Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Perosnality vs situation: Mischel's cognitive person variables

I have covered a lot of personality theories , especially I am enamored by the developmental stage theories (like that of piaget/ erikson/ freud/ loveinger/ big five), but I have also linked to many relevant posts from the situationist blog and am only too aware of the power of situations.

The first person however , who took arms against the prevailing emphasis on personality and introduced the all important concept of situation in the picture was Walter Mishcel. though , he is most well known for this and his work on delay of gratification in children, he has also given an alternative to traits that we could use while assessing personality. these are the social and cognitive person variables that distinguish one person from other. It is interesting to note that these person variables too form a hierarchy and I suspect that they also follow a developmental pattern.

The five social and cognitive learning person variables Mischel uses are:

  1. Competencies: skills, problem-solving strategies, concepts about the world, based on experiences; allows for successful adaptation; Cattell’s fluid intelligence; tools for “doing commerce” with the world; one’s capabilities.
  2. Encoding strategies and personal constructs: attentional strategies and individual schemas: what you pay attention to, and what meaning you attach to the stimulus to attend to; categorization is a personal construct that allows one to understand the world; subjective interpretation; provides some consistency in the person’s behavior, although capable on being changed, which accounts for inconsistencies in behavior. One’s interpretations
  3. Expectancies: behavior outcome expectancies: if I do this, then I can expect that; expectancies will be based on past experiences with similar situations; sometimes specific information is available that can create or change expectancies. If one’s can’t change expectancies when given new specific information, then Mischel considered the person maladaptive. The maladaptive individual is acting in accord with expectancies that do not represent the actual behavior-outcome rules in that particular situation. A second kind of expectancy relates to our confidence in our ability to perform competently, called self-efficacy. Our perceived self-efficacy is related to our capacity to do what needs to be done. A third kind of expectancy relates to the stimulus-outcome association: if this happens, I can expect this to follow.
  4. Subjective values: one’s personal values are a variable in one’s decision to behave in a certain way. They are essentially the reinforcers for one's behavior
  5. Self-regulatory systems and plans: behaviors depend on intrinsic reinforcement or punishment, based on our own performance standards. Future goals are made and plans are then compatible with these goals. We are teleological and purposeful in our behaviors.

To me this follows the five stage model. We first develop competencies , so that we can produce a range of behavioral outcomes. We then acquire knowledge using personal constructs and encoding schema's, and this is done idiosyncratically and subjectively to assess a situation. In the third step, we match situation (stimulus expectancy) and our behavior expectancies (self-efficacy expectancies) to predict how we should behave and what results we will get (outcome expectancies). In the fourth stage having assessed what outcome a behavior is likely to produce we analyze whether we subjectively value the outcome. The subjective valuation of outcome would still be guided by how others in our social circle have valuation for that outcome.In the final fifth stage, we put our individual spins on the outcome achievement by having things like intrinsic motivation and self-regulatory mechanisms. All this flows nicely and I strongly suspect that we develop a capacity to use a person variable only after a certain developmental phase is over.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Ego Devlopment : the nine stages theory of Loevinger

As every reader of this blog knows I am hooked to developmental stage theories, so couldn't resist passing along this nine stage ego development theory of Loevinger. I will draw heavily from a course lecture by Prof. Kenneth Locke of Univ of Idaho, while describing the nine stage theory (prof Locke meanwhile clubs the 7th and 8th stage together into one, which I like and which takes the stages number to eight). Here you can find the full transcript of the lecture and here you can find the slides.


Before proceeding with the theory, let me tell you a bit about the method used by Loevinger. She used sentence completion paradigm where subjects had to complete sentences like

  • My main problem is ...
  • Being with other people ...
  • The thing I like about myself is...
Here the responses provided were analyzed to find the process by which the ego made sense of experiences. I would request my readers to pause here and before proceeding to read the entire mail, complete these sentence stems in the comments below and let me offer them an analysis of which stage they are predominantly on. to give you an example of what you can fill, the first sentence " My main problem is ..." can be filled in many different ways like "...a slow internet connection", " ...the readability of this blog", " ...your thesis that seems too much steeped into stages mode of thinking" etc. do not worry too much about what you fill, juts go a=head and complete the sentences!!

Now lets get to the ego formation stages themselves:

The first stage is the pre-social and symbiotic stage. This is the stage that the ego is typically in during infancy. A baby has a very id-like ego that is very focused on gratifying immediate needs. They tend to be very attached to the primary caregiver, often the mother, and while they differentiate her from the rest of the world, they tend experience a cognitive confusion and emotional fusion between the caregiver and the self. But our understanding of this stage is more speculative than our understanding of other stages because pre-verbal infants we cannot use sentence completions and instead must rely on inferences based on observations.

The second stage is the impulsive stage. While this is the modal stage for toddlers, people can be in this stage for much longer, and in fact a small minority of people remain in this impulsive stage throughout their life. At this stage the ego continues to be focused on bodily feelings, basic impulses, and immediate needs. Not being particularly good at meeting these needs on their own, however, they are dependent and demanding. They are too immersed in the moment and in their own needs to think or care much about others; instead, they experience the world in egocentric terms, in terms of how things are affecting me. If something or someone meets my needs, it is good; if something or someone frustrates my needs, it is bad. Thus, their thinking is very simplistic and dichotomous.

The third stage is the self-protective stage. While this stage is particularly common in early and middle childhood, some individuals remain at this stage throughout their lives. The self-protective ego is more cognitively sophisticated than the impulsive ego, but they are still using their greater awareness of cause and effect, of rules and consequences, to get what they want from others. Therefore, they tend to be exploitive, manipulative, hedonistic, and opportunistic. Their goals is simply to “get what I want without getting caught”. Assuming others are like them, they are wary of what others want. They are also self-protective in the sense of externalizing blame--blaming others when anything goes wrong. Individuals who remain in the stage into adolescence and adulthood tend to, unless they are very smart, get into trouble; indeed, research using Loevinger’s sentence completion test shows that a high proportion of juvenile delinquents and inmates score at this self-protective stage.

The fourth stage is the conformist stage. We tend to see this stage emerging at the time Freud said the superego first emerges, around five or six, and is the most common stage later in elementary school and in junior high school. However, a number of people remain at this stage throughout their lives. Conformist individuals are very invested in belonging to and obtaining the approval of important reference groups, such as peer groups. They tend to view and evaluate themselves and others in terms of externals—how one looks, the music that you listen to, the words or slang that you use, the roles people assume to show what group they are in and their status within the group. They view themselves and others in terms of stereotypes—broad generalizations about what members of certain groups are or are not like. While from the outside such individuals may seem superficial or phony, they do not experience it that way because this group self is their real self. More generally, they tend to view the world in simple, conventional, rule-bound and moralistic ways. What is right and wrong is clear to them—namely, what their group thinks is right or wrong. Their feelings also tend to be simple and rule-governed, in the sense that there are some situations in which one feels happy, and other situations in which one feels sad. While Loevinger does try to avoid describing some stages as better than others, she does use the somewhat pejorative terms "banal" and “clichéd” to describe the conformist understanding of feelings. Interestingly, both feelings of happiness and feelings of shame tend to peak at this stage. Shame peaks because they are so concerned about approval from their group; consequently, the threat of shame is a powerful tool that groups can use to control individuals at this stage. On the other hand, as long as their place in the group is not threatened, conformist egos are quite happy, even happier than egos at the later stages, where right and wrong can never again be so simple and clear.

The fifth stage is the self-aware stage. This stage is the most common stage among adults in the United States. The self-aware ego shows an increased but still limited awareness deeper issues and the inner lives of themselves and others. The being to wonder what do I think as opposed to what my parents and peers think about such issues as God and religion, morality, mortality, love and relationships. They tend to not be at the point where they reach much resolution on these issues, but they are thinking about them. They are also more aware that they and others have unique feelings and motives, different from those that might be prescribed by the feeling rules they have learned from movies and books and other people. They recognize that just because one is part of the group does not mean that one always feels or thinks the same as the other group members and that’s true for other people in other groups as well. In short, they are appreciating themselves and others as unique. Increasing awareness of one’s unique feelings and motives creates tension between the “real me” and the “expected me”, which can lead to increased conflicts with family and peers. Finally, this ability to wonder whether your family or peers are right about what is right and wrong, to question whether you have been right about what is right and wrong, can lead to increased self-criticism.
At the sixth stage, the conscientious stage, this tendency towards self-evaluation and self-criticism continues. The conscientious ego values responsibility, achievement and the pursuit of high ideals and long-term goals. Morality is based on personally-evaluated principles, and behavior is guided by self-evaluated standards. Consequently, violating one’s standards induces guilt. This differs from the conformist stage where the tendency is to feel shame. Shame arises from not meeting the others’ expectations; guilt arises from not meeting one’s own expectations. Greater self-reflection leads to greater conceptual complexity; experiencing the self and the world in more complex ways; and this includes experiencing one’s own feelings and motives in more accurate and differentiated ways and expressing them in more unique and personal terms. Finally, with increasing awareness of the depth and uniqueness of others’ feelings and motives as well comes increasing concern with mutuality and empathy in relationships.

Before going on I should mention that the preceding three stages—the conformist, self-aware, and conscientious stages—are the most common for adults in the United States, and there are fewer and fewer people at the stages we are about to examine. Moreover, Loevinger suggested that we all have a hard time understanding stages that are more than one level above our own, so for many of us who are at the middle stages it can be hard to fully grasp the highest stages.

At the seventh stage, the individualistic stage, the focus on relationships increases, and although achievement is still valued, relationships tend to be more valued even more. The individualistic ego shows a broad-minded tolerance of and respect for the autonomy of both the self and others. But a wish gives others the autonomy to be who they really are can conflict with needs for connection and intimacy. The heightened sense of individuality and self-understanding can lead to vivid and unique ways of expressing the self as well as to an awareness of inner conflicts and personal paradoxes. But this is an incipient awareness of conflicting wishes and thoughts and feelings—for closeness and distance, for achievement and acceptance, and so on—but there is unlikely to yet be any resolution or integration of these inner conflicts.

At stage eight, the autonomous stage, there is increasing respect for one’s own and others’ autonomy. The autonomous ego cherishes individuality and uniqueness and self-actualization; individuals’ unique and unexpected paths are a source of joy. And these independent paths are no longer seen in opposition to depending on each other; rather relationships are appreciated as an interdependent system of mutual support; in other words, it takes a village to raise and sustain an autonomous ego. There is also greater tolerance of ambiguity. In particular, conflicts—both inner conflicts and conflicts between people—are appreciated as inevitable expressions of the fluid and multifaceted nature of people and of life in general; and accepted as such, they are more easier faced and coped with. Finally, the heightened and acute awareness of one’s own inner space is manifest in vivid ways of articulating feelings.

At the final stage, the integrated stage, the ego shows wisdom, broad empathy towards oneself and others, and a capacity to not just be aware inner conflicts like the individualistic ego or tolerate inner conflicts like the autonomous ego, but reconcile a number or inner conflicts and make peace with those issues that will remain unsolvable and those experiences that will remain unattainable. The integrated ego finally has a full sense of identity, of what it is, and at this stage it is seeking to understand and actualize my own potentials and to achieve integration of all those multi-faceted aspects of myself that have become increasing vivid as I’ve moved through the preceding three stages. In Loevinger’s research this highest stage is reached by less than 1% of adults in the United States.

Prof. Locke, does a good job of describing the stages, so I have juts copied the relevant sections from the transcript. Its however important to note the parallels here with other eight stage developmental theories. The first stage has to do with the differentiation of self from world and formation of ego in the first place. The second stage has to do with egocentric ego formation. The third with manipulative ego formation. The fourth with societal and conformist ego formation. The fifth stage with a self -aware or reflective ego formation. The sixth stage is qualitatively different and involves issues such as relationships with others and issues of intimacy and ego involved in relationships. The seventh and eighth stages have to do with interpersonal ego and the last with an integrative ego. All this follows the general developmental template and framework.

So don't forget to fill the sentences completion exercise and let me speculate on the ego stage of my readership!

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Developmental Stages: New Age concurs

I recently came across a series of article by Bill Harris, director of Centerpointe institute, regarding cognitive development and I found them relatively well-informed. Bill is a new Age Guru, but his articles were relatively well -informed regarding Piaget's developmental stages; moreover he shares my enthusiasm for developmental stages and believes in extending these stages beyond Piaget's four. The series is still incomplete and I link to the first two posts in the series.

I liked his linking these stages with the Jean Gebser's structure of consciousness and the consequent archaic, magical, mythical, mental and integral stages. I also liked his emphasis on perspective taking as an integral part of developmental process and I have covered that in detail here. However, he doesn't differentiate between the stages whereby one starts understanding that others have a different viewpoint/ perspective ( social-informational perspective) vis-a-vis when one starts adopting the viewpoint of another (self-reflective perspective). See my earlier post for more on these perspective stages as outlined by Robert Selman.

What I didn't like though, and found many issues with , was the various pathologies he associated with failures of developmental tasks at each stage. These he seemed to just pull out of his hat , with neither empirical support or strong theoretical foundations. Nevertheless, the series of articles may serve as a good refreshed for Piaget's theories of cognitive development for readers of this blog.

Some excerpts:


Cognitive development refers to our ability to perform various types of operations on what we encounter in the world and in our awareness. To live in the world, accomplish various things, and deal with the challenge of being human, we first learn to ”work with” (deal with, manage, get things done with) our body, then with objects, then with symbols, concepts, and ideas, and–if development continues to the highest transpersonal or transrational levels of development–we eventually add ways of dealing with life that are beyond the realm of ideas.

Sensorimotor, Piaget’s first stage (the stage before preoperational), is sometimes referred to as archaic in other naming conventions (in this case, in that of Jean Gebser).

Piaget divided cognitive development into four broad stages: 1) sensorimotor (0-2 years), 2) preoperational, or “preop” (2-7 years), concrete operational, or “conop” (7-11 years), and formal operational, or “formop” (11 years onward). Each of these can be divided into several substages. The ages are averages, and since a person could stop and remain at any level, you can find many adults at each level (though not many are found at the sensorimotor stage).

In this discussion I’ll also use some of the stage names used by Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber: archaic (similar to sensorimotor), magic (similar to early preoperational), magic-mythic (late preoperational), mythic (early concrete operational), mythic-rational (late concrete operational), and rational (formal operational). This is just to confuse you, of course.

In the sensorimotor stage, the infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning at first with reflexes and eventually using complex combinations of sensorimotor skills. At the beginning of this stage, the infant cannot yet distinguish itself from its environment (what some have called an experience of oceanic oneness). This has also been called a state of “primary narcissism,” because the infant is embedded in or undifferentiated from the environment.

