Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Robert Kegan's stages of Social Maturity/ orders of consciousness

I happened to stumble upon recently on an excellent two series article by Mark Dombeck about the theories of Robert Kegan. The articles are really good and I strongly recommended that you go there and read the stuff in its entirety.

Robert Kegan is a developmental psychologist, based at Harvard, and inspired by Piaget's stage theories, he has proposed his own stage theory as to how we become socially mature. Critical to understanding his theory are some concepts related to subject-object consciousness. Subject consciousness refers to self-concepts to which we are attached and thus cannot take an objective look. Object consciousness is also part of self, and was a subject consciousness in an earlier stage, but now we can detach ourselves from the underlying phenomenon and take an objective look at that part of self.

It is his thesis that as babies we feel everything as self and actually have no concept of self different from that of the world. Slowly as we develop, we start identifying with our bodily sensations, reflexes, movements, desires, needs etc and our sphere of objectivity grows bigger, while our sphere of subjectivity narrows and shrinks.

He also maintains that we pass through discrete developmental stages , wherein we take a leap from one stage to another, and while stuck in that developmental stage , are not passively dividing the world and self in subject and object consciousness, but it is a dynamic process, though in equilibrium. At each leap, what was earlier subjective, now becomes objective. another way to say the same is that what was concrete (my perspective and thus available to me) becomes abstract(another's perspective and thus not available to me, but can only be imagined from abstraction)

More complex appreciations of the social world evolve into existence as a person becomes able to appreciate stuff abstractly that they used to appreciate only in concrete (obvious, tangible) forms. This is to say (using Kegan's terms) that people are initially embedded in their own subjective perspective. They see things only from their own particular point of view and fundamentally cannot understand what it might be like to see themselves from another perspective other than their own. Being unable to understand what you look like to someone else is the essence and definition of what it means to be subjective about yourself, for example. Being able to appreciate things from many different perspectives is the essence of what it means to be relatively objective.



With this introduction, I'll now like to introduce readers to the seven stages he has identified (he has missed the eighth stage in his analysis!)

Kegan is suggesting that as babies grow into adults, they develop progressively more objective and accurate appreciations of the social world they inhabit. They do this by progressing through five or more states or periods of development which he labeled as follows:
  • Incorporative
  • Impulsive
  • Imperial
  • Interpersonal
  • Institutional
In their beginnings, babies are all subjective and have really no appreciation of anything objective at all, and therefore no real self-awareness. This is to say, at first, babies have little idea how to interpret anything, and the only perspective they have with which to interpret things is their own scarcely developed perspective. They can recognize parent's faces and the like, but this sort of recognition should not be confused with babies being able to appreciate that parents are separate creatures with their own needs. This key recognition doesn't occur for years.

Kegan describes this earliest period as Incorporative. The sense of self is not developed at this point in time. There is no self to speak of because there is no distinction occurring yet between self and other. To the baby, there is not any reason to ask the question, "who am I" because the baby's mind is nothing more and nothing less than the experience of its senses as it moves about. In an important sense, the baby is embedded in its sensory experience and has no other awareness.
Babies practice using their senses and reflexes a lot and thus develop mental representations of those reflexes. At some point it occurs to the baby that it has reflexes that it can use and senses that it can experience. Reflex and sensation are thus the first mental objects; the first things that are understood to be distinct components of the self. The sense of self emerges from the knowledge that there are things in the world that aren't self (like reflexes and senses); things that I am not. To quote Kegan, "Rather than literally being my reflexes, I now have them, and "I" am something other. "I" am that which coordinates or mediates the reflexes..."
Kegan correspondingly refers to this second period of social appreciation development as Impulsive, to suggest that the child is now embedded in impulses – which are those things that coordinate reflexes. The sense of self at this stage of life would be comfortable saying something like, "hungry", or "sleepy", being fully identified with these hungers. Though babies are now aware that they can take action to fulfill a need, they still are not clear that other people exist yet as independent creatures. From the perspective of the Impulsive mind, a parent is merely another reflex that can be brought to bear to satisfy impulses.

The objectification of what was previously subjective experience continues as development continues. Kegan's next developmental leap is known as the Imperial self. The child as "little dictator" is born. In the prior impulsive self, the self literally is nothing more and nothing less than a set of needs. There isn't anyone "there" having those needs yet. The needs alone are all that exists. As awareness continues to rise, the child now starts to become aware that "it" is the very thing that has the needs. Because the child is now aware that it has needs (rather than is needs), it also starts to become aware that it can consciously manipulate things to get its needs satisfied. The impulsive child was also manipulative, perhaps, but in a more unaware animal manner. The imperial child is not yet aware that other people have needs too. It only knows at this stage that it has needs, and it doesn't hesitate to express them.

The Interpersonal period that follows next starts with the first moment when the child comes to understand that there are actually other people out there in the world whose needs need to be taken into account along side their own. The appreciation of the otherness of other people comes about, as always by a process of expanding perspectives. The child's perspective in this case expands from its own only to later include both its own and those of other important people around it. It is the child's increasingly sophisticated understanding of the idea that people have needs itself which cause the leap to occur. To quote Kegan again,"I" no longer am my needs (no longer the imperial I); rather I have them. In having them I can now coordinate, or integrate, one need system with another, and in so doing, I bring into being that need-mediating reality which we refer to when we speak of mutuality."
In English then, the interpersonal child becomes aware that "not only do I have needs, other people do too!" This moment in time is where conscience is born and the potential for guilt and shame arises, as well as the potential for empathy. Prior to this moment, these important aspects of adult mental life don't exist except as potentials.
The interpersonal child is aware that other people have needs which it needs to be taken into account if it is to best satisfy its own needs. There is no guiding principle that helps the interpersonal child to determine which set of needs is most important – its own, or those of the other people. Some children will conclude that their own needs are most important to satisfy, while others will conclude that other's needs should be prioritized, and some children will move back and forth between the two positions like a crazy monkey.

As the child's sense of self continues to develop, at some point it becomes aware that a guiding principle can be established which helps determine which set of needs should take precedence under particular circumstances. This is the first moment that the child can be said to have values, or commitments to ideas and beliefs and principles which are larger and more permanent than its own passing whims and fears. Kegan refers to this new realization of and commitment to values as the Institutional period, noting that in this period, the child's idea of self becomes something which can be, for the first time, described in terms of institutionalized values, such as being honest. "I'm an honest person. I try to be fair. I strive to be brave." are the sorts of things an institutional mind might say. Values, such as the Golden Rule (e.g., "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), start to guide the child's appreciation of how to be a member of the family and of society. The moral, ethical and legal foundations of society follow from this basic achievement of an Institutional self. Further, children (or adults) who achieve this level of social maturity understand the need for laws and for ethical codes that work to govern everyone's behavior. Less socially mature individuals won't grasp why these things are important and cannot and should not simply be disregarded when they are inconvenient.

For many people, social maturity seems to stop here at the Institutional stage. Kegan himself writes that this stage is the stage of conventional adult maturity; one that many (but not all) adults reach, and beyond which most do not progress. However, the potential for continued development continues onwards and upwards.
The next evolution of self understanding occurs when the child (by now probably an adult) starts to realize that there is more than one way of being "fair" or "honest" or "brave" in the world. Whereas before, in the interpersonal mindset, there is only one possible right way to interpret a social event (e.g., in accordance with one's own value system), a newly developed InterIndivdiual mindset starts to recognize a diversity of ways that someone might act and still be acting in accordance with a coherent value system (though not necessarily one's own value system).
For example, let's consider how someone with an Institutional mindset and someone with an InterIndividual mindset might judge someone who has become a "draft dodger" so as to avoid military duty. There are precisely two ways that an Institutionally minded person might look at such an action. If he or she is of the mainstream institutional mindset, draft dodging is a non-religious sort of heresy and a crime which should be punishable. If, on the other hand, he or she is of a counter-cultural institutional mindset, then judgements are reversed and draft dodging is seen as a brave action which demonstrates individual courage in the face of massive peer pressure to conform. An institutionally minded person can hold one or the other of these perspectives but not both, because he or she is literally embedded in one or the other of those perspectives and cannot appreciate the other except as something alien and evil.

A person who has achieved InterIndividual social maturity is able to hold both mainstream and counter-cultural value systems in mind at the same time, and to see the problem of draft dodging from both perspectives. This sort of dual-vision will appear to be the worst kind of wishy-washiness and flip-floppery to someone stuck in a conventional Institutional mindset and maturity level. However, if you are following the progression of social maturity states, and how one states' embedded subjective view becomes something which is seem objectively alongside other points of view as social maturity progresses, you will see that such dual-vision is indeed the logical next step; what a more socially mature sort of human being might look like.

Please note that though Mark only identifies five stages upfront, he mentions another one , which is inter-individualistic as the sixth stage. The reason he is reluctant is because most adults presumably never reach this stage. Also Kegan himself, in this interview talks about fifth-order of consciousness , which is equivalent to the seventh stage and defines it as a self-transforming stage:

WIE: So what about that tiny percent of people beyond self-authoring, or fourth order—what are the characteristics of the next, fifth order of consciousness?

