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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 | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

14 Jan 08 – Orth, Imageless Thought and the Non-Revolutionary Nature of Cognitive Psychology

14 January 2008 

On this day in 1847, Johannes Orth was born.  Orth was among the members of the Wurzburg school involved in what has come to be known as the “imageless thought controversy.”  Some background is necessary to set the stage for this.  Wundt (who appears to pop up rather regularly in my blogs – you know, the “Father of Psychology” by some people’s estimation) had two well known students: Titchener and Kulpe.  Both Titchener and Kulpe disagreed with the restrictions that Wundt placed on experimentation. 

Kulpe, for his part, founded the Wurzburg school.  Two of his students, including Orth, developed some experiments to extend the scope of introspective experimental methods in order to study thought.  Orth and his colleague Meyer performed a word association experiment where the participants (including Meyer and Orth themselves – which, by the way, was common practice at the time) were asked to report everything that came to their mind between hearing the word and giving their response.  Orth and Meyer found that the participants frequently indicated that thoughts came to their consciousness that were not quite definite images nor were they acts of will.  These indescribable non-sensory events were called “states of consciousness” by the researchers.   

Wundt refused to accept the new methods that the Wurzburg school used in these investigations because they were retrospective – looking back and thinking about what had occurred between the word presentation and the response given.  This led to the “imageless thought controversy” (though, Wundt was more concerned with the problem of method than the problem of thought content).    

Titchener – not Wundt – was at odds with the results (even though, as indicated above, he felt that Wundt’s methods were too restrictive): he did not believe that “imageless thought” was a reality.  Instead, he felt that the participants were merely poorly trained and demonstrated a “stimulus error” (reporting what the thoughts signified not what they actually were).  So, he trained his own investigators as participants and, lo and behold, the results of his own investigations confirmed his own beliefs: there were no reports of imageless thought when participants were properly trained to avoid the stimulus error. 

Looking back, we can clearly see that neither of these schools had objective results.  Still, probably what we should realize is these results are clear exemplars of the fact that no experiment is completely objective.  These researchers, just as modern day researchers, have a particular perspective and expectation of results of experimentation.  Though we do take pains today to control for other possibilities entering into the results, we cannot control for everything.  One of the most difficult things to control for, especially as they are not made explicit in most experiments, are the experimenter’s own biases.  In fact, many analyses indicate that the role of experimenter bias is great (especially in terms of what are referred to as allegiance effects and sponsorship effects – look back in my blog and you will find some mention of these). 

What I’d like to turn to, briefly, is a point regarding the imageless thought controversy and the so-called “cognitive revolution.”  Many, such as Leahy, for example, have argued that the cognitive revolution was not a revolution because, among other reasons, it was slow in development, initiated outside of the field, did not occur internationally, and followed a similar logic as did behaviorism (e.g., it was based on a linear deterministic model with stimulus preceding response – it merely smuggled in the observer in the middle – this was also discussed by Slife…you can see my website under the “controversial issues in psychology” link for more on this).  Still, I think there is another reason why it was not revolutionary: it was merely a regression to the days that preceded behaviorism. 

Behaviorism, looking back at history, was a response to the controversy regarding the imageless thought experiments.  The final determination, if there was one, was that neither side had a legitimate response to the controversy.  Unable to explain the phenomenon, the behaviorists (like Watson, specifically) dismissed thought as a variable (even though Watson, in response to Dunlap’s presentation with the problems of thoughts before Watson’s development of his behavioral perspective indicated that he believed that thoughts were quite significant).  In other words, he left thoughts unaccounted for. 

Cognitive theory was merely a return to attempting to account for thought, though using a different method (in fact, this is in the name “cognitive” = “thought”).  This was similarly attempted by the Gestalt theorists in response to the imageless thought controversy – Gestalt theory just did not catch on with the prevalent behavioral theory that was ascendant at the time.  Cognitive therapy, then, was merely a reversion to what was attempting to be accomplished in Wundt’s experiments and in the Wurzburg school: understanding of thought processes.  If anything, the cognitive psychology recognized an unscientific pursuit: the discounting and not accounting for a phenomenon of significance to psychology (even if they discounted its nonmaterial nature in the process). 

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

January 14, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

9 Jan 08 – Watson, Behaviorism, and Theoretical Incoherence

9 January 2008

On this day in 1878, John Broadus Watson, the “father of behaviorism” was born.  It is interesting that one of his predecessors – Ivan Pavlov (who was an endocrinologist) – and one of his successors – B.F. Skinner (who adapted Watson’s classical conditioning to what has come to be called operant conditioning) – were both listed as among the top 10 most influential psychologists (in a list of eminent psychologists published in a 2002 edition of Review of General Psychology) but Watson was not.  In fact, Watson was ranked 17, based on the determining metrics of professional psychology survey response frequency, introductory psychology textbook citation frequency, and journal citation frequency. 

That being said, Watson was certainly quite influential in the history of psychology.  His 1913 paper entitled, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” though somewhat derivative of his mentor’s at the University of Chicago (Angell’s) brand of functionalism, formally established behaviorism as an approach to psychology.  In fact, this paper has come to be known as, “The Behaviorist Manifesto.”  

Watson’s position was fairly straightforward and simple:

1.  Like his mentor Angell, he argued against the use of consciousness, making a theoretical shift in emphasis from the introspective study of consciousness to the extraspective (or observational) study of behavior.  In other words, he made a selection of what constructs he would use to account for the data from his experiments – behavioral data that he could observe (not “mentalistic” data that he would have to garner from individual description).

