Emotions and Motivations

I have written a series of posts about emotions and personality and regular readers will know my fascination and commitment to the eight basic emotions perspective. I have also written about the four fundamental drives/ motivations; as a matter of fact my Psychology Today blog was titled The Fundamental Four. Today I wish to connect the dots.

Till today, I myself was confused as to what is a motivational subsystem and what is an emotional subsystem and if my blog posts conflated the two and created confusions, I apologize. I have now come to believe that emotions are the reading by our mind of how our body is doing. This needs some unpacking.

The somatic marker theory of Damasio, and others, is inline with this formulation that there are brain areas that keep track of how the body is doing and if the body is say geared to flee a predator- then a corresponding feeling of fear may be felt by the mind. Feelings are conscious emotions and the subject of this post. The eight basic emotions to recap are Interest, Fear, Lust/ Wonder, Disgust, Love, Anger , Joy and Sadness. The emotions may even be conceptualized as indicators of bodily needs: eg. Disgust signifying the need of the body to close off / get away from source of disgust.

Motivations, or the basic fundamental drives, on the other hand are drives that help us cope with problems in living: These are to SURVIVE , REPRODUCE, TAKE-CARE-OF-YOUNG-ONES and to THRIVE. All the steps are essential to pass on our genes to the next generation- if say we don’t take care of our young ones then our genes do not live on. So evolution has built in these four basic drives in us. These drives are action-focused: they are intentional and *about* the world; they are mechanisms via which we get our needs met. They are primed action tendencies that tilt us to act one way or the other, out in the world.

Most of us when we think about motivation think of Maslow’s needs. They are conceptualized at a higher level- the level I am taking about is the most fundamental, the most basic. Panksepp has talked about that level, but he wrongly called such neurocircuits as affective subsystems, while they should be called drives/ motivational systems to reduce confusion.

Lets unpack this a bit. SURVIVE system in an ideal world should be about finding food and nutrition to grow and maintain ones’ bodily composition. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world, so predators loom large and survival also becomes about avoiding them. However the underlying drive/ need is the same to preserve, maintain and grow ones body. Some people have focused on maintaining bodily integrity or avoiding dangers/ predators as having primary significance and thus focused more on FEAR ; I however think that’s mistake. The drive is primarily about finding nutrients for self and because in the search for food, you are likely to come across predators, secondarily about avoiding them once you encounter them.

Thus the primary neurocircuit for SURVIVAL is the SEEKING system: it is primary in the sense that it is the default program of the self when it comes to survival. It primarily enabled foraging behavior, but since then has been coopted for finding knowledge (learning) etc too and is marked by curiosity, exploration, learning, pattern finding, meaning making etc.

While searching for food (either hunting or gathering) you are likely to come in contact with a predator; at that time only the FEAR/predator avoidance system kicks in and focuses actions and body for that specific task. At least that is the purpose for which this system evolved.

The primary neurocircuit for REPRODUCTION is LUST/Seducing system. When one is in the grip of this circuit/drive one flirts, seduces, and tries to mate with conspecifics.

While trying to copulate with as many con-specifics as possible, a danger of getting infected with STD looms large. My hunch is that DISGUST evolved as a means to avoid STD’s/ be picky and selective while choosing.

The primary neurocircuit for TAKE-CARE-OF-LOVED-ONES is CARE. It evolved so that parents can take care of their children, but sine then has been coopted for taking care of all vulnerable entities.

The secondary neurocircuit comes into play because of cuckolding. While one wants to take care of ones genuine offsprings, one doesn’t want to be cuckolded and displays aggression towards the weakling which in not of self. This is the RAGE circuit.

The primary neurociruit for THRIVING is PLAY. It evolved so that we can form social bonds/ rise up the hierarchy by building coalitions and alliances.

While playing and rising up the social ladder, there is a risk of aggression by the alpha male or the risk of losing existing ties and suffering losses. This manifests as the PANIC/ separation distress system.

How do the (eight basic) emotions and the (eight basic) motivations interact? It might be tempting to assume that each motivational circuit is associated with one emotion/ feeling; however that would be a mistake. We first need to understand that emotions come in pairs (interest-fear, wonder-disgust, love-anger and joy-sadness) ; we also need to appreciate that the motivational circuits form opponent processes such that if FEAR is activated, SEEKING is suppressed etc. with that background lets forge ahead.

Feelings modulate motivations/drives. They either initiate and sustain the corresponding motivational circuit or suppress and stop it. Thus they are either inhibitory or excitatory in their effect.

Take SEEKING. If your body is feeling interest (is in a state of interest) it is more likely to explore or activate the SEEKING system. On the other hand if the body is feeling fear, it will suppress the SEEKING system. And how does the body gets into a state of interest/ fear? In the most general case its by cognitive appraisal of outside events/ stimulus. Lets take novelty, say a rat placed in a novel environment. The rat can either see that novel environment as interesting and thus get curious and explore; or it can see the novelty as frightening, get fearful and stop exploring. Thus the cognitive appraisal we make induce emotions that either inhibit or excite the motivational circuits.

Lest take another example: Take PLAY. Feelings of joy will increase likelihood of playing; while being in a sad mood will decrease playful behavior. Or take PANIC: feelings of sadness will tilt the probability of panicking , while being in a joyful mood will buffer against panic.

Or take CARE . Appraising a vulnerable dependent/weakling as in group leads to feelings of love and compassion leading to activation of CARE; appraising the same person as outgroup leads to feelings of anger over why I need to support him/her and lead to suppression of CARE.

Or take LUST. Thinking someone as attractive leads to feelings of wonder about what the person is like and activate flirting/seducing behavior aka LUST. However, thinking of the person as unattractive/ugly leads to feelings of disgust and deactivation of LUST system.

I think by now, it should be clear how the emotions and motivations are connected. In the next post I will be extending this emotions/ motivations linkage forward to personality traits and psychological disorders.

I was inspired on this line of thought while doing the FutureLearn course ‘What Is A Mind’ by Mark Solms and would like to express my gratitude to him as well as the late Jaak Panksepp.

Introducing GLEO: SandyG’s Positive Tetrad

Most of you would be familiar with Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad also known as the Negative Triad. To recap, a depressed person is characterized by negative views about the self, negative views about the world and negative views about the future.

Guilt, shame, worthlessness, not accepting the self are all aspects of negative views about the self, which I conveniently relabel as self-loathing. It can even be conceived that these self concepts are closer to a neurotic belief system.

Similarly, being pessimistic and having a sense of hopelessness, is what can be thought of as having negative views about the future. Learned helplessness, an explanatory model of depression, is more aligned with this aspect.

That leaves us with negative views about the world. Items that measure it include “No one values me” or “People ignore me all the time”; items that talk more about negative views about other people rather than world at large. Also we know that depression is characterized by rumination or repetitive negative brooding over the past. So my humble submission is that its better to break this negative views about the world into two components: one about negative views about other people and the other about negative views about the past/ present.

So, Cynicism or cynical hostility, which is characterized by cynicism, distrust, resentment, and suspicion, would be what is dysfunctional in depression as far as negative views about others is concerned. There is some evidence that high scores on cynical hostility raises the odds of being depressed 5 times the general population.

And that leaves us with the last of factors that affect depression: bitterness or negative views about the past/ present. There is an automatic negative tendency to see past as full of regrets and losses and missed opportunities and this leads to rumination and sustaining of sad mood and depression.

This however means that Beck’s triad is no longer a triad but has become a tetrad. This needs to be empirically verified but I’m sure it will be a useful construct.

Most important, from the perspective of this post is how we can flip these unconscious, negative automatic thoughts and replace them with positive automatic thoughts/ habits so as to immunize and buffer us against depression (and other disorders) . So with some fanfare I introduce SandyG’s Positive Tetard.

Self-esteem, self-efficacy, self worth, self acceptance etc are all positive processes and indicators that one has a positive view of self. Like the other three components of GLEO/Positive tetrad, these all can be developed and are state like/ trait like and not fixed in nature. Bandura for eg. has elaborated extensively on how self efficacy can be developed. Rosenberg similarly has focused on self-esteem. The E of GLEO comes from this component (self Esteem/Self Efficacy). Developing this buffers against self-loathing and is thus a protective factor.

Optimism (generalized expectancy as well as learned optimism) and hope (wills and ways) are positive processes and indicators that one has a positive view of future. Optimism interventions like Best possible future selves exercise leads to increase in optimism and again helps buffer against depression/ other disorders. The O in GLEO come from Optimism. This protective resource can again be built.

Love, compassion, kindness and altruism all come form a place where others are trusted and one has positive views about others. Interventions like loving-kindness mediation or random acts of kindness can increase the social support one feels and thus buffer against depression/ other disorders. The L in GLEO comes from Love. Other people matter and to build social support you have to start by trusting/ loving others.

That leaves us with the G in GLEO. It stands for Gratitude. Thankfulness, feeling blessed and grateful all lead to a positive view or interpretation of what has happened in the past or is continuing to happen in present. Gratitude interventions like counting your blessings or a gratitude visit leads to noticing and appreciating the good that has happened and continues to happen. This acts as a strong antidote to feelings of bitterness and buffers against depression.

Taking a bird’s eye view, sadness driven by ruminating on past events leads to depressive disorders and can be prevented by gratitude interventions. Fear driven by apprehension of future events leads to anxiety disorders and can be buffered against by optimism/ hope interventions. Anger driven by cynical hostility towards others leads to aggression(intermittent explosive disorder)/ conduct disorders and can be protected against by cultivating kindness/ compassion etc. Finally, disgust (with self ) that may be driven by self-loathing may lead to neuroses / impulsive and compulsive disorders (OCD, personality disorders etc) and can be prevented by developing self esteem, self compassion etc. I know this is slightly conjectural, but I have good reasons to extend this tetrad beyond depression.

Finally, how this new concept of GLEO/SandyG’s Tetrad compare to existing constructs like HERO/PsyCap and the ‘light triad‘ ?

HERO/PsyCap I believe is limited by its focus on work domain. It gets the Hope/Optimism and Self-Efficacy part right but stops short. Self-concept should include more things like self esteem and adding gratitude and love to the model makes it many fold strong and in a sense equivalent to my model as Luthans is explicit that PsyCap is state like and can be developed. However, I see of GLEO as more processes than as either trait like or state like.

‘Light Triad’ on the other hand is posited as opposed to the ‘dark triad’ and is more or less a personality trait construct. Perhaps, Cynicism is a milder and passive form of the dark triad and Love/compassion/altruism is the milder form of the light triad. I think of it in these terms, but I may be mistaken.

I am excited to unveil this model; does this resonate with you? Should we all cultivate GLEO as a path to glee and happiness?

How Do I Matter to Thee, Let Me Count The Ways!

I recently came across an article by Andrew Reece, Martin Seligman, Roy Baumeister, Barry Schwartz et al on Mattering which argued that in work/organizational contexts, action-based mattering is the way to go and it is more associated with feelings of self-efficacy rather than self-esteem. That made me look up the sparse literature on Mattering and I spent a few happy hours down that rabbit hole.

What I am proposing below, however, is my own classification of how someone can matter, after taking into account existing concepts and frameworks.

Why is mattering important? Unless we have a sense that we matter, we may not have any desire to live life fully, or to live life at all. So its very important that we ensure that each person on this planet has a sense of mattering.

What are the different ways one can end up with a feeling that one matters? We can start with action based mattering, a feeling that our actions have impact on the world around us, the form of mattering that Marty et al emphasize in their article. This type of mattering is more associated with the domain of WORK or TASK. If one has healthy forms of this mattering then one believes that one can successfully accomplish tasks and that ‘I have some impact‘; if one lacks this type of mattering then the thought is that ‘I don’t have any impact‘. While the former thought leads to self-assurance or confidence or agency, the latter thought leads to helplessness. On the other hand excessive forms of this mattering, including thoughts like ‘Only I have a vast impact‘ lead to dominance/ dictatorship. While the outcome of this sort of mattering is self-assurance, the process involves having and demonstrating self-efficacy.

The second way one can matter, as per extant literature is feeling based mattering. This type of mattering is more associated with OTHERS and how they perceive us. If one has healthy forms of this mattering, then one believes that others recognize and have respect for him/her and believe he/she is a person of importance. He/she has thoughts like ‘ I am recognized by others‘ ; if one lacks this type of mattering the negative self talk is that ‘I am not recognized by anybody‘. The former leads to feelings of self-esteem while the latter leads to feelings of invisibility/marginalization/ being ignored. Excessive forms of this mattering however are pathological and one has the thought that ‘Only I am recognized by all‘. This has the signature of Narcissism, entitlement and spoiled brats written all over it. While the desired outcome is that of a healthy self-esteem, the process by which this is achieved is by receiving (unconditional) regard by others.

The third way that one can matter is by what I call motive based mattering. This is associated with the domain of WORLD or our LIFE as a whole. The important thing here is whether others are dependent on us or expect some things form us and whether that tenuous link by which others depend on us can provide us with a sense of mattering. This will be most apparent in contexts where people depend on us for some help, say our children, who may, or may not, be technically our dependents. In the healthy forms the self-talk goes that ‘I am needed by someone‘; while in the case where this form of mattering is absent, the talk goes ‘I am not needed by anyone‘ ; the former leads to feelings of being self-responsible, the latter is likely to be associated with feeling useless / redundant. Excessive forms will have the self-talk ‘ Only I am needed by everyone‘ and will have a sense of weariness and delusion associated with it. while the desired healthy outcome in this form of mattering is having a good sense of self-responsibility (responsibility internalized and not conceived of as external like duty), the process by which this is achieved is recognizing that others depend on us.

The last way, as per me, that people, can still feel that they matter is by belief based mattering. This type of mattering is associated with SELF or more specifically how healthy is our self concept. We all have various conceptualizations of how we are as a person. This is independent of whether we are contributing in the external world, whether others respect us or whether others depend on us. Some of us believe in the self-talk ‘ I am worthy, no matter what‘; while others believe ‘I am not worthy at all or was ever‘. The former will lead to mattering characterized by having self-worth, while the latter is characterized by thoughts of inferiority. Excessive mattering of this sort however will be of the form ‘Only I am worthy forever‘ and will be associated with feelings of superiority. The desired outcome of course is believing that you have self-worth, but the process by which you arrive there is self-acceptance.

Again, why is all this important? As you can easily see if anyone loses his sense of mattering and starts believing that he/she is either helpless, ignored, useless or inferior and these feelings accumulate over time and persist than bad outcomes like sub-optimal flourishing are a given and drastic steps like suicide are a possibility. Thus, our immense responsibility to ensure that people around us feel as if they matter.

Make other people matter. Period.

Extending Ikigai: The 6P framework

Most people are familiar with the Japanese concept of Ikigai or what makes you jump out of your bed in the morning and enables you to look forward with joy to the work activities of the day.

In a nutshell, its finding the sweet spot between what you are good at, what you love doing, what the word needs and what the world can pay you for. Today I want to extend this framework when it comes to thinking about why one works and why one should, or indeed does, choose one career over another.

Before proceeding ahead I will like to quickly recap the job, career, calling distinction made by Amy Wrezesnewicki when it comes to attitudes towards work. The particular orientation one has towards work has implications for motivation etc a succinctly summarized in image below:

Now, what I propose is a 6P framework of thinking about what factors should or do affect career choice: Pay, Pleasure, Power, Potential, Purpose and Passion. I claim that people with a job orientation would be driven by Pay and Pleasure; those with career orientations by Power and Potential ; while those having primarily a calling orientation would be driven by Purpose and Passion.

But to appreciate that claim we need to drill down into what the 6P’s stand for.

Pay is about providing for the basic necessities of life: in an ideal career choice, it should provide enough so that basic necessities are taken care of and money in not the top-of-the-mind concern. When you are primarily motivated by Pay to the exclusion of other needs than it becomes problematic. But while you are driven by Pay for your career choices you are primarily in job orientation and do not derive that much satisfaction/ happiness form your work.

Pleasure is all about having a comfortable and relaxed work schedule and atmosphere; one wants to do stress free work as far as possible; viewed from another angle you want to do work you enjoy on a daily basis. Your guidance for selecting or remaining in a career would be whether you love what you do. I would argue that one is still in job orientation and focusing on hygiene factors or at best perks that do not lead to lasting fulfillment.

Power is the desire to wield influence over others and to be recognized by others as being a person of high status. One looks forward to roles sand responsibilities which are prestigious and provide opportunities to showcase one’s skills and abilities. Having power does lead to more satisfaction/ better health as evidenced by the ill health and unhappiness amongst those who are not in a position of power in an organization. Many people get a real dopamine boost from thinking how big a team size they manage or how many people report to them.

Potential as I refer to it here is the ability of the job to tap into your inherent potential and capabilities and provide growth opportunities. Some jobs are dead end jobs- may give you good money, be comfortable and even have power associated, but they do not grow you as a person/ professional. How one can char a personal career roadmap where one is growing is top of the mind for many people while choosing / sticking with careers. Here they are functioning primarily in career orientation as they do when driven by Power.

Purpose is all about finding the work meaningful and being able to feel useful and contributing. Meaningfulness arises form working towards a cause bigger than oneself where one make a difference in the real world around them. People who are guided by purpose, its my thesis will be primarily having a calling orientation for work and assume a higher purpose behind whatever they choose to devote their time to.

Passion is about being driven by things that are aligned with your deepest values and motivations and which again you feel called for. You are so invested in those activities and have become so passionate about them, that that work has become your second nature. Passion that you have cultivated, and which is aligned with your values, makes work energizing and deeply rewarding- it may not be fun always but you will persevere and see it through and have a satisfaction when done.

You can also see that while Pay, Power and Purpose are focused on the outer world and slightly dependent on external factors, Pleasure, Potential and Passion are more related to our inner world and more in our control.

So what do you think of this extended framework? Would it guide your career choice henceforth? Which factor do you prioritize as of now? Which would you like to prioritize in the future?

Self at the Intersection of Drives and Norms

Self is the apparently unified entity that has conscious awareness of one’s actions and experiences- it is both an agent who is acting in the world willfully and an entity that is absorbing experiences passively.

By some accounts self is socially constructed- it is to be found in the web of relationships and consensual meaning and attributions. By other accounts self is innate and unfolds over developmental time frame.

To me there are at least two aspects of the self- we are born with a hodgepodge of inner drives and instincts, and over the developmental period learn to control or regulate those instincts in the service of our future self. We intuitively construct a continuous self that will exist in future too and for whose sake we need to regulate our drives and instincts so as to maximize benefits to our overall continuous self.

For this to really succeed, we need to bring the inner drives and instincts to conscious awareness, and once we are aware of what is driving us, we can then take a conscious call of whether to continue giving expression to that urge and rive or to retrain and regulate it. The efforts are thus to make unconscious material conscious and accessible. One can think of this as controlling the id.

The other aspect of self is that due to socialization we are exposed to various norms and expectations of the society and being a social creature are supposed to honor those norms/ implicit contracts. Initially this takes the form of conscious adherence to group norms as deviation from these could be deadly for survival. A social self develops that is sensitive to these nuances and regulates its behavior accordingly. Slowly however a better alternative is to internalize these social norms and make them unconscious or part of ones habitual repertoire. The movement here is from explicit conscious awareness to implicit unconscious internalization. A movement from social roles to personal responsibility. On can think of this as being controlled by the superego.

While at one frontier the self is being squeezed from promiscuous inner drives expression (where we give expression to all our inner urges ) to more responsible inner drive suppression (when the inner drives do not serve the future self ) , constantly moving the unconscious inner cauldron into conscious awareness; on the other side the self is being squeezed from conforming and complying to all social norms to a more value guided selective internalization, constantly moving the conscious to unconscious.

Thus while the self itself is mostly conscious it is constantly balancing between allowing expression to drives versus self-regulating them and also between complying with social conditioning versus self-surrendering to values that it holds dear. Both the processes of self regulation / self determination and internalization/ self-surrendering are important in having a solid and functional sense of self. The former can also be conceived of as a drive towards autonomy while the latter a drive towards homonomy.

If all our behavior was instinct or inner drive driven, we wouldn’t really need to invent something like a self – however as we do regulate our impulses and behavior we need to posit a self that is in charge. Similarity, if all we did was as per a social script, role playing what society expects us to , we wont have a need for self; precisely because we internalize selectively as per our value system, we need to posit a self who wants to act in concordance with itself.

A similar extension can be made about our understating of the world. The world exists (in our minds) at the intersection of experimenting and theorizing. We manipulate in the foreground to either learn about the world, or to operate upon it for our purposes. The idea is to control the environment. Each such interaction is a mini experiment either confirming or nonconforming our model of the world. Here we show a task focus and are more focused on a specific aspect / part of the world.

We also understand the data gathered by either assimilating and making sense of that data using existing schemas; or when we are not able to make sense, we overhaul our schemas by accommodating new information. In the former case we are on lookout for patterns that match our models and in the second case we are on lookout for detecting new patterns (and models) altogether. Familiarity detection and novelty detection being the mechanisms of note here. Here we are concerned with the overall context or the background or the gestalt.

Lastly one can note that while self -regulation aspect of self is closely related to autonomy need of SDT, self-surrendering aspect of self is related to relatedness need of SDT. Similarly, experimenting mode of world interactions, is related to mastery/ competence need of SDT while theorizing mode is related to meaning/contribution need of SDT, as extended by me.

What else do you think makes up the self? Or is it just a balance between self -regulation and internalization? Do share your thoughts and atart a conversation!

Perseverance : filmy style!

I am on a mission to create Bollywood as well as Hollywood playlists for all the 24 VIA strengths and also make a list of Hindi and English movies related to that strength theme. I recently started working on Gratitude and one my dear friends Vivek Mohile asked if I can share whatever I have compiled till now?

This is an amazing intiative Sandeep. As a Strengths Coach I would love to explore your collection and see how it is an additional dimension that can help people better connect with their Strengths— ViM (Vivek Mohile) (@vivekmohile100) July 6, 2019

So I decided to share this work in progress more widely, starting with the strength of Grit/Perseverance. My gratitude to all my Facebook and Twitter friends who have contributed to this collection. My hope is that The Mouse Trap readers will join them in recommending some more great stuff.

So here is English Songs playlist in no particular order for Grit:

First off, my favorite which I used to listen to while preparing for IIT JEE back in the 90’s. Never Say Die by Cliff Richrad

Next, Fight Song by Rachel Platten:

Next up, Greatest by Sia

And then, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

Next I would like to list the egnlish movies with grit or perseverance with the theme.

  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The terminal
  • Life is beautiful
  • The pursuit of Happyness
  • The Martian
  • Alive
  • 127 hours
  • Gattaca

Now lets get into some Bollywood mood. Here are some songs inspiring grit:

Soorma Anthem:

Chak De India:

Chale chalo (Lagaan):

Mitwa (Lagaan)

Besabriyaan (M.S. Dhoni)

Ziddi Dil (Mary Kom)

Zinda (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag):

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag title song

Dangal Title track:

Kar har maidan fateh (Sanju):

Yun hi chala chal (Swades):

Sapnon se bhare naina (luck by chance):

Tu naa jaane aas paas hai khuda (anjaan anjaani):

Jo jeeta wahi sikandar title track:

Yeh Safar (1942 a love story):

Yeh honsla (dor):

Lakshya title track:

Ruk jaan nahin (Imtihaan):

Jeevan se na haar o jeenewale (Door ka rahi):

Zindage ki yahi reet hai (Mr India):

Zindagi har kadam ek nayi jung hai (meri jung):

And now for Hindi gritty movies list:

  • M.S. Dhoni
  • Mary Kom
  • Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
  • Soorma
  • Chak De
  • Maanjhi
  • Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Of course I am compiling many other things too like real life exemplars or paragons of strengths and would love to hear form you about them as well as which are your go-to songs and movies when you want to get determination back?

The Algorithm of The Brain

I know that the computer metaphor does not do justice to the brain, but can we conceivably come up with a universal algorithm in how the brain processes stimuli and reacts/responds to them? Further, can we then tie up those algorithmic sub-modules to actual neural subsystems/structures and neurotransmitter systems as substantiated in the physical brain?

That is what I intend to do today, but first let us list our very basic algorithm of how the brain processes stimuli and responds to it. Consider it like a flowchart with each step there being made a decision. At each step that is numbered 1, nothing further happens; at each step numbered 2, further 2 choices are available.

  1. Stimuli comes!
    1. Ignore?
    2. Attend?
      1. Unimportant?
      2. Important?
        1. Default response?
        2. Choose response?
          1. Unfeasible?
          2. Feasible?
            1. Execute response!

Now, let me unpack this a bit. The first step for the purposes of this post is an incoming stimulus. When the stimuli comes we (the brain) can be in different levels of alertness and lookout for incoming stimuli; thus the brain may miss or detect the stimuli. We may be in neuro-vegetative states like sleep and feeding and may be relaxing and miss on both threatening as well rewarding stimuli. Or we can be in a vigilant mode either on lookout for danger or say alert while ready to pounce on prey. A Vigilance system can be reliably conjectured to underlie this and indeed Locus Coerelus- Nor epinephrine (LC-NE) system may just be exactly that system that makes us alert and inhibits neuro vegetative states. Another brain structure relevant here is Amygdala which is popularly known for its role in detecting threatening stimuli, but is involved in pleasant stimuli detection too. Hypersensitiveness of this system can conceivably lead to anxiety at one end (constant lookout for trouble) and addiction (constant lookout for possible gains) at the other. One can also extend this line of reasoning and posit that differential sensitivity of this system may underlie the personality trait of Neuroticism.

Once you have noticed or attended to a stimuli what next? Not every stimuli is salient or important. The next step for the brain is to identify whether the stimuli is indeed important from a functional point of view- whether it is an indicator of, or an actual, reward or punishment. Here comes the incentive salience function of Dopamine. Dopamine neurons in say Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc) area code for whether the incoming stimuli is important or not (see work of Berridge et al) ; if its not important nothing needs to be done; however if it is important and consequential than an appropriate response needs to be executed. Activity has to ensue. Please note that though NAcc is typically thought of as part of a reward circuit, it is equally involved in determining salience of an aversive stimuli. Hypersensitiveness of this incentive salience system can conceivably lead to depression at one end (where all stimuli are important , but negatively toned or aversive) and mania at the other end (where all stimuli are important, but perceived as positively valenced). One can also extend this line of reasoning and associate differential sensitivity in this system to trait of Extraversion.

Once you have determined that the stimuli is important and needs responding, how do you determine the right response? One effortless and ‘hot’ way is to use the default response – if someone threatens you, punch them in the face! The other, more effortful, and ‘cold’ way is to choose a response from the response sets that have been activated or by overriding the default response and selecting something better. This is the selfregulation system. As a brain region, I’m sure ACC has a major role to play here- detecting conflicts between responses and also inhibiting dominant default response. In terms of neurotransmitters I see a role for Serotonin here – regulating the response, especially emotional and instinctual response. Hypersensitiveness of this system may lead to obsessions (rigid thinking) and compulsions (rigid acting) and differential sensitivity in the system may be associated with Conscientiousness.

Now, that you/ your brain has chosen the most appropriate response, one further step needs to be executed before you actually execute the action. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the Value -Expectancy model of motivation: Value was coded by dopamine neurons using incentive salience, what about expectancy? Basically the V-E model posits that an action will be taken only if you value the outcome and are reasonably sure that you can act in such a way as to achieve the outcome. Neurons in PFC may conceivably code for outcome prediction. PFC is important to predict whether a particular course of action will lead to desired results. It is also conceivable that dopamine neurons may play an important role here. The basic idea is to predict whether you can execute the response and receive the reward or avoid the punishment and only then if the action is feasible, then execute the action. This outcome prediction module I think recruits PFC to a large extent. Hypersensitivity of this system may lead to ADHD and differential sensitivity associated with Openness to experience.

To me the above looks very neat and logical and elegant and I would love your comments regarding the same and also any contradictions you see in literature or any additional thoughts you may have.

Parenting Styles: an SDT Informed Perspective

In my previous posts I have elaborated on SDT and how it provides insights as to the relation between motivation and personality and to the supportive contexts that satisfy basic needs and thus lead to well-being.

To recap, SDT, as extended by me, posits that there are four basic psychological needs that need to be satisfied for all human beings for them to be happy and flourishing. These needs are needs for autonomy or to be able to own and make one’s own choices; needs for competence or to be able to successfully excel at tasks; needs for relatedness or to be securely and intimately tied to others; and need for meaningfulness or to be able to create and bask in meaning and purpose.

SDT also posits that socio cultural contexts and situations are differentially related to well-being as they are differentiated in terms of how supportive or thwarting of basic needs they are. Today I wish to apply this lens to parenting and showcase how early (and ongoing) parent child interactions have different implications for current and future well-being of the child.

At the outset, I want to clarify that while my approach is inspired and steeped in SDT, it deviates considerably from the standard SDT model.

Standard SDT literature on parenting posits that if the parents are autonomy supportive, provide structure and are involved, then they are doing the right thing as this will lead to satisfactions of the basic psychological needs of the child and thus lead to healthy outcomes. the figure below shows what one means by these conditions of autonomy support, structure and involvement.

Parenting supports (from Coursera)

Let us start with involvement. And let us look at both good and bad parenting. I consider this to be about the Relatedness need. The input variable from parents is warmth or affection and the output variable is attachment with the parent. A good parent showers love, affection, care and warmth unconditionally; or in other words provides Unconditional Positive Regard (UCR) – this I posit leads to secure attachment in the child. However, some parents make their love and warmth contingent on outcomes; that is called Parenting Conditional Regard (PCR) and this I believe leads to insecure attachment. This is further of two types: a negative PCR where affection is primarily withdrawn in case the outcome is not desired, leading to avoidant attachment or deficient model of other. The other is positive PCR where affection is excessively endowed in case the outcome is desired, leading to dependent/anxious attachment or deficient model of self. While the good parent considers his/ her child unique, the bad parent either considers the child as having contingent worth or at the other extreme to be special and above everyone else. This parenting dimension is all about being available to the child when he needs and may be labeled emotional help by the parent.

Let us now look at autonomy support. This is clearly about the Autonomy need. The input variable from parents is socialization by either persuading or coercing and the output variable is internalization of rules and regulations. A good parent takes perspective of his/ her child, provides choices and offers rationale – all with an aim to influence and persuade without any overt or covert coercion; this leads to internalization of values and motives leading to autonomous motivation. In simple words, as the child ‘buys in’ rather than is forced to do something, he is more likely to feel an ‘origin’ and not a ‘pawn’. However, some parents try to control and coerce their child to behave in a particular way; this leads to controlled forms of motivation/ self regulation in the child. When rewards or showering of incentives is used to control the child it may lead to external regulation, while when punishments or withdrawal of incentives is used to control the child, then it may lead to introjected self regulation. While a good parent likes to negotiate with the child, a bad parent either threatens or bribes the child. This parenting dimension is all about shaping the child’s behavior by providing some motivational structure.

Consider next structure. This is about Competence. The input variable from parents is Just Enough Help/ scaffolding in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and the output variable I believe is the child’s mindset and sense of self efficacy. A good parent provides Just Enough Help or scaffolding in the ZPD so that the child is adequately challenged and his ability is able to meet the expectations; this leads to a grounded sense of self efficacy and possibly growth mindset, as the child is able to see how he is making progress with adequate support. However, some parents are not cognizant of/ insensitive to the ZPD and either push their children above the ZPD or are content with performance that is sub ZPD. This leads to problems with self efficacy and a fixed mindset. Those who try to stretch their child’s ability and set high expectations– and push their children to achieve those high expectations that are beyond their (current) abilities, may lead the child to develop a superiority complex and a fixed mindset characterized by impression management. On the other hand, those who do not challenge and support their child enough may give rise to children that suffer from inferiority complex or fixed mindset characterized by self-handicapping. While a good parent is available when needed, a bad parent is either helicoptering or putting too much pressure. To me this parenting dimension is all about providing instrumental help to the child in the right amount.

Lastly, let us also take a look at the need for Meaningfulness. The input variable this time is parents feedback about the child’s self and the output variable is the child’s internal self-guides. A good parent provides realistic feedback to child about his/ her abilities, etc in a non evaluative and informational format. This leads to the development of an actual self guide that is accurate and based on facts. Some parents however provide either sugar coated or needlessly bitter evaluative feedback to the child and this may lead to the development of discrepant self guides that are fictional and not in touch with reality. The parent who praises excessively and is say strengths based and focuses on what is present/ possible about the child will lead to the development of an ‘ideal’ self guide in the child. The parent who is excessively critical and deficit based and focuses on what is lacking/ needed in the child, will lead to the development of an ‘ought’ self guide in the child. While a good parent leads to realistic and in touch with self concepts, a bad parent leads to out of touch self concepts that don’t feel authentic.

That brings us to the end of my thesis that a good parent is warmly affectionate, non evaluative and informational when providing feedback, uses reason to influence and persuade rather than coerce and sets reasonable expectations for the child and supports him/ her is his/ her journey.

A note before we leave: all of us are good parents and bad parents at times; while I have used the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parents above my intention is to draw attention to our impact when we are acting as a good / bad parent and hopefully influence more and more parents to use better parenting techniques than they may be using or relying on currently.

Supportive Contexts for Growth and Development: an SDT Perspective

Self Determination Theory(SDT) posits that all humans require some nutriments to grow and develop; just like plants need nutriments like sunlight, water, nutrients etc to flourish, so do humans have some basic human needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness and meaningfulness (my addition) to develop and grow and thrive. If these needs are fulfilled (just like if the plants get sunlight , water and nutrients) then this leads to good outcomes like enhanced well being and optimal functioning and good relationships and purpose in life. However, if the needs are thwarted then ill-being and soured relationships, stagnation and nihilism may prevail.

SDT also posits that the sociocultural environment and situations and contexts can be more or less supportive of the basic psychological needs. If the sociocultural environment and situation/ context is more supportive of autonomy, competence, relatedness and meaning, then that leads to more growth and flourishing and better development over time.

Let’s just expand on this a little. We will consider basic psychological needs in infancy and childhood and see what activities or systems are involved in their satisfactions and what consequences it may have on the developmental trajectory.

Consider the need for autonomy; an infant/ child is typically exploratory and unless constrained exercises his/ her choice by exploring the environment. The parent has to set some limits on exploration to prevent harm and thus this conflicts with the child’s need for autonomy. Early on they learn that exploring unknown territories can lead to adverse outcomes and if parents are too permissive they quickly learn the emotion of fear. On the other hand they also have an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of interest that makes them find novel things and places attractive and hence worth exploring. If their need for autonomy is reasonably honored, they quickly form a concept of SELF that is distinct from caregiver. They realize, and start regulating, their emotions and an autonomy supportive environment leads to their emotional development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories, they successfully navigate the autonomy vs shame and doubt stage.

Consider next the need for competence; an infant/ child typically likes to explore the limits of what they can do/ hope to do via play – both physical and symbolic. The parents/ adults typically provide some feedback on what is acceptable in terms of play to ensure that the right types of play are being indulged in to develop adult capability. For eg, if an infant tries to walk before crawling they will support the age appropriate crawling related play first. Early on infants/ children realize that playing in a free wheeling manner may lead to disappointment and sadness. On the other hand they also have an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of enjoyment that makes them find novel activities and objects interesting and worth playing with. If their need for competence is reasonably honored, they quickly become TASK-oriented, rather than ego oriented while indulging in any activity. They realize and start regulating their behaviors and a competence supportive environment leads to their physical and behavioral development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate industry vs inferiority stage.

Consider now the relatedness need; an infant/child is typically attuned to others and comes ready to be imprinted upon and have attachment with one or more caregivers. The infant/ child comes vulnerable and needy (the infant needs milk while the child needs say love) and greedy and the parent/ caregiver may regulate the care and attention and time they can devote to the child. Early on, when the needs are not met consistently or are contingent, the infant/ child learns to be (passive) aggressive and angry towards the attachment figure and learns to avoid contact. On the other hand the infant/child is driven by an intrinsic motivation associated with the emotion of love that makes them approach familiar people (parents/ teachers) and contexts(home/school) and worth building attachments with. If their need for relatedness is reasonably honored, they quickly become PEOPLE focused, considering people as ends rather than instrumental means to any outcomes.They realize and start regulating their relationships and a relatedness supportive environment leads to their social and moral development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate trust vs mistrust stage.

Lastly, consider the need for meaningfulness; an infant /child is typically a scientist-in-the-crib and comes ready to make sense of and interpret events and happenings and exercise agency and learn. The infant comes eager and curious and active and the parent may restrict some actions (like touching the genitals) that may lead to feelings of guilt and disgust in the infant/ child. On the other hand, the infant/ child is driven by an intrinsic motivation that is driven by the emotion of wonder and he/ she systemically and scientifically experiments with the surroundings and tries to find causal relations and have an impact and learn. If the need for meaning is reasonably honored, they quickly become WORLD focused, being ecological aware and seeing how they fit in. They realize and start regulating their cognition and a meaning supportive environment leads to their intellectual development. In terms of Erikson’s stage theories they successfully navigate initiative vs guilt stage.

In an nutshell, what I am proposing is that there are four systems revolving around exploration (autonomy), play (competence), attachment (relatedness) and learning (meaning) in the infants/ child that also give rise to the emotion pairs of fear/interest, sadness/enjoyment, anger/love and guilt/wonder that may sustain in adulthood also in a slightly transformed way. Also these may conceivable be related to the four major goals of Emotional well-being/positivity, Success/productivity, Morality/intimacy and Meaning/generativity.

I will rest my case here. In the next post I will actually go into what makes for an autonomy supportive, competence supportive, relatedness supportive and meaning supportive sociocultural context

Emotions and Motivations: an SDT perspective

I have blogged previously about personality and emotions and also personality and motivations, but haven’t made an explicit linkage between emotions and motivations; today I wish to rectify that and talk about how emotions and motivations are interconnected. I will be using the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of human motivation to make my case.

SDT consists of as many as six mini-theories; we will focus on OIT and BPNT for the purposes of this post.

Organismic Integration Theory (OIT) posits that people act due to a variety of reasons. Some of these are intrinsic reasons (the activity/ task feels fun, pleasurable, energizing) while other are extrinsic reasons (someone asks us to do it, we do it to gain rewards/ avoid punishments). When someone is intrinsically motivated, they feel more autonomously regulated or in other words they feel more in control of the choices they make and activities they do and endorse these actions as emanating from the self. However, when one is extrinsically motivated they feel controlled in their choices and activities and may attribute their actions to the rewards/ punishment contingencies under which they are working.

People indulge in all types of activities, only a small part of which is for intrinsic reasons such as the activity being fun and interesting. We need to work, to pay the bills, and though the activity is performed primarily to gain external rewards (pay), the reasons for the same can be internalized to various extent. OIT posits that the more integrated to self and internalized we make the reasons for doing an activity that is primarily or initially driven by external regulation, the more autonomous the regulation will become and less controlled it will feel.

For e.g., I may do my work properly due to fear of loss of job or expectation of a pay hike and my motivation is external and I am externally regulated. This type of motivation is the most controlled. I may also do my work properly because I feel guilty on doing a shoddy job and displeasing my supervisor- here I have internalized the motive as emanating from within- feelings of guilt- and hence this will feel less controlled and more autonomous than external regulation. This is introjected regulation. I may also do my work properly because I think that’s the right thing to do, maybe to support my family – I identify with and accept that part of my life. Thus my motivation for work would be Identified motivation and will feel even more autonomous. Finally, I may do my work properly because I am a conscientious/ honest person and this fits in with my notion of who I am- I can identify with this motivation/ reason and integrate with my self concept. This form of Integrated motivation is the most autonomous of all, barring intrinsic motivation, which feels the most autonomous, because you don’t need to internalize any external reasons.

Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) on the other hand claims that all humans have three basic psychological needs- the need for autonomy ( being able to be volitional and endorse ones actions), the need for competence (being able to be effective at a task) and need for relatedness (being able to belong and have intimate, satisfying connections with others). When these needs are satisfied, a person thrives and works on optimal level, when these needs are thwarted a person languishes and may have ill-being.

There is some interaction between OIT and BPNT. The more a person acts from autonomous motivations (feeling free and volitional), rather than controlled motivations (feeling pressured and compelled) the more his or her basic needs will be satisfied and thus the more happier and well-functioning he/she will be.

The above was the standard SDT formulations; I want to propose some changes/ modification to the same. To start with, as many others have proposed, I want to propose a new basic psychological need- the need for meaning. This need consists of both the need to find meaning and to lead a meaningful life- the need for both coherence and contribution in one’s life. Thus one would be driven by a need for comprehending the world and find in some inherent meaning in it; one would also be driven to add meaning to that world by being generative and making an impact. Just like other needs, the satisfaction of this need for meaning will lead to positive well-being, while frustration of this need will lead to ill-being.

The second change I want to propose is that just like extrinsic motivation is split into four types- External, Introjected, Identified, and Integrated, based on how autonomous/ controlled it is , we also differentiate between different types of intrinsic motivations- Intrinsic motivation driven by competence, Intrinsic motivation driven by meaning, Intrinsic motivation driven by relatedness and finally Intrinsic motivation driven by autonomy. I believe, and this is an empirical question, that even Intrinsic motivations of the four types will differ in the amount/ quality of autonomous regulation.

Now, that we have laid the groundwork, let me go straight to the main thesis of this post viz that emotions and motivations are connected in a very systematic manner. To illustrate my point, I will be using my eight basic emotions theory. To recall, the basic emotions are Fear, Disgust/guilt, Anger, Sadness, Interest/ courage, Wonder, Love and Joy. These emotions come in opposing pairs- Fear/ Interest, Disgust/ Wonder, Anger/ Love and Sadness/Joy. My thesis is that the motivations too come in pairs- External/ Intrinsic with competence; Introjected/ Intrinsic with meaning; Identified/Intrinsic with relatedness; and finally Integrated/ Intrinsic with autonomy. Also these motivation pairs correspond to the emotion pairs in the same order.

Lets start with External regulation. The threat of punishment is one mechanism that is active here, resulting plausibly in an emotion of Fear. Also when competence need, which is associated with this motivation pair is frustrated, then one is likely to feel incompetent and thereby suffer from anxiety based psychopathology , which is associated with emotion of Fear.

Consider on the other hand Intrinsic motivation with Competence. The exploratory drive or opportunity within challenge, is one mechanism active here, resulting plausibly in the emotion of Interest / courage. Also when competence, which is associated with this motivation pair, becomes a focal concern to the exclusion of balance with other needs, then one falls victim to obsessive passion and is thereby may even suffer from obsession and compulsions related psychopathology which is associated with emotion of Interest.

Next consider Introjected regulation. The incomplete internationalization is typically engendered via feelings of Guilt etc. Also when meaning need, associated with this motivation pair, is frustrated, one is likely to feel insignificant/ disillusioned and thereby suffer from addiction/ substance use based psychopathology, which is associated with emotion of guilt/ disgust.

On the other hand, Intrinsic motivation with Meaning leads to curiosity and sense of Wonder. When meaning need associated with this takes over to the exclusion of other needs one consequence could be dissociation based psychopathology associated with emotions of wonder.

Consider next Identified regulation– here at times there is compartmentalizing of self leading to frustration and Anger. When relatedness need , which is related to this particular pair, is frustrated it results in feelings of alienation leading to psychopathology associated with hostility, which is associated with the emotion of anger.

Intrinsic motivation with relatedness on the other hand leads to feelings of belonging and Love. When this need is focused on exclusively however, this may lead to excessive valuing of ingroups and prejudice towards outgroups.

Integrated regulation, where one’s self is in alignment and yet one is controlled and not fully autonomous, may lead to feelings of loss and Sadness. When autonomy need associated with this is frustrated, it results in feelings of being controlled and may result in depressive psychopathology, itself associated with sadness.

Finally, Intrinsic motivation with autonomy, leads to feelings of fun, play and Joy. When this need for autonomy becomes a predominant need however to exclusion of others one may get so charged up and free wheeling as to become manic, a pathology associated with emotion of joy.

I have delineated above based on strong theoretical grounds. There is some empirical support too, but more work needs to happen. This recent study for eg shows that negative emotions like fear and anger lead to loss in feelings of agency. I know that agency is not the same as controlled vs autonomous regulation, but the findings are tantalizing.

To me the emotion pair, motivation pair linkage makes perfect sense. Do let me know if you are aware of any research studies exploring on similar lines?