RK: When you get to the edge of the fourth order, you start to see that all the ways that you had of making meaning or making sense out of your experience are, each in their own way, partial. They're leaving certain things out. When people who have long had self-authoring consciousness come to the limits of self-authoring, they recognize the partiality of even their own internal system, even though like any good system, it does have the capacity to handle all the "data," or make systematic, rational sense of our experience. In the Western world, we often call that "objectivity." But just because you can handle everything, put it all together in some coherent system, obviously doesn't make it a truthful apprehension—or truly objective. And this realization is what promotes the transformation from the fourth to the fifth order of consciousness, from the self-authoring self to what we call the self-transforming self. So, you start to build a way of constructing the world that is much more friendly to contradiction, to oppositeness, to being able to hold on to multiple systems of thinking. You begin to see that the life project is not about continuing to defend one formation of the self but about the ability to have the self literally be transformative. This means that the self is more about movement through different forms of consciousness than about the defending and identifying with any one form.

WIE: I think Don Beck would call your fifth order of consciousness a move to the Second Tier, which is an evolutionary transformation that takes us beyond survival mode to a more integral perspective on life.

RK: Yes. And it is also important to keep in mind that in this move from the fourth to the fifth order, from self-authoring to self-transforming, you have very important distinctions between those who are in the earlier process of that transition and those in the later stages—who have actually achieved the fifth order. So, there's a critical distinction between on the one hand, a negative postmodernism that is all about trashing any ideological form, which is only deconstructive and is all about a fatigue with and critique of the ideological, and on the other, what I call a more reconstructive postmodernism that is not just about trashing. When you get to the other side of this four to five shift, and you've moved to this more reconstructive or transformative side, then there's a whole capacity for reconnecting to these ideologies and recognizing that each of them is partial. You're building relationships among them rather than holding on to one and projecting the other. It's a much more positive spirit.

To clarify things a bit, in his later analysis , Kegan has replaced the stages of social maturity with orders of consciousness.

In In Over Our Heads, Kegan stops using the five stages described above in favor of the newer "orders of consciousness" scheme.

First order consciousness corresponds (roughly) to Incorporative and Impulsive stages and describes awareness which is fixed upon sensation and movement and impulse. It is awareness but it is not really yet a self.

Second order consciousness corresponds roughly to the Imperial self stage. It is awareness of self as a singular point of view without any real comprehension of others as independent selves in their own right.

Third order consciousness corresponds to Interpersonal and Institutional self stages, and describes a sense of self which is aware of both self and other as independent needful beings all of which are (or ought to be) guided by a consistent set of values.

A final fourth order of consciousness is also described which corresponds to the Interindividual self stage in which self-determination and tolerance and acceptance of formerly rejected aspects of self and society becomes possible.

The idea is that all people pass through these various stages as they develop, but not all people make it to the end of the line. Adolescence is typically characterized by the transition from second order to third order consciousness, but not all adolescents end up achieving third order consciousness by the time they become adults. Similarly, adulthood is typically characterized by the movement from third order consciousness into fourth order consciousness, but many adults do not make this transition either. Nevertheless, the institutions we live under (in America and in the West) tend to make demands on us as though we have all achieved fourth order consciousness.


Please note that in the interview Kegan clearly talks about a fifth order of consciousness and thus a seventh stage of social maturity.

To me the stages correspond neatly with the general eight-stage framework:

  1. The incorporative stage is all about the initial formation of a self concept that is different from world and the dawning of the subjective self or subjectivity.
  2. The impulsive stage is all about impulses that drive the self and with which one start identifying.
  3. The imperial stage is all about leveraging ones own interests vis-a-vis those of significant others. Here, there is awareness of others and interaction with them, but only as agents or obstacle- thus the persons are objectified and not treated as persons.
  4. The interpersonal stage is all about treating significant others as real people who can have as much desires, needs etc as one himself can. For the first time empathy comes into picture.
  5. The institutional stage is all about some values which one can abstract and make as guidelines for ones life. One realizes that people can have different values, but thinks that one's own value system is the best/correct one.
  6. the inter-individual stage is all about appreciating that others can have different, yet equally valid value systems and for the first time one can be said to take the true perspective of another individual.
  7. the self-transforming stage is all about becoming aware that there are multiple value-systems suitable for different occasions and to become comfortable with contradictions in the value systems.
  8. The eighth stage I hypothesize would have to do with finding an integrity or integral perspective wherein one find that the value-systems one is using is holistic , despite contradictions and is able to resolve the apparent contradictions. One would see one as an object and there would be no subjectivity involved at all.

I'll now briefly touch upon spiral dynamics, because in Kegan's interview one of the spiral dynamics stages is equated with kegan's stage/ order of consciousness.

Here again we find that there are eight stages , though unfortunately first six are grouped under tier I and the last 2 under tier II; while as per my framework only the flirts five should be in tier I and the last 3 in tier II.

They are :
Beige
Archaic-instinctive—survivalistic/automatic/reflexological
From 100,000 BC on
"Express self to meet imperative physiological needs through instincts of Homo sapiens."
  • Purple
Animistic-tribalistic magical-animistic Tribal order
From 50,000 BC on
"Sacrifice to the ways of the elders and customs as one subsumed in group."
  • Red
Egocentric-exploitive power gods/dominionist
From 7000 BC on
"Express self (impulsively) for what self desires without guilt and to avoid shame."
  • Blue
Absolutistic-obedience mythic order—purposeful/authoritarian
From 3000 BC on
"Sacrifice self for reward to come through obedience to rightful authority in purposeful Way."
(Amber is Ken Wilber's current name for Blue)
  • Orange
Multiplistic-achievist scientific/strategic
From 1000 AD on (as early as 600 AD according to Graves and Calhoun)
"Express self (calculatedly) to reach goals and objectives without rousing the ire of important others."
  • Green
Relativistic-personalistic—communitarian/egalitarian
From 1850 AD on (surged in early 20th century)
"Sacrifice self interest now in order to gain acceptance and group harmony."
  • Yellow
Systemic-integrative
From 1950s on
"Express self for what self desires, but to avoid harm to others so that all life, not just own life, will benefit."
  • Turquoise
Holistic
From 1970s on
A sacrifice self-interest system which is still forming


That should be enough for today!! Take the above spiral dynamics correlation with a pinch of salt, as Clare Graves on whose theory this work is build is explicit that these should not be confused with personality traits, though I am tempted to correlate this with the big eight and propose that when one gets stuck at lower level of development one has more of that trait in the negative direction.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Encephalon Emerald Edition

The emerald Edition of Encephalon is just out at the Neuroscientifically challenged and Marc does a good job of bringing to light some of the most interesting and fascinating posts on brain from the last two weeks. A few that I found immediately drawn to were Greg Downey's critical appraisal of the neuroplasticity popular press misconceptions and he does a pretty good job of that while simultaneously arousing interest in neuroplasticity in general and Doidge's book in particular. another goo done is the growing recognition that antidepressant can temporarily increase suicide risk and that anti-psychotics may be a novel treatment for reducing suicide risk as they help control impulsivity. To me dopamine is related to impulsivity and anti-psychotics seem a better bet than anti-depressants when targeting suicide as most suicide is due to high impulsivity. There are many more gems, so go have a look.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Allport's eight stages of self (proprium) development

While we are at the subject of personality, it would be instructive to note the contributions of Gordon Allport. He has had a seminal influence, introduced traits, but was simultaneously a believer in the uniqueness of an individual and wholeness of personality. His identified adjectives, amongst others, were subjected to factor analysis by Goldberg and that revealed the famous five (or the Big Five). However, one of the things that never caught up , was the term proprium he introduced for self. However some of his concepts for self have stood the test of time.

This post is about the development stages by which the self or unifying personal meaning construct of a person develops. Like most of the other developmental stage theories (like Loevinger's ego development theory) this too follows a eight stage unfolding of self.

  1. The Sense of Bodily Self, which is a sense of one's own body, including bodily sensations, attests to one's existence and therefore remains a lifelong anchor for self-awareness.
  2. The Sense of Self-identity , which is the second aspect of the proprium is self-identity. This is most evident when the child, through acquiring language, recognizes himself as a distinct and constant point of reference.
  3. The Sense of Self-Esteem or Pride, which is an individual's evaluation of himself and the urge to want to do everything for oneself and take all of the credit.
  4. The Sense of Self-Extension, occurs during the third year of life, which states that even though some things are not inside my physical body they are still very much a part of one's life.
  5. The Self-Image, or how others view "me" is another aspect of selfhood that emerges during childhood.
  6. The Sense of Self as a Rational-Coper occurs between the ages of six and twelve in which the child begins to realize fully that he ahs the rational capacity to find solutions to life's problems, so that they can cope effectively with reality demands.
  7. Propriate Striving, which Allport believed to be the core problem for the adolescent. It is the selection of the occupation or other life goal, the adolescent knows that their future must follow a plan, and in this sense makes them lose their childhood.
  8. Self as a Knower:The knower (thinking agent) "rides" on top of them. The thinker is different from his or her thoughts, is Allport's stand, contrary to William James, who ridiculously maintains that "The thoughts themselves are the thinker"
Note that this concept of self is more in cognitive terms while Loevinger's is more in psychoanalytical terms.


