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Sandeep Gautam is a psychology and cognitive neuroscience enthusiast, whose basic grounding is in computer science.
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In my last post I had mentioned how Seligman and Peterson have tried to correlate their structure of human virtues/character strengths with work of other researchers like the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss et al. Today I wish to discuss in detail the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss et al.
Buss et al looked at data , using an 18 item preference ratings archival database, of about ten thousand people, from various cultures across the globe, and used the analysis strategy outlined by Bond to take care of different sample size from different cultures. they then applied the Principal component analysis to the refined data so obtained to determine the underlying structure of the mate preferences.
Their PCA analysis led to discovery of four dimensions all of which could be quantified as bipolar dimensions with one pole representing a different construct and another representing a sort-of-but-not-really opposed construct. For eg.,the first factor included loadings from ‘‘good financial prospects’’ (-0.65), ‘‘favorable social status or ratings’’ (-0.62), and ‘‘ambition and industriousness’’ (-0.41), each of which loaded negatively. The component also included ‘‘mutual attraction—love’’ (0.49), which loaded positively. They thus labeled this component ‘‘Love vs. Status/Resources.’’
Similarly the 3 other components were labeled “Dependable/Stable vs. Good Looks/Health”; “Education/Intelligence vs. Desire for Home/Children”; and “Sociability vs. Similar Religion”.
To my naive mind all of these bipolar dimensions seem to be separate constructs in themselves and I cannot fathom why dependable/stable should be taken as opposed to good looks/health. to me they seem sort of independent constructs. I would rather view the findings as eight separate poles than 4 bipolar dimensions with each dimension conflating two constructs/factors.
The paper immediately drew to my mind this paper, by Haslam et al, that while finding the underlying structure of positive characteristics, found three consistent bipolar dimensions using multi dimensional scaling. However, when the same data was subjected to cluster analysis, 6 factors were or clusters were apparent , each cluster being the pole of a single bipolar dimension. These 6 factors were “self-control,” “love,” “wisdom,” “drive,” “vivacity,” and “collaboration” which to my mind seems to map onto the virtues of self-restraint/temperance strengths, interpersonal or humanity strengths, intellectual or wisdom strengths, courage or emotional strengths , activity or vitality strengths and justice or civic strengths. Of course I think their MDS missed a fourth dimension which would have led to 8 clusters , the 2 remaining being religious and transcendence strengths.
Returning back to our current paper on universal mate preferences, I would like to break up the 4 dimensions into 8 factors and present them in a staged developmental order. It would be worthwhile to note that the two opposed dimensions are usually two adjacent stages following each other and may indeed reflect some conflict in mind of people as to which stage of mate preference to prefer based on their evolved natures . Here goes:
- first stage: Physical/biological : good looks/health
- second stage: will, restraint and control: dependable/stable.
- third stage: dominance/hierarchy, friends and foes: status/ resources.
- fourth stage: interpersonal: Love
- fifth stage: cognitive: education/ intelligence
- sixth stage: intimacy: desire for home/children.
- seventh stage: communicative/ generative: sociability
- eights stage: integrity, ingroup/outgroup: similar vs dissimilar religion.
Of course this is not the first time I have tried to put Buss’s findings in a 8 stage model; earlier I had tried to put his views on personality in a eight fold structure- whereby the last three stages of reproduction/evolution may be now characterized as biological, linguistic and cultural evolution. Anyway getting back to universal mate preferences, I can see that eight fold structure is found in the mate preferences too depending on which stage of preferences you have evolved/developed.
SHACKELFORD, T., SCHMITT, D., & BUSS, D. (2005). Universal dimensions of human mate preferences Personality and Individual Differences, 39 (2), 447-458 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.01.023
Haslam, N., Bain, P., & Neal, D. (2004). The Implicit Structure of Positive Characteristics Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30 (4), 529-541 DOI: 10.1177/0146167203261893
Continuing my theme of focusing on human character strengths and virtues and relating them to personality, I have been doing more reading of the literature and want to discuss three papers today.
