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31 Jan 08 – Neal Miller, Learning and Logical Learning.

31 January 2008

On this day in 1969, Neal E. Miller’s article entitled, “Learning of Visceral and Glandular Responses,” was published in Science.  This article described instrumental conditioning of autonomic responses, essentially setting the groundwork for biofeedback.  This article was heavily cited in the years subsequent to its publication.

Neal Miller was an American psychologist, trained in psychoanalysis in Vienna.  Likewise, his close associate, John Dollard was trained in psychoanalysis.  The two developed a theory of personality that essentially blended psychoanalysis and behaviorism.  Unfortunately, the blending involved removing all choice from individuals and replacing choice with environmentally governed determinants.  That is, though these individuals spoke of motivation and mediator variables, these elements of “response” were created through a linear process of prior stimulus-response connections.  For example, I may be motivated to write this blog, based on Dollard and Miller’s conceptualization, but this motivation is determined by my past behaviors, which were determined by past input in the environment.  I really have no choice in the matter: I (and my motivation to write) are all the result of past input from the environment. 

As Joseph Rychlak stated in his 1977 article entitled “Logical Learning Theory: Propositions, Corollaries, and Research Evidence,” such theories bear the meaning of “motivation” as an effect of previous causes.  Rychlak further points out that causation theory can be traced back to Aristotle, who developed four terms that subsume the meanings of all experience: 1. material cause: the substance that makes up things; 2. efficient cause: the impetus that brings events or things together over time (with past being the most important time factor in this impetus); 3. formal cause: the pattern or form of events or the various shapes that things take on; and 4. final cause: that “for the sake of which” events happen and things occur (e.g., reason or intention).  Dollard and Miller’s conceptualizations were entirely within the material cause and efficient cause framings.  Psychoanalysis, alternatively, took on elements of all of these forms of causation (see the section on personality on my web site: for more on this topic).  Dollard and Miller, then, circumscribed their perspective when they “combined” psychoanalysis and behaviorism.  Essentially, they added a concept and conformed it with behavioral theory.  In other words, it was only a combination of psychoanalysis and behaviorism in theory.  Technically, it was a somewhat beautified behaviorism.

This material and efficient causal perspective, in turn, underlain Miller’s conception of the “learning of visceral and glandular responses.”  In other words, Miller conceived of the ability of individuals (really rats) to control such responses as the product of classical conditioning (clearly presented in behavioral terms).  There is not indication of individual choice in the matter. 

Alternatively, Rychlak has presented a “logical learning theory,” that involves personal choice in which he conceives of individuals as acting “for the sake of” premises, purposes, reasons, goals, etc., that are not the result of past input.  Instead, as Brent D. Slife puts it in his book entitled Time and Psychological Explanation, Rychlak:

           “views the learner’s cognitive organization and the organization of the
            information to be learned as being analogous to syllogistic principles (or parts of
            the whole)…this relation takes place concurrently; the environment is not
            chronologically first…the mind is logically precedent because it formulates the
            intention ‘for the sake of which’ behavior is carried out…Aspects of the
            environment that are relevant…to the person’s internal cognitive organization are
            those that are learned most readily…meanings…related to the person’s goals are
            the most meaningful…Learning is an elaboration of what one already
            knows…the “already known” can be inborn or even cognitively invented in the
            present…[it] is implicit in…the cognitive organization of the learner.”

As can be noted from this, Rychlak took a clearly “Kantian” perspective on “learning” believing that we have a priori abilities.  Essentially, what I mean by “a priori abilities” is that Rychlak believed that we were born with the innate capacity to organize structural information in the environment (following a formal causal perspective) and act for the sake of these formulations (following a final causal perspective).  The past is not primary in this formulation because such ability is innate.  There is no past to precede the initial ability.  This perspective is summed up in Rychlak’s six theoretical propositions related to logical learning theory (from his 1977 paper referenced above):

