psychology


I’ve just begun reading Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. I bought the book while I was in grad school, knowing it would be years before I could get to it, but so excited by the title! Consciousness and how it relates to the body and emotions is one of my favorite topics of inquiry. Plus, Damasio is a scientist with a (rare) good reputation as a writer.

In the introduction he describes six facts that a good theory of consciousness will have to take into account. Here are my paraphrases:

1) There will be an “anatomy of consciousness”: Elements of consciousness appear to be associated with activity in certain parts of the brain.

This may be scary to those who believe that consciousness is magical, or that its magic would be somehow diminished if it relied on the brain’s circuitry. I too used to be uneasy about that idea. After diving into brain studies a bit, though, I feel both excited and humbled by it. It’s just neat that our brains apparently produce all the subtleties of our experience. Also, it’s a good reminder that our experiences of feeling, thinking, knowing, and of awareness itself is created by our brains, and is not a direct line on reality.

2) Consciousness is more than wakefulness or attentiveness. Humans can be awake and attentive without being conscious.

Damasio describes patients who are clearly awake and attentive, but not conscious, and promises to devote two chapters to the significance of this phenomenon.

3) You cannot have consciousness without emotion.

I am excited about this point because I’ve thought it both crucial and little recognized since reading The Mind’s I many years ago. It had an essay which convinced me that real artificial intelligence would not be possible without emotion. Without emotion all you have is processing power. And in human intelligence at least, emotion brings in the body. Emotions are not just mental phenomenon. I can’t wait to see how Damasio deals with this.

4) There is a distinction between “core consciousness,” producing a sense of moment-to-moment “core self,” and “extended consciousness,” producing a story-making “autobiographical self.”

This distinction could bring clarity to the debates about consciousness in infants and non-human animals. Core consciousness may be the kind that everyone has, and extended consciousness the kind that we develop as our experience becomes more and more intertwined with language and concepts.

Core consciousness sounds to me like the experience that meditators work to remain in. We live most of our lives in the useful but problematic realm of extended consciousness, judging experiences as good or bad, right or wrong, safe or unsafe, and other ways they relate to the story we have of ourselves. Once we are living this way it is difficult to escape. Meditators find that maintaining awareness of core consciousness can be a welcome rest from all that. This practice may help the autobiographical self have an easier time as well.

5) Consciousness cannot be wholly described by other mental activities. Things like language and memory are necessary but not sufficient for full consciousness.

You can’t leave consciousness out of the discussion. It is more than its parts. I like this because I think a lot of scientists are squeamish of even using the word “consciousness.” It makes you sound like a hippy. Prepare to hear a lot of scientists trying to talk about consciousness without sounding like a hippy.

6) Consciousness also cannot be described wholly by describing how the brain creates our experiences out of sensory and mental data.

I read some famous scientist saying that if he were to be at the beginning of his career, he would be looking into creation of qualia, the “particles” of experience, that this was the next holy grail of psychology. That’s a good one, for sure, but I think an explanation of consciousness is a better holy grail than an explanation of qualia.

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Another psychometrically-produced typology of love is John Lee’s “colors of love.” Like Sternberg, Lee found three primary styles of love, or “primary colors,” which Lee called eros, ludus, and storge. He found that these styles combined to form three secondary styles or colors, for six love styles total:

Erotic love: Immediate, powerful, exclusive, preoccupying, sexual

Ludic love: Love as entertainment, for pleasure rather than for bonding, commitment-phobic

Storgic love: Stable, not intense, based on bond and shared interests

Pragmatic love: A combination of storgic and ludic love, which Lee called “shopping for a suitable mate.”

Manic love: A combination of erotic and ludic love, obsessive, jealous, self-defeating

Agapic love: A combination of erotic and storgic love, unconditional devotion, difficult to maintain

Here’s a visual of the typology I stole from dating-relationships.co.uk:

Before the mid-20th century, typologies of love were works of philosophy, ethics, introspection, and intuition. In the 1980s, Robert Sternberg produced a typology of love psychometrically, meaning he asked people about their experiences and used factor analysis to determine which experiences tended to co-occur. He came up with a three-factor model of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy is stuff like warmth, closeness, and bondedness. Passion is stuff like romance, physical attraction, and sex. Commitment is the decisions involved in maintaining love over time. By combining those factors, he came up with the following typology:

Relationship Type Intimacy Passion Commitment
Nonlove Low Low Low
Liking High Low Low
Infatuation Low High Low
Empty Love Low Low High
Romantic Love High High Low
Companionate Love High Low High
Fatuous Love Low High High
Consummate Love High High High

Here’s a typical triangular image of the system:

My friend Tilke sent me a link to this short film depicting synesthesia, writing “This is what it’s really like.”

Folks with synesthesia experience what those without it might call a mixup of the senses–seeing sounds, feeling colors, that kind of thing. The most famous way synesthesia shows up is with the alphabet: A synesthete might see letters in different colors. It’s not that they associate colors with letters, they will actually see an “N” as inherently brown, for example, or an “E” as red. Numbers can have colors, too. Imagine how different your experience of reading or math would be if words and equations had color schemes!

At first I was fascinated by synesthesia in terms of what might cause it–maybe it’s the result of incomplete synaptic pruning, for example. In a lecture by Dr. Ed Awh in his Cognitive Psychology class a few years ago, though, I realized that synesthesia is more like a super power than a problem. Here’s a slide from the lecture:

 

Difficult, slow search for most of us, because we have to look at each digit to determine whether it’s a 2 or a 5. A synesthete with colored numbers does not have to do this, because color is what cognitive psychologists call a primary-search quality. Differences in color jump out at you. Imagine the same field of 2s and 5s, except the 2s were blue and the 5s were red. You could pick out the 2s immediately, like I saw Tilke do. A superpower!

Please remember that I post diagnostic criteria here because it is interesting to know what kinds of behaviors can get you what kinds of diagnoses, not so you can diagnose yourself, anyone in your family, or any of your friends. You just cannot be objective enough and it often leads to people walking around thinking they have Mental Disorders that they do not have. This is especially not good if that person is a child.

This may be especially true for Autism-Spectrum Disorders, which require a team of experts collaborating with the family to make a good diagnosis, including ideally a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist, a social worker, a speech language specialist, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist. Also maybe a family advocate and an early interventionist.  And that’s just for a medical diagnosis. It varies by state, but often educational eligibility requires, additionally, a school psychologist, a behavior specialist, and an autism specialist.

Notice in the criteria below that diagnosis is made based on social problems, language problems, and repetitive/stereotyped behaviors. Other qualities that we may associate with Autism, such as pickiness about food or other things, sensitivity to noise or textures, visual processing problems, being easily upset, self-harming behaviors, and “splinter skills” are not part of a diagnosis for Autistic Disorder. Even with extreme versions of those qualities, you do not an AD diagnosis without fitting the criteria below.

And here are the criteria, word for word from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (p. 75):

Diagnostic criteria for 299.00 Autistic Disorder

A. A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):

(1) qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

(a) marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.

(b) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

(c) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)

(d) lack of social or emotional reciprocity

(2) qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:

(a) delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)

(b) in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

(c) stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language

(d) lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

(3) restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

(a) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

(b) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

(c) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)

(d) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

B. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.

C. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

I think this is brilliant:

In some ways it is nice that psychology research is fed to us in the discrete package that is the journal article: Each package can be edited into some version of readability and peer-reviewed for credibility.

That the process stops there, however, is an anachronism. It used to be that publishing the actual data interpreted in the article would have taken up too much space in paper journals, but on the internet it would be easy to do, and far more useful than just the analysis.

Imagine being able to go back in and re-run the statistics for an experiment, or try out other analyses–especially while analyses that throw away information like that old standby, the median-split ANOVA, are still accepted by journals. Imagine how much more powerful meta-analyses could be if it was standard practice to publish the data. Every research project would be a potential collaboration.

In fact, like scanning the Library of Congress, we could retrospectively publish all the data from every published article in the archives! What a resource that would be.

It might not work so well for qualitative research, the data of which are interviews with individuals whose confidentiality has to be protected. For quantitative research, though, it would be easy to protect anonymity. I see no downside except, I suppose, for researchers who are fudging their numbers.

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