I suggest, this should be enough to whet your appetite and that you go to the original source to get additional servings.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Memory formed more easily in daytime

As per a new Nature Reviews Neuroscience research highlight , conditioning in zebrafish happened better during subjective daytime (SD) as compared to subjective nighttime (SN) and this effect was mediated by the release of Melatonin during nighttime. the authors conclude that Melatonin suppresses memory formation in Zebrafish.

Learning and memory are known to be influenced by the time of day, but the nature and mechanism of this modulation has been elusive. Now, a new study shows that melatonin, a hormone released in a circadian fashion, affects memory consolidation in zebrafish.

Melatonin release peaks during the night and falls during the day, and melatonin has been shown to affect neuronal firing in the hippocampus. The authors therefore decided to investigate whether melatonin mediates the effects of the circadian system on memory formation. They found that bathing the zebrafish in 50 muM melatonin prior to SD conditioning significantly suppressed memory formation, whereas administration after conditioning or prior to testing had no effect. Furthermore, administration of a melatonin-receptor antagonist prior to SN conditioning significantly improved memory retention, as did removal of the pineal gland, the site of melatonin release.

Taken together, these results show that memory formation in zebrafish is inhibited during the night relative to the day, and that this modulation is mediated at least in part by circadian melatonin release. This might direct future research into improving mental performance in humans.

While extending the research results from zebrafish to humans may be premature, some simple studies with human subjects can confirm the effect of melatonin on human learning. and memory formation.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Five Core Social Motives

Susan Fiske in a popular needs model has identified Five Core Social Motives , easily remembered by the acronym BUC(k)ET standing for (Belonging, Understanding, Controlling, Enhancing Self, and Trusting) . In this system, belonging is the root need, the essential core social motive. The others are all said to be in service to, facilitating, or making possible effective functioning in social groups.

I now, give detailed descriptions of each motive based on Fiske's chapter in Motivated Social Perception book.

  1. Belonging: People are motivated to affiliate and bond with each other.
  2. Understanding: to belong , people are motivated to create an accurate-enough shared social understanding.
  3. Controlling:People are motivated to feel competitive and effective in their dealings with the animate and inanimate environment.
  4. Enhancing Self: Hoping that other will see you as socially worthy fits the core social motive of enhancing self.
  5. Trusting:Viewing the world as benevolent enables people to participate in many group activities without undue suspicion or vigilance.
I also came across an interesting paper that discusses many need theories. They have this to say about Fiske's theory:

Based on a comprehensive literature review of a wide variety of writings on basic needs and motives, Stevens and Fiske (1995) argued that there was overall agreement on five basic needs. Fiske (2002; 2004) continued to develop and elaborate this set of basic needs, or core social motives, using the BUC(K)ET acronym as a mnemonic device for the five motives: Belonging, Understanding, Controlling, Enhancing Self, and Trusting (leaving the K for students to play with if they would like to imagine a sixth motive). In this system, belonging is the root need, the essential core social motive. The others are all said to be in service to, facilitating, or making possible effective functioning in social groups.

As implied by its name, this theory is specifically designed to apply to needs that arise in social settings. "Core Social Motives describe fundamental, underlying psychological processes that impel people’s thinking, feeling, and behaving in situations involving other people" (Fiske, 2004, p. 14). A basic assumption of this theory is that underlying all of the basic needs is an evolutionary process that has led to these characteristics of human nature because they promote survival of the individual through belonging in groups. Although this kind of imagined evolutionary, survival-oriented thinking is not logically a required aspect of a theory of basic needs with a root need structure, in fact such thinking has been employed in the development of all three of the root need theories.

I am compelled to chalk the five social motives in terms of the first five developmental tasks.

  1. Belongingness. In the absence of bonding and affiliating with other people, one would not be able to acquire the feelings of trust necessary to operate smoothly in society.
  2. Understanding: When people create accurate-enough shared social understanding they are not hounded by feelings of doubt and shame in relation to social relationships and society functioning.
  3. Controlling: By feeling competitive and effective in dealing with one's animate and inanimate environment one can generate positive feelings of initiative in relation to social functioning and void any guilt over ineffectiveness.
  4. Enhancing Self: If others see one as socially worthy, then this gives rise to feelings of industry.
  5. Trusting: One needs a trusting environment to be able to brood over subtle questions like those of personal identity.

The core Social Motives seems to be a very promising theory that lets us analyse motives and needs at the social level of analysis . As such it deserves greater attention from the research community.

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Inability to learn from mistakes: The dopamine effect

In one of my recent posts on the role of basal ganglia in reinforcement learning, I highlighted research that showed that having high dopamine levels in basal ganglia causes an inability to learn form negative reinforcements, because of the low activity of the proposed NoGo system. Conversely a low dopamine level is associated with more effective negative reinforcement learning. To quote form the earlier article:

We found a striking effect of the different dopamine medications on this positive versus negative learning bias, consistent with predictions from our computer model of the learning process. While on placebo, participants performed equally well at choose-A and avoid-B test choices. But when their dopamine levels were increased, they were more successful at choosing the most positive symbol A and less successful at avoiding B. Conversely, lowered dopamine levels were associated with the opposite pattern: worse choose-A performance but more-reliable avoid-B choices. Thus the dopamine medications caused participants to learn more or less from positive versus negative outcomes of their decisions.

A similar result has been obtained for those who have an A1 allele for dopamine receptor D2. This allele causes fewer dopamine D2 receptor density, though as the paper is behind a subscription firewall, I could not ascertain if the decreased density is both in the Go as well as NoGo pathway. Anyway, it might be hypothesized that to compensate for the low receptor density more dopamine needs to be produced. this paradoxically leads to the situation where there is more baseline dopamine in the basal ganglia Go and NoGO pathways, thus leading to easy excitation of Go Pathway , but to lesser inhibition due to NoGo pathway. As a result, those who have A1 Allele would end up being unable to learn from negative reinforcement, and this is exactly what the authors have found. Here is the abstract of the paper:

The role of dopamine in monitoring negative action outcomes and feedback-based learning was tested in a neuroimaging study in humans grouped according to the dopamine D2 receptor gene polymorphism DRD2-TAQ-IA. In a probabilistic learning task, A1-allele carriers with reduced dopamine D2 receptor densities learned to avoid actions with negative consequences less efficiently. Their posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC), involved in feedback monitoring, responded less to negative feedback than others' did. Dynamically changing interactions between pMFC and hippocampus found to underlie feedback-based learning were reduced in A1-allele carriers. This demonstrates that learning from errors requires dopaminergic signaling. Dopamine D2 receptor reduction seems to decrease sensitivity to negative action consequences, which may explain an increased risk of developing addictive behaviors in A1-allele carriers.


I came to know this via the Action Potential blog. Though the AP blog is dismissive of this study, it provided a much more detailed description of the actual study.

Staying on the genetics theme, a recent Science article suggests that a particular variant of the dopamine receptor (D2) causes some people to poorly learn via negative reinforcement. The A1 allele, as this variant is known, has previously been linked to increased vulnerability of addiction.

The researchers recruited volunteers, who performed a learning task while lying in an fMRI machine. Individuals with the A1 allele (at least one copy) were equally successful at selecting a targeted "good" symbol reinforced with positive feedback (the display of a "smiley face") as those individuals completely lacking the A1 allele. However, when the task was changed such that negative reinforcement drove the learning (subjects were asked to avoid the "bad symbol"), those individuals with the A1 allele failed to perform as well as their A1-lacking colleagues.

Examining the fMRI data, those with the A1 allele had less activity in the frontal cortex and hippocampus, two areas normally responsive during tasks involving negative reinforcement and memory. This reduction was thought to be because possessing the A1 allele can cause up to a 30% reduction in D2 receptor density in individuals, presumably affecting the neural circuitry, and likely influencing the activity within the reward signaling pathways.