     1. In place of the efficient-cause construct of stimulus-response, logical learning
         theory employs a final-cause construct of “telosponsivity” to conceptualize behavior.
         A telosponse involves affirming the meaning premise, whether it be a visual image, 
         language term, statement, or judgmental comparison, related to a referent (some goal) 
         that acts as a purpose for the sake of which behavior is intended.
     2. Human thought is dialectical (meaning dual/bipolar – involving both the thought and its
         opposite) as well as demonstrative (meaning singular/unipolar – involving only the thought
         itself), so the person must always “take a position” on life: choose one from among many
         alternative meanings open for framing as initial assumptions, etc. (By the way, this was
         also the grounding for Rychlak’s mentor’s – George A. Kelly’s – personal construct theory).
     3. Meanings encompassed by the premises of telosponsivity are brought forward to endow/
         enrich experience with understanding in a tautological fashion. (A tautology is a relation
         of identity between to thought concepts).
     4. Once a meaning is selected from among the many dialectically possible affirmations open
         to the person, this premising frame acts as a precedent on the basis of which tautological
         extensions of meaning occur sequaciously (e.g., following in logical sequence that flows
         from the meaning of precendents – without time considerations).
     5. Telosponsivity begins from birth (i.e., from the outset of whatever we take to be the
          beginning of organismic existence). Before they develop language, infants behave for the
          sake of affective assessments, and although later language terms are associated to
          experience and used in framing premises, the unlearned affective side to learning never
          leaves the human being.
     6. Telic considerations of behavior, such as agency, choice, and decision-making, are
          encompassed directly.

While most empirical research follows a sequence of developing data with a theory implicit and interpreting the data based on the implicit theory, Rychlak and his colleagues conducted over 30 years of research with the theory explicitly informing the research.  Rychlak was well aware of the fact that we often confound theory with method, assuming a connection that is not perfectly evident, and that alternative theories may also apply to any given set of data.  Given this, Rychlak used logical learning theory to develop eight testable corrollaries (theories, by the way, are not generally testable because they are assumptive):

     1. Tasks that are predicated positively, including self-predications of a positive
         nature, should reflect meaning-extensions facilitating the learning of positive
         materials over negative materials.
     2. Tasks that are predicated negatively, including self-predications of a negative
         nature, should reflect meaning-extensions facilitating the learning of negative
         materials over positive ones.
     3. The role of affective assessment in learning cannot be reduced to or accounted
          for by constructs relying on frequency and contiguity (by the way, Miller, himself,
          indicated this was true in his Presidential Address to the American Psychological
         Association – published in the American Psychologist as an article entitled,
         “Analytical Studies of Drive and Reward”.  In this article, he states
         that, “…contiguity alone [is] not sufficient for learning, while contiguity plus reward [is].”
         Following a logical learning theory perspective, we would substitute “goal” for “reward”).
     4. As it is unlearned and therefore a spontaneously “natural” way in which to order tasks
         meaningfully, affection can be shown to be especially important to those subjects who
         are performing in tasks that either outstrip their capacities or dislodge their personal
     5. Patterns of affective learning style occur between or across tasks as well as within tasks.
     6. Affective assessments are conceptual, occurring instantaneously as patterned organizations
         of meaning.

I would encourage anyone reading this to get a copy of Rychlak’s 1977 paper to see a summary of the works that empirically demonstrate these corrolaries of logical learning theory.  I would also recommend picking up a copy of Rychlak’s The Psychology of Rigorous Humanism.  Rychlak had a clarity of mind to analyze learning from a very essential alternative perspective, which allows for human agency to be involved in the process of life, that is rare in psychology.  If only for this reason, I would recommend these readings.

Back to topic, however: Given the propositions and corrolaries of logical learning theory, how would one explain the learning of visceral and glandular responses in terms of logical learning theory?  It relatively clear that Rychlak would see such “learning” as the extension of innate capacity to develop meaning/structure in our experience.  The meaning/structure we develop, however, is likely to be different (or at least not identical) between individuals.  So, the changes that occur in visceral organs or glandular activities following feedback of such activities would likely be conceived of, in logical learning theory, as the extension of innate structural capacity for the sake of changing currently experienced psychological phenomena.  Kelly’s statement regarding the development of personality dysfunction is informative here: “any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation” (this, by the way, was likely the origination of the statement often attributed to Einstein that, “insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results).  In essence, biofeedback is the extension of innate capacities (for example, breathing in a certain manner to calm oneself) for the sake of making a change in currently maladaptive states of acting.  The biofeedback, itself, merely awakens that knowledge already within oneself to extend the meanings to the goal the individual has.

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.


January 31, 2008 - Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , ,

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