A General Theory of Behaviour II: Restructured Hierarchy of Needs

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


 

Modifying Maslow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maslow specifically links safety with ‘stability’:

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

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

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

Principle II (Needs Hierarchy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSIONS:

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

Reference

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

“Brilliant new book”

Reviewed by Ewan McDougall:
“When I first read David Marks brilliant new book Obesity, there was a story on Radio New Zealand that two thirds of Auckland adults were now over weight or obese and the statistic for children was not much better. You don’t have to be an epidemiological genius to see that this will become a major problem for us and for other Western countries which are in the throes of an obesity epidemic.
David Marks presents a fresh, clear-eyed analysis of the complex causes of this epidemic: social, economic and psychological. He discusses the role of neoliberal capitalism in the promotion of poor, calorie rich food and animal products. The psychologist’s discussion of a person’s ‘circle of discontent’ which undermines homeostasis and then ‘feeds’ the spiral of unhealthy eating is fascinating and rings true. And he provides a refreshing solution including the adoption of veganism. The book is lucid and courageous and is the best analysis of a harrowing problem in the world, and a call to action, which I have read.

 

Psychology Bankrupt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Inspiring book…compelling read”

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

Janine Crosbie, Psychology Lecturer, University of Salford,

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Dyshomeostasis in human feeding

In an environment that promotes widespread body dissatisfaction, angst and depression, homeostatic feedback loops are producing excessive consumption of unhealthy processed foods that over a protracted period causes obesity in large numbers of vulnerable people. Multiple clinical studies in different areas of medicine demonstrate the primary role of homeostasis in healthy functioning and the consequences of dyshomeostasis. Homeostasis can be overloaded or overridden with too strong a flow of inputs or outputs that disrupt its normal functioning: ‘The homeostatic behaviour of inflow controllers breaks down when there are large uncontrolled inflows, whereas outflow controllers lose their homeostatic behaviour in the presence of large uncontrolled outflows’ (Drengstig et al., 2012). Homeostasis can be disrupted anywhere, and perturbations will inevitably occur in normal functioning (Richards, 1960).

There are many examples of dyshomeostasis in clinical medicine. Well-known to psychologists, Hans Selye reported that a persistent environmental stressor (e.g. temperature extremes), together with an associated homeostatic hormonal response, leads to tissue injury that he termed a ‘disease of adaptation’ (Selye, 1946). Intestinal homeostasis breaks down in inflammatory bowel disease (Maloy and Powrie, 2011) and in the microbial ecology of dental plaque causing dental disease (Marsh, 1994). This form of dyshomeostasis can result from local infection and inflammation and give rise to complications that affect the nervous and endocrine systems (Maynard et al., 2012). An altered balance between the two major enteric bacterial phyla, the Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes, has been associated with clinical conditions. Within the microbiota of the gut, obesity has been associated with a decreased presence of bacteroidetes and an increased presence of actinobacteria (Ley, 2010; Turnbaugh and Gordon, 2009). Kamalov et al. (2010) proposed a dyshomeostasis theory of congestive heart failure. Craddock et al. (2012) suggested a zinc dyshomeostasis hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Homeostasis regulation within the endocrinal and central nervous systems has been associated with feeding control. Cortical areas conveying sensory and behavioural influences on feeding provide inputs to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) is the site of homeostatic and circadian influences (Saper et al., 2002). Hormones such as leptin circulate in proportion to body fat mass, enter the brain and act on neurocircuits that govern food intake (Morton et al., 2006). Through direct and indirect actions, it is hypothesized that leptin diminishes the perception of food reward while enhancing the response to satiety signals generated during food consumption that inhibit feeding and lead to meal termination.

Another important hormone is ghrelin which is the only mammalian peptide hormone able to increase food intake. Interestingly, ghrelin also responds to emotional arousal and stress (Labarthe et al., 2014; Müller et al., 2015). During chronic stress, increased ghrelin secretion induces emotional eating by acting at the level of the hedonic/reward system. As ghrelin has anxiolytic action in response to stress, this adaptive response may contribute to control excessive anxiety and prevent depression (Labarthe et al., 2014). In obesity, studies have shown a reduced ability to mobilize ghrelin in response to stress or central ghrelin resistance at the level of the hedonic/reward system which may explain the inability to cope with anxiety and increased susceptibility to depression (Figure 1). Reciprocally, studies have shown that people with depression have increased susceptibility to obesity and eating disorders (Marks, 2015).

