All of psychology can be summed up as a combination of Affect, Behaviour and Cognition. Emotions are affect proper, but being in an affective or emotional state also carries along with it certain changes in behaviour and cognitions. For eg, an angry person not only feels angry but also behaves in an aggressive manner and his whole perception of other conspecifics is coloured by his being in a state of anger.
Now consider certain basic and prototypical emotions like joy, sadness, interest, fear, love , anger and surprise, disgust. While all of them have a distinct affective tone associated with them, less is known about the behavioural and cognitive dimensions to these emotions. Today I’ll like to share my thoughts regarding the same.
Joy is associated with being playful (B) and thinking creatively and divergently and imaginatively (C); sadness on the other hand is associated with being withdrawn (B) and has been shown to be associated with thinking more critically, convergently and in a intellectual fashion (C). As is apparent there is an opposing way in which these emotions and their behavioural and cognitive tendencies are associated. While positive emotions help you sample a greater universe out there , negative emotions help you focus on a salient selected stimuli.
Now consider interest; its is associated with being able to explore a given environment (B) and learning new information (C). While fear is associated with exploiting a given environment (B) (and not venturing beyond the unknown) and performing as per the given knowledge structure (C). Again we see the dichotomy and opposition.
Consider love that is associated with nurturing/protecting (B) the loved ones and with whom you feel a sense of belonging/ kinship (C). Anger on the other hand is associated with aggression or attack (B) on people considered different from self (C). Different perceptions or thinking may get evoked for same person based on emotion. For eg, you may feel anger towards your son when he disobeys and then literally want to slap him and want to disown him/ distance form him in the angry mood.
Finally consider surprise. Its associated with leaning with wonder and being fascinated (B) and trying to accommodate the new information (C) ; on the contrary, disgust would be associated with recoiling away in contempt and being judgmental (B) and trying to assimilate everything in the black and white schemata (C).
The above is broadly in line with the broaden and build theory of positive emotions and the specific action tendencies theory of negative emotions. What do you think, do share your comments.
I have recently come across the blog and work of Peter Gray, and am finding it very useful to see things from his perspective – which at times is very much aligned with my own.
In one of his posts he talks about self-directed education and the four basic drives in all children around which they naturally learn. These are Playfulness, Curiosity, Sociability and Planfulness.
Playfulness enables children to learn new skills – be it physical, social or imaginative- all while having fun.
Curiosity enables learning as children, even infants, feel compelled to explore both physical as well as social environment.
Sociability enables learning as the child learns from others and desires to understand and connect with them using say language.
Planfulness enables learning by making the children think ahead about their life goals, big and small. The learning happens more systematically.
To me these drives parallel my ABCD model. Playfulness is all about having fun and associated with joy – an Affective phenomenon. Curiosity is about exploration and associated with the active pole of Behavior dimension. Sociability is about relationship dynamics and associated with other pole of Dynamism /drive dimension. While Planfulness is Cognitive in nature and associated with multiple strategies to achieve goals (the Broad pole of cognition) .
Although these linkage seem very intuitive , I would have liked to see more empirical work on these four educational drives, but a simple internet search did not return many academic articles. Maybe the research already exists and in that case, if the reader can point me to it, I will be really grateful; maybe more research needs to happen.
On a more general note, do you think the current schools disrupt these four drives; is self-directed education the answer?
PAD is a popular dimensional theory of emotions, whereby all emotions can be classified on three dimensions: Pleasure (Pleasant- Unpleasant), Arousal (Ready-Relaxed), and Dominance (Control- Lack of control). To this model has been added a fourth dimension called Predictability (Ambiguous- Certain) (please see my earlier post for why this fourth dimension is relevant).
Manga emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As an example, anger and fear are both unpleasant emotions, but angry person is in control (has high dominance) while a fearful person is not in control of the situation.
Similarly, both contentment and excitement are pleasant emotions, but the former is low arousal and the latter high arousal.
Thus, emotions differ on four basic dimensions. I’ll address each of these dimensions below:
Pleasure (pleasant – unpleasant). This is similar to pleasure-pain polarity as highlighted by Millon and works at the Affective level in the ABCD model. The pleasure polarity addresses the physiological needs (Maslow’s hierarchy, see here) for maintaining body, while the pain polarity ensures that we stay out of harm’s way and take care of our safety needs. If one were to measure well-being related to this dimension, the appropriate measure would be something like PANAS, a difference between your positive affect and negative affect. In a nutshell, this is characterized by in-the-moment feelings and if your needs are met here, you live a happy life in the hedonic sense. The existential challenge would be body-givennenss and what to do given the body- a potential answer being – survive and protect body integrity.
This dimension, related to feelings, may have evolved to help our bodies/genes survive. If something leads to unpleasant emotions, avoid it; if it leads to pleasant emotions, indulge and approach!
Arousal (Ready-Relaxed): This is similar to the active-passive polarity as highlighted by Millon and works at the Behavioral level of ABCD model. The active polarity, which is related to being excited/ inspired, addresses the self-actualization needs of Maslow’s, while the passive polarity, which may be related to tranquility/ calmness/ meditation etc is related to transcendence needs. If one were to measure well-being related to this dimension, the appropriate measure would be something like Ryff’s Psychological well-being measuring things like psychological growth etc. This dimension may be related to living authentically in this world and experiencing life to the fullest. The existential challenge relevant here would be how to cope with a meaningless/ absurd world. The answer may lie in living life fully and experiencing it deeply.
This emphasis on experience is related to the ‘experience’ component of consciousness (recall that consciousness is made up of two parts- experience and agency). This dimension of emotion, related to energy/ experience, may have evolved to give the emotion a vibrant and vivid tone. That vibrancy may be required if after gaining a mind, we can retain it i.e. remain sane.
Predictability (Ambiguous- Certain): This is similar to the broad-narrow polarity as highlighted by Millon, and works at the cognitive level of ABCD model. The broad polarity, which is ambiguous and amorphous, is related to the Aesthetic and beauty needs of Maslow, while the narrow polarity to Knowledge and understanding needs. If one were to measure well-being related to this perhaps Satisfaction with Life survey might work. This dimension is related to attracting mates (both beauty and brains are attractive) and perhaps reproduction. The existential challenge here may be Death and the answer may be transcending death by leaving progeny. Cognitive abilities allow one to reflect on one’s own death and this leads to obsession with procreation. Intelligence (and beauty) associated with this dimension may be a result of sexual selection.
This dimension, associated with intelligence, may have evolved to help out bodies/ genes replicate. To figure if a mate is the best possible mate, and to attract / coax it, one may need intelligence and beauty.
Dominance (Control/ Lack of control): This is similar to self-other polarity, related to Drive level of ABCD. The Self polarity is associated with self-esteem needs while the Other polarity with Belonging needs. Another way to conceptualize the same polarity is on interpersonal dimension of competence and warmth. If one were to measure well-being related to this dimension, the appropriate measure would be something like Key’s Scoial well-being measuring things like social trust. This dimension is related to controlling/ influencing others either via power or via love. The existential given here is Isolation and the solution is domination and control through exercising one’s ego. Agency/ ego/self may be important here. the issue whether we have control or nor makes this a part of moral domain too.
This dimension, associated with ego, may have evolved to spread the memes associated with the ego far and wide.
In essence, while Feelings and Intelligence are more closely related to evolution (survival and reproduction) of our physical bodies, Agency and Experience are more closely related to the evolution of our minds.
Striving towards meaningful goals is good for your well-being; even just having goals by themselves are indicative of well-being. This is an established dogma of positive psychology, so how can one argue that goals may be at the root of the experience called depression.
A framework that aims to throw some light on this is the dual-process Tenacious Goal Pursuit (TGP) and Flexible Goal Adjustment (FGA) theory as proposed by Brandstatdter and colleagues.
As per this framework, we all strive towards goals, but only goals that are meaningful (say goals which align with our self-identity) and attainable (we have self-efficacy beliefs and can figure out strategies to achieve the goals) lead to well-being. A goal that we find meaningful and are highly committed to, but which becomes unattainable due to either external circumstances or our internal capacities, may lead to depression.The depression, and the helplessness and rumination that accompany it, may paradoxically have the function of decreasing our commitment to the goal and releasing ourselves from that unattainable goal.
And here is where the TGP and FGA theory comes to the rescue. In view of internal or external obstacles, that is when you are not able to make progress towards meaningful goals, you may either try to change the situations or your actions to ensure that they are congruent to the goals and would thus be demonstrating an adaptive process of assimilation (not to be confused with Piaget’s use of assimilation) also known as Tenacious Goal Pursuit (TGP), or you may adjust your goals and ambitions to reflect the situations / your capacities using the process of accommodation also known as Flexible Goal Adjustment (FGA).
Now, lets backtrack a little and reflect on the many routes to happiness: some say its all in your head- that you just need to change your mindset/ perception of events and you can be happier; others say that happiness is dependent on your situations and the actions that you take- you can and should cultivate happiness by activities and by changing your circumstances. Like all debates, like Nature-Nurture, the answer probably lies in the interaction and in-between. Haidt has famously claimed that happiness lies in-between, and I concur.
Similarly, sadness or depression may lie in your flexibility and tenacity of goal pursuits – while showing rigidity to a goal and not giving up may lead to sadness and depression, giving up too early or not being tenacious when circumstances could have been changed, may also lead to regret and sadness.
Bring Back My Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Its important to note that changing circumstances/ TGP etc are active processes; meanwhile changing mindset/ FGA are relatively passive processes, in that they happen in the background and not so much consciously.
That brings me to my major thesis: Depression is a disorder characterized by inability to use the adaptive process of FGA optimally. To me, Depression is a disorder of Behavior related to the Passive polarity of the ABCD Behavioral dimension. When one has a goal, to which one is committed, but is no longer attainable (and this may include an irreparable loss like bereavement ) then most people will use Flexible Goal Adjustment to come out of that state. However, the people with depression may be less able to use FGA and may remain committed to unattainable goals.
One of the evidence that comes to mind is, and for this you have to refer to my previous post about personality disorders and emotions, that the passive pole of Behavior dimension in ABCD model is also associated with Dysthemic and borderline personalities and hypothesized to be associated with the Conscentiousness trait. Now, It does seem that there is some evidence that highly conscientious people who have high commitment to goals, also are more likely to get depressed following setbacks or adverse life events. This makes immense theoretical sense too.
One can also examine the Active pole of the Behavior dimension in ABCD model to gain equivalent insights. As I had mentioned in my last post, that is associated with personality disorders of Histroinic and Hypomanic personality disorders and likely associated with the trait Impulsive Sensation Seeking. Extending this joy/ happiness related dimension, all these are also likely to be associated with the active process of Tenacious Goal Pursuit; here it is instructive to note that a high score on Impulsive Sensation Seeking may prevent TGP from happening as the person may keep moving from one activity to the other; and extremes of this may lead to manic behavior. The high scores on Impulsive Sensation seeking leading to less TGP leading to full-blown mania, is similar in nature to high scores on Conscientiousness leading to less FGA leading to full-blown depression.
To me, this seems a novel and fruitful approach to think about and conceptualize depression- as an inability to give up goals that are no loner feasible. If we focus more on this aspect, perhaps we need to augment our talking therapies of CBT etc that focus on negative self-talk and also introduce safe spaces and experiences whereby people can indulge in Flexible Goal Adjustment and give up on goals that are no longer feasible and replace them with other more meaningful and attainable goals.
I am currently reading ‘Emotions in the practice of psychotherapy‘ by Robert Plutchik and have been finding it a good read. In it Plutchik elaborates on his famous psycho-evolutionary theory of emotions that led to the circumplex and the Plutchik wheel of emotions. Basically, Plutchik argues that emotions can be classified on three dimensions- intensity, similarity and polarity (complementarity) and if one were to focus on similarity and polarity one can find eight basic or primary emotions, with other emotions either being a blend of the primary emotions or differing in intensity.
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An example will help clarify: if one takes anger as a basic emotion then emotions like rage, fury or irritation, annoyance differ in their intensity from anger; likewise when two emotions like disgust and anger are co-present, then one may feel the emotion of hatred/hostility, which is a secondary emotion.
Long-term readers of this blog will know that I am sympathetic towards the basic emotions concept and also believe that their are eight basic emotions; the eight basic emotions identified by me are same as those by Plutchik though the polarity aspect varies slightly. For e.g., I believe the right polarity combinations are Fear-Interest; Sadness- Joy; Anger – Love; and Disgust- Surprise. Note that Plutchik considers Anger-Fear to be opposites and believes that Love is not basic but a blend of Joy and Acceptance.
Plutchik believes, and I have been arguing in my series of posts on emotions and personality, that emotions and personality are intimately connected and that regular/ habitual emotional experiences/ states lead to enduring related personality traits. Also having a particular personality trait likewise increases the probability of experiencing a particular emotion predominately. Thus there is a string bidirectional linkages between the emotional states one finds oneself in and personality traits one has.
Emotions evolved because they helped us survive and thrive. They are related to particular contingencies or features of the situation and help prime action tendencies that effectively deal with those situations to restore one towards homeostatic state (in case of negative emotions) or move towards flourishing and growth (in case of positive emotions). Personality or stable differences in emotional, behavioral, cognitive and motivational responding evolved as it enabled different persons to adapt to different niches of the (social) environment. Personality disorders evolved when things were taken to an extreme or their were unresolved conflicts related to the corresponding emotions.
English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We will look at emotions and corresponding personality disorders to delineate the relationship between personality and emotions.
Examples will make this clear.
Consider Fear. Fear evolved whenever Danger was present and primed the action tendency to Escape/ withdraw/ protect. Or consider Sadness that evolved in relation to a significant Loss and primed the action tendencies towards Reintegrating or gaining social support or renegotiating. Anger evolved in situations where Obstacles impeded progress or goal achievement and primed the action tendencies of Destruction of that obstacle or aggressiveness in social situations. Disgust evolved when faced with Unpalatable or harmful object priming the action tendency to Reject that object, be it physical or social.
Positive emotions have similar situational triggers and similar action tendencies.
Now, Plutchik also looked at personality disorders, their co-morbidity in patients and the similarity ratings by experts for personality disorders, that were factor analyzed, to lead to a circumplex structure of personality disorders. This structure could clearly delineate which personality disorders were similar and clustered together. Remember this clustering is based on actual empirical data and not arbitrary like the clusters defined by DSM.
Plutchik listed three clusters; but I could make out four clusters based on theoretical rationale as well as inspection of the circumplex.
The four clusters of personality disorders are :
Cluster A: Avoidant, Self-Defeating and Dependent personality disorders.
Cluster B: Dysthemic, Borderline, Histrionic and Hypomanic (this is not there in Plutchik circumplex)
Cluster D: Antisocial, Narcissistic, Sadistic and Passive-aggressive
Cluster C: Schizoid, Schizotypal, Paranoid and Obsessive-compulsive.
This brings me to my ABCD model, especially as applied to personality. To extend it to above relationship between emotions and personality disorders, I will make a point that Fear-Interest emotional dimension is related to Cluster A (Affect based) personality disorders, Sadness-Joy to cluster B (Behavioral), Anger-Love to cluster D (Dynamic/Social) and Disgust-Surprise to Cluster C (Cognitive).
Consider Avoidant and Self-defeating personality disorders – they are clearly related to (social) withdrawal, escape etc. and thus to Fear; Dependent can be related to lack of Interest.
Dysthemic and Borderline are clearly related to reintegration/ renegotiation etc and thus to sadness; Histrionic and Hypomanic are clearly related to problems with Joy/ Activity.
Sadistic and Passive-aggressive are related to destructiveness (either overt or covert) and related to anger; Narcissistic (too much self love) and Anti-Social (no love for society) are problems with Love/compassion. Taken together the four personality traits related to above like Sadism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Narcissism make the Dark Tetrad.
Lastly, Paranoid and Obsessive-compulsive are related to getting rid of something undesirable (external conspirators or internal thoughts) and possibly related to disgust. Schizoid and Schizotypal may on the other hand be related to Surprise.
If one were to continue extending the circumplex and extrapolate from emotions and personality disorders circumplex, one would arrive at the same ABCD structure of personality that I arrived from other considerations.
In essence, Fear is related to Neuroticism personality trait which is related to Avoidant and self-defeating personality disorders. Interest is related to eXtraversion trait and Dependent personality disorder.
Sadness is related to Conscientiousness trait and Dsythemic and Borderline disorders. Joy with Impulsive Sensation Seeking trait and Histrionic and Hypomanic disorder.
Anger is related to Agreeableness trait and Sadistic and Passive-aggressive disorders while Love is related to Honesty/Humility trait and Antisocial and Narcissistic disorders.
Finally, Disgust is related to Imagination trait and Paranoid and obsessive -compulsive disorders; while surprise is related to Openness to Experience trait and Schizoid and Schizotypal disorders.
To me, the above seems conclusive and makes immense sense. The cluster A disorders (as I have defined them, not the DSM ones) are primarily disorders of Affect; Cluster B of Behavior , Cluster C of cognition while cluster D of motives or are interpersonal in nature. This to me is an important theoretical advancement and should be followed up with empirical work.
I have alluded to Kohlberg’s stage theory of Moral Development a few times in this blog, but never devoted an entire post exclusively to that; time to rectify that. For those not familiar with the Kohlberg model, I suggest that they read up an excellent description here.
Morality Play (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To recap, Kohlberg argues, that we go through three levels (and two stages within each level) as we advance on our path of moral development. He arrived to this conclusion, among other things, based on a long-term study of 58 young men over a span of two decades. The stage of moral development was assessed by analyzing answers to moral dilemmas like the famous Heinz dilemma. (in which a not-so-well-off person steals from a druggist a drug to save his dying wife).
After presenting people with various moral dilemmas, Kohlberg reviewed people’s responses and placed them in different stages of moral reasoning. According to Kohlberg, an individual progresses from the capacity for pre-conventional morality (before age 9) to the capacity for conventional morality (early adolescence), and toward attaining post-conventional morality (once Piaget’s idea of formal operational thought is attained), which only a few fully achieve. Each level of morality contains two stages, which provide the basis for moral development in various contexts.
The standard stages, as deciphered from say the below responses to Heinz dilemma, are as follows:
From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg’s theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response. Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:
Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person.
Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $200 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.
Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would more likely languish in a jail cell than over his wife’s death.
Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband.
Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he has tried to do everything he can without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.
Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal.
Or: Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard for the law; actions have consequences.
Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.
Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.
From the above it should be amply clear what is salient for each stage and level.
Today I came across an old article by William Damon in Scientific American (PDF here) and he does a pretty good job of describing the stages, and levels, using terminology that is easy-to-understand and correlate.
Level 1: SELF-INTEREST
Stage 1:PUNISHMENT “I won’t do it, because I don’t want to get punished.”
Stage 2: REWARD “I won’t do it, because I want the reward.”
Level 2: SOCIAL APPROVAL
Stage 3: INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS “I won’t do it, because I want people to like me.”
Stage 4: SOCIAL ORDER “I won’t do it, because it would break the law.”
Level 3: ABSTRACT IDEALS
Stage 5: SOCIAL CONTRACT “I won’t do it, because I’m obliged not to.”
Stage 6: UNIVERSAL RIGHTS “I won’t do it, because it’s not right, no matter what others say.”
Now, long time readers of this blog will be familiar with my ABCD model of psychology and the eight stage model of development. To recap, the four dimensions important for any psychological model are Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Dynamic (motivational/social) – the right order of development is A->B->D->C. There exist two polarities relevant at each dimension. For Affect, it is the polarity of Pain-Pleasure; for Behavior, the polarity of Active (approach/reward)-Passive(avoidance/ punishment) , for dynamics (or social) it is Self vs Others and finally for Cognition, it is Narrow vs Broad. This model is based on the pioneering work of Theodore Millon and combines various other theoretical frameworks.
If one were to see the Kohlberg’s levels/stages from an ABCD lens, it is clear that SELF-INTEREST is a Behavioral level, with the people moving from a passive (punishment avoidance perspective) to an active (reward approaching perspective) way of reasoning and acting as they function and evolve at that level; SOCIAL APPROVAL is a Dynamic /Social level where people move from a primarily Self focus (avoiding social disapproval) to a primarily Others focus (keeping the glue of society intact); and finally The ABSTRACT IDEALS is a Cognitive level with people moving from a narrow view of morality as utilitarian/ social contract based to more broader conceptions like based on universal human rights.
All the above is fine, but what about A or Affect based level/stages in our model? Are there moral reactions and behaviors of children (less than 9 or say even 5 years of age) that cannot be explained solely as a matter of rewards and punishments? Did Kohlberg miss on an important moral foundation on which many of our initial moral acts are based? My contention is yes, Kohlberg did leave out an important moral foundation. I will call that Affect based moral level Level 0.
The Level 0, of moral action and reasoning, is before an infant/ toddler/ child start thinking of, and justifying, their moral actions in terms of self-interests or rewards and punishment. This Level 0 is the Level of EMPATHY. Research in infant and toddler development has shown that the first moral or pro social behaviors develop out of an ability to empathize with others; if an infant or toddler will witness another person crying they will try to soothe the other person even if their means of helping may be inadequate; similarly toddlers, given an opportunity to help another person by saying opening a cabinet, when a stranger has his hands filled with books, will help the stranger, without any regards to any rewards or punishments, but because of the sheer joy of seeing the other person become happy as a result of their actions.
It’s unfortunate that infants cannot speak and many toddlers haven’t developed a good vocabulary, so the verbal responses to dilemma approach cannot be applied as is to them; but clever researchers have developed ingenious protocols to observe and ascertain moral behavior in children of that age group, and probably can develop new techniques to figure out their moral reasoning too. For example, in one of such experiments, children are shown animated clips of figures like squares and triangles that are either helpful or hurtful (pushing around a loved object ) and based on which figures the child prefers, one determines that indeed children like helpful figure/ animation characters over hurtful/ bullying characters; one could modify this paradigm by varying the distress felt by a loved object, that is being pushed around, by increasing the squeaking noise that object makes, to find whether more squeaking leads to more empathy and thus more moral/ pro social action.
The point I am making is that the prediction that there is an earlier moral reasoning/action stage characterized by empathy, is an empirically testable fact and I do hope someone conducts appropriate experiments to modify and add to Kohlberg’s theory.
To reiterate, there does exist a Level 0 of morality based on EMPATHY and the stages here are that based on Avoiding Pain and Enhancing Pleasure; the Avoiding Pain reasoning goes like ” Heinz should not steal the medicine, because it will cause the druggist to become sad (as the druggist has lost something dear to him)” ; the Enhancing Pleasure reasoning goes like ” Heinz should not steal the medicine, so that the druggist can live happily based on profits he earns” .
So the bottom-line, we all start with EMPATHY on our paths to moral development and that provides a solid foundation on which higher stages like those based on abstract ideals are achieved.
Regular readers of The Mouse Trap would be aware of my ABCD model of psychology whereby all psychological phenomena are explained in terms of Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Dynamic/Desire dimensions.
Personality Traits from SignalPatterns.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The affective dimensions is also related to sensory processes; the behavioral dimension to motor processes; the cognitive dimension to associative processes and the desire/dynamic/motives dimension to social processes.
We are increasingly focusing on brain as a means to study psychological phenomena and thus four major divisions of neurosciences are affective neurosciences, behavioral neurosciences, social neurosciences and cognitive neurosciences.
Now, I have written extensively about personality, especially in relation to emotions, and have written a series of posts about the structure of personality traits and the underlying basic emotions. I have also tangentially touched upon or used ABCD and the fundamental four model while coming up with those previous posts; but today’s post is exclusively focused on the ABCD model and its utility for delineating personality traits.
Before we move onto personality traits, lets refresh our knowledge of brain structure. As per a controversial theory of brain structure, by Paul McLean, brain can be divided into a reptilian brain,a paleomammalian brain/ limbic brain and a neomammilain brain/neocortex; for our purpose the details of the model need not be true. However, one thing that McLean postulated was that older brain regions are in control of newer regions and if newer brain regions malfunction/ do not exercise control the behavior due to older system may get activated. Hughlings Jackson had surmised the same earlier and this is the part I will be focusing on.
Consider an earlier brain part that controls movement; (this may be mostly instinctual responding or impulsive initiation) ; a later brain part may inhibit and lead to better response/ proactive action that is well considered/ planned. I will call these two instances bottom-up effects and top-down effects on movement respectively.
With this in mind lets start a deeper look at the ABCD.
Affective/sensory: This would be related to detecting unexpected stimuli or looking out for expected stimuli.
The bottom up process of detecting incoming stimuli is enhanced by level of arousal. High arousal leads to better detection and low arousal to lesser detection; people may differ in their natural arousal levels and I guess you know where I am going with this-the introversion- eXtraversion dimension.
The top down process of looking out for (potentially harmful) stimuli may lead to worry or anxiety. High Anxiety may help in vigilant detection, while lower anxiety to lapses in detecting harmful stimuli; the natural variation in this may be the trait Emotionally stable-Neuroticism( Emotionality). Anxiety remember was one of the dimensions discovered by Gray as relevant to personality.
Behavioral/Motor: This would be related to initiating action or responding to stimuli.
The bottom up process here would lead to Impulsivity , another dimension elaborated on by Gray. The personality trait relevant here would be Impulsive Sensation Seeking as defined by Zuckerman.
The top down process here would lead to Inhibition; when that process does not work, the low pole would be disinhibition (which is distinct from impulsivity). In FFM/HEXACO , this trait may be labeled as Conscientiousness and is related to strength of self-regulation.
Drives/Social: This would be related to interactions with others and the motives behind them – either to help others or the reciprocate a previous help.
The bottom up process here is reactive reciprocation; or aggression in case of deception/defection by the other. The one end of this pole will be characterized by Aggression and hostility while the other pole by nice and reciprocal behavior and this leads us right on to Agreeableness dimension.
The top down or expectation driven process here would be trusting and helping others on the one pole (in hope of reciprocation) and manipulating, hurting or exploiting people on the other. this naturally leads us to Honesty-humility dimension of HEXACO and the opposite pole that I believe is the dark tetrad of sadism, Machiavellianism, narcissism and sadism.
Cognitive/ associative : This would be related to the tendency to make and use broad vis–vis narrow associations while doing information processing.
The bottom up process here could be related to distractibility vis-a-vis focus. Some people may be easily distracted/ form loose associations and this may lead to Openness to experience in them; others may be more closed to new information. I think of this as the encoding process.
The top down process here could be related to imagining novel associations between concepts etc. I would say this is a new dimension called Imagination dimension (Scott Barry Kaufman would be happy to hear:-)) . At one end would be daydreamers and creative folks , at the other end more pragmatic/ reality oriented folks. I relate this to retrieval process. As this trait may still be evolving, we see psychosis related to this- imaginations/ top down processes overpowering reality orientation. this may also explain the association of creativity and mental illness.
I am happy with this personality structure organization with eight traits, instead of the usual five, that I have come up with. It has a solid theoretical rationale and a lot of thinking has gone into it; of course empirical work will prove whether its true or not and whether it stands the test of time!!
I have also posted elsewhere about the four major goals of life. To recap, I believe that all humans are driven by these four major goals- Happiness, Success, Meaning and Integrity. If the parallels to ABCD are not obvious let me make it explicit.
The route to Happiness is via maximizing Positive Affect and minimizing negative Affect. Success is achieved by actively indulging in Behavior and by being engaged with the task at hand; Meaning is cognitively constructed and Integrity or morality at its core is about motivations or Drives.
All the above is more or less situated in the positive psychology paradigm, and the new Positive Psychology 2.0 looks beyond positivity to include existential concerns.
Now, I have been fascinated by the existential philosophy for quite some time, and have also explored its application to psychotherapy by Irwin Yalom etc. As per Yalom, we all must face up and try to resolve these four existential givens: Death, Isolation, Freedom/ responsibility; and Meaninglessness. All these are facts of life and we have to come to terms with them.
Death is inevitable; we can never truly get into the skin of the other, so existential loneliness also has to be dealt with; we are free to choose how to respond and that places a heavy burden of responsibility on us- we have to take ownership for our actions/ inaction; finally given the cosmological perspective, our lives are perhaps meaningless- if anything we are burdened with providing an essence to our life(existence) , rather than otherwise.
Existential thinking is heavy stuff; but I guess all of us, start pondering such questions even when we are a small child; and continue revisiting them again and again, refining our tentative answers and resolutions to questions like these.
In the British school of existential therapy (cooper/Van Deurzen), these givens are seen as predictable tensions and paradoxes of the four dimensions of human existence, the physical, social, personal and spiritual realms (Umwelt, Mitwelt, Eigenwelt and Überwelt).
I find that fascinating. To me there appear to be two dimensions- one personal (Freedom/responsibility) vs interpersonal/ social (Isolation/ loneliness) and the other Material/ physical (Death/ finitude/ embodiment) vs Spiritual/ psychological ( Meaninglessness/Un-Known). One has a focus on self , the other focus on others; the third a focus on the physical world, while the fourth is concerned with the spiritual realm.
And its easy to relate it to the ABCD/Four major goals of life:
The thoughts about Death (Physical) lead to embodied affective responses that can impact Happiness. Your behavior with others, whether you are able to connect authentically or not, determines your existential Isolation and loneliness (interpersonal) The interpersonal domain is also where you are able to taste your true Success/ Status. The drive towards personal Responsibility and freedom (personal) makes you moral and retain integrity. The recognition of oneself as a being striving for meaning, and impact in the real world, makes you paradoxically a spiritual person.
I like this marriage of Positive psychology and Existential Psychology and wish more and more people are driven towards the PP2.0 movement!
Most of us have heard about the BioPsychoSocial model of mental illnesses and have also heard about the stress-diathesis model. Today as I was contemplating the two, taking cue from my ABCD model of psychology, I tried combining the two and find quite some merit in that approach.
Schematic of diathesis–stress model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To recap, BioPsychoSocial model says that any disease is a result of multiple interacting factors- some of them biological in nature while others psychological and social. The mind affects the body and the body affects the mind and together they may lead to health or illness. This model is as opposed to the BioMedical model which considers the disease to be predominantly due to biological factors.
The stress-diathesis model posits that people have underlying biological or psychological vulnerabilities and when exposed to an environmental stressor may develop a mental disease with varying probabilities. The same stressor may be harmless to a person who does not have those many vulnerabilities, but prove detrimental for someone with the right kind of vulnerabilities.
Combining the two models together, one can have biological, psychological or social diathesis or vulnerabilities and when exposed to the right environmental toxin/stressor may lead to the emergence of a mental health issue in the individual.
To elucidate by way of an example. Consider a person whose serotonin neurotransmitter system is such that he typically has lower levels of baseline serotonin. This would be a biological vulnerability to depression. He also has tendency towards negative automatic thoughts or pessimism. This would be a psychological vulnerability. Moreover he has limited social support and is unmarried and from a low SES background. This would be the social vulnerability. Strike three. On top of this, lets say he suddenly loses hos job and is laid off. That environmental life event may be enough to drive this person to clinical depression.
The BioPsychSocioEnvironmental model has application not only in psychopathology, but I believe its a powerful framework for normal development too. For e.g., if we replace diathesis-stress model with differential susceptibility thesis then the diathesis or sensitivity to context can interact with both positive and negative environmental events to lead to positive or negative life outcomes.
To me combining the two models is immensely fruitful; hope you too find it useful.
We all want to excel in life and various psychological constructs have been proposed that can help us in this mission. These range from grit(mostly used in academic domain) to PsyCap (mostly used in work domain) to the concept of deliberate practice (mostly used in niche domains).
That’s My Goal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Grit has been proposed to be made up of passion and perseverance; passion itself being made up of investment of time and effort regularly in activities that one finds important, loved and self-defining (i.e. one identifies one’s self with the passionate activity).
PsyCap is made up of Confidence (self-efficacy), Hope, Resilience and Optimism; Hope itself being made up of Agency (goal directed energy) and Pathways (planning to meet goals).
So with so many constructs floating around which ones are basic and which ones derivative?
I propose the following eight basic psychological constructs, which if focused upon can lead to well-being and success in life:
Purpose: Everyone should start with defining their life purpose. Once defined, it provides a general direction and decision-pulse for all your decisions, actions etc. It is the super-ordinate goal of your life and all other goals should be subordinate and aligned to this. A firm commitment to this purpose provides the motivation/ drive to achieve and flourish. This acts as the ‘narrow’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by restricting our choices, once purpose is determined and defined. This is the end goal.
Pathways : If purpose is the end goal, pathways are the means or subordinate goals and strategies to achieve that super-ordinate goal. It enables one to flexibly take stock of the progress towards the end goal and adjust or change the means goal to continue momentum towards the end goal. As Angela Duckworth says ‘ “Go, go, go until you can’t go anymore…then turn left.” This acts as the ‘broad’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by expanding our repertoire of responses.
Positive narratives: We all tell stories to ourselves and our view of past is not objective but actively constructed. And its better to tell positive stories to ourselves than otherwise. This is related to learned optimism. As per Seligman, one should make stable, internal and pervasive/ generic attributions about positive events and temporary, external and specific attributions about negative events. This eventually enables us to have a positive image of our abilities in the past and leads to hope and self confidence that we will be able to achieve in future too. This is related to ‘other’ polarity: how we interpret what happens to us via others .
Positive self-belief: Call it confidence, call it self-efficacy or call it even agency ; this is belief in one’s own ability and efforts to lead to positive outcomes. This is obviously related to ‘self’ and is cognitive in nature.
Perseverance: This is being in for the long haul. When set upon achieving a goal, time is not a constraint, and one would continue investing time into the pursuit; if setbacks happen, one rebounds or emerges more determined. One does not change one’s goal or strategy easily. This is also related to resilience. This is ‘passive ‘ polarity as one reacts to setbacks / obstacle when they happen, but otherwise just continues investing time and energy. This is behavioral in nature.
Practice: This is ensuring that efforts are not a constraint when it comes to achieving the goal. One is willing to work hard to archive ones goals and one actively and regularly and diligently puts in that effort. This again is ‘active’ and behavioral in nature. The willingness to put in hard work can again be developed like other constructs.
Passion: This is not the regular definition of passion; by passion here I mean a consistency of interests and a fascination with a subject. It includes things like not getting distracted or waylaid by competing interests and also not letting you interest wane or fade over the time. It is obviously related to emotions and is the ‘pain’ polarity as an obsessive passion may sometime lead to pain.
Playfulness: This is about having a playful attitude when working towards your goals; it includes things like enthusiasm towards the goal, enjoying the journey by having flow experiences and being engaged and curious. This too is emotional in nature and is related to ‘pleasure’ polarity.
Some other construct are a composite of these; hope is a composite and so is deliberate practice or resilience.
Similarly, there are other constructs like task commitment ( like perseverance, endurance, hard work, but also self-confidence, perceptiveness and a special fascination with a special subject) which cover almost all of these.
I believe the above has great utility and can be a good framework for studying non-ability , non-personality factors that lead to exceptional performance. I am excited and look forward to other people adopting this model for their research and conceptualizations.