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6 Feb 08 – Lloyd Morgan’s Canon, Anthropomorphism, and Mechanomorphism

6 February 2008

On this day in 1852, Conwy Lloyd Morgan was born. Morgan developed a fundamental precept of comparative (animal) psychology often known as “Lloyd Morgan’s Canon”:

“In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale.”

This precept relates to a concept known as “anthropomorphism,” the attributing of human characteristics (motivation or behaviors) to animals.  Essentially, Morgan was saying that we should not apply human characteristics to animals – we should keep descriptions of animals as simple and non “humanistic” as possible.  Lloyd Morgan’s Canon is considered a special instance of Occam’s Razor (or the Law of Parsimony), which is named after a Friar (William of Ockham).  This principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should involve as few assumptions as possible.  Unfortunately, Lloyd Morgan’s Canon has been applied not only to non-human animals but also to human “animals” in the sense that there was a strong push in psychology, especially in the 1940s, to not attribute human characteristics to…well, humans. 

In the 1940s, R. H. Waters wrote about this interesting tendency in psychology, noting that this rise culminated in the development of behavioristic psychologies, which were focused on constructing mechanical analogies of human behavior.  Essentially, Waters concluded by stating that this was a limiting conceptualization:

“To think of the organism as a machine is to adopt a premise and a method that leads the investigator into a blind alley – a blind alley that precludes the observation of certain types of evidence clearly indicating the presence of activities or capacities which are included in our concept of a conscious human being.”

This was likely an outgrowth of the fact that we chose our method of investigation in psychology before we considered our subject matter.  With our “physics envy” (as Leahy put it), we borrowed the mechanical methods of physics and applied them to psychological studies.  Given this, it was short step to begin to withdraw human characteristics from humans and, instead, apply mechanical conceptions to them.  In the 1950s, Robert Oppenheimer, the respected physicist, warned us about this tendency to “mechanomorphize” (as Waters put it) in our efforts to emulate classical (which in physics means “outdated”) physics:

“…the worst of all possible misunderstandings would be that psychology be influenced to model itself after a physics which is not there any more, which has been quite outdated.”

Unfortunately, this is exactly what occurred.  In fact, quite prophetically, 20 years earlier than Oppenheimer’s warning, the psychologist Robert Yerkes stated that, “Almost unconsciously…psychologists are becoming physiologists.  The probably outcome of this movement is the disappearance of psychology as a science of experience and its assimilation first by psychobiology and ultimately by physiology.”  By the 1970s, psychologists such as Donald Hebb flatly stated that, “Psychology is a biological science.” 

Fundamentally, the point I am trying to make is that the Morgan’s Canon and Ockham’s Razor have come to symbolize that explanations of psychological phenomena, even human mentation, motivation, etc., should rely on biological explanation.  In essence, in the “simplest form,” everything psychological is biological and should be understood (and treated) as such.  For this reason, there is currently a noticeable rise in biological understandings of psychological phenomena (what some, including me, refer to as “the biologization of psychology”).  It is also related to the increasing trend in psychology toward pursuit of prescription privileges – a traditionally biological treatment conducted by biologically – medically – trained practitioners (psychiatrists).Still, such understanding, as Waters was ready to admit in the 1940s, limits perspectives and ignores such issues as agency.  In essence, by conceptualizing humans as machines, the humanity of humans and the creative process and agentic action that they engage in is lost.  Worse still, it is ignored and unaccounted for. 

My belief is that the problem is not with the idea of using the simplest description, it is with not recognizing that the simplest description must still account for all the variations that exist.  Biological explanations certainly are a component of understanding and treating psychological phenomena but they are a necessary and not sufficient component. 

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


February 6, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

5 Feb 08 – Watson/McDougall – The False Dichotomy of Nature/Nurture.

5 February 2008

On this day in 1924, a debate entitled, “Battle of Behaviorism,” sponsored by the Psychological Club of Washington, D.C., was held in the D.A.R. Memorial Constituion Hall.  The debate was between John Watson and William McDougall.  McDougall was declared victorious, with his hereditary perspective holding sway over Watson’s environmental perspective on behaviorism.