Another alternative description of the same stages is present here:

Sense of body develops in the first two years of life. We have one, we feel its closeness, its warmth. It has boundaries that pain and injury, touch and movement, make us aware of. Allport had a favorite demonstration of this aspect of self: Imagine spitting saliva into a cup -- and then drinking it down! What’s the problem? It’s the same stuff you swallow all day long! But, of course, it has gone out from your bodily self and become, thereby, foreign to you.

Self-identity also develops in the first two years. There comes a point were we recognize ourselves as continuing, as having a past, present, and future. We see ourselves as individual entities, separate and different from others. We even have a name! Will you be the same person when you wake up tomorrow? Of course -- we take that continuity for granted.

Self-esteem develops between two and four years old. There also comes a time when we recognize that we have value, to others and to ourselves. This is especially tied to a continuing development of our competencies. This, for Allport, is what the “anal” stage is really all about!

Self-extension develops between four and six. Certain things, people, and events around us also come to be thought of as central and warm, essential to my existence. “My” is very close to “me!” Some people define themselves in terms of their parents, spouse, or children, their clan, gang, community, college, or nation. Some find their identity in activities: I’m a psychologist, a student, a bricklayer. Some find identity in a place: my house, my hometown. When my child does something wrong, why do I feel guilty? If someone scratches my car, why do I feel like they just punches me?

Self-image also develops between four and six. This is the “looking-glass self,” the me as others see me. This is the impression I make on others, my “look,” my social esteem or status, including my sexual identity. It is the beginning of what conscience, ideal self, and persona.

Rational coping is learned predominantly in the years from six till twelve. The child begins to develop his or her abilities to deal with life’s problems rationally and effectively. This is analogous to Erikson’s “industry.”

Propriate striving doesn’t usually begin till after twelve years old. This is my self as goals, ideal, plans, vocations, callings, a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. The culmination of propriate striving, according to Allport, is the ability to say that I am the proprietor of my life -- i.e. the owner and operator!


I can easily relate these to the general eight stage framework:, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the readers!!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Cloninger's Temaparements and character traits: room for a behaviorist view?

Today I wish to discuss C. Robert Cloninger's theory of temperaments and character traits. It is a psycho biological theory based on genetic and neural substrates and mechanisms and in it he proposes for the existence of four temperament traits and three character traits; thus talking about seven personality traits. First the abstract to give you some idea:

In this study, we describe a psychobiological model of the structure and development of personality that accounts for dimensions of both temperament and character. Previous research has confirmed four dimensions of temperament: novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence, and persistence, which are independently heritable, manifest early in life, and involve preconceptual biases in perceptual memory and habit formation. For the first time, we describe three dimensions of character that mature in adulthood and influence personal and social effectiveness by insight learning about self-concepts. Self-concepts vary according to the extent to which a person identifies the self as (1) an autonomous individual, (2) an integral part of humanity, and (3) an integral part of the universe as a whole. Each aspect of self-concept corresponds to one of three character dimensions called self-directedness, cooperativeness, and self-transcendence, respectively. We also describe the conceptual background and development of a self-report measure of these dimensions, the Temperament and Character Inventory. Data on 300 individuals from the general population support the reliability and structure of these seven personality dimensions. We discuss the implications for studies of information processing, inheritance, development, diagnosis, and treatment


This article provides an excellent in-depth look at the Temperament and character Inventory (TCI) developed by Cloninger and it gives detailed description of all the traits and their sub-scales or facets.

I'll list them briefly below (in order )(along with their sub scales/ facets)

I) Novelty seeking (NS)
  1. Exploratory excitability (NS1)
  2. Impulsiveness (NS2)
  3. Extravagance (NS3)
  4. Disorderliness (NS4)
II) Harm avoidance (HA)
  1. Anticipatory worry (HA1)
  2. Fear of uncertainty (HA2)
  3. Shyness (HA3)
  4. Fatigability (HA4)
III) Reward dependence (RD)
  1. Sentimentality (RD1)
  2. Openness to warm communication (RD2)
  3. Attachment (RD3
  4. Dependence (RD4)
IV) Persistence (PS)
  1. Eagerness of effort (PS1)
  2. Work hardened (PS2)
  3. Ambitious (PS3)
  4. Perfectionist (PS4)
V) Self-directedness (SD)
  1. Responsibility (SD1)
  2. Purposeful (SD2)
  3. Resourcefulness (SD3)
  4. Self-acceptance (SD4)
  5. Enlightened second nature (SD5)
VI) Cooperativeness (C)
  1. Social acceptance (C1)
  2. Empathy (C2)
  3. Helpfulness (C3)
  4. Compassion (C4)
  5. Pure-hearted conscience (C5)
VII) Self-transcendence (ST)
  1. Self-forgetful (ST1)
  2. Transpersonal identification (ST2)
  3. Spiritual acceptance (ST3)
To me this lacks one more trait and I'm sure Cloninger will identify and add one more in the future (he added the three character traits relatively late).

Now for the meat of the post. My thesis is that these are similar to the Big Eight temperaments that I have discussed in my earlier post and follow the same eight fold developmental/evolutionary pattern. Further , I would claim that each facet of a trait follows the same structure. Most traits have 4 or 5 facets and these are typically related to 5 major ways of reacting/ relating to world around us. It is also my thesis that juts as cloninger had tied the initial three traits to behavioral inhibition, behavioral approach and behavioral maintenance and to the three neurotransmitter systems of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine respectively; the same line of argument can be extended to other facets and new biogenic amine CNS neurotransmitters pathways correlated with each trait.


Harm Avoidance:

Individuals high in HA tend to be cautious, careful,fearful, tense, apprehensive, nervous, timid, doubtful,discouraged, insecure, passive, negativistic, or pessimistic even in situations that do not normally worry other people. These individuals tend to be inhibited and shy in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be low and they feel chronically tired or easily fatigued. As a consequence they need more reassurance and encouragement than most people and are usually sensitive to criticism and punishment. The advantages of of high Harm Avoidance are the greater care and caution in anticipating possible danger, which leads to careful planning when danger is possible. The disadvantages occur when danger is unlikely but still anticipated, such pessimism or inhibition leads to unnecessary worry.

In contrast, individuals with low scores on this temperament dimension tend to be carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous persons. The advantages of low Harm Avoidance are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty,leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to reckless optimism.


Form the above it is clear that this is related to Neurotcisim and. This would also be related to anxiety witnessed in clinical situations and requiring treatment. It is instructive to note that Cloninger proposes Serotonin CNS system as a substrate for this trait and that many anti-anxiety drugs actually target serotonin receptors (SSRIS are the best anti anxiety drugs).also as per the model this is involved in behavior inhibition. Let me elaborate that and propose that what is meant by behavior inhibition is learning to avoid the predator. In operant conditioning paradigms this would be learning due to Positive punishment. Learning to inhibit a pre-potent behavior because of punishments.

Novelty Seeking:

Individuals high in Novelty Seeking tend to be quick-tempered, excitable, exploratory, curious, enthusiastic, ardent, easily bored, impulsive, and disorderly The advantages of high Novelty Seeking are enthusiastic and quick engagement with whatever is new and unfamiliar, which leads to exploration of potential rewards. The disadvantages are related to excessive anger and quick disengagement whenever their wishes are frustrated, which leads to inconsistencies in relationships and instability in efforts.

In contrast, individuals low in Novelty Seeking are described as slow tempered, indifferent, uninquisitive, unenthusiastic, umemotional, reflective, thrifty, reserved, tolerant of monotony, systematic, and orderly.

These are classical Impulsiveness related symptoms and can be safely associated with the dopamine system. this trait then is related to conscientiousness and is driven by rewards and reward-related behavior learning. Excess is this trait may result in psychosis and many anti-psychotic drugs act on this dopamine system. This is the traditional behavioral activation system. In operant conditioning terms we can call this learning under positive reinforcement. New behaviors are learned or strength of old behaviors is modified (increased) in the presence of primary reinforces like food, sex,(even money) etc).

Reward dependence:

Individuals who score high in Reward Dependence tend to be tender-hearted, loving and warm, sensitive, dedicated, dependent, and sociable. They seek social contact and are open to communication with other people. Typically, they find people they like everywhere they go. A major advantage of high Reward Dependence is the sensitivity to social cues, which facilitates warm social relations and understanding of others’ feelings. A major disadvantage of high Reward Dependence involves the ease with which other people can influence the dependent person’s views and feelings, possibly leading to loss of objectivity.

Individuals low on the Reward Dependence are often described as practical, tough minded, cold, and socially insensitive. They are content to be alone and rarely initiate open communication with others. They prefer to keep their distance and typically have difficulties in finding something in common with other people. An advantage of low Reward Dependence is that independence from sentimental considerations.


From the above it is clear that this is related to trait Extraversion or sociability and influences how adept, and prone, one is at forming alliances and friends. This has been hypothesized to be related to norepinephrine system and related to behavioral maintenance. In operant conditioning terms , I interpret it as maintaining a behavior despite no real (primary) reinforcement, but just because of secondary reinforcement (social approval, praise, status etc). This is not necessary maladaptive and secondary reinforcement are necessary; but too much dependence on that may lead to depression. Initial anti-depressants all worked on the norepinepherine system and the monoamine theory of depression is still around. I believe that depression is multi-factorial, but the social striving/approval/negotiation is a prime facet underlying the illness.


Persistence:

Individuals high in Persistence tend to be industrious, hard-working, persistent, and stable despite frustration and fatigue. They typically intensify their effort in response to anticipated reward. They are ready to volunteer when there is something to be done, and are eager to start work on any assigned duty. Persistent persons tend to perceive frustration and fatigue as a personal challenge. They do not give up easily and, in fact, tend to work extra hard when criticized or confronted with mistakes in their work. Highly persistent persons tend to be ambitious overachievers
who are willing to make major sacrifices to be a success. A highly persistent individual may tend to be a perfectionist and a workaholic who pushes him/herself far beyond what is necessary to get by.High Persistence is an adaptive behavioral strategy when rewards are intermittent but the contingencies remain stable. However, when the contingencies change rapidly, perseveration becomes maladaptive.
When reward contingencies are stable, individuals low in Persistence are viewed as indolent, inactive, unreliable, unstable and erratic on the basis of both self-reports and interviewer ratings. They rarely intensify their effort even in response to anticipated reward. These persons rarely volunteer for anything they do not have to do, and typically go slow in starting work, even if it is easy to do. They tend to give up easily when faced with frustration, criticism, obstacles, and fatigue. These persons are usually satisfied with their current accomplishments, rarely strive for bigger and better things, and are frequently described as underachievers who could probably accomplish for than they actually do, but do not push themselves harder than it is necessary to get by. Low scorers manifest a low level of perseverance and repetitive behaviors even in response to intermittent reward. Low Persistence is an adaptive strategy when reward contingencies change rapidly and may be maladaptive when rewards are infrequent but occur in the long run.


By some stretch of imagination one can relate this to being empathetic or agreeable. (volunteering etc) and thus to agreeableness. One way this could be related to parental investment is that those who do not care for their kids have children that give up easily and are frustrated easily; thus the same mechanism may lie both parental care behavior and persistent behavior in the kid. This behavior/trait I propose may be related to epinepherine CNS system. This is related to behavior persistence; in opernat conditioning terms this is behavior persistence despite no primary or even secondary reinforcement. Of course extinction will eventually happen in absence of reward, but factors like time/ no. of trials taken to archive extinction may be a factor here. Although, behavior is not reinforced at all still it is persisted with and maybe even different related variations tried to get the desired reward. Stimulants as a class of drug may be acting on this pathway, stimulating individuals to engage in behavior despite no reinforcement.

Self-directedness:

Highly self-directed persons are described as mature, strong, self-sufficient, responsible, reliable, goaloriented, constructive, and well-integrated individuals when they have the opportunity for personal leadership. They have good self-esteem and self-reliance. The most distinctive characteristics of self-directed individuals is that they are effective, able to adapt their behavior in accord with individualy chosen, voluntary goals. When a self-directed individual is required to follow the orders of others in authority, they may be viewed as rebellious trouble maker because they challenge the goals and values of those in authority.

In contrast, individuals who are low in Self-Directedness are described as immature, weak, fragile, blaming, destructive, ineffective, irresponsible, unreliable, and poorly integrated when they are not conforming to the direction of a mature leader. They are frequently described by clinicians as immature or having a personality disorder. They seem to be lacking an internal organizational principle, which renders them unable to define, set, and pursue meaningful goals. Instead, they experience numerous minor, short term, frequently mutually exclusive motives, none of which can develop to the point of long lasting personal significance and realization.

To me the above looks very much like the Rebelliousness/ conformity facet of Openness or intellect. The core idea being whether one has archived ego-integrity and good habits. I propose that histamine or melatonin may be the mono amine CNS system involved here, though phenuylethylamine(PEA) also seems a good target, so do tyrosine and other trace amines. Whatever be the neurotransmitter system involved, the operant conditioning phenomenon would be learning to engage in behavior despite +ve punishment. thus, the ability to go against the grain, convention, or social expectations and be true to oneself. This behavior can be called learning under -ve reinforcement i.e engaging in a behavior despite there being troubling things around, in the hope that they would be taken away on successful new behavior. I would also relate this to behavioral reportaire of the individual. People high on this trait would show greater behavioral variability during extinction trials and come up with novel and insightful problem solving behaviors.


That is it for now; I hope to back up these claims, and extend this to the rest of the 3 traits too in the near future. Some things I am toying with is either classical conditioning and avoidance learning on these higher levels; or behavior remembering (as opposed to learning) at these higher levels. Also other neurotransmitter systems like gluatamete, glycine, GABA and aspartate may be active at the higher levels. Also neuro peptides too are broadly classified in five groups so they too may have some role here. Keep guessing and do contribute to the theory if you can!!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The big fight: The Big Five or The Big Eight?

The big question of the day is whether to overthrow the last 40-yrs mature conventional wisdom that there are only five personalty traits or factors. The introduction of Big Five or FFM model of personality had spawned a big research paradigm and there are many independent confirmations; so before I try to throw the baby out with the bath-water, let me just say at the outset that just like the big five model is not incompatible with Eysneck's PEN model, so is my proposed eight factor model not inconsistent with the Big Five model- it just extends it and introduces a few new traits or dimensions. I have written in the past about personality, so it may help to read a few articles to know where I am coming from. I especially recommend this one related to perfectionism and personality.

First a quick review. the big Five personality dimensions are (in no particular order): Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. It is to be recalled that these traits were discovered by lexical analysis of adjectives/ nouns and then doing factor analysis on the data to discover the minimum number of factors required to account for the variation in the data set. This way five factors have been discovered by exploratory Principal component analysis in many languages.

Recall that in PCA, factors are ordered. First factor is more important and can explain most of the variance. Second is less important/ responsible for variance and so on. It is my thesis that these personality traits would occur in a factor analysis in the order in which they evolve/develop , with the most evolved/ developed trait , which is most under hereditary control, reflected more in language and accounting for more variance in the data set.

Now, I do not have access to the original Goldberg or any McRae and Costa factor analysis results , so cannot say what the order of factors was. I propose, from my theoretical leanings and ordering of eight basic adaptive problems, the order would be (in order of less importance) : Neuroticism, conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Openness.

I have done some quick lookup on Google , but could not find much data related to how the five factors are ordered. One source I found, found support for NECAO ordering if only items from NEO-PI were analyzed; but NCEAO i.e. my order when additionally Zuckerman scales were also taken into account.

Let me delineate this further:

  1. Neuroticism (N): personality more focused towards solving the adaptive problem of avoiding predators. marked by negative emotionality, worry etc. Nettle calls these Worriers. The plot that works for them is 'overcoming the monster': everything apprised as a monster. primary mode of being: emotional.
  2. Conscientiousness (C): personality more focused on optimally finding and utilizing resources (or finding food) Nettle calls them controller. The plot that works for them is Rags to riches. How to become successful. Primary mode of being: motivational.
  3. Extraversion (E): personality more focused on forming alliances/friendships and thus issues of dominance- hierarchy. Nettle calls them wanderers. The plot for them a Quest, where they wander adn on the way make alliances/ friends to reach the illusive goal. The Journey , and the energy imbued with travel, becomes more important than the Goal. Primary mode of being: behavioral/social.
  4. Agreeableness (A): personality more focused on care of close ones; be it friends or children. Nettle calls them Empathizers. not sure if voyage and return is an apt plot for them. Primary mode of being: attachment/ care/ responsibility.
  5. Openness (O): Here I'll like to re-categorize this as rebelliousness vs social conformity: adaptive problem to be solved : who am I and who are like-minded people / roles that I should help. Nettle calls them Poets. The plot that works for them is comedy wherein one has to find true identities of disguised people or become reunited with twins/ kin etc. Primary mode of being: cognitive and self-appraisal
I'll like to add three more factors to the above based on CPS scales and any other theoretical as well as factor-analytic considerations:

6. Trust vs defensiveness (T)
: personality more focused on who can be trusted and who cannot. trying to see behind someones apparent persona.
7. Activity (Act) : personality more focused on being active, communicative, lively and humorous.
8. Masculinity- femininity (M-F): personality more focused on becoming desirable to the opposite sex.

The reasons I extend this are:

I) The evidence for Comrey Personality scales:
  1. Trust vs. Defensiveness ; A new factor (T above)
  2. Social Conformity vs. Rebelliousness: same as O
  3. Emotional Stability vs. Neuroticism: same as N
  4. Mental Toughness vs. Sensitivity: Same as Masculinity- femininity above
  5. Orderliness vs. Lack of Compulsion: Same as C
  6. Activity vs. Lack of Energy: A new factor (Act above)
  7. Extraversion vs. Introversion : same as E
  8. Empathy vs. Egocentrism : Same as A
II) when Nouns are factor analyzed we get eight factors (in the order of importance of factors)
  1. Social Unacceptability (Scum, tarsh, mororn): N (negative emotion)
  2. Intellect (philosopher, artist,nonconformist): C? (not conscientious person?)
  3. Egocentrism (snoop, busybody, know-it-all): E (not extarverted person)
  4. Ruggedness (tough, gentleman, fighter) : A (not agreeable person)
  5. Delinquency (law-breaker, googdy-ggody, innocent): O (more rebellious person)
  6. Attractiveness (babe , doll, hero) : T ??(a trustworthy person is attractive??)
  7. Liveliness (joker, chatterbox, loudmouth): Act ( a more active/ communicative person)
  8. Disorientation: (klutz, novice, daydreamer): M-F ? (are we being sexually selected for more 'orientation'?)
III) Goldberg, who had originally proposed the Big five has revised them to include two more ; he calls them Religiosity and WYSIWYG respectively.
Goldberg (Goldberg 1992b) has identified the “next two” factors that might be used to augment the big five. The first, tentatively called Religiosity, includes adjectives ranging from prayerful and reverent at the north pole to irreligious and unreligious at the south pole. The second, tentatively called what you see is what you get, includes adjectives ranging from undevious and unsly at the north pole to slick and aristocratic at the south pole. He goes on to point out that “there are no additional domains with anywhere near the breadth of the Big-Five factors”.