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Figure 1. Model of hedonic/reward response to ghrelin after chronic stress in relation to anxiety and depression. Reproduced from Labarthe et al. (2014).

During chronic stress, increased ghrelin secretion induces emotional eating as hedonic reward. Ghrelin has anxiolytic actions in response to stress; this adaptive response helps to control excessive anxiety and prevent depression. In obesity, a lower ability to mobilize ghrelin in response to stress or central ghrelin resistance at the level of the hedonic/reward system may explain the inability to cope with anxiety and increased susceptibility to depression. Reciprocally, people suffering from depressed show increased susceptibility to obesity or eating disorders (due to an altered hedonic/reward response). Elevated ghrelin may also contribute to alcohol/drug craving as higher ghrelin levels correlate with greater alcohol craving.

In addition to leptin and ghrelin, other lipid messengers that modulate feeding by sending messages from the gut to the brain have been identified. For example, oleoylethanolamine has been associated with control of the reward value of food in the brain (Lo Verme et al., 2005; Tellez et al., 2013). Mice fed a high-fat diet had abnormally low levels of oleoylethanolamine in their intestines and did not release as much dopamine compared to mice on low-fat diets. Thus, alterations in gastrointestinal physiology induced by excess dietary fat may be one factor responsible for excessive eating in the obese (Tellez et al., 2013).

Extracted from Marks (2016)

Homeostasis Theory of Well-being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping the Obesity Crisis

Health is regulated by homeostasis, a property of all living things. Homeostasis maintains equilibrium at set-points using feedback loops for optimum functioning of the organism. Long-term disruptions of homeostasis or ‘dyshomeostasis’ arise through genetic, environmental and biopsychosocial mechanisms causing illness and loss of well-being including obesity, the addictions, and chronic conditions. These and many other phenomena of Psychological Homeostasis are explained in A General Theory of Behaviour.

Obesity dyshomeostasis is associated with a self-reinforcing activity of a vicious Circle of Discontent in which hedonic reward overrides weight homeostasis in an obesogenic and chronically stressful environment. Over-consumption of processed, high-caloric, low-nutrient foods, combined with stressful living and working conditions, have caused loss of equilibrium, overweight and obesity in more than two billion people.

The prevalence of obesity is higher in women and low-income groups who are more exposed to chronic stress and low purchasing power including some ethnic minority groups.

Research on different diets suggests that a plant-based diet containing low amounts of sugar, little or no red meat and the minimum of fats promotes weight-loss and prevents obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, and cancer. A vegan diet with no meat, fish or dairy is especially anti-obesogenic.

The ‘thin ideal’ pervades popular culture with narratives and images of thinness which has an entirely negative effect on youth the world over. Legislation should be enacted to ban the use of artificially enhanced images of ultra-thin models in magazines and media.

Discrimination against people who are overweight or obese causes stress and socio-economic disadvantage. Approaches to the epidemic that invoke a narrative of ‘blame-and-shame’ exacerbate the problem. There are very few people who deliberately become obese through conscious effort or who would not like to avoid it if they possibly could.

Homeostatic imbalance in obesity includes a ‘Circle of Discontent’ (COD) a system of feedback loops linking weight gain, body dissatisfaction, negative affect and over-consumption. This homeostatic COD theory is consistent with a large evidence-base of cross-sectional and prospective studies.

A preliminary model suggests that obesity dyshomeostasis is mediated by the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and HPA axis with signalling by the peptide hormone ghrelin, which simultaneously controls feeding, affect and hedonic reward.

The totality of evidence within current knowledge suggests that obesity is a persistent, intractable condition. Prevention and treatment efforts targeting sources of dyshomeostasis provide ways of reducing adiposity, ameliorating addiction, and raising the quality of life in people suffering chronic stress.

