exploration and displacement activities), and increases the strength of avoidance tendencies (i.e., increases fear and risk aversion). Increased avoidance during goal conflict is adaptive since, faced with risk, failing to obtain food or some other positive goal is likely to be easy to make up at another time, but experiencing danger could have severe consequences” (p. 30). It can be seen that a quickly taken avoidance decision may produce a false alarm, but, as the case of zebras at the waterhole illustrates, a slow response to a real threat might provide a crocodile with a fulsome dinner.

The approach (BAS), avoidance (FFFS=fight, freeze, flee) and conflict (BIS=behavioural inhibition) systems. The inputs to the system are classified in terms of the delivery (+) or omission (−) of primary positive reinforcers (PosR) or primary negative reinforcers (NegR) or conditional stimuli (CS) or innate stimuli (IS) that predict such primary events. The BIS is activated when it detects approach-avoidance conflict—suppressing prepotent responses and eliciting risk assessment and displacement behaviours. The systems interact homeostatically to generate behaviour. Based on this theory, it is possible to proceed with the proposal that: The voluntary behaviour of free-living organisms is coordinated by the REF, CLOCK and AAIS.[26]  [AP 024].

CONCLUSIONS:

1)    Drives, whether learned or innate, automatically motivate behaviour. Axiomatic to the General Theory of Behaviour is that organisms strive towards pleasure and away from pain.

2)    Differing sources of pleasure and displeasure create conflicts, which are resolved by the approach-avoidance-inhibition system (AAIS).

3)    When the AAIS activates the behaviour inhibition system, it increases arousal, attention and the strength of avoidance tendencies. The AAIS, together with the REF and CLOCK, coordinates voluntary action.

REFERENCES

[1] The work of Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936) on classical conditioning was also hugely influential. Space restrictions prohibit discussion of the significant role of Pavlovian conditioning in this brief introduction to the General Theory. We also do not have space to go beyond a brief sketch of Thorndike’s approach to learning.

[2] Robert R. Mowrer & Stephen B. Klein (2001). Handbook of Contemporary Learning Theories Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Bower G H & Hilgard E R. (1981). Theories of learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

[3] Bower, G. H., & Hilgard, E. R. (1981). Theories of learning. Prentice-Hall. p. 21.

[4] Quoted from: Thorndike, E.L.(1913). Education Psychology: briefer course. p.13. This quotation and a photograph of Thorndike are printed on the cover page of a London Conference on Intelligence held at University College London as recently as 2016. See: http://www.dcscience.net/London-conference-of-Intelligence-2016.pdf

[5] Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology39(1/4), 212-222.

See: Hilgard, E. R. (1948). The century Psychology series. Theories of learning. East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Hilgard, E. R., & Marquis, D. G. (1961). The century Psychology series. Hilgard and Marquis’ conditioning and learning, 2nd ed. East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

[6] As we saw in the last post, Bernard liked to work with dogs. Thorndike showed a preference for cats.

[7] Animal lovers can feel more relaxed about Thorndike’s methods than Bernard’s or Pavlov’s.

[8] Woodworth, R.S. (1918). Dynamic Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.

[9] In 1984, a paper was published defending the drive concept.  See: Kendon Smith (1984).”Drive”: In Defense of a Concept. Behaviorism 12, 71-114.

[10] Quotation from the opening sentence of: Lindquist, K. A., Satpute, A. B., Wager, T. D., Weber, J., & Barrett, L. F. (2015). The brain basis of positive and negative affect: evidence from a meta-analysis of the human neuroimaging literature. Cerebral Cortex26(5), 1910-1922.

[11] Which all goes to prove that there’s nothing new under the sun.

[12] Cabanac, M. (1999). Pleasure and joy, and their role in human life. In Creating the productive workplace (pp. 62-72). CRC Press.

[13] Leknes, S., & Tracey, I. (2008). A common neurobiology for pain and pleasure. Nature Reviews Neuroscience9(4), 314.

[14] Lang, P. J., & Bradley, M. M. (2010). Emotion and the motivational brain. Biological Psychology84(3), 437-450.

[15] For a historical summary of the approach-avoidance construct, see: Elliot, A. J. (1999). Approach and avoidance motivation and achievement goals. Educational psychologist34(3), 169-189.

[16] We will give the Approach-Avoidance-Inhibition System the acronym “AAIS”.

[17] Tolman, E. C., & Honzik, C. H. (1930). Degrees of hunger, reward and non-reward, and maze learning in rats. University of California Publications in Psychology, 4, 241-256.

[18] Debold, R. C., Miller, N. E., & Jensen, D. D. (1965). Effect of strength of drive determined by a new technique for appetitive classical conditioning of rats. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology59(1), 102.

[19] Possible exceptions are the innate disposition in critical periods to phase-sensitive learning or imprinting in young animals without specific reward and the learning that occurs in casual observation of others.

[20] Murray, G., Nicholas, C. L., Kleiman, J., Dwyer, R., Carrington, M. J., Allen, N. B., & Trinder, J. (2009). Nature’s clocks and human mood: The circadian system modulates reward motivation. Emotion9(5), 705.

[21] In addition to associative learning, animals have innate species-specific defence reactions such as fleeing, freezing, and fighting that are rapidly acquired; see Bolles, R. C. (1970). Species-specific defense reactions and avoidance learning. Psychological review77(1), 32. For a human example, see: Wichers, M., Kasanova, Z., Bakker, J., Thiery, E., Derom, C., Jacobs, N., & van Os, J. (2015). From affective experience to motivated action: Tracking reward-seeking and punishment-avoidant behaviour in real-life. PloS one10(6), e0129722.

[22] This is known as the “Life Dinner Principle”: it is better to sacrifice one’s dinner (or one’s drink) than one’s life. See: Dawkins R, Krebs JR. (1979). Arms races between and within species. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 205:489–511.

[23] Laborit, who also discussed political philosophy, once stated: “It would be desirable to replace the republican motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” by “Conscience, knowledge, imagination””.See: http://www.nouvellegrille.info/surlagrille.html

[24] Kunz, E. (2014). Henri Laborit and the inhibition of action. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience16(1), 113.

[25] Gray JA, McNaughton N. (2000). The NeuroPsychology of Anxiety: An Enquiry into the Functions of the Septo-hippocampal System. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; McNaughton, N., DeYoung, C. G., & Corr, P. J. (2016). Approach/avoidance. In Neuroimaging personality, social cognition, and character (pp. 25-49).

[26] For this purpose, we bring back the forsaken concept of drive.

A 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 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.

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 11.31.52.png

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 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.

A General Theory of Behaviour I

The first in a 12-part series about A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB). AGTB is a new theory of behaviour founded on the principle of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’. AGTB includes 20 principles and 80 associated propositions (AP).


 

I trace here the history of the theory of Psychological Homeostasis as a universal principle of behaviour.

This story begins in the fifth century BC with the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, the vis medicatrix naturae, and the idea of the body as a natural healer of imbalances.

Fast forward 2.4 thousand years to the nineteenth century AD to the life and theories of Claude Bernard. Walter B Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’ for Bernard’s principle.

I extend the principle in A General Theory of Behaviour.


Claude Bernard

French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) was  a near contemporary of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). CB is recognised as the ‘Father of Modern Physiology and Experimental Medicine’, best known for his work on the pancreas and vasomotor system, and for discovering glycogen.

Yet, CB’s description of the milieu intérieur in living organisms is equally significant. It is also a dangerous idea –  a very dangerous idea. The principle states:

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

So, who exactly was Claude Bernard?

Born in the quiet village of Saint-Julien, among the vineyards of the Beaujolais region of the Val de Saône in France, life here is slow but productive.  I visited Bernard’s home, which is part of a dedicated museum (LE MUSÉE CLAUDE BERNARD, see photos below). Every square centimetre of soil in this region is planted in vine.

The young Claude was fascinated by fine art, literature and philosophy: Delacroix, Victor Hugo and René Descartes. He wasn’t too much interested in the school curriculum and applied his talents to writing plays, such as a vaudeville comedy, La Rose du Rhône, and a five-act tragedy, Arthur de Bretagne.[1]

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To the disappointment of his parents and teachers, Bernard did not reach his full potential and disgraced himself by failing his bachelor’s degree. He left college without qualifications or any career aims.  He worked as an apprentice to a pharmacist in Lyon, but got fired.  Things were not going well.  However, encouraged by having a comedy performed in a local theatre, Bernard hoped to become a writer and moved to Paris.

After receiving advice from a respected critic, Bernard had a change of heart and enrolled at medical school. At medical school he was romantically attracted to a young woman, a patient from one of the wards, but his approaches were rebuffed, leading him to write sadly and prophetically: “I think I would never be destined to be happy in love.”[2]

After his romantic rebuff, Bernard threw himself into his work and meets the leading physiologist, François Magendie, and becomes his assistant. He works hard for Magendie’s but receives another knock-back in 1844 when he fails the competition at the Faculty of Medicine and is barred from practicing as a physician. Having no means of support he thinks of returning to Saint-Julien to tend the vines as a ‘country doctor’ but, encouraged by others, he turns his attention to full-time basic physiological research – a move that changes the history of medicine. Then, out of the blue…along comes Fanny.

In 1845 Bernard marries Marie Françoise “Fanny” Martin for her dowry. This sounds cold and calculating, but this is how it was sometimes done way back then. This pragmatic if unromantic arrangement enabled Bernard to continue his physiological experiments. From this point Bernard’s career takes an upward turn.

Bernard’s Discoveries

In 1855, Bernard isolates and names glycogen. He learns how glycogen in the liver maintains the blood glucose levels at near constant level with a process that is termed today ‘homeostasis’. For lazier scientists, this would have been a large enough laurel to rest upon, supping on wine from your very own vineyard.  Not Claude Bernard. In 1864 Emperor Louis Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie invite Bernard to stay at Compiegne Castle where Bernard makes a real impression, standing out in the French intelligentsia of architects, engineers, artists and philosophers.  The Emperor offers Bernard a laboratory at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and opens doors to the most important people of the day.  Claude Bernard has arrived.

While recuperating from an illness at Saint-Julien in 1865, Bernard writes a classic text, The Introduction To Experimental Medicine, where he states: “There are physicians who are fanatical about the effects of the drugs they prescribe. They do not accept critical comments which are based upon experiments. They say you can only prescribe drugs which you believe in, and they think that prescribing a drug to a patient you doubt about shows a lack of medical ethics. I don’t accept this way of thinking, it means deceiving oneself and deceiving others.”[4] Seventy years before Karl Popper, Claude Bernard is asserting the principle of falsification.

As a scientist, Bernard is the complete package. He “embraces both theory and experimental practice “and associates “all the terms of the experimental method in solidarity with one another”. As Bernard writes: “Experimental ideas are very often born by chance and on the occasion of an fortuitous observation…the theory is only the scientific idea controlled by experience (…), in the aspiration of the mind towards the unknown“, a proposal that has a contemporary flavour.[5]

In his Lessons of Phenomena of Life in Animals and Plants Bernard (1878-79) writes: “…there are in fact two environments, one milieu which is outside the body and an inner milieu, in which the components of living tissues are embedded. The real existence of the animal doesn’t take place in the external world but inside the liquid medium of circulating organic fluid. This fluid is the expression of all local nutrition and the source and mouth of elementary exchange.

Claude Bernard dies a national hero, with full honours, the first state funeral granted to any scientist in France. The Université Claude-Bernard Lyon 1 is named in his honour, one of the three public universities of Lyon, and specializes in science, technology and health. ‘Rue Claude Bernard’ is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris and, in Lyon, the ‘Quay Claude Bernard ’ is located by the Rhone River.[6]

Walter B Cannon’s term ‘Homeostasis’

Walter_Bradford_Cannon_1934

We turn to Bernard’s concept of the milieu intérior. Here the story gets interesting…

For several decades Claude Bernard’s ‘dangerous idea’ [7], the milieu intérior, was put on the back burner because nobody quite knew what to do with it. In the early Twentieth Century it was taken up by J.S. Haldane, C.S Sherrington, J. Barcroft  and a few others.[8]

In 1926 the concept gained currency when Harvard physiologist Walter B Cannon coined the term homeostasis.  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 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 the evolutionary biologists 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.[9]

A Universal Principle of Behaviour

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…

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 ‘exterior’, a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour is created. Voila – “A General Theory of Behaviour”.[10]  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: I call it the “Reset Equilibrium Function” or REF.

The principle is a universal one in the natural world.  The planet operates with one binding principle, ‘Gaia’.  The Gaia hypothesis holds that living organisms interact with their surroundings on Earth to form synergistic and self-regulatingcomplex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet ( James Lovelock). In microcosm, human behaviour is a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system of homeostasis.

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. [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 idea 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).[11]

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.[12]

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)[13] 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.

Reset Equilibrium Function (REF)

The Reset Equilibrium Function (or ‘REF’) is the principle of homeostasis in 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)[14] and, notably, one objective of control theory has been to provide a “Unified Theory of Human Behaviour”[15].

AGTB describes systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This idea is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology.

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 AGTB 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.[16]

FIG 1.1.pngFigure 1. The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes (A-D). Whenever one or more processes exits its set range, the REF returns each process to its set range. The configuration of 4 processes is for expositional convenience. Any number of processes, forming a network of lattice structures, may participate in complex behaviours.

 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 behavior, 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 behavior, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. addiction to alcohol.

Principle 1: Purpose, Desire and Intentionality

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 idea that 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.”.[19] Principle I (Agency) concerning the universal striving for equilibrium requires the basic COR tenet to be true or equilibrium could never be attained.

References

[1] Arthur I, Duke of Brittany (born 1187, died 1203?) captured in battle by John, King of England, at Mirebeau-en-Poitou in 1202, imprisoned and murdered by John, is featured in Shakespeare’s play The Life and Death of King John. See: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-I.

[2] Claude Bernard: http://www.claude-bernard.co.uk/page27.htm

[3] La vie de Cl Bernard Chapitre II, Christian Furia, La Gazette, p. 4: http://bit.ly/2GImpvS

[4] The gullibility of French physicians and patients continues to the present day with many doctors prescribing homeopathic remedies to their patients, fully convinced of their efficacy.

[5] See Jean Bastin, La Gazette, Les lapins de Claude Bernard,  p.3: bit.ly/2GImpvS

[6] Bernard’s research included cutting open conscious animals under curare, or slowly “cooking” animals in ovens for his studies on thermoregulation. Unhappy with her husband and his work, Bernard’s wife Fanny divorced him, taking away his two daughters, who grew up to hate him. Bernard’s alleged vivisection of the family dog did not much help his case. Fanny became a leading antivivisectionist, setting up rescue shelters for dogs. See: Franco, N. H. (2013). Animal experiments in biomedical research: a historical perspective. Animals3(1), 238-273.

[7] I borrow this description from J Scott Turner (who borrowed it from Daniel Dennett).

[8] Gross, C. G. (1998) Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment. Neuroscientist 4: 380-385.

[9] Homeostasis enables purposeful striving towards equilibrium between all members of the ecosystem. In continuously changing environmental conditions, all life forms can co-exist in an ever-renewing state of balance.

[10] Allusions to social equilibrium appear in Pareto’s General Sociology and in the Epilogue of Cannon’s The Wisdom of the Body. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the idea of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’ has not previously been systematically formulated. Donald E Williams and J. Kevin Thompson in 1993 discussed the possibility of a set-point hypothesis for Psychology but it was not fully developed: Williams, D. E., & Thompson, J. K. (1993). Biology and behavior: A set-point hypothesis of psychological functioning. Behavior Modification17(1), 43-57.

[11] Damasio, Antonio (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 32). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[12] The Dalai Lama at the opening day of a Convention for Global Peace at the Government Degree College in Dharamsala, HP, India on December 2, 2017. http://bitly.ws/yC2

[13] Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

[14] Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1982). Control theory: A useful conceptual framework for personality–social, clinical, and health Psychology. Psychological bulletin92(1), 111.

[15] Grinker, R. R. (1967). Normality viewed as a system. Archives of general psychiatry17(3), 320-324.

[16] Here we must represent homeostatic networks in two dimensions. In nature they exist in four-dimensions with the inclusion of time.

[17] As Turner (2017) states: “All homeostasis involves a kind of wanting, an actual desire to attain a particular state, and the ability to create that state” (p. xxx).

[18] Anscombe, G. E. M. (1963). Intention (second edition). Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.

[19] Hobfoll, S. E., Halbesleben, J., Neveu, J. P., & Westman, M. (2018). Conservation of Resources in the Organizational Context: The Reality of Resources and Their Consequences. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.