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).