2.  Again, like his mentor Angell, he argued that his reason for dropping consciousness was that the data compelled him to do it.  In other words, he said that all one can really “see” when conducting experiments is what the subject of the experiment was doing in response to certain observed environmental stimuli.  Including consciousness as a variable in this lacked parsimony (simply put, “simplicity”) in the experiment.  As such, it was unnecessary to do it.  The data is behavior; not consciousness. 

3.  Finally, based on the perspective that all we see is behavior, which is the result of environmental stimuli, then behavior is a function of the environment.  Behavior, then, is not a cause, but an effect.  It is controlled by external factors, not a controlling factor. 

The simple problem with this is that it is too simplistic in a variety of ways.  First, it is amounts to a logical positivist position on psychological phenomena.  Logical positivism was a philosophical position that proposed that all meaningful statements had to be verifiable statements (the verificationist position).  That is, in order for a statement to have meaning, it had to be open to observation and testing.  Unfortunately, as later critics noted, this statement itself fails on the very grounds that the positivists required of it: it is not observable and testable.

Likewise, Watson attempted to develop an a-theoretical conceptualization of psychology.  In fact, in his presentation, he states that the data compelled him to see only observable behavior as a viable variable.  However, the basis of this statement is, in fact, a theoretical position that, itself not observable.  As such, there is a problematic base for this belief.  It was, in fact, his theoretical stance (however implicit), not the data or methodological observations, that led him to limit his descriptions to behavior.

Unfortunately, though Watson is deemed by some to be the paragon of scientism in psychology, this is an incredibly unscientific position to hold as it rules out, before investigation, certain unobservable behaviors.  Psychology has made valiant efforts to address this flaw in Watson’s perspective.  Still more unfortunately, however, they have done so by attempting to make nonobservable phenomena conform to the requirement of observability through operationalization (or operationism or operationalism, which amount to creating a definition of the object of study so that it can be made observable – or, at least, numerizable) – even though the logical positivists, whom Watson emulated (however unknowingly) in his a-theoretical/theoretical perspective on observable behavior, had, themselves, rejected operationalization. 

However, as Bridgman, an eminent physicist and the individual recognized as having given credence to the concept of “operationism” said, “’I feel as if I have created a Frankenstein, which has certainly gotten away from me. I abhor the word operationalism or operationism which seems to imply a dogma, or at least a thesis of some kind. The thing I have envisaged is too simple to be dignified by so pretentious a name.”  By the 1950s, the form of operationism propounded by psychologists was kind distinct from what Bridgman envisioned – and he disliked it considerably. 

Operationism, as propounded by psychologists, was a variant brought to them by Feigl, a logical positivist.  As noted above, the logical positivists had rejected operationism in its early form.  They did so for quite legitimate reasons: both because of its private nature (they demanded that knowledge be public – their reasoning for observability for meaningful statements) and, stemming from operationism being a private concept, their realization that no scientific term could ever be defined finitely if there were infinitely many instances – relative to each individual measurement – by which that term could be defined.  Still, the early behaviorists and subsequent psychological researchers maintained this brand of operationalization in their methods.

The logical positivist critique of the early form of operationism, however, still holds true for the contemporary brand: it is a private, relativistic, perspective on the measurement of psychological phenomenon. Interestingly, in order to avoid a conceptualization of psychology that involved consciousness, denying it to their subjects in the research endeavor, they smuggled it in fantastically as part of the observer’s role.  That is, the operationalization of phenomenon required the experimenter (the observer) to consciously decide what defined a particular object of study.  This decision, however, is relativistic (and solipsistic) in the sense that it depends on the individual experimenter’s (or a consensus among multiple experimenters – which is still relative to that group and their thoughts on the subject) perspective on what defines the object of study.  For example, ask several different people, independently, to define, “love.”  There will likely be some commonalities in their definitions but probably most notable will be their variations in defining the term.  This is what the logical positivists criticized in the original formation but, in their bringing the concept to psychologists, is exactly what psychologists chose to use as the foundation of their attempt to capture and study non-observable phenomena (such as love).

The point of all of this is that, beginning with Watson (and probably even before him), psychology began down the road of considering, in logical positivistic fashion, only observables as important for knowledge.  Though the road has perhaps been paved (with a cognitive perspective), it remains fundamentally the same: observable manifestations are considered by the majority of investigators in the field of psychology to be all that is knowable.  They did this, perhaps, to lend credence to their own studies – observable phenomena are not as nebulous as non-observable phenomena and, as such, are readily captured and studied.  What they failed to realize is that the logical positivists, whom they were attempting to emulate, had already found the fatal flaw with this perspective.  Furthermore, they failed to realize that it is not their data that narrows their investigation but the theoretical perspective on the data, which, as the critics of logical positivism have adequately demonstrated, is itself flawed.

How, then, do we handle this?  Suggestions have certainly been made.  One, for example, is to let the object of study determine the means of study.  That is, if you are studying a non-observable phenomenon, use a method that does not require its reduction to terms, numbers, etc., so that you can quantify it in observational analysis fashion.  Qualitative methods derived from phenomenology, hermeneutics, social constructionism, etc., have been proposed in this vein.  Alternatively, the theories that are proposed can themselves be tested against each other in dissociative methodology fashion to see which one fits the data instead of fitting the data to the theoretical perspective.  Finally, a critical methodological pluralism that involves the use of various methodologies informed by overtly expressed theoretical positions to determine convergence or divergence in methodological findings can be used in a complementary fashion to develop more holistic knowledge of the phenomenon.

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

January 9, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment