Posts tagged cognition

Infants Reasoning About the World

The world may appear to be a ‘blooming, buzzing, confusion’ to infants, but within a few months infants are able to indulge in sophisticated cognition. They develop folk physical/astronomical theory, folk psychological theory,  folk moral theory and folk biological theory, pretty rapidly.

This post is about those cognitive frameworks that infants develop and which more or less persist in adulthood.

An infant

An infant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had been my contention, that Autistic children are predominantly governed by physicalist explanations and frameworks, while those prone to psychosis indulged more in mentalistic cognition.  However, I recently came across the work of Renee Baillargeon and colleagues [pdf, pdf] that suggests that infants have four different types of cognitive frameworks.

  1. Physical reasoning system:  Infants are able to reason about the world like little physicists, assuming objects and their permanence over time.  Thus in a standard Violation of Expectation paradigm, they would look significantly longer at an event where object permanence is violated.  They also assume continuity about the object even when it may be hidden from sight and reappear from behind a blind. Thus they are able to perceive the world in mechanistic terms.
  2. Psychological reasoning system: Infants are also able to reason about the other agents around them, that the agents have a mind of their own and have their wishes, preferences and desires. The infants apply the principle of rationality (consistency and efficiency etc) to the agents and are surprised if the agent behaves irrationally (is inconsistent in his choices or completes an action using inefficient means). The agents are believed to ave autonomous control over themselves and have mental states which make them act as they do. Even at a very young age, infants are able to infer this.
  3. Scoio-moral reasoning system: This sort of reasoning may seem similar to earlier psychological reasoning, but is different in important respects. Infants are able to reason about other individuals that interact with each other. These interacting individuals are governed by principles of reciprocity, loyalty to in-group, fairness etc and infants comprehend and apply these yardstick to interacting individuals and are surprised when these principles are not honored. For eg, they would be more likely to help a helper than a hinderer and would also expect other members to do the same.
  4. Biological reasoning system: This sort of reasoning is about there being certain entities that are a certain form of life viz animals. Animals or life-form is something which has innards or an internal source of energy and if you take the innards out of the animal , the animal stops functioning.  Apart from being self-propelled and agentive, the condition that the animal has innards is very important for this system.

So what does this tell us about humans and the world? I believe this is further evidence that humans have four types of ways of looking out at the world: World in terms of its physical properties and constituents; World as constituting of conscious agents that have metal states that drive their behavior; world as constituting of intentional, interacting individuals that have their inner values and emotions; and finally world as constituting of biological animals that have their carnal grounding. No one way of looking at the world is perfect, The world is both matter and life and we are both minds and morals- it is the multiplicity of the world/ ourselves that makes it so rich and enticing!

Many Paths, Many Ends

Aum symbol in red

Aum symbol in red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human beings are driven by many different goals throughout their life and though the goals of one individual would be different from other, the major goals of life can be classified as striving towards finding happiness, success, integrity and meaning in life. I have blogged elsewhere about how the latest research in positive psychology is explicating these four different legitimate aims via which one may lead a good or flourishing life. Also, a rider is in place here- its not as if one needs to, or is indeed, driven by one major goal to the exclusion of others, but a normal human life involves balancing and trading off one major goal with the other, depending on the need of the hour, the stage of ones life and one’s proclivities.

While psychology of motives and major goals has taken so many years to identify and contrast these goals, the seers and mystics of ages gone by, had been equally eloquent and discerning while coming up with the list of what should be legitimate aims of life- Hinduism defines four Purusharthas- Kama, Artha , Dharma and Moksha. I see a close parallel between Kama or being driven by passions or striving towards pleasure and happiness; between Artha or being driven by materialistic pursuits and towards success and achievement; between Dharma or striving towards living an ethical life and towards integrity and finally between Moksha or striving towards finding meaning and purpose in life (remember existence precedes essence).

To me the association looks too good to be true; but there is no reason to doubt that seers of yonder times may have been able to grasp these subtleties based on their acute mediation on human nature in the jungles.

Similarly, much of psychology is the study of ABCD- i.e Affect, Behavior, Cognition and Desire/ Dynamics. The ABCD model of psychology that I subscribe to tries to carve all human psychological phenomenon using the ABCD prism- identifying the underlying emotional components (Affect) , the behavioral components (Behavior) , the cognitive components (Cognition) and the motivational components (Desire/dynamics) . A (psychological) human himself may be thought of made up of emotions and feelings (affects), actions and reactions (behaviors), thoughts and beliefs (cognitions) and motives and drives (desires) – for some individual emotions may be in driver seat and for some other individual thoughts or intellect may be in the driver seat.

You can probably guess where I am going from here. Just like there are four major goals of life (the four purusharthas) ; so too there are four major ways or paths to achieve the ultimate aim of life (reunion with God) – the four Yogas – The Bhakti Yoga, the Karma Yoga, the Jnana Yoga and the Raja (ashtang) Yoga. To me these four pathways are again very psychologically based- Bhakti Yoga being useful to those who are predominantly emotional in nature; Karma Yoga for those who are more action oriented; Jnana Yoga for those more intellectual or cognitive in their outlook and Raja Yoga for those wanting to purify their motives/ habits using mediation etc.

Again just like a focus on either success or happiness or meaning or integrity may not be fruitful, so too for ‘normal’ humans a predominance with the Bhakti marg or the jnana marga or the Karm Marga or the Raja yoga marg may not be entirely healthy or salutogenic. We need to walk the path of all the margs simultaneously and depending in the need of the hour, or our stage of life be conversant and adept in all of these- be a good bhakt, a good karmayogi, a jnanai and a Raja Yogi.

While the later branches of Hinduism have overemphasized the importance of Moksha to the exclusion of other purusharthas, IMHO, a more balanced pursuit of all major goals of life and a more flexible adoption of the all the four major ways would go a long towards making the life flourishing and beautiful for all!

While to many of you the equating of psychological goals with spiritual goals may appear confusing, suffice to say that thee has started accumulating evidence at the level or neural circuits and brain areas about the dissociation between say happiness and meaning dimension for a good life or between economic (success) and moral (integrity) domains in general. Similarly there is enough evidence that the ABCD model of psychology is a good prism through which to see and study psychology. The fact that ABCD model/ findings from neuroscience/ psychology corroborate ancient insights is surprising but also reassuring in way. It was anecdotally known that Hinduism is so resilient because of its profound psychological basis- new finding are just confirming some of that.

Here is to whatever major goal and path you align your life with!!

emotion and personality: take 5

Scared child
Image via Wikipedia

I started the emotion and personality series with a focus on the eight stage model and how that informs us about both personality and emotions. I ended up changing tracks and pursuing Millon’s evolutionary stages and polarities and extending it to the ABCD of four broad psychological domains. Avid readers will notice that both my eight stage model and the Millon’s stages/polarities are based on evolutionary considerations and thus there should be neat synthesis involving the two. this post is an attempt to do so under the framework of the four basic domains of psychology : the ABCD model of psychology.

To recap: all psychology basically can be broken into study of :

  1. Affects or emotions
  2. Behaviors or  social factors
  3. Dynamics or drives and motivations and
  4. Cognition or learning, memory etc.

There have been paradigms in psychology like affective psychology, behaviorism, psychodynamcis and cognitive psychology that have focused on one domain more than the other. One can even extrapolate the diffrent approaches and discplines that are releavnt to each domain as below:

  1. Affect/emotions: Evolutionary explanations as most emotions are evolved mechanisms. Biological context is relevant. Genes drive this.
  2. Behaviors/social functioning: Social/situational explanations dependent on interactions with other people/cultural effects. Cultural context is more relevant. Environment drives this.
  3. Dynamics/ drives/motivations: Developmental explanations of how life course and needs/drives interact. Ecological context is instrumental. Environment chooses genes here and only certain phenotypes expressed.
  4. Cognition: economic/information-processing explanations that explain decisions, perceptions etc. Constructed and created context is important here. Niches are build and genes choose environment.

The Affect and Dynamics can be clubbed together as Evo-devo explanations and refer to subjective phenomenon;  while the Behavior and Cognition can be clubbed together as Socio-Economic explanations and refer to objective observable phenomenons. But anyway this is digressing a bit from the main topic.

Getting back to topic at hand, the four domains correspond to the four evolutionary stages of millon and each stage has two polarities and thus map to eight stage model as follows:

  1. Affect maps to problem of Existence and the polarity of pain and  pleasure mapped respectively to say the  ‘FEAR’ and ‘SEEKING’ system of Pankseep. These (the panksepp emotions systems)  I have previously shown how they are mapped to the eights stage model.
  2. Behavior maps to the problem of Adaptation and the polarity of Active and Passive mapped respectively to the ‘RAGE’ and ‘PANIC’ systems of panksepp.
  3. Dynamics/Drive maps to the problem of Replication and the Polarities of Self and Other mapped respectively to ‘LUST’ and ‘CARE’ of Panksepp.
  4. Cognition maps to the problem of abstraction and the polarities of Broad/creative versus narrow/rigid and maps respectively to ‘PLAY’ and ‘SELF’ systems of Panksepp.

Seen form this angle, the eight stages are just the eight polarities manifesting one after the other in the developmental course.

Extending Millon’s evolutionary considerations,it behooves to remember that another way to look at his problems is to view the change sin phylogeny, ontogeny , function (ultimate) and causation (proximate) of any trait.

