The ‘COMA-B’ System for Behaviour Change: Reset of the COM-B

The COM-B System

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

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

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

They continue:

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

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

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

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

Definitions

MSW give the following definitions:

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

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

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

Robbing a Bank

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

According to the COM-B:

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

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

Imagine the following:

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

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

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

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

robbing the bank would be wrong,

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

it would look bad in front of the neighbours,

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

it would be an unreasonable and unfair act , etc.

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

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

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

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

The COMA-B Reformulation

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

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

The reformulated ‘COMA-B’ is shown below.

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

amended COM-B model.png

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

A 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).

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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

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

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.

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 11.29.41.png

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

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.

Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ)

What is the VVIQ?

The VVIQ is a self-report measure of the clarity and liveliness of visual imagery and, in so doing, aims to evoke images that vary in vividness, ambiance, and feeling as well. The instructions state the following:
“Visual imagery refers to the ability to visualize, that is, the ability to form mental pictures, or to ‘see in the mind’s eye’. Marked individual differences are found in the strength and clarity of reported visual imagery and these differences are of considerable psychological interest.
The aim of this test is to determine the vividness of your visual imagery. The items of the test will possibly bring certain images to your mind. You are asked to rate the vividness of each image by reference to the five-point scale given below. For example, if your image is ‘vague and dim’, then give it a rating of 4. After each item, write the appropriate number in the box provided. The first box is for an image obtained with your eyes open and the second box is for an image obtained with your eyes closed. Before you turn to the items on the next page, familiarize yourself with the different categories on the rating scale. Throughout the test, refer to the rating scale when judging the vividness of each image. Try to do each item separately, independent of how you may have done other items.
Complete all items for images obtained with the eyes open and then return to the beginning of the questionnaire and rate the image obtained for each item with your eyes closed. Try and give your ‘eyes closed’ rating independently of the ‘eyes open’ rating. The two ratings for a given item may not in all cases be the same.”

The Rating Scale in the VVIQ

The five-point rating scale of the VVIQ is presented below. Some researchers prefer to reverse the numerical scale to make 5 = perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision, and 1 = no image at all, you only “know” that you are thinking of an object.

The 16 VVIQ Items

The 16 items are arranged in blocks of four, in which each has a theme and at least one item in each cluster describes a visual image that includes movement. Each theme provides a narrative to guide a progression of mental imagery. It is noted that at least one item in each cluster describes an activity or movement, indexing liveliness. The aim of the VVIQ is to assess visual imagery vividness under conditions which allow a progressive development of scenes, situations, or events as naturally as possible. The items are intended to evoke sufficient interest, meaning, and affect conducive to image generation. Participants rate the vividness of their images separately with eyes open and eyes closed.

For a small minority of people, the capacity for visual imagery is unavailable. In the absence of mental imagery, consciousness consists of “unheard” words, “unheard” music, and “invisible” imagery. This minority needs to employ more generic, verbal methods to recall events, and to plan goals and future activity—compensatory strengths that remain under-investigated.
An online version of the VVIQ is here.

Research using the VVIQ

To date, around 2000 studies have used the VVIQ or Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ) as a measure of imagery vividness.

I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am

Abstract

Organisms are adapted to each other and the environment because there is an inbuilt striving toward security, stability, and equilibrium. A General Theory of Behavior connects imagery, affect, and action with the central executive system we call consciousness, a direct emergent property of cerebral activity. The General Theory is founded on the assumption that the primary motivation of all of consciousness and intentional behavior is psychological homeostasis. Psychological homeostasis is as important to the organization of mind and behavior as physiological homeostasis is to the organization of bodily systems. Consciousness processes quasi-perceptual images independently of the input to the retina and sensorium. Consciousness is the “I am” control center for integration and regulation of (my) thoughts, (my) feelings, and (my) actions with (my) conscious mental imagery as foundation stones. The fundamental, universal conscious desire for psychological homeostasis benefits from the degree of vividness of inner imagery. Imagery vividness, a combination of clarity and liveliness, is beneficial to imagining, remembering, thinking, predicting, planning, and acting. Assessment of vividness using introspective report is validated by objective means such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A significant body of work shows that vividness of visual imagery is determined by the similarity of neural responses in imagery to those occurring in perception of actual objects and performance of activities. I am conscious; therefore, I am.

brainsci-09-00107-g001-550

Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci, Ramón y Cajal, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein—creative people who used vivid mental imagery to make world-changing discoveries. Einstein’s thought experiments and his statements on the imagination are particularly salient.

Full text of paper available here.

Marks, D.F. I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am: Imagery, Affect, Action, and a General Theory of Behavior. Brain Sci. 20199, 107.

Master Faker H J Eysenck

“People fake only when they need to fake.”

The replication crisis in science begins with faked data. I discuss here a well-known recent case, Hans J Eysenck. An enquiry at King’s College London and scientific journals  concluded that multiple publications by Hans J Eysenck’s are ‘unsafe’ and must be retracted. These recent events suggest that the entire edifice of Eysenck’s work warrants re-examination. In this post I examine some early experimental research by Eysenck and his students at the Institute of Psychiatry during the 1950s and 60s.

Hans J Eysenck was a chameleon-figure in the science of psychology. Eysenck doctored data from the very beginning of his theorising. Time and again HJE proved  that he was a master of camouflage. I examine here some historically significant data that HJE used to promote his biological theory of personality, data that were used by HJE in a misleading way to promote his theories.

The evidence suggests that HJE massaged data to give them more ‘scientific’ appeal.  HJE’s biological theory had predicted that introverts would condition more quickly than extraverts. The original data were collected by Cyril M Franks who had worked for his PhD under Eysenck’s supervision at the Institute of Psychiatry, London. Even Franks would later turn upon the master for his misleading methodology and data analysis. However, HJE dismissed and vehemently attacked all of his critics, claiming they were wrong, foolhardy and unreasonable.

HJE’s version of Cyril Franks’ data was originally published in the British Journal of Psychology (Eysenck, H. J. (1962). Conditioning and personality. British Journal of Psychology53(3), 299-305) and again, the next year, in Nature (Eysenck, H. J. (1963). Biological basis of personality. Nature199(4898), 1031-1034 and in multiple other publications. HJE doctored the data to make the introverts show a more rapid increase than the extraverts. These data were a crucial step in his theory published in his 1957 book, The dynamics of anxiety and hysteria.

HJE used a series of questionable  practices (QPRs) that raised many eyebrows including insiders at the Institute of Psychiatry.  Eysenck’s theory of personality became the subject of scathing criticism. Chapter 5 of Playing With Fire by Rod Buchanan  provides the full details.

My personal skepticism about HJE began as an undergraduate student when a lecturer, Vernon Hamilton, told me that HJE had ‘cheated’ with his data – see Hamilton’s critique here.  Other telling criticism was published by Storms and Sigal here and in another article with Franks: see Sigal, Star and Franks here.

In spite of all of the controversy, which he seemed to rather enjoy, HJE became one of the most influential psychologists of all time. His Nature paper has been cited 6331 times.

In light of the recent exposure of Eysenck as a person who carried out serial publication fraud, it is informative to take a close look at Cyril Franks’ PhD research that in HJE’s creative accounting became a foundation stone of HJE’s first theory of personality.  

EYSENCK’S DOCTORED CURVES  

EYSENCK'S DOCTORED VERSION OF FRANKS, 1957, DATA

An almost perfect set of findings, one might assume – too good to be true even. My detailed scrutiny suggests that this was indeed the case. When one examines the data HJE used to generate these two curves, we see anything but smoothly increasing scores.

JAGGED-LOOKING ORIGINAL DATA PUBLISHED BY FRANKS (1956):

Franks tested a hypothesis attributed to Pavlov: “Neurotics of the dysthymic type form conditioned reflexes rapidly, and these reflexes are difficult to extinguish; neurotics of the hysteric type form conditioned reflexes slowly, and these reflexes are easy to extinguish”.  Franks chose data from 20 dysthymic patients (having rejected data from 8 others),  20 hysteric patients (having rejected data from 7 others), and 20 non-patients …in a specially constructed soundproof conditioning laboratory.”  The results for the dysthymic and hysteric groups were as follows:


Franks 1956 Not unreasonably, Franks concluded that dysthymics give significantly more CR’s than hysterics. Buoyed by his initial success, Franks carried out another study to examine the factor of extraversion/introversion in the same eye-blink conditioning task. In this instance, Franks hypothesised, following HJE’s theory, that the introverts conditioned more quickly than the extraverts.

MORE JAGGED-LOOKING ORIGINAL DATA PUBLISHED BY FRANKS (1957):

Franks’ 1957 data again show the rates of  classical conditioning in eye-blink responses in this case for 15 introverts and 15 extraverts.  According to Eysenck’s theory, the former group should show more rapid conditioning than the latter. The maximum score was 15.

FRANKS' 1957 DATA

EYSENCK COMBINED DATA FROM FRANKS’ TWO STUDIES

HJE combined the data from Franks’ two studies in a rather creative and unconventional manner.  HJE combined data from groups of introvert non-patients with patients diagnosed with dysthymia and he combine data from a group of extravert non-patients and patients categorised as hysterics. The data from the two Franks studies were a hotchpotch that needs untangling.

1)  Eysenck combined the data from the extraverts with the data from the patients classified as hysterics and the data from the introverts with that collected from the dysthymics  This rather odd amalgam smoothed out many of the jagged edges in the two data sets.

2) There was no justification for assuming that the CR rates began at zero because all four groups had minimum scores well above zero. This fact was pointed out by Vernon Hamilton. Yet HJE doctored the data look this way by imposing curves that started at a zero origin.

The next figure shows the data after they had been combined, groups D and I together, and groups H and E together.  I show the combined data with HJE’s smooth curves and the data points as HJE reported them.

EYSENCK ACHIEVED THE LOOK HE WANTED USING CHILDISHLY SIMPLE METHODS

HJE’s 4-step approach to a successful scientific outcome proceeded as follows:

  • First, HJE combined data from 4 different groups to create two new groups even though there was no scientific basis for doing so.
  • Second, although HJE’s and my computations of the combined data points show  a fair degree of consistency, HJE appears to have ‘adjusted’ a few data points that didn’t fit the curve.
  • Third, HJE’s gave his smoothed curves zero starting points, contrary to the actual data, which indicate above-zero baseline scores. HJE attempted to disguise the fact that the groups had radically different, non-zero starting points.
  • Fourth, HJE ignored the fact that two lines with identical slope fitted the data equally well.

Using these devices, HJE promoted the data as respectable science fit for publication in the most reputable journals. This analysis suggests something rather different – that HJE was an out-and-out charlatan.

The left panel of the diagram below shows HJE’s published curves with his cunningly averaged data-points converted to percentages (small dots), and the same averaged data-points obtained by this author (DFM; o’s and x’s). In most cases, HJE’s and DFM’s data points coincide. In at least 4 instances, however, HJE’s points lie closer to the theoretical curve than the correct figures would suggest.

The right-hand panel shows the fit to the same two data sets using linear plots with identical slope.  Neither of the fitted functions look anywhere near perfect, but there is no prima facie case for preferring the curvilinear to the linear fit.

 

HJE curves and lines FINAL.png

CONCLUSION

HJE constructed a curvilinear association between eye-blink classical conditioning rates and questionnaire measures of extraversion-introversion. These curves were artificially doctored to suggest that introverts conditioned more quickly than extraverts, as HJE’s theory had predicted. By combining data that did not belong together, HJE was able to smooth the data sets, which when considered separately did not fit the predictions quite so well.  HJE avoided a feasible alternative (null) hypothesis that the two groups produced identical rates of conditioning. In so doing, HJE helped to establish his first biological theory of personality. This was not only bad science, it was faked science, the work of a chameleon.

I thank Rod Buchanan for his input and advice.

 

 

 

 

 

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