The AP blog may dismiss this on methodological grounds, and I because I have not read the original paper , would not comment much on that; but if I have understood the study method correctly, it seems to be the same as described in my earlier post on basal ganglia and seems a valid study paradigm. I am excited by this research and this definitely adds to our understanding of the dopamine pathways involved.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Development of (Infant) Consciousness

I recently came across this poster by Douglas Newman, regarding the development of consciousness in human infants, present in the 10th annual meeting of Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. This paper outlined a 4 stage developmental model (though the accompanying website mentions a five stage model) and I will take some liberties and present the model somewhat in my five stage framework.

Douglas believes that self-touch is the basis for self-model, which is the basis for self-referential thinking, which is the basis for consciousness. The four stage he has has outlined in his poster are:


Stage 1: Use of touch to distinguish 'self ' from 'other'
Even before birth babies use touch to explore themselves and their environment. The double sensory input provided by self-touch enables them to distinguish themselves from their environment. Kinaesthetic information also enables them to distinguish between active touch sensations produced by their own movements and passive touch sensations not coupled with movements. As consciousness is not necessary for this process it is assumed to be pre-conscious.


Stage 2: 1-4 months: Constructing the physical self-model
Piaget (1952) observed what he called primary circular reactions: repeated actions involving self-touch that begin at about one-month. The author's observations (reported in Page 4a of the web site) suggest that this behaviour is better described as a systematic exploration by a baby of his own body. The self-referential structure of the primary circular reactions has the form:
If I carry out action B then outcome C will be produced.
Repetitions and slight modifications of self-touching support the development of manipulative skills and the construction of a model of the self as a physical object


Stage 3: 4 months onwards Piaget's secondary circular reactions mark the onset of dynamic and systematic interactions with the environment.
Piaget (1952) observed that, from about four months old, babies perform secondary circular reactions:repeating actions that involve external objects. Young babies demonstrate this behaviour if they are given access to an appropriate mechanism. Typically, the baby is enabled make a foot movement that actuates a mobile or makes a noise. Repetitions demonstrate the ability to predict action outcomes (or rewards) in a highly structured environment. The self-referential structure of the secondary circular reactions may be expressed as:
If, in my current situation (A), I carry out action B, outcome C will be produced.
For this to be an effective procedure it is necessary that situation A be recognised, that B is part of the baby's repertoire of possible actions and that C be regarded as a reward. The essential step forward is that external objects are now involved in the self-referential loop.


Stage 4: 6 months onwards - motivation by success
It appears that, around this age, babies become motivated by success: they seek to demonstrate, both to themselves and interested adults, their ability to produce specific effects on their physical and/or social environment. This provides them with the first indication that they have the ability to effect their physical and social environment. This stage is also significant in that it allows the outcomes of actions to be expressed as changing the initial situation (A) to a final situation (C). Simple reasoning processes (observed from about 9 months) can now develop, comparable to those used by other great apes in using tools to achieve objectives.
Conceptualising the outcomes of actions as changes in situation supports the development of chaining - linking successive actions together to produce an overall (predicted) change in the environment.
One consequence of 'motivation by success' is the formation of an external world model, in which situations that provide possibilities for effective action are sought. This model necessarily incorporates self-referential aspects that will eventually be eliminated in the (ideally) objective model of the world employed by adults. An important consequence 'motivation by success' is that babies become active explorers of their environment. This becomes very apparent when they learn to walk.

Based from the website I can add a fifth stage:

Stage 5: Development of explicit self- and world-models is based on the motivational shift described above. This, and the recognition of agency in others, leads to cultural developments, including the use of symbolic representation and language.



Now this is very much close to the common developmental sub stages identified in the sensory motor stage identified by Piaget.




  1. Reflexive Stage (0-2 months) Simple reflex activity such as grasping, sucking. Motivation is. The instinctual habit of sucking thumb, for example leads to formation of thumb-is-my-own-body/self sort of concept.
  2. Primary Circular Reactions(2-4 months) Reflexive behaviors occur in stereotyped repetition such as opening and closing fingers repetitively. The primary motivation is self-agency. the fact that one can close and open fingers at will, leads to development of concept of self-will, an important ingredient of consciousness.
  3. Secondary Circular Reactions(4-8 months) Repetition of change actions to reproduce interesting consequences such as kicking one's feet to move a mobile suspended over the crib. Here the motivation is primarily of pleasure. One moves the mobile as it is pleasurable to watch, makes a pleasurable noise.
  4. Coordination of Secondary Reactions(8-12 months) Responses become coordinated into more complex sequences. Actions take on an "intentional" character such as the infant reaches behind a screen to obtain a hidden object. Here the grand transition that Dougals talks about takes place- motivation is now dictated by predicting the worldly outcome and archiving success in actions. The motivation is for success and predictive in nature. Chaining of world events also happens in successfully forming a world representation.
  5. Tertiary Circular Reactions(12-18 months) . Discovery of new ways to produce the same consequence or obtain the same goal such as the infant may pull a pillow toward him in an attempt to get a toy resting on it. The motivation now is novelty - finding novel ways of doing the same thing. Here situation A leads to situation C, but action taken to make the transition may be B or D or E.

The time frames above are tentative and I believe one can observe tertiary reactions in children below 9 months of age. The cognitive revolution that Tomasello et al mention, at 9 months of age, when a children starts recognizing other people as intentional agents , leads to a phenomenal change in consciousness also. But that would be going to the sixth stage of my 8 stage developmental framework, probably taking us to pre-operational period. It definitely would mark a major transition.

I find the above theory of infant consciousness development tenable and compatible with my won framework. Would love to hear conflicting theories, frameworks.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Baboon Metaphysics: Tabula Rasa and Group IQ


I recently came across this free excerpt from the Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. From the excerpt the book seems very promising.

First, let me tell you how, the book got its name. It got its name from a quote by Darwin, while he was contemplating the debate between empiricists (we gain knowledge from experiences- tabula rasa) and rationalists (we have innate schema, intuition and logic that is independent of experiences) as to how we acquire knowledge, and how evolutionary theory might provide the answers.

With growing excitement, Darwin began to see that his theory might allow him to reconstruct the evolution of the human mind and thereby resolve the great debate between rationalism and empiricism. The modern human mind must acquire information, organize it, and generate behavior in ways that have been shaped by our evolutionary past. Our metaphysics must be the product of evolution. And just as the key to reconstructing the evolution of a whale’s fin or a bird’s beak comes from comparative research on similar traits in closely related species, the key to reconstructing the evolution of the human mind must come from comparative research on the minds of our closest animal relatives. “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”


The authors then go on to confront behaviorist thoughts with experimental results that show that many animals come pre-programed in this world.

Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana) are two closely related North American birds with very different songs. Males in both species learn their songs as fledglings, by listening to the songs of other males. But this does not mean that the mind of a nestling sparrow is a blank slate, ready to learn virtually anything that is written upon it by experience. In fact, as classic research by Peter Marler and his colleagues has shown, quite the opposite is true. If a nestling male song sparrow and a nestling male swamp sparrow are raised side-by-side in a laboratory where they hear tape-recordings of both species’ songs, each bird will grow up to sing only the song of its own species.

The constraints that channel singing in one direction rather than another cannot be explained by differences in experience, because each bird has heard both songs. Nor can the results be due to differences in singing ability, because both species are perfectly capable of producing each other’s notes. Instead, differences in song learning must be the result of differences in the birds’ brains: something in the brain of a nestling sparrow prompts it to learn its own species’ song rather than another’s. The brains of different species are therefore not alike. And the mind of a nestling sparrow does not come into the world a tabula rasa—it arrives, instead, with genetically determined, inborn biases that actively organize how it perceives the world, giving much greater weight to some stimuli than to others. One can persuade a song sparrow to sing swamp sparrow notes, but only by embedding these notes into a song sparrow’s song. It is almost impossible to persuade a swamp sparrow to sing any notes other than its own. Philosophically speaking, sparrows are Kantian rationalists, actively organizing their behavior on the basis of innate, preexisting schemes.

They then go on to discuss studies by Tolman and his students that gave a blow to behaviorism and introducing knowledge as an intermediary between stimulus and response.

In 1928, Otto L. Tinklepaugh, a graduate student of Tolman’s, began a study of learning in monkeys. His subjects were several macaques who were tested in a room in the psychology department at the University of California at Berkeley (sometimes the tests were held outdoors, on the building’s roof, which the monkeys much preferred). In one of Tinklepaugh’s most famous experiments, a monkey sat in a chair and watched as a piece of food—either lettuce or banana—was hidden under one of two cups that had been placed on the floor, six feet apart and several feet away. The other cup remained empty. Once the food had been placed under the cup, the monkey was removed from the room for several minutes. Upon his return, he was released from the chair and allowed to choose one of the cups. All of Tinklepaugh’s subjects chose the cup hiding the food, though they performed the task with much more enthusiasm when the cup concealed banana.

To illustrate the difference between behaviorist and cognitive theories of learning, pause for a moment to consider the monkey as he waits outside the experimental room after seeing, for example, lettuce placed under the left-hand cup. What has he learned? Most of us would be inclined to say that he has learned that there is lettuce under the left-hand cup. But this was not the behaviorists’ explanation. For behaviorists, the reward was not part of the content of learning. Instead, it served simply to reinforce or strengthen the link between a stimulus (the sight of the cup) and a response (looking under). The monkey, behaviorists would say, has learned nothing about the hidden food—whether it is lettuce or banana. His knowledge has no content. Instead, the monkey has learned only the stimulus-response associations, “When you’re in the room, approach the cup you last looked at” and “When you see the cup, lift it up.” Most biologists and laypeople, by contrast, would adopt a more cognitive interpretation: the monkey has learned that the right-hand cup is empty but there is lettuce under the left-hand cup.

To test between these explanations, Tinklepaugh first conducted trials in which the monkey saw lettuce hidden and found lettuce on his return. Here is his summary of the monkey’s behavior:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Seizes lettuce. Rushes away with lettuce in mouth, paying no attention to other cup or to setting. Time, 3–4 seconds.

Tinklepaugh next conducted trials in which the monkey saw banana hidden under the cup. Now, however, Tinklepaugh replaced the banana with lettuce while the monkey was out of the room. His observations:

Subject rushes to proper cup and picks it up. Extends hand toward lettuce. Stops. Looks around on floor. Looks in, under, around cup. Glances at other cup. Looks back at screen. Looks under and around self. Looks and shrieks at any observer present. Walks away, leaving lettuce untouched on floor. Time, 10–33 seconds.

It is impossible to escape the impression that the duped monkey had acquired knowledge, and that as he reached for the cup he had an expectation or belief about what he would find underneath. His shriek reflected his outrage at this egregious betrayal of expectation.

Later they move on to their central premise, that baboons offer a good model to study the evolution of (human) mind.

Moreover, the conservation status of baboons confers neither glamour nor prestige on those who study them. Far from being endangered, baboons are one of Africa’s most successful species. They flourish throughout the continent, occupying every ecological niche except the Sahara and tropical rain forests. They are quick to exploit campsites and farms and are widely regarded as aggressive, destructive, crop-raiding hooligans. Finally, baboons are not particularly good-looking—many other monkeys are far more photogenic. Indeed, through the ages baboons have evoked as much (if not more) repulsion than admiration.

Baboons are interesting, however, from a social perspective. Their groups number up to 100 individuals and are therefore considerably larger than most chimpanzee communities. Each animal maintains a complex network of social relationships with relatives and nonrelatives—relationships that are simultaneously cooperative and competitive. Navigating through this network would seem to require sophisticated social knowledge and skills. Moreover, the challenges that baboons confront are not just social but also ecological. Food must be found and defended, predators evaded and sometimes attacked. Studies of baboons in the wild, therefore, allow us to examine how an individual’s behavior affects her survival and reproduction. They also allow us to study social cognition in the absence of human training, in the social and ecological contexts in which it evolved.

This same theme, of baboons having a greater social/group IQ is also touched upon by fellow ScientificBlogger Howard Bloom in a series of fascinating articles at the Scientificblogging.com, where I also blog. specifically Bloom refers to baboons and how they are smarter than chimpanzees, by being able to adapt to any environment (a more plausible definition of intelligence, instead of the usual anthropomorphic one we are accustomed to).

The ultimate test of intelligence is adaptability—how swiftly you can solve a complex problem, whether that problem is couched in words, in images, in crises, or in everyday life. The arena where intelligence is most important is not the testing room, it’s the real world. When you measure adaptability by the ability to turn disasters into opportunities and wastelands into paradises, bacteria score astonishingly high. But how do big-brained chimpanzees and small-brained baboons do? Or, to put it differently, how adaptable, clever, mentally agile, and able to solve real-world problems have chimpanzees and baboons proven to be?

He illustrates the above with a real world field study case example that showed the high adaptability of baboons.

Baboons have been called “the rats of Africa.” No matter how badly you desecrate their environment, they find a way to take advantage of your outrage. One group, the Pumphouse Gang, was under study for years by primatologist Shirley Strum. When Strum began her baboon-watching, the Pumphouse Gang lived off the land in Kenya and ate a healthy, all-natural diet. They ate blossoms and fruits when those were in season. When there were no sweets and flowery treats, the baboons dug up roots and bulbs.

Then came disaster—the meddling of man. Farmers took over parts of the baboons’ territory, plowed it, built houses, and put up electrified fences around their crops. Worse, the Kenyan military erected a base, put up homes for the officers’ wives and kids, and trashed even more of the baboons’ territory by setting aside former baboon-land for a giant garbage heap. If this had happened to a patch of forest inhabited by chimps, the chimpanzee tribes would have been devastated. But not the baboons.

At first, the Pumphouse Gang maintained its old lifestyle and continued grubbing in the earth for its food. Then came a new generation of adolescents. Each generation of adolescent baboons produces a few curious, unconventional rebels. Normally a baboon trip splits up In small groups and goes off early in the day to find food. But one of the adolescent non-conformists of the Pump House Gang insisted on wandering by himself. His roaming took him to the military garbage dump. The baboon grasped a principle that chimps don’t seem to get. One man’s garbage is another primate’s gold. One man’s slush is another animal’s snow cone.

The baboon rebel found a way through the military garbage heap’s barbed wire fence, set foot in the trash heap, and tasted the throwaways. Pay dirt. He’d hit a concentrated source of nutrition. When they came back to their home base at the end of the day, the natural-living baboons, the ones who had stuck to their traditional food-gathering strategies, to their daily grind digging up tubers, came home dusty and bedraggled, worn out by their work. But the adolescent who invented garbage raiding came back energetic, rested, strong, and glorious. As the weeks and months went by, he seemed to grow in health and vigor. Other young adolescent males became curious. Some followed the non-conformist on his daily stroll into the unknown. And, lo, they too discovered the garbage dump and found it good.

Eventually, the males who made the garbage dump their new food source began to sleep in their own group, separated from the conservative old timers. As they grew in physical strength and robustness, these Young Turks challenged the old males to fights. The youngsters’ food was superior and so was their physical power. They had a tendency to win their battles. Females attracted by this power wandered outside the ancestral troop and spent increasing amounts of time with the rebel males—who continued to increase their supply of high-quality food by inventing ways to open the door latches of the houses of the officers’ wives and taught themselves how to open kitchen cupboards and pantries and who also Invented ways to make their way through the electrified fences of farmers and gather armloads of corn. The health of the males and females in the garbage-picking group was so much better than that of the old troop that a female impregnated in the gang of garbage-pickers and farm-raiders was able to have a new infant every eighteen months. The females in the old, conservative, natural-diet group were stuck with a new infant only every 24 months. The innovators were not only humiliating the conservatives in pitch battles, they were outbreeding them.

I find the above anecdote very appealing. It seems we got to learn a lot from the social species and baboons may just be the ones we should look at more closely.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Maslow's eight basic needs and the eight stage devlopmental model

Most of us are familiar with the Maslow's hierarchy of needs . Though we tend to think of them as five basic needs, Maslow had modified the hierarchy later to include three other needs at the top taking the total to eight. The modified diagram is given below.


Out of these the first four needs, Maslow identified as deficit needs: i.e if the needs are not met, they make us uncomfortable and we are motivated or driven by these needs in as much as we are able to sufficiently fulfill these needs.

The last four needs, he identifies as growth needs: i.e. we never get enough of these . We are constantly motivated by these needs as they pertain to our growth and development.

He also arranged them in a hierarchy such that we are motivated primarily by a need only if lower level needs have been met. Thus, before one is motivated by cognitive or self actualization needs, one should have taken care of basic deficit needs like physiological, security, belonging and esteem.

Now, everyone knows I am sold to the eight stage developmental model. As such I see clear parallels here between developmental tasks that are archived ad needs that are met.

Let me now present the eight Maslow needs and explain it using analogies form other eight stage models.

  1. Physiological needs: These are the basic animal needs for such things as food, warmth, shelter, sex, water, and other body needs. If a person is hungry or thirsty or his body is chemically unbalanced, all of his energies turn toward remedying these deficiencies, and other needs remain inactive. If one's basic biological needs are not met, one would never be able to trust the environment and would be stuck with high neuroticism and anxiety.
  2. Safety needs:With his physical needs relatively satisfied, the individual's safety needs take over and dominate his behavior. These needs have to do with man's yearning for a predictable, orderly world in which injustice and inconsistency are under control, the familiar frequent, and the unfamiliar rare. This need for consistency, if not satisfied leads to feelings of doubt and shame (as opposed to feelings of autonomy or being in control) and lead to high conscientiousness or need for discipline and orderliness.
  3. Belonging needs:After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. This psychological aspect of Maslow's hierarchy involves emotionally-based relationships in general, such as friendship, sexual intimacy and having a supportive and communicative family. If one finds failure in having such close relationships, one is bedeviled with such negative social emotions like guilt (vis a vis initiative) and has low extraversion values.
  4. Self-esteem needs: All humans have a need to be respected, to have self-esteem, self-respect, and to respect others. People need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution, to feel accepted and self-valued, be it in a profession or hobby. This need if not satisfied leads to feelings of inferiority vis-a-vis feelings of industry. Feelings of inferiority in turn may lead to low agreeableness.
  5. Cognitive needs:Maslow believed that humans have the need to increase their intelligence and thereby chase knowledge. Cognitive needs is the expression of the natural human need to learn, explore, discover and create to get a better understanding of the world around them.This growth need for self-actualization and learning, when not fulfilled leads to confusion and identity crisis. Also, this is directly related to need to explore or the openness to experience.
  6. Aesthetic needs: Based on Maslow's beliefs, it is stated in the hierarchy that humans need beautiful imagery or something new and aesthetically pleasing to continue up towards Self-Actualization. Humans need to refresh themselves in the presence and beauty of nature while carefully absorbing and observing their surroundings to extract the beauty that the world has to offer. This need is a higher level need to relate in a beautiful way with the environment and leads to the beautiful feeling of intimacy with nature and everything beautiful.
  7. Self-actualization needs: Self-actualization is the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can.This need when fulfilled leads to feeling of generativity.
  8. Self-transcendence needs: Maslow later divided the top of the triangle to add self-transcendence which is also sometimes referred to as spiritual needs. Spiritual Needs are a little different from other needs, accessible from many level. This need when fulfilled, leads to feelings of integrity and take things to another level of being.
I, as usual am quite excited by these parallels and implore my readers to explore this further. In my next post I will be taking about core social motives theory, which like Maslow's is a needs theory, and how that maps to the five initial stages of development.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Basal Ganglia: action selection, error prediction and reinforcement learning

The December edition of Dana Foundation's online brain journal , cerebrum , has a very informative and interesting piece on the role of basal ganglia in response selection, error prediction and reinforcement learning.

The article contains a primer on basic basal ganglia functions and pathways.

The basal ganglia are a collection of interconnected areas deep below the cerebral cortex. They receive information from the frontal cortex about behavior that is being planned for a particular situation. In turn, the basal ganglia affect activity in the frontal cortex through a series of neural projections that ultimately go back up to the same cortical areas from which they received the initial input. This circuit enables the basal ganglia to transform and amplify the pattern of neural firing in the frontal cortex that is associated with adaptive, or appropriate, behaviors, while suppressing those that are less adaptive. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a critical role in the basal ganglia in determining, as a result of experience, which plans are adaptive and which are not.

Evidence from several lines of research supports this understanding of the role of basal ganglia and dopamine as major players in learning and selecting adaptive behaviors. In rats, the more a behavior is ingrained, the more its neural representations in the basal ganglia are strengthened and honed. Rats depleted of basal ganglia dopamine show profound deficits in acquiring new behaviors that lead to a reward. Experiments pioneered by Wolfram Schultz, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Cambridge have shown that dopamine neurons fire in bursts when a monkey receives an unexpected juice reward. Conversely, when an expected reward is not delivered, these dopamine cells actually cease firing altogether, that is, their firing rates “dip” below what is normal. These dopamine bursts and dips are thought to drive changes in the strength of synaptic connections—the neural mechanism for learning—in the basal ganglia so that actions are reinforced (in the case of dopamine bursts) or punished (in the case of dopamine dips)


In particular it discusses the role of dopaminergic receptors in the GO and NoGO pathways that are involved in positive and negative reinforcement learning respectively.

Building on a large body of earlier theoretical work, my colleagues and I developed a series of computational models that explore the role of the basal ganglia when people select motor and cognitive actions. We have been focusing on how When the “Go” pathway is active, it facilitates an action directed by the frontal cortex, such as touching your pinkies together. But when the opposing “NoGo” pathway is more active, the action is suppressed. dopamine signals in the basal ganglia, which occur as a result of positive and negative outcomes of decisions (that is, rewards and punishments), drive learning. This learning is made possible by two main types of dopamine receptors, D1 and D2, which are associated with two separate neural pathways through the basal ganglia. When the “Go” pathway is active, it facilitates an action directed by the frontal cortex, such as touching your pinkies together. But when the opposing “NoGo” pathway is more active, the action is suppressed. These Go and NoGo pathways compete with each other when the brain selects among multiple possible actions, so that an adaptive action can be facilitated while at the same time competing actions are suppressed. This functionality can allow you to touch your pinkies together, not perform another potential action (such as scratching an itch on your neck), or to concentrate on a math problem instead of daydreaming.

But how does the Go/NoGo system know which action is most adaptive? One answer, we think (and as you might have guessed), is dopamine. During unexpected rewards, dopamine bursts drive increased activity and changes in synaptic plasticity (learning) in the Go pathway. When a given action is rewarded in a particular environmental context, the associated Go neurons learn to become more active the next time that same context is encountered. This process depends on the D1 dopamine receptor, which is highly concentrated in the Go pathway. Conversely, when desired rewards are not received, the resulting dips in dopamine support increases in synaptic plasticity in the NoGo pathway (a process that depends on dopamine D2 receptors concentrated in that pathway). Consequently, these nonrewarding actions will be more likely to be suppressed in the future.

It then goes on to consider the different types of learner: positive learners that have a more active GO system and negative learners that have a more active NoGO system.

This theoretical framework, which integrates anatomical, physiological, and psychological data into a single coherent model, can go a long way in explaining changes in learning, memory, and decision making as a function of changes in basal ganglia dopamine. In particular, this model makes a key, previously untested, prediction that greater amounts of dopamine (via D1 receptors) support learning from positive feedback, whereas decreases in dopamine (via D2 receptors) support learning from negative feedback.


They then experimentally manipulated the dopamine levels and verified their predictions. The experiment involved a simple game in which two symbols say A and B were paired consistently (along with other symbols say 'CD') with subjects required to choose one of them. After each choosing, the subject was given feedback as to whether he had been rewarded or punished. This feedback was not consistently related to the choice : 'A' was rewarded with positive feedback 80% of times, while 'B' was punished with negative feedback 80 % of the times. Thus though an implicit learning would happen to chose A and reject B, this rule would not be explicitly learned. Now, comes the interesting part, choose A strategy is related to positive learning and Avoid B strategy with negative learning. When these symbols A and B, in test phase were paired with new symbols say E and F respectively, subjects should have implicitly still gone with choose A and Avoid B strategy with equal inclination. Yet, administering dopamine affecting drugs had dramatic effects.

We found a striking effect of the different dopamine medications on this positive versus negative learning bias, consistent with predictions from our computer model of the learning process. While on placebo, participants performed equally well at choose-A and avoid-B test choices. But when their dopamine levels were increased, they were more successful at choosing the most positive symbol A and less successful at avoiding B. Conversely, lowered dopamine levels were associated with the opposite pattern: worse choose-A performance but more-reliable avoid-B choices. Thus the dopamine medications caused participants to learn more or less from positive versus negative outcomes of their decisions



They then go on to apply these results to Parkinson's patients.In Parkinson's patients have deficits in basal ganglia dopamine levels - especially in the NoGO pathway. Medication is L-Dopa which is a dopamine precursor and acts by increasing dopamine in the basal ganglia. They hypothesized, that people with untreated Parkinson's will be negative learners (less dopamine and less the dip), while those on medication would be positive learners 9more dopamine and more the burst).

To test this idea, we presented people with Parkinson’s disease with the same choose-A/avoid-B learning task once while they were on their regular dose of dopamine medication and another time while off it.8 Consistent with what we predicted, we found that, indeed, patients who were off the medication were relatively impaired at learning to choose the most positive stimulus A, but showed intact or even enhanced learning of avoid-B. Dopamine medication reversed this bias, improving choose-A performance but impairing avoid-B. This discovery supports the idea that medication prevents dopamine dips during negative feedback and impairs learning based on negative feedback

This notion might explain why some medicated Parkinson’s patients develop pathological gambling behaviors, which could result from enhanced learning from gains together with an inability to learn from losses.


The above (gambling in those on dopamine) I have touched earlier also, in relation to psychosis and schizophrenia, where dopamine excess is suspected. In those cases, having a consistently high dopamine level may predispose towards positive behavioral learning and positive cognitive learning. The latter may be the underlying manic loop, whereby only positively rewarded cognitions become salient, leading to a rosy picture of universe. Negatively reinforced cognitions are not registered properly and not learned/ remembered.

They then go on to discuss other implications like in ADHD, wherein the total noise in dopamine neurons may be higher, leading to both lowered positive and negative learning (my conjecture, not author's) and in addiction.

Overall a very fascinating article indeed.

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Neural correlates of trust

This is the title of a new paper in PNAS by Krueger et al, that tries to find the neural correlates of conditional and unconditional trust using the sequential, reciprocal trust game. The authors premise is that conditional trust is more costly strategy compared to unconditional trust and might utilize different brain areas as well.

Conditional trust assumes that one's partner is self-interested and estimates the expected value of one's strategy with respect to the benefits of cooperating, the risk of defection, and the future value of past decisions; it causes less balanced goodwill and results in greater variance in cooperative decisions and, therefore, is cognitively more costly to maintain. In contrast, unconditional trust assumes that one's partner is trustworthy and updates the value of one's partner with respect to their characteristics and past performance; balanced goodwill occurs more quickly, allowing the partners to attain high levels of synchronicity in their decisions and, therefore, is cognitively less costly to maintain. In this work, an examination of functional brain activity supports the hypothesis that the preferential activation of different neuronal systems implements these two trust strategies.


The results of their experiments supported their initial hypothesis and they found that while Para Cingulate cortex (PcC) activation was necessary for menatlizing and initial building of trust; later unconditional and conditional trust strategies deployed different brain areas viz Septal Area (SA) and Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) respectively.

Unconditional trust assumes that one's partner is trustworthy. During the building stage, first movers in the nondefector group showed higher activation in the PcC compared with first movers in the defector group. Through mentalizing, partners of this group verified their prior trustworthy assumption, updated the value of one's partner's strategy with respect to their past performance, and maintained a balanced goodwill toward each other, allowing them to avoid defections. By developing "better" mental models in this early stage, partners in the nondefector group accumulated sufficient mutual goodwill to become socially attached to each other and adopted an unconditional trust strategy.

During the maintenance stage, the nondefector group showed a higher activation in the SA compared with the defector group. Across groups, pairs who showed the highest trust-reciprocate history in their decisions also showed the highest activation in this region. Furthermore, analyses of pre- and postscan behavioral ratings confirmed that only nondefector pairs felt significantly closer to each other and ranked themselves as being more of a partner to the other person after the experiment. Through early mentalizing, partners in the nondefector group must have balanced goodwill more quickly, allowing them to become synchronized in their decision patterns. Brain-to-brain correlations only increased in the SA region for the nondefector group across stages, and only partners in the nondefector group became synchronized in their SA BOLD amplitudes as first movers in adjacent trials of trust games. Synchronization in the SA led to social attachment associated with a significant decrease in activation in the PcC during the maintenance stage. By adopting this cognitively less costly strategy, decision times became significantly faster for the nondefector group across stages of the experiment.

Conditional trust assumes that one's partner is self-interested. During the building stage, first movers in the defector group showed less activation in the PcC compared with the nondefector group. Through less mentalizing in the building stage, partners in this group produced higher errors in the inferences of second movers' goodwill toward them, resulting in less balanced goodwill and, therefore, in less overall trust compared with the nondefector group. More importantly, they started to trust more in the low-payoff games and less in the high-payoff games. This decision pattern implies that defectors were adapting a conditional trust strategy by evaluating the expected value of one's strategy with respect to the risks and benefits of cooperation.

During the maintenance stage, the defector group showed higher activations in the VTA compared with the nondefector group, a region linked to the dopaminergic mesolimbic reward system providing a general reinforcement mechanism to encode expected and realized reward . Across groups, pairs who shared the lowest trust-reciprocate history in their decisions also showed the highest activation in this region. By adopting a cognitively more costly strategy, partners in the defector group showed a significant increase in activation in the PcC over the experiment. Through more mentalizing in this late stage, first movers in the defector group tried to develop more accurate models about the likelihood of their partner's choices so that they could make a more advantageous decision about when to trust. The conditional trust strategy paid off less over time as total earnings decreased for the defector group (but increased for the nondefector group) across stages.


Thus, it seems that SA, based on oxytocin and vasopressin and social bonding is a more cost-effective strategy than the VTA based on dompainerigic system based on reward monitoring.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

cortex maturation: found the references

In my earlier post on cortex maturation, I was unable to find the references for the claims that in Autism cortex matures earlier during toddler phase and that even in adulthood, it may be thicker.

In a recent PNAS commentary, reagarding the delay rather than deviance theory of ADHD, I came across the appropriate references to back the above observations, as well as the accelerated pruning in child-onset schizophrenia. Passing that along.

An important question is whether the delay of brain maturation is a specific characteristic of ADHD or is shared by other child psychiatric disorders. So far, none of the other major psychiatric disorders have been associated with a maturational delay of brain structure. However, to my knowledge, longitudinal structural studies have been conducted only in patients with ADHD, childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS), and autism, finding maturational deviance rather than delay. Adolescents with COS are characterized by a striking nonlinear, progressive acceleration of the normal gray matter and volume decrease in cortical regions that levels off in adulthood (22). In autism, there is an early left hemispheric overgrowth of gray and white matter at young toddler age with conflicting findings of either arrested growth or remaining brain enlargement in adolescence and adulthood (23). The findings of delayed structural brain maturation seem, thus far, to be specific to ADHD and may be an important neuroanatomic trait. However, further exploration of the developmental trajectories in other child psychiatric disorders is needed to establish the importance of a delay of brain maturation as a specific neuroanatomic marker for ADHD.
(emphasis mine, references below)
22. Greenstein D, Lerch J, Shaw P, Clasen L, Giedd J, Gochman P, Rapoport J, Gogtay N (2006) J Child Psychol Psychiatry 47:1003–1012.
23. Bashat DB, Kronfeld-Duenias V, Zachor DA, Ekstein PM, Hendler T, Tarrasch R, Even A, Levy Y, Sira LB (2007) NeuroImage 37:40–47.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

IQ matters...or does it?

This is just an FYI post regarding two great articles on IQ.

The first addressees the white-black IQ gap and shows that the gap is due to environmental factors and not genetic. This is a well written article by Malcom Gladwell and is strongly recommended to be read in its entirety. The arguments are manifold:

  1. Flynn effects show that IQ scores have increased over time, and hence IQ is malleable and prone to environmental influences.
  2. Intelligence is also a cultural construct and what may be intelligent behavior in one culture may be deemed stupid in another.
  3. Intelligence can be raised by providing the right socio-cultural environment and cognitive grooming and scaffolding. High heritability may partially be due to the fact that high SES groups are considered in such studies. In poor families IQ heritability drops to 10 to 20 % and environmental factors play a much higher role.
  4. IQ tests are renormed (to take care of the Flynn effect and the definition of IQ as relative to mean IQ of population) and sometimes data that supports claims like Asians have higher IQ than white which have higher than blacks are comparing apples to oranges.
  5. IQ gap is narrowing and the average scores of blacks increasing at a faster rate than whites, which is further proof that there is not a racial gap that is due to genetics.
The second article is by Flynn himself and covers some of the same ground. The main essay is followed by several commentaries and it makes for a stimulating exchange.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Perfectionism: devleopmental influences?

A recent Mind Hacks post, and a comment by John Bunch there, set me thinking, regarding whether perfectionism could have a developmental genesis. Perfectionism , like other personality traits, would likely be having both genetic and environmental factors contributing ti its development. So, before proceeding further, I would like to list the factors of perfectionism as identified in a recent study by Frost et al, they are:

  1. Excessive concern over making mistakes
  2. The doubting of quality of one's actions
  3. High personal standards
  4. Perception of high parental expectations and criticisms
  5. A preference for order and organization

To me they present in a nice order on the five developmental factors related to trust (whether mistakes will be tolerated or not), Autonomy vs shame and doubt(doubting quality of one's actions), Initiative vs guilt (setting high standards to avoid guilt), industry vs inferiority(judging oneself by perceived parental standards) and finally Identity vs role confusion (having order and organization in life to relive the role confusion). Thus, all the perfectionist traits are a result of some deficient achieving of a developmental milestone - especially in relation to goal pursuing.

Here I come to my second theme- the comment by John Bunch, tries to draw fascinating parallels between the need to avoid mistakes in Perfectionists and the avoidance of risks in Passive Aggressives - and relates both of them to Carol Dwecks work with parsing and installing in children a fixed, entity like belief of personality and intelligence versus a growth mindset that has room for improvements and change. It is worthwhile here to recount Carol Dwecks experiments in which her team found that those children who had fixed, entity like view of intelligence gave up earlier on solving difficult tasks , avoided hard tests, weer more concerned with their image and projecting a good face than in learning - and one can easily see that these are seed for the later perfectionist traits of fear of mistakes, perceived high expectations and criticisms of parents etc. Similarly in Passive Aggressives this translates into risk avoidance - different mechanism chosen, due to underlying genetic temperaments, but to the same environmental stimuli of the fixed intelligence or talent myth installation.

By the way, the five factors of Perfectionsim can also be construed in terms of the big five factors -

  1. Neuroticism (cognitive)- worry over mistakes.
  2. Conscientiousness (motivational)- high and unrealistic standards
  3. Extraversion (behavioural) - doubt over actions
  4. Agreeableness (social)- perceived criticism and expectations
  5. Openness (exploratory) - organization and order

I would love to hear more comments on this developmental theory of perfectionism. A quick search on Google revealed a promising dissertation that links perfectionism to helpless explanatory style which fits with Dwecks theory.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Rasing Successful kids

Carol Dweck, whose research I have covered extensively earlier, writes in this month's Scientific American Mind , regarding how to raise a successful child. She touches upon the entity vs incremental theories of intelligence, which she frames as fixed and innate abilities vis-a-vis a growth mindset. As per this theory having successful and intelligent children depends on not praising the children for their smarts or intelligence or talent , but on their efforts and hard work. Also, to inculcate in them a sense of brain's malleability and to view challenges as resulting in growth as a result of facing difficulties and seeing the challenges as opportunities for brain development and learning. this view purportedly leads to more motivation and effort while facing life challenges or solving educational problems. Ironically, the article is titled The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, while in my opinion , to not reinforce the 'smart' stereotype, it should have been labeled The Secret to Raising Successful Kids. this would have also captured the recent Strenberg's emphasis on successful intelligence.

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Let the Mouse Party begin : Encehpalon #37 is up!

Encephalon #37 is up at A Blog Around The Clock. While I liked, amongst others , the post pitting amygadala (subjective) with insula (objective) in beauty perception, what I was mesmerized with was the Mouse Party post.

Mouse Party is a web resource developed by university of Utah, that lets you see with very cool animations the effects of common drugs of abuse like LSD, Ecstasy etc. Lately I have been blogging a bit about ecstasy , LSD (Leary's model of consciousness etc), so along with the mouse theme, this immediately caught my eye.

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