Phylogeny is dependent on historical environment and leads to the trait having its ultimate thematic value. This I argue is the problem of existence (of trait/individual) and manifests as the domain of Affect.

But a trait with a fixed value would be of no use. Around the ultimate thematic value there will be ultimate variation that charts the possible functional map of what that feature is supposed to do. The abstracted ancestral environment (EEA) is teh context in which function evolves. This is the problem of abstraction and manifests as domain of cognition,.

Apart form the ultimate thematic value, one needs to tune that value to the immediate ecological and developmental context.  Ontogeny is dependent on such an ecological context and is a proximate thematic mechanism that leads to a particular stable thematic value of a trait. This is also the problem of Replication (r-K)  and manifest as Dynamics.

However, even a fixed proximate thematic value of trait will be useless as situations keep changing. Causation is responding to immediate environment in appropriate and adaptive manner. This is the problem of adaptation and manifests as domain of behavior.

I can relate the above to Aristotle’s four causes, but will leave that for another day; time now to wrap up the personality part. Emotions we have seen can be easily subsumed under the ABCD domains of psychology. As Pankspess model has been related to cloninger personality traits, I’ll leave the case rested that personality can also be adequately explained using the ABCD construct.

Before signing off, I’ll hastily note that to me, these ABCD domains map to underlying neurotransmitter systems:

Affect (pain/pleasure/’FEAR’/’SEEKING”) is associated with Noradrenaline system (NE). the role of ?NE in FEAR is clear, but for SEEKING DA also seems to play a role.

Behavior(active/passive/’RAGE’/’PANIC’)  is associated with Serotonin system (SE). The relationship of Serotonin with aggression and separation distress as well as behavioral manifestations like eating/sleeping cycle are well known. Known abnormalities in SE also cause OCD/Panic attack etc. Known abnormalities lead to fatigue, lethargy etc.

Dynamics (self/other/LUST/CARE)  is associated with Dopamine (DA). Known abnormalities in DA cause motivational obscurity like paranoia/psychosis.

Cognition (creative/rigid/’PLAY'”/SELF) is asscoited with Acetylcholine (ACh) and known abnormalities in ACh here lead to Alzheimer etc.

That shall be all for now.

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The ABCD of Psychology and Happiness

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve recently latched onto the ABCD model of psychological entities, where any psychological aspect is defined by following four features/dimensions: Affect( how does it subjectively feel) , Behavior (what are the manifest effects resulting in overt behavioral changes) , Cognition (how is it cognitively appraised) and Desire/Drive(what are the underlying motivations).

I was prompted on this journey by the evolutionary theory of personality (see here) by Theodore Millon, where he identifies four different evolutionarily salient domains and fields of adaptation: Existence (pain/pleasure) mapped to Affect in my model, Adaptation(active/passive) mapped to Behavior in my model, Replication(Self-other) mapped to Desire/drive in my model and finally Abstraction (broad-narrow) mapped to Cognition in my model.

Thus personality clearly is a dynamic between these four ABCD factors. What we habitually feel, how we habitually act, what usually drives us and how we habitually make sense of our situations clearly defines a personality.

I have also covered how emotions can be similarly considered as belonging to these four domains and having four ABCD dimensionsaffective in nature, lead to action tendencies, differential appraisal and cognitive underpinnings and different motivational states-whether the motivation to be in control or to nurture the other.

As it happens I am also keenly into this new ‘positive psychology’ stuff and keep reading the practitioners in this field; thus while reading ‘Happier’ I came across the happiness definition (as per Seligman) as anything that is pleasurable, meaningful and engaging, then I could immediately see the relationship to ABCD model by extending the concept of Drive (or intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation) to the mix and thus came up with this ABCD definition of happiness on twitter:

ABCD of happiness: find work that has pleasure(Affect), meaning (Cognition) and is engaging(Behavior) and intrinsically motivating(Desire)less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

The above to me perfectly sums up the Happiness formula and is very easy to remember too!
I also serendipitously came across this amazing video based on Dan Pink‘s ‘Drive’

That made me think further of how the same ABCD formula applied to work incentives.

The ABCD of incentives – Offer Money (Affective), Mastery (Behavior:skilled) , Purpose (cognition:meaningful) and Autonomy (Drive:intrinsic)less than a minute ago via web

That to me is further proof of the simplicity and power of this simple ABCD formula. So are you ready to apply the ABCD of happiness and work incentives to your life?

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Personality and emotion: take 4

Illustration of spacetime curvature.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve written about the relation between personality and emotion from my perspective, but was gladdened when I found Scherer has written on the matter in a very eloquent and apt manner. To quote from him and Revelle:

Personality is the coherent patterning of affect, behavior, cognition, and desires (goals) over time and space. Just as a full blown emotion represents an integration of feeling, action, appraisal and wants at a particular time and location so does personality represent integration over time and space of these components (Ortony et al., 2005). A helpful analogy is to consider that personality is to emotion as climate is to weather. That is, what one expects is personality, what one observes at any particular moment is emotion.

It is important to note that personality/emotion definition has been expanded to include cognition as well as affect; behavior as well as motivation (desires). Traditionally emotions are seen as affective (feeling) in nature but we know that emotional states have different cognitive underpinnings and can affect cognition in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Similarly though emotions may be more closely related to motivational issues (desires etc) they are also manifested in overt behavioral tendencies. some are energizing while others are calming/soothing.

In one of the last emotion/personality post , I referred to the dimensional emotional model of PAD (Pleasure-Arousal-dominance) as proposed by Meherbain. It is apt to note here that pleasure (pleasantness/unpleasantness) dimension is very much related to affect i.e. subjective feeling or how the emotion is subjectively felt. Also Arousal (Ready/Relaxed) is construct very much related to behavior or action tendencies. Some emotions lead to more vigorous, ready and active engagement with the environment as compared to others wherein one may be relaxed. Similarly Dominance (control/lack of control) is a motivational emotional dimension reflecting whether one wants to control and be in control or be dominated/ lose control in a particular situation.

That leaves us with cognition/appraisals dimension of emotions, but before we get onto that let us revisit the four evolutionary stages of Millon and how opposites on each stage lead to personality variations and disorders. The parallel with emotions will be self-evident.

The first stage is that of Existence and the polarity is of pain/pleasure: again an affective dimension/stage. Stability or life-preservation is coded by predominant disposition towards avoiding feelings of pain- a pain sensitive phenotype; Enhancing or life-enhancement is coded by predominant disposition towards felling pleasure a pleasure sensitive phenotype.

The second stage is that of Adaptation and the polarity is of active-passive: again a behaviorally defined dimension/stage. Modifying the environment to suit ones need is an active strategy, while passively accommodating to environmental niches is the passive strategy. both are defined behaviorally and the actual actions/behavioral tendencies define the personality type.

The third stage of Millon is that of Replication and the polarities are that of Self and Other: this is particularly a motivational dimension…whether one is motivated by selfishness and focus on oneself or by concern for others and selflessness too. There is polarity and tension between self-actualization tendencies and wants and other-nurturing motivational disposition. If focus is on self one would tend to dominate others, if focus is on others one would be willing to become vulnerable and submissive.

The fourth stage of Millon, that he does not relate to personality, but which I find integral to my theory is that of Abstraction and the polarity of information gathering versus information selection/transformation. I call the polarity Broad Versus Narrow and it is reflected in whether one is creative or is rigid and inflexible in thinking, , but the important point to note is that a cognitive dimension has been added to personality at the fourth stage.

Which brings us back to the (missing) cognitive dimension of emotions. I would have gladly taken the credit of discovering/proposing such a cognitive dimension, but it seems I was beaten to the game by Fontaine et al who made the bold statement :“The World of Emotions Is Not Two-Dimensional”.

As per Fonatine/ scherer et al’s analysis, using 144 features (like (a) appraisals of events, (b) psychophysiological changes, (c) motor expressions, (d) action tendencies, (e) subjective experiences, and (f) emotion regulation.) characterizing the 24 prototypical emotion terms, they found that emotions must be specified by at least four dimensions:these dimensions were evaluation-pleasantness, potency-control, activation-arousal, and unpredictability.

Note that the first three dimensions are similar to PAD while the fourth dimension is cognitive(appraisal) in nature- predictability vs unpredictability or certainty vs uncertainty in the appraisal of the situation. this ca be reasonably related to Broad Vs Narrow last stage of Abstraction i.e. whether one is cognitively open to new situations or appraisals or closed to them.

So the relationship between emotions and personality is more or less clear to my naive mind as of now. Of course I’m leaving some parts for the next post that will extend this and correlate with the eight stage process.

For now I’ll like to end with the excellent Scherer et al article quote:

In that personality represents the integration over time of feelings, actions, thoughts and desires, theoretical developments in personality benefit from a greater understanding of emotional processes. At the same time, research in emotion can take advantage of individual differences in sensitivities to situational cues and predispositions to emotional states. The questions of why some people become angry, while others become frightened or depressed in response to threats, and why some become elated while others seem unaffected when given rewards will be better understood by jointly studying the problem of long term coherence (personality) with short term fluctuations in affect, behavior, cognition and desire (emotion).

Fontaine, J., Scherer, K., Roesch, E., & Ellsworth, P. (2007). The World of Emotions is not Two-Dimensional Psychological Science, 18 (12), 1050-1057 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.02024.x

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