This debate was one of many representations of the “nature versus nurture controversy.”  Essentially, the arguments are pitted as conceptualizations of whether it is biological factors that determines behavior (e.g., genetics, neuroanatomy, neurochemicals) or environmental factors (e.g., family constitution, peer groups, nutrition, socioeconomic status, educational resources).  Today, it is commonly accepted that an interaction of factors – biological and environmental – are involved in the presentation of behaviors (though, there is an increasing trend toward considering neuroscientific explanations as sufficient for understanding such presentations). 

Still, this acceptance warrants some attention because it amounts to acceptance by philosophical fiat.  That is, it appears to be completely understandable that such acceptance should be arrived at, considering that both biological interpretations and environmental interpretations possess an identical philosophical grounding: naturalism.  According to the philosophy of naturalism, all behaviors are the result of past determinants – either biological or environmental.  With recognition that naturalism is the grounding framework for both arguments, this debate can be seen to be a false dichotomy – they do not represent two competing perspectives but instead represent the same perspective developed from slightly different vantages.

Essentially, the argument on both sides is for linear, efficient and material causation for behavior.  When combined, it merely increases the number of efficient and material causal variables.  Still, they remain determinants; neither perspective escapes the fundamental perspective that individual behavior is the result of forces that are outside of the individual’s control.

What, then, would be a genuine alternative?  Agency!  That is, the perspective that individuals have possibility, an “otherwise,” that they can act on.  They can choose their behavior, with constraints of context and ability taken into consideration.  In other words, by agency I do not mean indeterminism or chaos.  There is a limit to one’s ability to act for the sake of goals, motivations, and purposes.  Yet, the acting for the sake of and the variable possibility inherent to choices made allow that neither biological nor environmental determinants are sufficient for explaining all behavior. 

This, then, would frame a truly meaningful debate: Determinism versus Agency. 

Unfortunately, very often agency is merely subjugated to the position of “unscientific,” again, by philosophical fiat.  That is, the philosophy of naturalism, which underlies modern conceptions of science, especially in psychology, rules out before investigation and discussion (in a very UNscientific manner) the legitimacy of agency.  Hence, such a debate devolves before it is engaged in, with the position of agency dismissed as non-sensical. 

Furthermore, as implied above, all too often agency is dismissed in a false polemical manner, with those believing in determinism painting anything other than determinism as “indeterminism” and therefore, unscientific, because there is no ability to predict from chaos (which results from indeterminism).  In essence, a straw man is set up, which is easily set to flames.

However, agency does provide for a tremendous amount of predictability.  In fact, the few studies that have endeavored to investigate it have indicated that an understanding of one’s goals, purposes, and motivations are highly predictive of future behaviors.  Consider someone who, as a high school junior, has an established goal (that they have affectively affirmed) to be a cardiovascular surgeon – we can predict pretty readily that this individual will not skip school, will study hard, and will be involved in endeavors that increase his or her likelihood of achieving that goal. 

The point of all of this, however, is even more simple: we have created a false dichotomy in psychology that was easily solvable and the solution to which provided us with a false sense of satisfaction in our ability to reconcile differences in perspective.  What remains, however, is a significant countermovement in psychology that understands the false dichotomy and is now involved in presenting agentic perspectives as legitimate and in need of recognition by the mainstream. 

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

February 5, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

24 Jan 08 – Alcoholism – Where’s the Humanity?

24 January 2008

On this day in 1930, Charles R. Schuster was born.  Schuster conducted behavioral pharmacology studies, which changed the view of drug abuse from a disorder of the will to a behavior maintained and altered by basic mechanisms of operant and classical conditioning. 

As a result of the studies conducted by Schuster, it is not uncommon to read statements such as the following (made by Thomas H. Kelly in an article published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology):        

            “Drugs of abuse are unconditioned reinforces whose functional effects are

            mediated through neuropharmacological mechanisms.”

I’m actually quite amazed that scientists are willing to give such emphatic statements regarding the causes of psychological phenomena, such as drug abuse.  I’m amazed – and am likely to continually be amazed – because the majority of us have Doctorates of Philosophy but do not appear to understand the philosophical implications of such statements.   The foregoing statement is based on the assumption that research data has “proven” that drugs of abuse develop from operant and classical conditioning means and are demonstrated in their effects on the brain.  Unfortunately, the philosophy of science teaches us that we cannot, in principle, prove anything!  In fact, the closest we can come is falsifying something (showing that it is false).  This, even, is incredibly difficult as those with a particular perspective on something very often come up with arguments that allow them to maintain their perspective, even with disconfirming results.  In fact, what is required is a crucial test or, simply, a change in regime – new people entering the field that are willing to see things in different ways than those who came before them.

Still, individuals such as Victor Stenger, a very thoughtful, intelligent physicist who has made many efforts to combat “pseudoscience” and, especially, “post-modernism” concedes this point.  However, he says that we know the truth well enough from scientific research that we would bet our lives on the findings of research.  I certainly am willing to accept that we have the requisite knowledge for someone to conduct a surgery on me and get it right, for example (even though there are plenty of times, even with the requisite knowledge, that they get it wrong).  Or, to use an example that Stenger gives, the law of gravity has been tested by enough experiments to conclude that it is “real” and will help us predict, with confidence, that after jumping off a tall building we will fall to our precipitous death.

Still, even this example is marred with the “reality” of the philosophy of science.  This reality is that what our data tell us is not the truth.  Instead, they tell as an indicator.  As David Hume, the noted British empiricist, admitted, we must rule out all other possible explanations.  The problem is that we rarely do so.  Even Stenger’s wonderful example regarding the proven construct of gravity has counterarguments.  One of the counterarguments comes from physics, itself.  In fact, it comes from Einstein.  Einstein conceived not of gravity but the curvature of space as the reason why we fall to the precipitous grounding.  Gravity is a metaphysical construct (a theory regarding something that we cannot see) that Newton created even in his attempt to describe things in as physical terms as possible.  Einstein felt that this was unnecessary and developed an alternative. 

Whether the curvature of space (or any other alternative to gravity) is correct or not is not my current concern.  Instead, I use this example to indicate that it is not our data that tell us anything.  It is our interpretations, the theories and philosophies that we apply, that we use to explain and give meaning to the data.  Still, as the example of gravity demonstrates, there are many ways to interpret the same phenomenon. 

Like the perspective on gravity, the operant and classical conditioning with physiological mediation of drug abuse is just one possible interpretation.  From my perspective, while the entire behavioral (e.g., conditioning) perspective is designed to be parsimonious (simplify description and removing superfluous constructs), I don’t even think that it is the most simple explanation of drug abuse.  The reason I do not think that it is is that it does not explain all components of drug abuse.  For example, it does not explain spontaneous remission, people with identical environments not succumbing to drug abuse, the variant effects of drug abuse, etc.  In other words, I believe parsimony requires sufficiency of explanation and the conditioning approach does not give us this.

I think the reason that this is so is that it is restricted to one (or two) aspect(s) of the issue of drug abuse.  That is, it is focused on the environmental (and the biological) aspects of drug abuse.  But, it does not take into consideration the personal choice that is involved.  Even if we are pushed/determined by environmental contingencies and biological mechanisms to drink alcohol, for example, there is always the opportunity to choose not to do this (see Libet’s physiological experiments on free will – even if we do not possess a true choice in doing something, it appears that we do have a choice to not do things…I won’t get into the potential problems of Libet’s experiments negating the original choice right now, however).  In other words, what is missing is the exploration of choice.  The reason it is missing is because behaviorists deny that choice exists; it is a human fabrication (or anthropomorphizing…falsely attributing human characteristics to humans!).

Following this lack of belief in choice, “meaning” is not explored in this research.  That is, what it means for people to engage in drug abuse is not explored.  The reason for this is that meaning requires an individual agent acting; there is no meaning to actions if they are determined.  For example, when a rock rolls down a hill, we don’t say, “Why did you do that Mr. Rock?”  There is no significance to the action: it just happens.  Likewise, when we conceive of humans as having no choice, there is also no meaning (no significance) – and no responsibility – in the action.

Still, choice and meaning would explain some of the findings that clearly speak against the conditioning models and disease models, for example, of alcohol.  The most prevalent contemporary theories of alcohol abuse clearly rely on conditioning and disease model formulations.  An outgrowth of such a conceptualization is that people with alcohol problems should abstain completely form alcohol use because any use of alcohol will re-engage the disease process, which lays dormant until the individual starts to drink again.  However, the findings can certainly be interpreted as not conforming to this model.  For example, a number of studies indicate that the drinking of chronic “alcoholics” is not characterized by loss of control.  Instead, it is frequently goal directed – they do it because they want something out of it (e.g., it is a choice).  Furthermore, alcohol-related problems are quite diverse and, themselves, fluctuate over time, even within the same individual.  This means that different contexts have different meanings at different times.  There also appears to be a social element, with a tendency toward binge drinking in conservative Protestant sects (especially those from dry regions – not desert but those places that prohibit alcohol consumption) and in Irish Americans in comparison to those from Mediterranean backgrounds.  This would indicate not only a drinking culture (perhaps in Irish Americans) but also a somewhat retaliatory drinking culture (in responses to proscriptions – the cultural requirement to abstain).  The latter indication is quite remarkable given the mandate for “alcoholics” to abstain.  It is even more remarkable given the finding that those who are in abstinence programs are even more likely than those in “controlled-drinking” programs to “relapse.”  That is, abstinence does not work (especially force abstinence as the prohibition movement in the United States demonstrated).  Finally, socialization toward moderation in alcohol use appears to be more productive as a treatment.  Changing the meaning and the choices that people make regarding use appears to be more helpful in preventing alcohol problems than requiring them to abstain.

A human with choice and meaning and…responsibility?  This must be fantastical!  It certainly is easier to give that all away to environmental and biological determination.  Still, it would lack sufficient explanatory power…and it is utterly ruinous for society (see my blog on emotional disorders and expulsion a couple days ago).

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

January 24, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

20 Jan 08 – Children with Emotional Disturbances and Expulsion from School

20 January 2008

On this day in 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Honig v. Doe, that schools may not expel children with emotional disorders for more than 10 days without parental consent or court order. I would like to offer a dissenting opinion on this case, as I think that it reflects our tendency to “biologize” psychological phenomena (e.g., see them as biologically determined, without any personal or interpersonal choice involved) and sets a poor precedent, starting early in people’s lives, for excusing bad behaviors.

I believe that the underlying thought process behind this is that children with emotional disorders really have no choice in their behaviors. They are, instead, determined by forces (such as “chemical imbalances”) outside of their control. These children are not responsible for their behaviors; nor are they responsible for changing their behaviors. As such, expelling them is unreasonable and requires some checks and balances to prevent undue abuse of these disabled individuals.

This certainly could have some important implications. One important implication for the children is that their behavior has nothing to do with the choices that they make. That is, as long as these individuals are perceived to not be responsible for their behaviors, it also follows that their behaviors are not a result of the choices and decisions they make.  Instead, it is merely their biology, working at a level over which they do not have control, which is responsible for and governs their actions. Furthermore, it means that they are perceived and perceive themselves as incapable of changing their behaviors on their own, either making it better or worse, because they have no choice in their actions.