IV) Wikipedia entry says that others have also proposed more traits (and presumably also found in their factor analytic studies evidence for such traits)

Some psychologists have dissented from the model precisely because they feel it neglects other domains of personality, such as Religiosity, Manipulativeness/Machiavellianism, Honesty, Thriftiness, Conservativeness, Masculinity/Femininity, Snobbishness, Sense of humour, Identity, Self-concept, and Motivation.


See this also on personality research:

Saucier and Goldberg (1998) presented evidence that nearly all clusters of personality-relevant adjectives can be subsumed under the Big Five. Paunonen and Jackson (2000), however, argued that this study used too loose a criterion for inclusion in the Big Five--namely that the Big Five account for at least 9% of the variance in the adjective cluster. Reanalyzing the same data using a stricter criterion of 20% explained variance resulted in nine clusters of traits that fell outside of the Big Five: Religiosity, Honesty, Deceptiveness, Conservativeness, Conceit, Thirft, Humorousness, Sensuality, and Masculinity-Femininity. These analyses do not imply that the clusters are unrelated; for example, Honesty and Deceptiveness may be highly (negatively) related as opposite sides of the same dimension. Nevertheless, these results suggest that several important personality traits lie beyond the Big Five.


Considering all the above factors , especially keeping in mind the fact that Goldberg;'s new proposed religiosity may be more close to the now-traditional openness which I have re-characterized as rebellious- conformity ; and that Goldberg's unsly, slick, aristocratic and undevious may correspond to trust-defensiveness dimension; what we see is that the traditional intellect that Goldberg uses may be better thought of as Activity dimensions which relates to how lively, communicative and active a person is . Also he completely misses the last factor related to masculinity / femininity.

For the other proposed dimensions by Johnson et al , it is easy to see that religiosity can be subsumed under my definition of Opennnes; honesty/deceptiveness are opposite poles of the trust-defensiveness (T) trait); Conservativeness, Conceit, Thirft, Humorousness are better conceptualized as per me into Activity trait (Act) and that leaves us sensuality and Masculinity-Femininity as the last trait with these being two poles: at one end the role is more gender conformant; at the other it is more open and sensual in nature. If ever Humans speciate, it would because of this dimension!! It has been my thesis that we have been developing in diversity along these personality dimensions, but speciation would most likely happen only when assortattive mating and sexual selection acts at the eighths trait and the eighth trait is under more and more genetic control. Such a scenario may, thankfully, be far away!!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Encephalon #54 : up and running

The 54th edition of Encephalon, the premium brain carnival , is now up and running on the Neurophilosophy blog. There are many interesting articles there, like the article on color vision (I too have written about color vision extensively in the past-), so go and have a look, and savor what fancies you!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Evolution of Life: the eight stage process repeating again and again?

This post is regarding the evolution of Life-forms on earth. I'll start from the primordial soup/ sandwich and try to show how life developed in stages and how development of a particular life-form was an adaptation to a particular adaptive problem. My thesis is that life should evolve in eight stages each , with each evolutionary stage solving one adaptive problem.

For reference, I have heavily used this post titled 'The Making of Cat' by Roger Berton and Nancy Creek. I would however present the finding in my own idiosyncratic way , using as my reference the eight-fold evolutionary/ developmental stages. I have also used the 21 major animal phyla classification as present on Wayne's Word site.

  1. Co-Evolution of genes and proteins/ amino-acids: Life first originated in the primordial soup/sandwich of molecular compounds. Proteins may be thought of as chemicals (enzymes) that helped speed up the chemical process in desired direction and provided stability to the gene-protein complex, while at the same time destabilizing other combination of compounds; while genes as replicators that ensured that the gene-protein complex could not only survive but reproduce or help make copies of oneself. Here the first problem was that of how to avoid being broken-up by other proteins/ enzyme that worked to break other chemical compounds in the soup. Thus the evolution of genes and proteins was primarily driven by how they could become stable and get into such stable configurations that the corrosive influence of the primordial soup could be withstood and an identity asserted!
  2. Evolution of the chromosome or two strands of DNA: Once stable gene-protein couplings could come together the next problem was how to extract the maximum from the primordial soup for self-maintenance and self-enhancement. The problem was solved by genes and non-genetic code coming together to form a DNA strand and then two DNA strands and a layer of water coming together to form a chromosome. A similar approach was taken by viruses, but it contained RNA instead of DNA and hence juts a single strand, which proved ineffective against the double helix. Eventually, though viruses continue to evolve, life evolved in the direction of DNA.
  3. Evolution of a simple unicellular prokaryotic-bacteria-like cells: Once chromosomes outwitted viruses, the next problem facing them was how to maximally defend against predators (other destabilizing compounds) and also eat or grow maximally (use the soup maximally). Here they thought that forming alliance was a good step. So a few chromosomes came together and the chromosomes and the proteins they made, especially the outer cellular wall, gave rise to simple prokaryotic cells. These cells were simple- no nucleus, no specialized organelles. The key was that 2 or 24 chromosomes were better than single chromosomes.
  4. Evolution of simple unicellular Archea-like cells: It is assumed that Archea is just a type of bacteria or Prokaryotes, but it has been proposed that these are more similar to Euaryotes than prokaryotes and may be the missing link in evolution and may have been the common ancestor of eukaryotes. Anyway, the problem facing the primordial animal after the first three problems had been faced was how to share resource optimally between one and one's offspring. The reproduction was still asexual but different asexual techniques like binary fission, multiple fission, fragmentation, budding etc were tried. Techniques like horizontal gene transfer came into picture. The whole idea being what is the best parental investment while reproducing asexually. Here also for the first time, DNA contained introns or non-coding DNA (whose significance, we still do not know!!).
  5. Evolution of simple uni-cellular Eukaryotic like cells: It is generally agreed that eukaryotes evolved from simple prokaryote-like cells, or better still Archaea like cells.
    These cells are more specialized and have a nucleus as well as other specialized structures enclosed in membranes. It is my thesis that this centralization of DNA in nucleus and also concurrent appearing of different specialized organelles like mitochondria was key step in evolution, that for the first time made permissible a central command system (nucleus). The adaptive problem to be solved was how to help those specialized structures that were related or kin-like from conflicting demands on the cytoplasm (the common pool) and a central command center (nucleus ) evolved!
  6. Evolution of simple colonies of cells (first animal phylum: the porifera or sponges) : Once a central command (nucleus) originated that could control the organelles within, it's command was turned outwards to manage conflicts with other similar cells and form a co-operating colony of identical cells. This was the biggest leap-to-date and gave rise to multi-cellular organisms.These were simple in the sense that all cells were the same : there was no specialization: no digestive tract. There was also radial symmetry. The problem to be solved was how to know which cells would co-operate and which not (akin to reading the cells mind or having a theory-of-cell-mind module) . Somehow, I believe that having radial symmetry sort of solved this trust problem.
  7. Evolution of multi-cellular organisms with digestive tracts (second animal phyla coelenterate): These are the modern day jelly fishes and corals. They solved the internal communication problem that was facing them. How to tell each cell what to do. Some cells specialized as digestive tract based on signaling during development. There are three classes : Hydrozoa (Hydra),Scyzophoa (jelly fish), Anthozoa (anemones and corals ) of these. Reef corals may form (1) fringing reefs extending out to 0.4 kilometers from shore; (2) barrier reefs separated by a lagoon of considerable width and depth from a shore; and (3) atolls or circular reefs that encircle a lagoon of water and not enclosing an island. this is just to highlight the importance of number three at stage seven of evolution! I also believe that for the first time reproduction sexually became paramount and gave rise to germ-line gametes of sperms and eggs and also soma cells that reproduced by mitosis and not meiosis. Specialization of cells into structures like Gonads became possible; just like the digestive tract, once the problem of internal communication and command was solved. Please also note that for the first time we have a polyp type or medusa like stage.
  8. Evolution of multi-cellular organisms moving towards a CNS( bilaterality) (third animal phyla :Ctenophora (Comb Jellies)): These have biradially symmetric bodies. It is my contention that a move from radial to biradial may have arisen just by chance and due to sexual selection and may have ultimately kled to bilaterally symmetric bodies, which somehow necessitated or gave rise to the CNS. Externally there are eight plates of fused cilia that resemble long combs; the rows of ciliated comb plates are used for locomotion. These are also bio-luminescent , perhaps another property to make them attractive to mates and arose out of sexual selection. The problem to be solved : attracting 'right' mates; the solution bio-luminescence and move towards bilateral symmetry. These are also solitary creatures and have no polyp stage.
This brings us finally to the completion of first round of evolution, with the move from genes to fully-functional multi-cellular animals; but still simple and not having a CNS. After this CNS somehow developed along with bilaterality and a new chain of evolution started. I've thus reset the count of evolutionary stage to 1.
  1. Phylum Platyhelminthes (Flatworms): bilateral symmetry with CNS,No body cavity.
  2. Phylum Nemertea (Ribbon Worms)
  3. Phylum Rotifera (Rotifers): Coelem incomplete.
  4. Phylum Gastrotricha (Gastrotrichs).
  5. Phylum Nematomorpha (Horsehair Worms).
  6. Phylum Nematoda (Nematodes): a special level of evolutionary jump and that is why we scientists study this a lot.
  7. Phylum Acanthocephala (Spiny-Headed Worms).
  8. Phylum Bryozoa (Bryozoans): body with, for the first time, a true coelom.
And of course this paves way for the next wave of evolution of protosomians: Blastopore forms mouth, schizocoelom present. Their list goes as follows: again evolutionary stage reset to 1.