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Vigorous and uncompromising Governmental actions are required, independent of corporate interests, at all levels of society to reduce the prevalence of obesity and related conditions. A four-armed strategy to halt the obesity epidemic is necessary.

There is an immediate need to enact anti-discrimination legislation to protect people with obesity and improve their quality of life. Anti-discrimination laws are necessary to eliminate one of the primary causes of obesity which fuels the Circle of Discontent. PLWO need legal protection from discrimination which has been shown to be detrimental to the mental health of the victims of obesity.

Legislation to enforce a mandatory code of practice is needed to resist and devalorize the thin-ideal. Precedents have been set in Israel and France to ban models with extremely low BMI, examples which should be followed in all countries. The retouching of pictures in fashion magazines to make the human subjects appear slimmer or more attractive should be controlled. Consumers should be informed when images of people have been manipulated.

Generic legislation is necessary to curb the widespread consumption of energy-dense, low nutrient foods and drinks. Mexico, France, Finland and Hungary and, most recently, the UK have set charges for a levy on sugary drinks, a step in the right direction. More generic taxation is necessary to incentivize producers and retailers to reformulate products. An ‘Unhealthy Commodities Tax’ which would yield revenue and improve the diet of a large segment of the at-risk population.

Improving the access to plant-based diets is an effective strategy for producing weight loss. The example of the WIC in the US indicates that increasing access to fruit and vegetables has a positive effect on food consumption towards a healthier diet. Following the WIC model, legislation should be considered in every state and country to improve F/V intake. Proceeds from a UCT could be used to subsidise the organic production of F/V with payments to growers and sellers to enable lower retail prices of organic F/V. Interventions to increase access and affordability of F/V would help to slow the obesity epidemic.

Huge resources have been invested on the monitoring of the epidemic and on the treatment of PLWO. The major part of future investment should be re-directed towards containment and control by legislating strategies for obesity prevention as was previously the case in tobacco control. No more kowtowing to industry. Let’s cease the “shock-horror” narrative of obesity at all levels of society and replace it by concrete actions.

We know what is required. Can our national governments show the necessary leadership and do what is necessary? The survival of the planet and the human race requires nothing less.

Homeostasis, Balance, Stability

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

Claude Bernard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

A Dangerous Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliff edge

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

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

By changing a single word ‘internal’ to its antonym, a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour is created.

Voila! –  “A General Theory of Behaviour” is born.

Striving for balance and equilibrium is the guiding force in all that we – and all other conscious beings – do, think and feel. This newly defined type of  homeostasis deserves a descriptive name: “Reset Equilibrium Function” (REF). This term describes exactly what the process does: it is a function that resets every runaway process to equilibrium.

All organisms automatically regulate essential physiological functions by homeostasis and it is a matter of everyday observation that drives are maintained in equilibrium by comportment, e.g. eating, drinking, fornicating, sleeping, excreting, etc. This type of homeostasis has been established since the time of Bernard. Far more than this, and as a matter of routine, without any special reflection in most instances, all conscious beings reconcile discrepancies among their thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and in the differences with those with whom they have social relationships.

Conscious organisms strive to achieve their goals while maximizing cohesion and cooperation with both kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or to minimize the suffering and pain of others. [Auxiliary Proposition (AP) 001].

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

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

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

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

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

A General Theory of Behaviour employs systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This hypothesis is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology.

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

Many examples of the REF featured in this book have a similar structure to that shown in Figure 1. However, there is no restriction on the number of participating processes or interconnected networks.

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Figure 1 The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes.

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

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

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

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

“We cannot reduce the biological, behavioural, and social levels to the lowest level, that of the constructs and laws of physics. We can, however, find constructs and possibly laws within the individual levels. The world is, as Aldous Huxley once put it, like a Neapolitan ice cream cake where the levels-the physical, the biological, the social and the moral universe-represent the chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla layers. We cannot reduce strawberry to chocolate – the most we can say is that possibly in the last resort, all is vanilla, all mind or spirit. The unifying principle is that we find organizational levels. The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found its expression in a civilization which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time. Possibly the model of the world as a great organization can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.” Von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 49.

Bene dictum.

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

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour.

Enjoying the Heat

My new book, A General Theory of Behaviour, begins with a story…

It is a hot summer’s day. A couple are on holiday at a hotel with an outdoor swimming pool. After breakfast, the couple decide to spend a lazy morning beside the pool sunning themselves, reading and swimming. They go to the far end of the pool, where they spot a quiet area about five metres from the only other couple by the pool. They align two recliners a few inches apart and place a small table on either side to mark ‘their’ area of occupation. They carve a niche for themselves by distributing towels and personal objects such as magazines, books, mobile phones, tablets, sun-cream, insecticide lotion, and bags on the tables. They discretely change into swimming costumes and place their clothes on the tables to avoid the ants that quickly gather around objects on the boardwalk. They apply sun-cream, helping each other at the more difficult-to-reach bodily regions. They apply an insecticide to deter any passing mosquitos. They wear sunglasses and sun hats. A large parasol is adjusted by a pool attendant to provide shade from the penetrating sun. As the angle of the sun changes, one of them rises to adjust the parasol so that their recliners remain in the shade.

The couple converse sparingly and rarely speak to the other couple. A ‘Good morning’ here and ‘The water’s nice’ there, but nothing else. They do not wish to invade the other couple’s ‘space’, nor do they wish ‘their’ space to be invaded. After half-an-hour acclimatizing, they take a leisurely 10-minute dip in the pool to ‘cool off’. They swim slowly and quietly, avoiding vigorous movements. After returning to their parasol, drying themselves off, re-applying the sun-cream and insecticide, they order iced cola drinks using a buzzer on one of the tables.

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After a few minutes, they take another dip, splash around, tease and joke. They make a little more noise and splashing than on the first occasion, but remain within appropriate limits. They terminate this visit to the pool when the other couple enters the pool because the pool is not large and they wish to avoid ‘over-crowding’. After a few polite comments about the water temperature, they swim to the steps and climb out, walk back to ‘their’ parasol in a gingerly fashion, because the board walk has by then grown so hot that they must step only where there can find shadows or expose their feet to burningly hot boards.

Standing in the shade, they dry themselves, re-apply the sun-cream and insecticide, put on their sunglasses and hats, lie down on their recliners and, flicking away an occasional fly, push the buzzer to order another iced drink, this time two gins and tonic. As the hour turns towards midday, the ambient temperature is become too hot to bear even in the shade and, after finishing their drinks, they pack their things and return to the tranquillity of their air-conditioned, freshly cleaned hotel room. Thirty degrees outside – but not a single droplet of sweat the whole morning.

Exactly what is going on in this story? How can Enjoying the Heat help us to understand universal principles of behaviour? Let’s consider these issues:

We know a lot of intimate detail about the couple’s behaviour. The couple are close. They mark out a niche of territory using the tables and their belongings. They lie out in the sun to be tanned but not burned, to be warm, but not too warm, to be out in the open air and close to nature, but not to be bitten by insects or run over by ants, to be as peacefully relaxed as possible but not wishing to fall asleep, to be stimulated but not taxed, to exercise their bodies but gently and not strenuously, to be refreshed by a drink or two but not to be intoxicated by alcohol, to be polite to neighbours but not overly familiar, and so on and so forth – you are getting the drift. The couple are striving for a state of equilibrium, a state of ‘moderation in all things’, a ‘tiny piece of paradise’, as it says in the hotel brochure. The couple’s every action and reaction as individuals and as a couple are governed by one universal principle that guides all of behaviour. Their behaviour illustrates the power and truth of a single idea, the hypothesis that, at root, all behaviour is an expression of homeostasis. The couple have never been aware of the idea, never even heard of it, yet it is a process that affects every single thing that they, you and I say, think, feel and do.

How can this possibly be so? A joke? A feat of magic? Or, worse yet, the author, publisher and reviewers are all living in la-la land?

None, some or even all of these ideas may be incorrect, but please bear with me and hear me out. This is the story of one particular hypothesis, a dangerous idea –a story with a plot, characters and an unexpected twist. I build the case as we go along, all I ask of you is that you ‘hang in there’…

An extract from: A General Theory of Behaviour

To be continued…