An analogy, here, might help to clarify how this perception operates. Based on the deterministic logic that underlies this perspective on such children and their behaviors and that implies that children are controlled by natural (in this case, biological) forces over which they have no control, we could logically analogize these children to any other natural object that was being controlled by other forces (e.g., if children are determined, like any other natural object, by sources over which they have no control, they are no different, in-kind, from these natural objects). Take, for example, a ball being thrown from a pitcher to a catcher, bracketing out, for the moment, the involvement of the pitcher. Much like this ball has no choice about where it will land and what it will do between the pitcher and the catcher, based on the deterministic perspective, neither does the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder have any choice or control over his or her actions or behaviors. The individual, like the ball, is controlled by hypothetical natural – in this case neurobiological – forces over which he or she has no control. As indicated above, with no control over his or her own behavior, this individual can also not be held responsible for his or her behaviors and is, thus, not perceived to be responsible for these behaviors. There is, in essence, no one – no human, at least – who is perceived to be blamable for the individual’s behaviors.

Substituting neurobiology for the pitcher, it is merely the individual’s neurobiology that is perceived to control how the individual will behave. Certainly, there are other forces that can act upon the ball and this is also true of the individual. Still, all of these forces are considered to be natural – or, similarly, neurobiological – over which the child is perceived to have no control or no choice in changing. The ball is not seen as choosing to curve or be pushed by the air. Similarly, the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder, if the emotional disorder is perceived to be caused by neurobiology, is not seen as capable of choosing to change his or her behavior.

There is certainly a paradoxical sense in which those in the child’s social environment (such as the school system look toward expulsion) want to hold the child responsible, as if he or she was choosing his or her behaviors. Still, it would make little sense to say, “bad ball,” for not heading in the proper direction as the ball had no choice in its direction. Similarly, following the deterministic perspective, it would make little sense to say, “bad child,” for not behaving appropriately, as the child had no choice in his or her behaviors. As the biologically deterministic logic goes, the children are perceived as not responsible for their behaviors. Still, schools want to hold the children responsible. The Supreme Court, evidently, however, felt that the children were not responsible and a check of attempts to hold them responsible was warranted.

So what? Why should we be concerned about this apparent irresponsibility? The possible implications of such meanings of medication are important considerations in addressing these questions. The most important implication of what such meaning of medication may indicate has to do with society. The past president of the American Psychological Association, George W. Albee, for example, noted that, ” …the conservative view of causation [of the medical model]…perpetuates social injustice.” What does Albee mean by joining forces that “perpetuates social injustice?” Simply put, Albee’s appraisal implies that the medical model and the centrality, in this model, of biological causation is responsible for the experience of medication as indicating lack of personal responsibility. The result of this lack of personal responsibility is what Albee refers to as, “social injustice.”

What, then, might be meant by social injustice? If someone is not considered responsible for his or her behaviors, especially those behaviors considered negative, asocial, or maladaptive, because he or she is biologically determined to act in certain manners, then, as noted above, he or she also cannot be held to blame for those actions. The implication of not being held responsible for negative actions is especially important when those actions are defined as including impulsive and potentially destructive social actions. If, for example, an individual happens to be apprehended committing a crime of an impulsive and potentially destructive nature, and the individual has been diagnosed with an emotional disorder, by virtue of the logic that this individual is a product of his or her biology, this person cannot be held responsible for these actions. He or she could say, following the biologically deterministic perception of his or her emotional disorder-related behaviors, “I am not to blame. My neurobiology made me do it.” He or she might blame the physician for not refilling the medication in a timely manner. Alternatively, the parents might be blamed for not ensuring that the medication was given or taken by the individual.

According to the implicit deterministic logic, in the end, however, not only would personal responsibility be forfeited when one is considered to not be responsible for his or her behaviors but so would societal responsibility. Why, for example, would an individual have to answer to society for his or her crimes if they were not his or her crimes but crimes caused by something over which he or she did not have control, such as his or her neurobiology? This is, in fact, the logic that underlies some interpretations of the insanity defense, indicating that the perception of irresponsibility due to mental state – equated to physiological state – is a cultural perspective accepted by far more individuals than merely those included in this investigation. This is also what is meant by social injustice here: justice – in the sense of upholding the law and ensuring equitable treatment for breaches of conduct – cannot be served because the individual committing the crime could not, legitimately, be held culpable for the actions if other phenomena (e.g., biochemicals, physicians, parents) could be blamed in the individual’s stead.