  1. Phylum Tardigrada (Tardigrades).
  2. Phylum Brachiopoda (Brachiopods).
  3. Phylum Mollusca (Mollusks).
  4. Phylum Annelida (Segmented Worms).
  5. Phylum Sipunculoidea (Peanut Worms).
  6. Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods): Evolutionary jump. Body consisting of three parts: head, thorax and abdomen.
  7. Phylum Chaetognatha (Arrow Worms). Phylum Echinodermata (Echinoderms).I'll like to club these two together.
  8. Phylum Hemichordata (Acorn Worms):

And then we come to another major evolutionary jump or invention: the spinal chord: the phylum chordata or vertebrates, having a spinal chord. The classes within vertebrates (chordata):
  1. Class Osteichthyes (bony fishes) : driven by avoiding predation
  2. Class Amphibia (Amphibians): driven by exploring surrounding
  3. Class Reptilia (Reptiles): driven by forming alliances between small groups
  4. Class Aves (Birds): driven by best reproductive/parental strategy
  5. Class Mammalia (Mammals): driven by kin-related concerns?/ specialization/ division of labor??
From the above it seems that much more good things (than mere humans/mammals) are in the offing!! I have bought (and actually generated the argument) the argument hook , line and sinker, what about you!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The (eight) basic adaptive problems faced by all animals (esp humans)

Today I discovered a new blog called The Amazing world of Psychiatry, and this book review of Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Evans and Zarate caught my eye. As I own a copy, so I had a quick look and indeed found the book very pleasurable to read (Its in comic book format) and recommend it wholeheartedly.

In it Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate claim that all animals, and especially humans face a few adaptive problems and have developed modular adaptions in the brain to handle those problems that were encountered in the EEA. now , the massive modularity hypothesis is a topic for another day; today I'll restrict to how they had organized their typical adaptive problems into seven groups and how I propose to modify it by introducing an eighth group to make it more in line with my eight stage evolutionary and developmental theory.

To quote:

So what are the adaptive problems faced by our hominid ancestors? Various considerations drawn from Biology, Primateology, Archeology and Anthropology suggest what the most important adaptive problems would have been:

  1. Avoiding Predators
  2. Eating the Right Food
  3. Forming Alliances and Friendship
  4. Providing help to Children and other Relatives
  5. Reading other people's minds
  6. communicating with other people
  7. selecting mates

They then go on to describe each problem and the corresponding modules that evolved to serve these needs.

I'll now elaborate a bit on the thesis and would like to split the 4th level into two: one for parental investment and parent-offspring related issues and second with kin-selection issues. I'll draw heavily on their work. Its also my thesis that most of these (at least the first five issues ) are faced by most higher animals , like all mammals.The evolutionary problems and the specific modules they give rise to are described below:

  1. Avoiding Predators:The first need for a gene to be successfully passed in further generations, and thus be selected for, is that it enables the possessing organism to survive (against predators) and avoids them being eaten away. Thus the prime importance of this adaptive problem to be solved cannot be stressed enough. This problem can be solved by a) detecting predators b) detecting false alarms and c) taking action (running away (flight), freezing or fighting it).
  2. Eating the right food: The second problem, once you have avoided being eaten and wiped out of the gene pool, is to exploit your environment to the fullest such that you can enhance and maintain the robot (organism) that is carrying you (the gene). In other words, find food to sustain oneself and meet metabolic needs. Here not only rich sources of food need to be detected, but bad and poisonous sources avoided. Emotion of Disgust as well as the sweet tooth are result of adaptations to this problem. To generalize it, you need to discover, exploit and protect resources that could nourish you and avoid those that can harm you. I would club territoriality behavior and food ranges also as another module related to this same adaptive problem. You have to exploit your environmental niche to the fullest and be the fittest.
  3. Forming alliances and friendships : The third problem, for those animals that are not solitary, and are social in nature, is to form alliances and friendships within the group to which they belong. Group avoidance of predators (which may be big for an individual) and group sharing of food (big game hunting/ unpredictable foraging/ agriculture etc) is more beneficial than solitary hunting/ predator avoidance/food gathering. But with group formation comes the problems of group living - co-operation evolution and maintenance and the free-rider problem. Basically, how to detect cheaters and free-riders who take benefits from the group but do not pay back. If unchecked, the genes conferring such free-riding behavior will proliferate in the gene pool and destabilize co-operation and thus effective groups. It has been proposed by Robert Axelrod, that co-operation can evolve only if a) organisms encounter each other repeatedly (live in a group) b) they can recognize those they have met before and distinguish them from strangers and c) organisms can remember how those they have met before have treated them on previous occasions. Thus we need modules for recognizing con-specifics and for remembering their past actions, for solving this adaptive problem; many animals including elephants, who live in large groups, have solved this problem to an extent. This model is called reciprocal altruism and the strategy used is called tit-for-tat strategy in a repeated prisoners dilemma game of whether to co-operate or to defect. This also lays the foundation for a social exchange module whereby one calculates the costs and benefits keeping in mind the context under which the favor was given/ received.
  4. Helping Children / Parental investment: Most of the animals reproduce and that too sexually. In case of sexual reproduction, the child contains only half the genes of each parent and thus from gene's point of view an offspring's welfare is only half as important as one's (parents ) own welfare. So it might be conceived that the selfish gene would juts work towards prolonging the life of the organism that contains it, but at some point the benefits of reproducing and passing the genes to future generations may become more cost-effective in the long run. But, reproduction is not a child's play! The mother (in most animals) usually invests a lot of her energy and resources while gestating or lactating. The father too, in many species, including humans has to expend considerable resources to the well-being of his dependent children. Parent-offspring conflict arises as for parents all children are equivalent (in terms of gene value), but for siblings a sibling is only half as worth as self. A parent has to decide how many offspring to have to maximally pass on the genes. One approach could be to have a big litter; but this reduces the individual care or investment the parent can make in a child; thus leaving many to die or in hands of fate. The other strategy could be to have a few children , but to invest heavily in them so that most of them do live to reproduction themselves and are able to pass the genes forward. These two strategies are known as the r-strategy and the K-strategy of mating and parental care and apartment investment respectively. However along with strategies for parent investment , the most prominent problem to be solved by this adaptive problem of helping children, is to be sure that they are your children! Thus, mate guarding , jealousy , sticking to monogamy (and love which makes you monogamous in the critical parental investment period) , a mothering/fathering caregiver module may be some modules that are brought forth as a measure of solving this adaptive problem of how best to reproduce and let ones genes pass on through direct descendants.
  5. Helping Kin or Kin-selection: While ensuring survival of individuals and direct descendants is beneficial to the gene; it also benefits from inclusive fitness i.e. if some other related / unrelated organism that contains the gene survives at the cost of the original organism carrying the gene. Hamilton first formulated this using his famous equation that an organism will act altruistically to help another member (that is benefit other at cost to oneself) if r> c/ b; where r is how related you are to the individual in question (r is 1 for self, 0.5 for siblings/ children who share half the genes, 0.25 for first cousins etc ) , c is cost to yourself and b is benefit to the individual in question. Thus as it is difficult (though not impossible ) to determine from overt behavior/ phenotype, the genotype of the organisms (the famous green beard problem) , the only clue one has to whether one shares anthers genes is the degree of relatedness. Thus, other things being equal, one would favor one's kin above others leading to nepotism. But more than that the chief feature of this level of selection is captured by the phrase that one could die to save two siblings, four first cousins, eight second cousins etc. Thus, though one would get nothing in return, one would still co-operate and help. This mechanism is definitely different from reciprocal altruism that we discussed in the context of social exchange. However, with this level of selection comes the additional problem of how to identify kin and people carrying similar genes. I don't think people have asked this question much, (except for relatedness coefficients) , so there is scope for much work here. I propose that a minimum one would need a family-stability and family-institution-concept module to ensure that indeed whom one encounters the most are one's blood relatives. Similarly, a trust module would be present to trust the fidelity of your parents, uncles, aunts , grandparents, children etc, so that what you believe as blood relatives are indeed blood relatives. I also believe that biases may be build into us, such that we treat people more similar to us favorably and this could be the working of this module. We all know this bias that we have that if someone is like us or mirror our actions/ accent etc, we tend to favor him over others. This could be a result of this mechanism whereby we try to ascertain or make an approximation of the genotype of the individual from his phenotype and try to see how similar it is to our genotype. In short, we favor those who look and behave like us; or are related to us by blood ties.
  6. Reading other minds: Till now we have looked at how genes work at the level of individual (avoiding predators, eating food) , level of a few close fiends/ alliances , at the level of nuclear family (parents -offspring) and at the level of extended family (kin-selection) to ensure that they are passed on. Although in each case it is the genes that are selected for, they act at a level of an organism or a unit of organisms and show their effects most in interactions amongst that unit. Now its time to move a notch higher and move towards group-selection mechanisms whereby genes show their effects at the group level where the group is big enough (say the society/ population in which one lives). For humans this group size of a day-to-day interactions is supposed to be 150. (the size of our ancestor bands). Despite not being related to someone by way of kinship, alliance or friendship, when one lives in a group one has to work with other people with which one may or may not have good relations. To ensure survival of ones kin/ friends over ones enemies one needs to indulge in a bit of Machiavellian intelligence. This involves keeping track of who is sleeping with whom (and using that information to ones advantage) or indulging in some social politics. Information becomes paramount and thus rumor, reputation management and gossip is important!! It is presumed that this social intelligence was a driver for human large brain evolution. It is important to keep track of who is allied with whom and to use this knowledge well in forming alliances with an enemy of a common enemy. However, at the same time it is important to tolerate enemies, when one is not in a strong position and in general not to reveal ones true intentions, desires, beliefs etc to others. Information(social) is advantage. At the same time realization dawns that others may be concealing things from oneself and thus a need to know their true intentions, thoughts, beliefs. Thus a need for a Theory of Mind module that would keep track of what others are thinking or about what has been left unstated (by way of behavior). Thus, to be able to compete with one's con specifics , who may not be related or friendly and may have hidden, selfish intentions, it becomes important to read their minds properly and to mislead them, even using deception or lies to ensure that one is helped even by those who might not have the best interests in their heart.
  7. Communicating with others: This level of selection would ensure a generalized-reputation-based -reciprocity wherein the individual helps others based on how this individual has helped others in the past. If one can ensure that reputation of an individual correctly reflects his co-operative nature, then this sort of co-operation based on reputation can emerge. However, one needs to solve the problem first of what the reputation of an individual is. This is usually using the gossip mill mechanism, wherein having a good communicative ability is essential. In short, problem to be solved: correct reputation or credibility: modules involved: gossip, language etc.- level of selection: society or whole group that can properly ascertain correct reputations and benefit from reputation-based altruism will thrive/ flourish. Typical module: the language acquisition device.
  8. Mate-selection: This is sexual section and I believe is self-explanatory. This however can lead to arbitrary features developing that are not adaptive in the traditional sense; so this is a whole new level of evolution. This also leads to runaway evolution and emergence of beauty like the peacocks tail which are non-utilitarian . This via assortative mating may also lead to speciation. The idea is to improve the genotype and not just survive/ reproduce/ thrive; so one mates with another individual having 'best' compatible genes. Problem to be solved: best compatible genotype that will result in best offspring . Best is relative as the only best thing about them may be that the offspring can find a mate and thus ensure that the lineage continues. A recursive definition of best.


As you can make out , I am quite excited by this line of work. My thesis has always been that evolutionary/ developmental constraints have lead to the eight stages that we see in most phenomenon. I can readily map most of the eight stage phenomenons to these evolutionary problems. By way of an example consider the eight basic story plots. These enduring myths or basic plots are embedded in our memory becuase the hero solves a particular evolutionary problem and that acts as a parable for all others. Consider this:
  1. Overcoming the Monster plot ( avoiding predator)
  2. Rags to Riches plot (finding food/ resources): how one successfully gets resources like money.
  3. Quest plot ( forming friends and alliances) : the most important element of such plots is the journey in which a hero is accompanied by some friends and allies.
  4. Voyage and return plot( might be related to parental investment conflicts) :one goes on a journey in a different land and returns. cant fit this in, sorry about that!
  5. Comedy plot: (kin selection): the typical plot involves family disjointed, twins to create confusions, disguised identities etc: overall recognizing similar people and kin.
  6. Tragedy plot (might be related to Machiavellian manipulations and theory of mind confusions) : tragedy normally follows because one did not understood the unsaid correctly and made false premises.
  7. Rebirth (communicating with others) ; haven't read Christopher Booker's book till here so cant comment!!
I'm convinced! What about you?

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Movement and perception disorders : a case for dissolution?

I have touched upon the work of Hughlings-Jackson earlier, albeit very obliquely, and readers familiar with with his work will know the immense contributions he has made to the understanding of epilepsy and other neurological disorders. I was recently reading the Croonian Lectures on the Evolution and dissolution of human nervous system and I encourage my readers to read the 3 lectures in their entirety. Let me briefly try to summarize his approach to brain first:

Hughligs Jackson believed that the brain had evolved. Also that the human brain is heterogeneous with three distinct evolutionary distinct components that were perfected in evolutionary dissimilar times: in this sense he sort of laid the groundwork for the Triune Brain theory of Paul MacLean.

He also believed that these three evolutionary distinct (logical) components of the human brain were hierarchical in nature and that all that these centers really did was representation of impressions and movements or re-representation of that initial representation (in successively higher centers). He also proposed that lower centers were more simple, more organized, more automatic and more reflexive in nature; while the highest centers were the least automatic, least organized , but the most complex and the least reflex-like in nature.

As these centers evolved one after the other, each such center has a positive function that only it can provide and it also inhibits some of the functions that were earlier provided by the lower layers; or in other words keeps the lower layers in check.

He also believed in the concept of dissolution: whereby when a higher center is not working properly then this would result in the lower centers asserting their autonomy. The loss of the higher layer/ center would not only result in the loss of function associated with that center (negative symptoms) ; but by freeing the autonomic activity of lower center from higher inhibition, it would also lead to some new functions to be experienced (positive symptoms). Thus a dissolution that affects the third or highest layer , would free the intermediate layer to produce some positive effects, and because of unavailability of the higher layer function would also lead to loss of some functionality.

He most fully developed these ideas in association with epilepsy patients, in which he believed, that the epileptiform seizure or discharge leads to inactivity of higher layers (1, 2 or all 3) and inappropriate activity in lower layers, thereby produce different degrees of negative and positive symptoms/ behaviors. My earlier post did contain references to this.

We find evidence for the truth of most of his ideas in today's neuroscience developments.

This time I will like to touch upon how he himself had, sort of extended the triune brain, to an eight stage brain and how he delineated eight different levels of dissolution, each progressively of a more severe level than the earlier one , while he related the concept of dissolution in the Croonian lectures (lecture 1) with the help of movement disorders.

Before we proceed, it is instructive to note that Jackson believed in two levels of consciousness: subject and object- the former related to awareness of impressions; while the latter to movements. In simpler terms , he believed that we could discuss, movement (and volitional) related stuff separate from perceptual stuff and I'll stick to that distinction in this post.

I'll first quote at length from him (I have reformatted the stuff, so please read the original lecture for a balanced view):

I now come to give examples of dissolution. I confess that I have selected cases which illustrate most definitely, not pretending to be able to show that all the diseases of which we have a large clinical knowledge exemplify the law of dissolution. However, I instance very common cases, or cases in which the pathology has been well worked out; they are cases dependent on disease at various levels from the bottom to the top of the central nervous system. Most of them are examples of local dissolution.
  1. Starting at the bottom of the central nervous system, the first example is the commonest variety of progressive muscular atrophy. We see here that atrophy begins in the most voluntary limb, the arm; it affects first the most voluntary part of that limb, the hand, and first of all the most voluntary part of the hand; it then spreads to the trunk, in general to the more antomatic parts. To speak of a lower level of evolution in this case is almost to state a barren truism. At a stage when the muscles of the hand only are wasted, there is atrophy of the first or second dorsal anterior horn; the lower level of evolution is made up of the higher anterior horns for muscles of the arm. This statement, however, is worth making, for it shows clearly that by higher and lower is meant anatomico-physiologically higher or lower.
  2. Going a stage higher we come to hemiplegia, owing to destruction of part of a plexus in the mid-region of the brain. Choosing the commonest variety of hemiplegia, we say that there is loss of more or fewer of the most voluntary movements of one side of the body; we find that the arm, the more voluntary limb, suffers the more and longer; we find, too, that the most voluntary part of the face suffers more than the rest of the face. Here we must speak particularly of the lower level of evolution remaining; strictly we should say collateral and lower. We note that although unilateral movements (the more voluntary) are lost, the more automatic (the bilateral) are retained. Long ago this was explained by Broadbent. Subsequent clinical researches are in accord with his hypothesis. The point of it is that the bilateral movements escape in cases of hemiplegia in spite of destruction of some of the nervous arrangements representing them; the movements are doubly represented—that is, in each half of the brain. Hemiplegia is a clear case of dissolution, loss of the most voluntary movements of one side of the body with persistence of the more automatic movements.
  3. The next illustration is paralysis agitans. Apart from all speculation as to the seat of this disease, the motorial disorder illustrates dissolution well. In most cases the tremor affects the arm first, begins in the hand, and in the thumb and index-finger. The motorial disorder in this disease becomes bilateral; in an advanced stage paralysis agitans is double hemiplegia with rigidity—is a two-sided dissolution.
  4. Next we speak of epileptiform seizures which are unquestionably owing to disease in the midregion of the brain (middle motor centers). Taking the commonest variety, we see that the spasm mostly begins in the arm, nearly always in the hand, and most frequently in the thumb or index-finger, or both; these two digits are the most voluntary parts of the whole body.
  5. . [The next illustration was by cases of temporary paralysis after epileptiform seizures.]
  6. Cborea is a disease in which the limbs (the most voluntary parts) are affected more than the trunk (the more automatic parts), and the arms (the more voluntary limbs) suffer more than the legs. The localization of this disease has not been made out;symptomatically, however, it illustrates dissolution. Chorea has a special interest for me. The great elaborateness of the movements points to disease “high up" —to disease on a high level of evolution. Twenty years ago, from thinking on its peculiarities, it occurred to me that some convolutions represent movements. A view I have taken ever since.
  7. Aphasia. This well illustrates the doctrine of dissolution, and in several ways. We will consider a case of complete speechlessness. (a) There is loss of intellectual (the more voluntary) language, with persistence of emotional (the more automatic) language. In detail the patient cannot speak, and his pantomime is of a very simple kind; yet, on the other hand, he smiles, frowns, varies the tones of his voice (be may be able to sing), and gesticulates as well as ever. Gesticulation, which is an emotional manifestation, must be distinguished from pantomime, which is part of intellectual language. (b) The frequent persistence of “Yes“ and “No“ in the case of patients who are otherwise entirely speechless is a fact of extreme significance. We see that the patient has lost all speech, with the exception of the two most automatic of all verbal utterances. “Yes“and “No“ are evidently most general, for they assent to or dissent from any statement. In consequence of being frequently used, the correlative nervous arrangements are of necessity highly organized, and, as a further consequence, they are deeply automatic. (c) A more important, though not more significant, illustration is that the patient who cannot get out a word in speech nevertheless understands all that we say to him. Plainly this shows loss of a most voluntary service of words, with persistence of a more automatic service of words. We find illustrations in small corners. (d) There are three degrees of the utterance “No“ by aphasics. A patient may use it emotionally only—a most automatic service; another patient may also be able to reply correctly with it—a less automatic, but still very automatic service. (Here there is some real speech.) There is a still higher use of it, which some aphasics have not got. A patient who can reply “No“ to a question may be unable to say ‘No“ when told to do so. You ask the aphasic, “is your name Jones?“ he replies “No.“ You tell him to say “No,“ he tries and fails. You ask, “Are you a hundred years old ?“ He replies “No.“ You tell him to say “No.“ He cannot. Whilst not asserting that the inability to say “No“ when told is a failure in language, it is asserted that such inability with retention of power to use the word in reply illustrates dissolution. (e) A patient who is speechless may be unable to put out his tongue when told to do so; that he knows what is wanted is sometimes shown by his putting his finger in his mouth to help out the organ. That the tongue is not paralyzed in the ordinary sense is easily proved. The patient swallows well, which he could not do if bis tongue were as much paralysed as "it pretends to be.“ Besides, on other occasions he puts out his tongue, for example, to catch a stray crumb. Here is a reduction to a more automatic condition; there is no movement of the tongue more voluntary than that of putting it out when told. [The lecturer then remarked on swearing and on the utterance of other and innocent ejaculations by aphasics, remarking that some of these utterances had elaborate propositional structure but no propositional value. The patients could not repeat, say, what under excitement they uttered glibly and well. He spoke next of the frequent retention of some recurring utterance by aphasics, such as “Come on to me.“ These were not, from the mouth of the aphasic, of any propositional value, were not speech. He had no explanation to offer of these, but stated the hypothesis that they were the words the patient was uttering, or was about to utter, at the time he was taken ill.]
  8. . So far I have spoken of local dissolution occurring on but one half of the nervous system on different levels. Coming to the highest centers I speak of uniform dissolution—of cases in which all divisions of these centers are subjected to the same evil influence. I choose some cases of insanity. In doing this I am taking up the most difficult of all nervous diseases. I grant that it is not possible to show in detail that they exemplify the principle of dissolution, but choosing the simplest of these most complex cases we rnay show clearly that they illustrate it in general. I take a very common-place example—delirium in acute non-cerebral disease. This, scientifically regarded, is a case of insanity. In this, as in all other cases of insanity, it is imperative to take equally into account not only the dissolution but the lower level of evolution that remains. The patient‘s condition is partIy negative and partly positive. Negatively, he ceases to know that be is in hospital, and ceases to recognise persons about him. In other words, he is lost to his surroundings, or, in equivalent terms, he is defectively conscious. We must not say that he does not know where he is because he is defectively conscious; his not knowing where he is is itself defect of consciousness. The negative mental state signifies, on the physical side, exhaustion, or loss of function, somehow caused, of some highest nervous arrangements of his highest centers. We may conveniently say that it shows loss of function of the topmost layer of his highest centers. No one, of course, believes that the highest centers, or any other centers, are in layers; but the supposition will simplify exposition. The other half of his condition is positive. Besides his not knowings, there are his wrong knowings. He imagines himself to be at home or at work, and acts as far as practicable as if he were; ceasing to recognize the nurse as a nurse, he takes her to be his wife. This, the positive part of his condition, shows activity of the second layer of his highest centers; but which, now that the normal topmost layer is out of function, is the then highest layer; his delirium is the “survival of the fittest states,“ on his then highest evolutionary level. Plainly, he je reduced to a more automatic condition. Being (negatively) lost, from loss of function of the highest, latest developed, and least organized, to his present “real,“ surroundings, he (positively) talks and acts as if adjusted to some former “ideal“ surroundings, necessarily the more organized.

This to me seems very promising: I am a die-hard fan of the eight stage evolutionary/ developmental model whereby the first five stages are more similar, the next two on a qualitatively different level; while the last or eighth one takes one a notch higher up the octave to a different qualitative level altogether, although resembling or analogous to the first stage to an extent.

I keep mapping analogies between the different stages evident in different developmental / evolutionary processes and this piece of puzzle fits in nicely.

I'll now like to speculate a bit. I'll first restrict myself to movement/action planning, execution and control. I believe that the regions of the brain involved in this activity are (in a heirarchichal order) :
  1. Frontal Cortex (supplementary motor area) : decides which action to initiate/ plans and co-ordinates with respect to complex actions involving say both hands. More involvement in 'voluntary' actions
  2. Primary Motor cortex : Actual execution of the intended/ chosen action.
  3. Pre-motor cortex:responsible for motor guidance of movements especially with respect to external cues
  4. Parietal cortex:responsible for transforming visual information into motor commands
  5. Somatosensory cortex: this too is involved in motor circuits ; see this too.(synapses to and from this go to cerebellum/ basal ganglia): probably involved in triggering visual information related to the action. I am tempted to replace this with Thalamus and I just might do that after some more research!!
  6. Basal Ganglia: a set of structures that are involved in gross motor control
  7. Cerebellum: a structure involved in fine motor control
  8. Brain Stem: a structure involve in controlling vital involuntary movements like breathing, heart beat etc. these movements are neither voluntary nor automatic; they are involuntary and thus a notch different.
Now coming back to the disorders of the movement delineated by hughlings-Jackson, we can readily see some correspondences. The Basal Ganglia abnormality leading to Huntington's Chorea is clearly at level 6. The primary motor cortex lesion leading to stage 2 hemiplegia is also well established. The epileptofm seizure related spasms and temporary paralysis just after that may be plausibly related to lesions of parietal and somatosnesory cortices. The lesion of pre-motor area may give rise to alien hand syndrome (to be distinguished from Anarchic hand syndrome), whereby you grab any object in sight compulsively. The hughlinghs-jackson description of Parkinsonisms at level 3 does not really gel here as Parkinsonism is more of a basal ganglia problem. Similarly PMA (progressive muscular atrophy) is no longer a valid diagnosis, so it may not map to SMA lesion or dysfunction. SMA dysfunction or lesion may instead produce syndromes like the mirror hand syndrome , in which both hands are used for the same action, though only one hand would have sufficed. It is interesting to note that this mirror hand syndrome is conceptualized today as freeing of SMA inhibition of PMA, thus allowing parallel planning of the same action. Similarly level 7 lesions of cerebellum may be more related to Ataxia rather than aphaisas.

Despite the above problems with the above conceptualization, I find the efforts of Jackson is the right direction and ahead of hist time.

I'll now end with a teaser of things to come. It is related to disorders of phenomenal consciousness classified by Thomas Metzinger in Being No One, and they are as follows :

Deviant phenomenal models of reality
  1. Agnosia
  2. Neglect
  3. Blindsight
  4. Hallucinations
  5. Dreams
To me they follow the same 5 stage process, with each stage analogous to the movement related disorder.More about that later.

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