First up is Shyrack et al’s recent paper that again explores the factor structure of VIA-IS and finds support for a 3 or 4 factor solution. They discuss the various conflicting/mutually supporting factor analytical results and the resulting 4 or 5 underlying components or factors. the VIA-youth scale consistently gives 4 factors while the VIA-Is (adult form) gives 5 factors.
However, I have issues with the samples on which the factor analysis is done. the mean age in Shyrack’s current study was 50 years approx, but in most other analysis, the analysis is conducted on university students. The age and developmental stage of the sample is important because as per a developmental stage perspective many of the virtues will not become manifest/ apparent and bloom in full strength until a particular age has been reached. for eg, till age 50 people have perhaps mastered the first 6 stages (including intimacy as per Erikson’s model) but still have not finished to satisfaction the developmental tasks of generativity (seventh stage) and integrity (eights stage). Not faced with any developmental challenges to these situations, the people may have lacked incentives to develop the corresponding virtues; thus I would not be surprised if people identify / relate to only at most 6 virtues. I would suggest that new tests be developed for post middle age and senior citizens than the normal adult scales and their data analyzed to understand the true factor structure of virtue. This is akin to their being different measurement instruments for children, adolescents and adults for character strengths and perhaps rightly they reflect different underlying factors thus validating a developmental stages approach. If analyzed this way I am sure the data for aged people will support a eight factor structure. Much of the data obtained from college students, in my view would only support 4 or 5 factor virtue structure.
Shyrack et al find support for 3 or 4 factor model, but based on a cursory look at their extraction using goldberg technique (see figure) I can extrapolate that a support for eight factor structure , with social strengths splitting in justice and humanity, and temperance splitting in temperance proper (restraint) and emotional strength. I hope someone perofmrs extraction till 8 factors and tries to label them, especially with aged poulation.
That bring me to Munro et al paper that also used undergraduate students as samples and performed factor analysis to come up with 5 factors ; however they also centered their data and after centration (to reduce social desirability effects). Their scree plot supported a 9 factor structure. See the scree plot that clearly shows at least eight factor (eigenvalues > 1) . to me it is not understandable why they left this centered data and instead went on to derive a five factor structure from the non-centered raw data.
That brings me to the last paper. It is by Cawley et al and is based on lexical analysis of virtue adjectives and nouns and also uses a different Virtue scale the Virtue Scale instead of VIA-IS. This approach too yielded a found fold structure (Empathy, Order, Resourceful, Serenity), but I believe there is much scope for more exploration with their data. However the best take home from the very insightful article is that virtue and ethics are separate. Virtue is related to being; while ethics is related to doing. Ethics is more cognitively grounded , especially the one gauged by DIT or Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas and is not related much to virtue which is more grounded in character or personality. And they found support for this in their data. That I believe is an important difference an finding to keep in mind. Also I liked this paragraph that lists the attributes that give rise to moral domain competency. To me they follow naturally , as stage tasks and issues , in reverse order as one undergoes moral development:emotions (1st stage), will (second stage) , motivation (3rd stage), Ethics (4th stage) and Virtue (5th stage).
The independence of this measure of the virtues and the personality measures from the more cognitive DIT measure of moral development may also reflect the independence of the mental (cognitive±intellectual) and moral (emotional±motivational) domains in psychology and philosophy (Averill, 1980). Averill observes that the mental domain evolved from studies of epistemology, while the moral domain (including personality) evolved from studies of virtue ethics, motivation, will, and emotion. Thus, from Averill’s observation, one would expect a measure of virtue to be more strongly related to measures of personality than to measures of cognitive moral development. Additional empirical data on the relationships among virtue, personality, moral cognitive development, and epistemological style can be found in Cawley (1997).
Also, I liked this para, that distinguishes between temperance proper (2nd stage doing with restraint) and Activity (7th stage that is more agentic):
McCrae and John (1992) also acknowledge that there are two components of Conscientiousness (C): an inhibitive view and a proactive view. They note that:
A number of di?erent conceptions of C have been o?ered. Tellegen’s Constraint and Hogan’s Prudence re¯ect an inhibitive view of C as a dimension that holds impulsive behavior in check. Digman and Takemoto-Chock’s Will to Achieve represents a proactive view of C as a dimension that organizes and directs behavior. The term Conscientiousness combines both aspects, because it can mean either governed by conscience or diligent and thorough. Empirically, both kinds of traits seem to covary. (p.197)
Perhaps the virtues factor Order represents the inhibitive, non-impulsive aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue, and the virtues factor Resourcefulness represents the proactive, diligent aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue (see also Johnson & Ostendorf, 1993).
Overall, I highly recommend reading the Cawley et al paper (available freely on the web) and encourage more research that utilizes multiple approaches to correlating Virtues with other constructs as outlined in this bit from munro et al:
In addition to developing their classification system, Peterson and Seligman (2004) have also suggested how their classification of character strengths and virtues is related to, but distinct from, already established theories of values. For example, Peterson and Seligman (2004) see their classification of character strengths and virtues as being related toMaslow’s (1973) idea of self-actualised individuals, the Five FactorModel (FFM) of personality (McCrae & John, 1992; Costa & McCrae, 1994), Cawley’s virtue factors (Cawley,Martin, & Johnson, 2000), Buss’ evolutionary ideas about what is attractive in a mate [i.e. what character traits are essential for survival and propagation, (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Shackelford, Schmitt, & Buss, 2005)], and Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values.
Some research into establishing the validity of these claims has begun. Haslam, Bain, and Neal 2004) found that both Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values and the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality were conceptually linked to the 24 character strengths. However, as these constructs were defined and subsequently measured by only one or two terms that were ranked and grouped together by participants on the basis of conceptual likeness, more thorough research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions.
Heer is toast to more such research!
Shryack, J., Steger, M., Krueger, R., & Kallie, C. (2010). The structure of virtue: An empirical investigation of the dimensionality of the virtues in action inventory of strengths Personality and Individual Differences, 48 (6), 714-719 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.007
MACDONALD, C., BORE, M., & MUNRO, D. (2008). Values in action scale and the Big 5: An empirical indication of structure Journal of Research in Personality, 42 (4), 787-799 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2007.10.003
CAWLEY, M., MARTIN, J., & JOHNSON, J. (2000). A virtues approach to personality1 Personality and Individual Differences, 28 (5), 997-1013 DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00207-X
Positive psychology is based on the premise that it is equally important to study what is good in life as it is to study what goes wrong. Positive psychology thus focuses on building and capitalizing on existing strengths of people while not focusing too much on their weaknesses, which has been focus of the traditional pathological view of humans.
Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, and Christopher Peterson, accordingly, have developed a Values In Action (VIA)-character strengths inventory and classification scheme to measure and classify the virtues or character strengths in a taxonomic system. It is a 240 items self-report measure that identifies 24 character strengths and orders them as per their predominance in a person’s life. These 24 character strengths are further classified in 6 broad virtues. I am reproducing teh 6 broad virtues and the 24 character strengths below:
- Wisdom and Knowledge– Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
- Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things
- Curiosity: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake
- Open-mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
- Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
- Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others
- Courage-Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
- Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
- Persistence: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles
- Integrity: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way
- Vitality: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing anything halfheartedly
- Humanity-Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
- Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which caring is reciprocated
- Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
- Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself
- Justice- Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
- Citizenship: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to a group
- Fairness: Treating all people the same according to the notions of fairness and justice
- Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done
- Temperance-Strengths that protect against excess
- Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ faults
- Humility/Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
- Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks
- Self-regulation: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined
- Transcendence-Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or
skilled performance in various domains of life
- Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
- Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
- Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people
- Spirituality: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe
- Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or
Seligman and Peterson arrived at these strengths via an esoteric route: they analyzed the major ethical and religious teachings of major eastern (Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism) and western (Judaism, Christianity, Athenian virtues and Islamic) religions and going by the authoritative texts of these religions tried to find universal and ubiquitous character strengths or virtues. They themselves and others performed factor analysis on their 240 item questionnaire, and data obtained from different people who answered the questionnaire, and obtained at different time 5 factor or 4 factor solutions.
Seligman and Peterson themselves identify the following five factors from exploratory factor analysis. :
- strengths of restraint (fairness, humility, mercy, prudence)
- intellectual strengths (e.g., creativity, curiosity, love of learning,appreciation of beauty)
- interpersonal strengths (e.g., kindness, love, leadership, teamwork,playfulness)
- emotional strengths (e.g., bravery, hope, self-regulation, zest)
- theological strengths (e.g., gratitude, spirituality)
Some other researchers found a four factor structure ( Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness) while some others have found related four or even one factor structure.
To my mind the original character strengths seem to follow the five/eight staged developmental/evolutionary model, especially when seen from the big 5/8 personality model , as follows:
- stage 1: related to emotions: personality trait neuroticism. character strength of Courage/Fortitude. Also known otherwise as emotional strength.
- stage 2: related to impulses/will: personality trait conscientiousness: character strength of Temperance. Also known otherwise as strength of restraint.
- stage 3: related to forming alliances and friendships and concerned with dominance/submission. the social domain and group dynamics. personality trait extraversion. character strength Justice. Leadership, fairness and citizenship are all civic strengths.
- stage 4: related to close interpersonal relations. personality trait agreeableness. : the personal and interpersonal domain. character strength humanity. Also known as interpersonal strength.
- stage 5: related to self-discovery and cognition; personality trait openness to experience. the cognitive and intellectual domain. character strength wisdom. also known as intellectual strengths .
- stage 6, 7 and 8 are qualitatively different and thus might have been clubbed into the transcendence/religiosity factor, but I believe as we evolve and understand better we would be able to classify the transcendence / religiosity factor into 3 separate factors and identify the individually. For a starter distinguishing amongst religiosity (trust vs distrust the sixth stage) and transcendence (the eighth stage) may be called for. Also, Todd Kashandan et al found that Vitality may be an apt name for the factor representing transcendence/religiosity and by vitality they meant Zest, hope humor etc all traits that are related to personality dimension of 7th stage viz Activity. thus I propose to split transcendence in 3 factors: one religious strengths ( stage 6 consisting of gratitude, hope); activity strengths (stage 7 consisting of Zest, humor, vitality etc) and transcendence strengths (stage 8 consisting spirituality, appreciation of beauty etc)
I would be on the lookout for the astute experimenter/observer who first fits the eight stage factor model to the character strengths and confirms the eight factor structure of character strengths and virtues and also relates them to underlying personality traits.
Seligman and Peterson have themselves tried to relate the character strengths to personality traits and so have been other recent attempts, but they will remain insufficient till the eight stage theoretical model is taken as a foundation. Seligman and Peterson note, in respect of the five factor structure they discovered using factor analysis:
What we call here strengths of restraint correspond closely to virtues of temperance; intellectual strengths correspond to virtues of wisdom and knowledge; interpersonal strengths collapse the virtues of humanity and justice ; emotional strengths correspond to virtues of courage; and the theological strengths are included among our transcendence virtues.
We also note that the first three factors here correspond to the Big Five factors of conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness; the fourth factor—emotional strengths—may correspond to the opposite of the Big Five factor of neuroticism. The fifth factor—theological strengths—has no Big Five counterpart.
I believe their attempts, and the attempts of other researchers will go futile, till the eight fold developmental/evolutionary model is taken as the theoretical bedrock on which to perform confirmatory factor analysis.
Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2005). Shared Virtue: The Convergence of Valued Human Strengths Across Culture and History. Review of General Psychology, 9 (3), 203-213 DOI: 10.1037/1089-26184.108.40.206
Brdar, I., & Kashdan, T. (2010). Character strengths and well-being in Croatia: An empirical investigation of structure and correlates Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (1), 151-154 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.12.001
There is a recent article in New Scientist about consciousness and its neural correlates and the article focuses on work of Stanislas Deheane and his colleagues and how they are trying to get evidence and proof for the Global workspace theory of consciousness as proposed by Beranrd Baars.
That led me to this excellent article by Raphaël Gaillard that uses iEEG (intracranial EEG) using electrodes placed in brain, but not doing single-cell recording but still working on aggregates but at a much higher spatial and temporal resolution than normal extra-cranial EEG. They used electrodes placed in epileptic patients undergoing surgery and determined the difference in neural activity during conscious and unconscious access.
For differentiating between the unconscious and conscious access they used the popular visual masking paradigm, whereby a target word is presented and then immediately afterwords (after a few ms only) a mask is presented; if the duration of stimuli presentation is less and it is immediately followed by a mask, then though the stimulus is processed unconsciously, it is not available for verbal report and is not processed consciously. In contrast, in the unmasked condition, the target is not followed by a mask and hence is available for conscious access. In the present experiment, the authors used a forward as well as a backward mask and also had a condition whereby a blank screen was present instead of target ; so that effects of processing target alone could be determined after subtracting the effect of masks. the paper is one access and very lucidly written so go have a look!
A quick detour: Bernard Baars global workspace theory posits that consciousness arises when neural representations of external stimuli, are made available wide spread to global areas of the brain and not restricted to the originating local areas. This has also been characterized as an attentional spotlight and whatever comes under the spotlight in global workspace, is widely visible to the rest of the audience (the other parts of the brain) and also gives rise to consciousness. In the absence of coming to focal awareness(spotlight), the processing/representation happens unconsciously by the many different parallel brain modules. Thus, while unconscious representations may arise in brain locally, to become conscious they need to become widespread and available to the entire (or most of) the brain. To boot:
We adopted a theory-driven approach, trying to test experimentally a set of explicit predictions derived from the global workspace model of conscious access. This model, in part inspired from Bernard Baars’ theory , proposes that at any given time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and process information in an unconscious manner [22,23,31,32]. Incoming visual information becomes conscious, however, if and only if the three following conditions are met : Condition 1: information must be explicitly represented by the neuronal firing of perceptual networks located in visual cortical areas coding for the specific features of the conscious percept. Condition 2: this neuronal representation must reach a minimal threshold of duration and intensity necessary for access to a second stage of processing, associated with a distributed cortical network involved in particular parietal and prefrontal cortices. Condition 3: through joint bottom-up propagation and top-down attentional amplification, the ensuing brain-scale neural assembly must “ignite” into a self-sustained reverberant state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain.
Based on this theoretical framework, the following hypothesis were developed:
Neurophysiological Predictions Derived from the Global Workspace Model
In the light of our model, the masked–unmasked contrast corresponds to a comparison between a visual representation satisfying only condition 1 and a representation satisfying all three conditions for conscious access listed above. The global workspace model therefore leads to the following four predictions.
Prediction 1: a common early stage of processing.
Both masked and unmasked words should evoke similar neural activity within an early time window, reflecting a fast feedforward sweep propagating from posterior to anterior cortices. In particular, invisible masked words should induce transient event-related responses along the ventral visual pathway, as assessed by iERPs and ERSP.
Prediction 2: a temporal divergence.
Following this initial common stage, only unmasked words should be associated with sustained effects. We thus predict a divergence in cortical activation for unmasked and masked words. Given that we contrasted heavily masked stimuli with unmasked stimuli, we expect a progressive buildup of the divergence between these two conditions. In the light of recent high-resolution scalp electroencephalogram (EEG) studies in visual masking and attentional blink paradigms, this temporal divergence is expected to occur within a 200–500-ms window [1,2].
Prediction 3: an anatomical divergence.
The activation of frontal and parietal areas, which are allegedly dense in global workspace neurons, should be particularly sensitive to consciously perceived words (see  and Figure 1 of  for explicit simulations of this property). Although masked words may cause a small, transient and local activation within these regions, we predict that unmasked words should elicit a global and long-lasting activation of these regions, corresponding to a broadcasting process.
Prediction 4: phase synchrony and causality.
During this late time window, the long-lasting and long-distance neuronal assembly specific to conscious processing should be associated with an intense increase in bidirectional interelectrode communication. Measures of phase synchrony and Granger causality should be particularly apt at capturing this phenomenon.
And this is exactly what they found. They found that upto 200 ms activity in the unmasked and masked condition did not differ significantly and represented an early stage of processing. In the 200-500 ms window (post stimulus onset), there was temporal divergence with there being long-distance beta synchrony, sustained amplitudes and power in gamma band and Granger causality in the unmasked case, but not in the masked case. Further, there was anatomical divergence, with the unmasked condition showing more occipitotemporal activation, while the unmasked condition showing global (and especially frontal) activation. Lastly while local beta synchrony and reverse feed back causality (accounted perhaps by top-down attentional factors that try to focus more given the masking) was associated with the masked condition, long distance beta synchrony and causal imbalance in the feed-forward direction was only found in the unmasked condition, thereby validating the claim that in the unmasked condition the posterior local representations weer made globally available to anterior regions as well (these are my very brief summaries, you should read the original freely available article for nuances and details).
This is how the authors conclude:
The main motivation of our study was to probe the convergence of multiple neurophysiological measures of brain activity in order to define candidate neural signatures of conscious access. Conscious word processing was associated with the following four markers: (1) sustained iERPs within a late time window (>300 ms after stimulus presentation); (2) sustained and late spectral power changes, combining a high-gamma increase, beta suppression, and alpha blockage; (3) sustained and late increases in long-range phase coherence in the beta range; and (4) sustained and late increases in long-range causal relations.
Our results suggest that in the search for neural correlates of consciousness, time-domain, frequency-domain, and causality-based electrophysiological measures should not be seen as competing possibilities. Rather, all of these measures may provide distinct glimpses into the same distributed state of long-distance reverberation. Indeed, it seems to be the convergence of these measures in a late time window, rather than the mere presence of any single one of them, that best characterizes conscious trials.
That brings me back to the new scientist article:
Dehaene’s group had already shown that distant areas of the brain are connected to each other and, importantly, that these connections are especially dense in the prefrontal, cingulate and parietal regions of the cortex, which are involved in processes like planning and reasoning.
Considering Baars’s theory, the team suggested that these long-distance connections may be the architecture that links the many separate regions together during conscious experience. “So, you may have multiple local processes, but a single global conscious state,” says Dehaene. If so, the areas with especially dense connections would be prime candidates for key regions in the global workspace.
Now it is well known that in autism there are more local connections and more local processing; while psychosis/ schizophrenia spectrum is marked by more long-distance connections/ activity. If so , it is not unreasonable to conclude that psychotics may have higher p-conscious experiences while autistics may be stuck at more lower A-conscious experiences. I proposed something like that in my post titled ‘what it is like to be a zombie‘ and you are strongly encouraged to go read it now.
Further we also know that default mode network is highly activated in psychosis and very less in activity in autistics and that is again converging proof. From the new scientist article:
Certain regions of the brain’s global workspace, dubbed the default mode network (DMN), are active even when we are resting and not concentrating on any particular task. If the global workspace really is essential for conscious perception, Laureys’s team predicted that the activity of the DMN should be greatest in healthy volunteers and in people with locked-in-syndrome, who are conscious but can only move their eyes, and much less active in minimally conscious patients. Those in a vegetative state or in a coma should have even less activity in the DMN.
The researchers found just that when they scanned the brains of 14 people with brain damage and 14 healthy volunteers using fMRI. In a paper published in December 2009, they showed that the activity of the DMN dropped exponentially starting with healthy volunteers right down to those in a vegetative state (Brain, vol 133, p 161). “The difference between minimally conscious and vegetative state is not easy to make on the bedside and four times out of 10 we may get it wrong,” he says. “So this could be of diagnostic value.”
While the DMN may be important marker for brain damaged patients, it also has the potential to become a marker for different feels of consciousness sin brain intact but differently wired brains like those of autistics and psychotics.
I believe one way of conceptualizing autism is as a diminishing of consciousness/ subjective experience; while that of psychosis as overabundance of consciousness/ subjective feeling. Maybe that is why shamans of all ages have been closely identified with the psychotic spectrum.
If autistics have more local processing, then perhaps they should be better at tasks involving unconscious stimuli: perhaps that’s why despite their savantic abilities , much of what happens in the autistic mind is not only non-verbal , but also non-conscious and hence not juts not available for verbal report, but not accessible to consciousness.
I strongly feel that adding the consciousness dimension to autism/schizophrenia spectrum may be a good thing and lead to more clarity and new directions in research.
Gaillard, R., Dehaene, S., Adam, C., Clémenceau, S., Hasboun, D., Baulac, M., Cohen, L., & Naccache, L. (2009). Converging Intracranial Markers of Conscious Access PLoS Biology, 7 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000061
Attention can be focused or it can be diffused. Attentional focus has been shown to be affected by mood or affect; with positive affect leading to a broadening of attentional focus; and negative affect, in general been shown to be associated with a narrowing of focus.
However, Gable and Harmon-Jones argue that emotion or affect is not a uni-dimensional construct, but has at least two dimensions: affective valence- i.e. whether it is felt as pleasurable or dis-pleasurable; and motivational direction- i.e. the action tendency to approach or avoid in pursuit of a preventive/promotional goal.
Much work on emotions has emphasized that they have a number of underlying dimensions. Two dimensions that have received considerable attention are affective valence, the felt pleasure or displeasure, and motivational direction, the action tendency associated with a particular emotional state—approach or withdrawal. Approach motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to go toward an object, whereas withdrawal motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to move away from an object.
They also argue that much of the extant literature on emotion-attention linkage has focused on emotional valence alone, with just one type of motivational direction, and thus has not clarified the (in)dependent role of valence and motivational direction as regards to attention.
Thus, for e.g., the finding that positive emotions lead to broadening of attention is focused on such research as emotions of joy, contentment etc that are low in approach motivation and are emotions felt after the goal has been reached.
Similarly, the research that has found that negative emotions lead to narrowing of focus have relied on emotions such as fear, anger etc that are high in withdrawal motivation and are pre-goal.
I believe, it is important to step back a little here and go back to our conception of happiness-ennui (mental well-being) continuum and sadness-mania (mental illness) continuum. Another way to conceptualize them is to see sadness having negative valence and low withdrawal motivation – it is passive; mania as having positive valence and high approach motivation- mania is characterized by immense desire for a goal and is pre -goal. Happiness is post goal emotion and is characterized by positive valence and low approach motivation- you have already reached the goal and do not need to exert much efforts in goal directed activity; ennui/boredom/listlessness is negative in valence and has high withdrawal motivation- it is pre-goal- a search for a worthwhile goal.
Another way to make the difference stark is employ the terminology of Berridge et al: happiness is related to liking and the opioid system; while mania is related to wanting and the dopamine system. Depression/sadness is related to disliking /feeling pain while ennui/boredom is related to dreading the outcome/feeling anxious (nothing to do and hence life is useless/meaningless!..anxiety but existential anxiety). Berridghe et al have shown that wanting/liking and dreading/disliking differ and have different neural and neurochemichal correlates.
To become a little philosophical, the wanting/disliking mental illness continuum leading to mania or depression in extremes is to be avoided (thus the dictum of all religions to shun desire/ be stoic) while the happiness-ennui/boredom/existential anxiety system is more preferable where you focus on liking positive outcomes and dreading negative/neutral ones. While the former, to paraphrase Freud, is the hysterical misery at worst, the latter is common unhappiness at worst.
But anyway that was long detour. Lets get back to the studies by Gable et al.
In the first study, the authors showed that motivational direction was relevant and was the reason behind the positivity-broadening of attentional focus effect. they showed that positive emotions lead to broadening of attention only in low approach motivation condition; but when the positive emotion had high approach motivation (emotions like desire. engagement etc), the positive affect lead to narrowing of focus.
Now a brief detour into methodology: the attentional focus is usually measured using local-global tasks whereby it is determined whether one is paying attention to global features or local features of an ambiguous/mixed stimuli. For eg, the most popular of these consists of a global big H made up of smaller (say 5 in number) F’s and then determining whether the subject notices the global H or the local F. Details can be seen in the Gable papers which are open access.
Now the authors found robust support for their hypothesis that it is the motivational direction and not affective valence that determines the attentional focus. They also relate it to adaptivity.
Positive affects, particularly those low in approach motivation, suggest a comfortable, stable environment and allow for a broadening of attention and cognition, which may serve adaptive functions (Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 2001). However, broadening does not occur when positive affects are high in approach motivation. Such positive affects often encourage specific action tendencies, such as tenacious goal pursuit, and an associated reduction in attentional breadth. This reduced attentional breadth may prove adaptive, as it assists in obtaining goals.
They also extend these finding to negative affects and depression etc and I can easily relate them to earlier work I have covered regarding the danger or safety of environment and promotional/ preventive focus:
Together with past research, the present research supports the idea that low- and high-approach-motivated positive affect produce opposite effects on attentional breadth. It is possible that the intensity of withdrawal motivation exerts similar attentional effects; that is, low-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause broadening, whereas high-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause reduction in breadth. Indeed, such an interpretation would fit with past research. For example, individuals with depression, a low-intensity motivation, are more creative than nondepressed individuals (Andreasen, 1987) and show broadening of attention and memory (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005). In the case of low-motivated negative affects such as sadness and depression, “a more open, unfocused, unselective, low-effort mode of attention would prove not deficient but, on the contrary, beneficial” (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005, p. 456), as one disengages from a terminally blocked goal and becomes open to new possibilities (Klinger, 1975). The past research that found negative affect caused decreased attentional breadth may have evoked negative affective states that were high in withdrawal motivation (e.g., fear; Gasper & Clore, 2002).
This brings me to their current paper , aptly titled , The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows, that found exactly the effect hypothesized above that sadness/depressive mood was related to broadening of attention, while disgust, a negative emotion with high withdrawal motivation was related to narrowing of focus. they also found that the effect of negative emotion was mediated by arousal which could stand as a proxy for motivational direction.
These two experiments revealed that the relationship between negative affect and attentional precedence is more complex than commonly thought. In line with past theory and evidence, Experiment 2 demonstrated that negative affect caused a narrowing of attention. However, this narrowing occurred only when negative affect was high in motivational intensity. When negative affect was low in motivational intensity, in Experiment 1, it caused a broadening of attention. These results are consistent with the idea that the effect of emotion on local/global precedence is not due to negative versus positive affect, but is instead due to motivational intensity. Positive and negative affects of low motivational intensity broaden attention, whereas positive and negative affects of high motivational intensity narrow attention.
To me this is sufficient, clinching and converging proof of the theories I have been trying to develop with regards to emotions (specifically mania, depression, happiness and despair) and make clear that there are at least two dimensions to happiness/sadness and mental well being/illness constructs. Perhaps if we start liking what we have and stop coveting or wanting more, we have a philosophical, religious, as well as now a psychological, blueprint for how to lead the good life and how to avoid a living hell.
Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2010). The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows: Attentional Consequences of Negative Affects Low and High in Motivational Intensity Psychological Science, 21 (2), 211-215 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609359622
Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2008). Approach-Motivated Positive Affect Reduces Breadth of Attention Psychological Science, 19 (5), 476-482 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02112.x