Alternatively, the child could be interpreted as someone who does possess responsibility. Conceptualizing the child as someone who does possess responsibility would mean a dramatically different perspective on such children and their behaviors. The concept of personal responsibility is interwoven with the concept of experiential meaning. Experiential meaning, experiencing an individual’s actions as meaningful (e.g., intrinsically important and significant), occurs only when the individual doing the acting is responsible for the actions taken.

An action could certainly be meaningful without the individual perceiving himself or herself as responsible. That is, the individual could be responsible, whether or not the individual perceives himself or herself to be so. However, if the culture perceives them to not be responsible, then the meaning of the behavior is reduced to the biological determinant and does not relate to what the individual values, thinks, or feels about significant aspects of his or her everyday life and actions. Therefore, for an action to be meaningful in terms of what the action means about what the individual values, thinks, or feels about significant aspects of his or her everyday life and actions, the person has to perceive himself or herself as personally responsible – or be responsible – for that action.

Furthermore, for an individual to experience his or her action as important or significant (e.g., “meaningful”) to the extent that he or she owns it as his’ or hers’, the action must be intentional. The individual must intend to perform the action for a specific purpose. An individual, however, does not have to be conscious of his or her intent for him or her to be responsible for it. This intention, however, does include the act on his or her part of selecting among various options, whether consciously or not, and behaving for the sake of the options chosen. Selection from among the various options implies that personal responsibility requires possibility. As Brent Slife and Richard Williams once stated, “Possibility is a category of assumptions with no ‘must’.” In other words, possibility indicates that an event can be interpreted differently than would be expected based on previous events. Possibility, then, involves the assumption that experiences (which are interpretation plus reality) are not determined by previous events. It is the indication that an “otherwise,” a choice, is available.

From this perspective, then, personal responsibility implies a possible alternative perspective to the deterministic perspective accepted by the Supreme Court in this ruling: agency. Agency refers to such factors as choice, free will, or self-generated thoughts and actions. As it relates to the present issue, agency would imply that children with an emotional disorder are able to do otherwise than some causal force (e.g., the neurochemical imbalance or genetics) has dictated. This definition of agency, as requiring responsibility and possibility, then, is synonymous with the idea that such children have the ability to act “other than” the perceived causal forces – such as neurobiology – would seem to determine.

Furthermore, under the alternative perspective of agency, these children would be perceived as responsible for the choices they make. If we were to perceive the treatment for an emotional disorder as involving agency on the part of the individual, then responsibility, both individual and societal, would re-enter the picture. For example, we might say that, much like the ball being thrown from the pitcher to the catcher, there are certain actions occurring that are not under the direct control of the individual (e.g., the actions of the biochemicals, for example, within the individual). However, if we include the complete picture of the scenario, instead of merely the ball, as a representation of the individual diagnosed with an emotional disorder, the phenomenon of interest becomes more complex. In this case, the ball now has an ability to choose among various options and act intentionally for the sake of those things the child chooses. As such, it might be easier to follow the analogy if we think of the child as the pitcher instead of the ball. The complete picture of the scenario, then, might also involve awareness of the pitcher (the child, himself or herself), the pitcher’s abilities (what the child can truly not do and what the child truly can do), both already developed (what the child has learned) and what is expected (both from self and others), and the pitcher’s motivations and desires (what the pitcher is willing to do and wants to do), as well as contextual factors such as those giving the pitcher guidance (such as the catcher giving signs or the catcher’s analogues – the child’s parents, teachers, and physicians) and the environment in which the pitcher is pitching (including the wind velocity and direction or these factor’s analogues – the limits placed on the child by outside forces). If we limit our focus to merely part of the picture – the ball in its trajectory or, analogically, the individual’s biochemicals or the effects of changes in those biochemicals – it is easy to lose sight of responsibility.

The result, then, of pathologizing and biologizing of behavior, as noted, has some serious implications. Read and Harré, for example, found that people who attributed mental disorder to biogenetic causes tended to hold more negative attitudes toward it. Similarly, Mehta and Farina showed that confederates who disclosed a psychiatric problem were blamed less but treated more harshly when the problem was described as being of biological rather than psychosocial origin. Furthermore, Walker and Read found that a biomedical explanation of a psychotic man’s condition increased perceptions of his dangerousness and unpredictability. Some investigators have argued that biologizing behaviors such as emotional disorder-related behaviors trigger paternalistic responses linked to mandating of treatment, such as medication, and encouraging a view of the disordered as deeply and categorically different. The view of children with emotional disorders as categorically different and requiring the provision of different standards is certainly evidenced by the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case. Furthermore, Read & Harré have asserted that attributing the disorder to causes outside the control of the individual, such as the neurobiological determinants evidenced in this study, produces a perception that the disordered are unaccountable, irresponsible, and unpredictable and may produce a sense of vulnerability among the unaffected. Again, the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case support this assertion.

Finally, the empirical literature indicates that a biologized self-understanding handicaps sufferers, engendering a belief that they are incapable of ever functioning normally, a belief that may elicit pessimism and disengagement if also held by the lay public. This negative view of self can involve a belief that they are deficient and different from others. Such a view is also likely to be held by those in their social network. The empirical literature, according to this perspective, does demonstrate that children with emotional disorders have worse self-esteem than those in control groups. Why wouldn’t they? After all, they perceive themselves and others as less than, or at least different from, others in their social context. Furthermore, research indicates that children diagnosed with emotional disorders show a tendency toward attributing both good and bad behaviors to external forces. In other words, the negative view of self, deficiency, and difference, fostered by a biologized and materialistic perspective on their behaviors, appears to generalize to feelings of incompetence, incapability, and, ultimately, feelings that they are controlled by external forces.

The research on controlled behaviors versus autonomous behaviors predicts exactly this phenomenal experience. Externally controlled behavior, with the implicit assumption of personal irresponsibility, involves an external perceived locus of causality (e.g., that something or someone other than the behaving individual determines the behaviors) and is experienced as pressured by demands and contingencies (e.g., taking or not taking the medication). Autonomous behaviors, on the other hand, have an internal perceived locus of causality (e.g., that the behaving individual determines the presentation of the behaviors) and are experienced as chosen and volitional (e.g., that the individual is agentic). Perceived autonomous, agentic behavior, as opposed to perceived controlled, determined behavior, is related to enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity, heightened vitality, self-esteem, and a general sense of well-being.

Agency beliefs about effort and ability in achieving academic success are also the strongest and most critical predictors of actual school performance. Similarly, when children who attribute failure to a lack of ability rather than to the difficulty of the task or insufficient effort are taught to practice lack-of-effort explanations (e.g., “Maybe I didn’t give it my best effort”) rather than lack-of-ability explanations, both their responses to failure and their school performance are improved. In sum, conceptualizing children as possessing agency empowers them and improves their potential for success.

My dissenting opinion, then, involves a simple counterargument/counterperspective: let’s hold people accountable for their behaviors, even children with emotional disorders. I believe this, ultimately, empowers them, whereas not doing so (as implied in the Supreme Court’s decision) subjects them to an ultimately debilitating state wherein both others and themselves perceive such children as incapable, deficient, and, simply, inhuman.

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

January 19, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

15 Jan 08 – Breuer, Freud – Deterministic?

15 January 2008

On this day in 1842, Josef Breuer was born.  Breuer was a protege of Freud’s and, together, the two of them wrote up the case study of Anna O.  In this case study, Breuer was the treating physician, using hypnosis to “cure” Anna O. of her neurotic condition.  From this case study, the two (Breuer and Freud) developed the techniques of abreaction (mental reliving of a situation from the past) and catharsis (the physical expression of emotion).  However, the two did have some fundamental differences in their theoretical conceptualization of Anna O. (and all mental health “patients”).

Breuer and Freud were both student of Brucke.  Brucke put great faith in what was referred to as the “constancy principle,” which was first introduced by the physician Robert Mayer in 1842 and furthered by Hermann von Helmholtz as a style of explanation in physics.  The principle, as espoused by Helmholtz (and Mayer before him), held that there is a tendency for energies in a closed system to redistribute themselves (conservation of energy).  The force of this redistribution could account in a linearly deterministic fashion (with one thing causing another thing, like a billiard ball hitting another billiard ball, making it move) for the observed behavior of natural objects.  Breuer’s version of this principle showed up in some of his own published lectures and demonstrated how he applied this concept to humans:

Organisms…are all phenomena of the physical world: systems of atoms,
moved by forces, according to the principle of the conservation of
energy discovered by Robert Mayer in 1842…and then popularized
by Helmholtz…The sum of forces remains constant in every isolated
system.  The real causes are symbolized in science by the word “force.”
The less we know about them, the more kinds of forces do we have to
distinguish: mechanical, electrical, magnetic forces, light, heat. 
Progress in knowledge reduces them to two – attraction and repulsion. 
All this applies as well to the organism man.

Here, then, we have Brucke’s perspective that humans are, like any other natural object, the result of forces of attraction and repulsion; they are determined by forces outside their control.  As a good student of Brucke, Breuer likewise favored the constancy principle.  In fact, this principle was to be the basis of Breuer’s contribution toward explaining the hysterical neurosis: strangulated affect (affect and emotion are often used interchangably in psychology).  According to Breuer, this was a kind of bound energy that required working though in order for it to dissipate.  For Breuer, the way to work through and unbound this energy was to regress (take back in time) the patient to reconstruct the unhealthy circumstance that led to the emtion being strangulated in the first place. 

Freud seemed to accept the formulation of the strangulated affect, in general, but not in specifics.  That is, Freud disagreed with Breuer regarding the cause of such strangulations of affect.  While Breuer felt that the strangulated affect was an inherited condition, Freud felt that it was an act of will on the part of the patient.  In most, if not all cases, all that was needed was some exploration to discover this.  In fact, he met no such hysterical neurotics, “who did not exhibit an effort of while whose motive [could] be specified.”  Breuer’s etiology (belief about what caused the strangulated affect) was phrased “hypnoid hysteria” and Freud’s was phrased “defense hysteria.”

This struggle between deterministic and free will conceptualizations was to follow Freud for some time.  In fact, his close relationship with Wilhelm Fleiss was punctuated with failed attempts for Freud to establish a biologically deterministic perspective not unlike that of Breuer’s on neurosis.  In fact, Freud attempted to write a materialistic document describing neurosis but ultimately gave up on it because it did not fit what he saw in his practice or in his self-examination.  The one consolation Freud gave to the deterministic perspective offered by the constancy principle was his libido theory that certainly appears to be a mere “add-on” to appease his more deterministic minded associates (and to gain the respectability he so desired from the medical community).

Freud, then, was largely a “free will” theorist even though he is frequently painted as deterministic.  In fact, the one overtly deterministic portion of his theory was one he, himself, said depended on more of an analogy to biology than any direct evidence from psychoanalysis itself.  It was, in fact, superfluous to the theory that Freud formulated and did not appear to fit comfortably with Freud’s obviously final causal elements (e.g., wish fulfillment, that “for the sake of which” we act). 

SIDE NOTE: Free will (or, as it is more properly called today, “agency”) should not be confused with “non-deterministic” or “indeterministic.”  The latter terms imply a form of chaos, where anyhing goes and there is no direction to behavior.  The former implies an agent acting for the sake of final causes, who possesses possibilities (choices), which he or she can choose to act on.  This agent is constrained by context and ability but otherwise “free” to act on the choices available to him or her.  Some also add that freedom is associated with the actor making a choose that is “authentic.”  That is, the choice is one that is one is true to the proclivities of that individual, not accepted by someone else’s mandate or acted upon based on a belief that he or she must forfeit his or her choice in the matter (as Rush, the rock band said, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”).

In the end, Freud was not deterministic; yet, due to his add-on of the Libido, he was not entirely a free will theorist, either. 

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

January 15, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment