Essay // Clinical Psychology: Controversies that surround modern day mental health practice

mentalhealth

Modern day mental health practice could be defined as the application of the four main schools of thoughts that dominate the field of psychology in the clinical setting, by abiding to strict criteria set out by packaged behavioural sets, diagnostically defined by names and categorised depending on the core nature of their specific characteristics in terms of behaviour, aetiology and epidemiology. While these four [biological, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural & systemic] main schools of thought have contributed to the development and ongoing evolution of the field of psychology, they also have downsides when applied to different types of psychological cases, with some being more efficient in treating particular disorders while others being hardly efficient and questionable. Applying and integrating these four schools of thoughts with new intuitive fact-based theories to explain psychological constructs and disorders are leading to major innovations in psychology; however with each field’s limitations controversies over the validity of their interpretations and the efficiency of their applied doctrines remain a constant topic of debate among scholars and clinicians.

One of the main controversies that surround modern day mental health practice is the medicalisation of psychological disorders, a tradition influenced by the field of medicine which contradicts an important founding philosophy of psychology, which was originally initiated to study the “mind”, not the physical characteristics of the brain as an organ. Furthermore, evidence suggests that psychological problems are not caused exclusively by organic factors. In anxiety, depression and/or schizophrenia, people with genetic vulnerability to the development of those psychological disorders only do so when exposed to particular stresses in their environment (Hankin & Abele, 2005). However, on the other side of the argument, evidence has also shown that deficiencies in genetics and neurobiological anatomy are linked to psychological difficulties and disorders, and hence nowadays, integrated approaches are used in a variety of assessments when treating patients affected by psychological disorders.

On the theme of medicalization, the debate over eating disorders has led to one of the major controversies within the field between advocates of the biomedical conceptualisation of eating disorders and the feminist position (Maine & Bunnell, 2010). The former sees an individual woman as a patient with a debilitating disease, in need of a cure to her illness; while the feminist position views eating disorders as a condition that is gender specific with the woman as a victim of socio-cultural pressures generated by a male-dominated society governed by a hedonistic economic reality focused on the pursuit of the thin ideal. There is an important distinction that should be made here for the benefit of patients since the feminist view may not fully comprehend that in the case of obesity and emaciation related to eating-disorders, the patients are at severe risk of medical complications such as growth retardation, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal bleeding, dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities and cardiac arrest [in chronic cases]. The social feminist constructivist perspective may be interpreting eating disorder as an image debate of “Fat” versus “Thin”. This may lead to the normalisation of obesity and destructive eating habits which in turn may result in further medical complications that involve surgical interventions. As for the feminists, it may be ethical to acknowledge that obesity & emaciation associated with eating disorders are major health issues that precede further complications such as diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure; and should not be confused with social stigma regarding image, but seen as a sign of poor-health and lifestyle that require attention and effort in providing patients with the medical and psychological help they need to adjust their patterns of life to a healthy one by adopting a culture synchronised with dietary & nutritional education.

Secondly, the medicalization of anxiety disorders as distinct medical & psychological conditions may seem less favourable to the biological model previously mentioned. A mass market of pharmacological products used in treatment has been favoured for being more convenient and less time consuming. This may lead to patients feeling disempowered and hopeless when being treated as victims of an uncontrollable illnesses requiring pharmacological treatment, while already being in a state of distress, shock, disbelief and/or confusion. Diazepam (Valium) or other benzodiazepines that are highly addictive have also been prescribed for years to treat anxiety disorders. The long term side effects have been trivialised along with the arrogant act of medicalizing fear and courage (Breggin, 1991). Critics of the medicalization of experiences argue that if patients are helped in understanding that panic attacks develop from the misrepresentation of bodily sensations and hyperventilation, this knowledge along with their own courage may strengthen them to take control of their fear. Research has also shown how patients who are educated in cognitive-behaviour techniques learn to use problem-solving and develop other skills (e.g. social – help them build meaningful lasting relationships while letting go of psychosocial burdens) that they lack to reappraise situations that may formerly have brought distress.
TheDownfallOfTheWildAnimals.jpgThe tragic death of one of the most talented vocalists on the planet, Chris Cornell, has sent a shock throughout the arts world and reports have revealed that the gifted artist was on Lorazepam [a benzodiazepine medication sold under the name Ativan used in the treatment of anxiety disorders], the substance is known to heighten the risk of suicide in those suffering from depression, while a recent investigation (Bushnell et al., 2017) has also shown no meaningful clinical benefit from the addition of benzodiazepines during treatment initiation. To prevent such tragedies from affecting the human race, more emphasis could be placed on “the mind” with clear guidance on the “thinking styles” (cognitive scripts) to adopt in the protection of the individual organism’s own psyche (mind). Simple foundations based on psychological logic should be propagated educationally to help people understand their uniqueness as organisms while protecting their psyche [mind] from the influence/control of external environmental factors that are beyond their control [e.g. biased negativity, uninformed prejudicial comments of meaningless acquaintances, etc]; acknowledging the fact that as long as an individual organism is within the boundaries of the law, he is allowed to live the life of his choice, and external factors would only affect one’s psyche if attention is given to them; and selectively ignoring parts of the environment  is also an acquired skill vital in maintaining sanity, along with the ability to select experiences that are positive & progressive to the organism [while discarding negative ones] in the context and theme of their chosen individual lifestyles.

ChrisCornell

An artist many might consider to be the Fréderic Chopin & the Edouard Manet of Rock, composing with his heart and painting with his voice, enigmatic vocalist Chris Cornell, known for timeless titles such as “What You Are“, “Like A Stone“, “The Last Remaining Light“, “Exploder“, “Be Yourself“, “Getaway Car” & “Dandelion” left a hole in the hearts of millions touched by his work. His tragic death is a reminder that further research is required in understanding the thought structure of artistic individuals whose psychological subjective reality would likely be deeper and more complex compared to the average person – an approach focusing on the “mind” rather than the “behaviour or brain” in the tradition of Sigmund Freud would likely reveal and explain the granularity of their psyche; and whether their suicidal decisions are rooted in full awareness and motivated by a reality they consider to be inadequate for their state of consciousness and IQ; and whether appropriate interventions involving the restructuration of their psychosocial patterns/exposure [to prevent the burden of stress] may be more individualistic & appropriate.

This would also shift the focus to the individual’s mind, courage & abilities to handle the world while maintaining a stable sense of self and resilience; and not turn them into biological organisms that are having their neurochemistry savagely altered by powerful chemical substances that are known to affect individuals differently with dangerous & sometimes fatal outcomes.

PrinciplesOfPsychology

The same would apply to sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder who would benefit of a non-pharmacological and empowering intervention to manage and take control of recurrent intrusive and distressing memories – it may be useful to study fear, distress and courage as normal psychological processes happening on a dimensional scale on a normal continuum from one individual to another where those on the extreme ends of the scales may be considered for psychological interventions.

Similarly, antidepressant medication used to treat depression remains controversial due to its questionable efficacy and side-effects. The high level of effectiveness of SSRIs reported in academic journals was greatly due to only trials with positive results of antidepressants being published while those where antidepressants were found to be no more effective than placebos being rejected. The effects of TCAs and SSRIs have also been found to be negligible in mild to moderate depression but effective in severe depression in meta-analyses (Fournier et al., 2010). The negative side-effects of antidepressants are known to be risky and dangerous where symptoms such as loss of sexual desire and impotence, weight gain, nausea, sedation or activation, and dizziness are known to be some of the more disturbing ones, with effects varying with types of antidepressants – for depressed pregnant women, health risks may affect their offspring. Dangerous antidepressants such as MAOIs are only prescribed to patients who can follow strict dietary patterns that exclude foods with thyramine (e.g. cheese) to prevent risks of high blood pressure and hypertensive crises. Although meta-analyses suggest benefits may outweigh the risks, an increased risk of suicide has also been noted among patients under 25 (Bridge et al., 2007).

Edouard Manet - Le Suicide

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), “Le Suicidé

Electroconvulsive therapy has also sparked a major controversy as a primitive, dangerous and non-scientific practice for the brevity of its effect and negative side-effects on memory (Read & Bentall, 2010). A thorough review of studies on the effectiveness of ECT and its side-effects [retrograde and anterograde amnesia] revealed it to be effective for a brief duration in treating severe depression [in cases that are unresponsive to psychological treatment] and questionably only supported by psychiatrists with a vested interest in proving ECT’s effectiveness. ECT has also been associated with a slight but significant risk of death, and a qualitative study of patients’ negative experiences concluded that for some ECT leads to fear, shame and humiliation, and reinforces experiences of worthlessness and helplessness associated with depression.

brainbuilding

Medicalization has also led to controversy over the diagnosis of schizophrenia, a condition classified as a disease by the World Health Organization and ranked second only to cardiovascular diseases in terms of overall disease burden internationally (Murray & Lopez, 1996). Diagnosis is believed to be part of best practice in the patient’s “best” interest, however a strongly presented viewpoint by Thomas Szasz (2010) qualified diagnosis as an act of oppression as it may pave way for involuntary hospitalisation; where a deviant, maladjusted or poorly educated person may be subjected to “control” processes that they are not fully aware of – this has been proposed as a “possible” explanation for the greater rates of schizophrenia among ethnic minorities (particularly Africans in the US & those of low-SES groups). This view has also been supported by many who argue that schizophrenia as a distinct category may not be a fully valid diagnostic, but a fabrication constructed that may stigmatise disadvantaged or poorly educated people – while this may be positive in shaping “unacceptable behaviour” and protect citizens & society, some people with moderate symptoms may also be forcefully hospitalised. Thus, nowadays, schizophrenia is not a single definite disorder anymore, but one among others, as it has been revised and turned into a spectrum, known as the schizoid spectrum [with other related disorders]. In the treatment of schizophrenia, medicalisation has also led to the evaluation of psychotherapy as a possibly ineffective treatment (Lehman & Steinwachs, 1998). Freud & others in his discipline acknowledged the treatment of psychosis as problematic with psychotherapy as psychotic individuals tend not to develop transference [interpretation of their hidden feelings, defences & anxiety] to the analyst – unlike neurotic patients. For personality disorders, addictions and other severe mental health problems medicalisation has led to the development of alternative methods of treatment that unlike the traditional authoritarian & hierarchically organised inpatient mental health settings, are run in a more democratic line where service users are encouraged to take an active role in their rehabilitation rather than simply being passive recipients of treatment.

clinicalpsychology

Therapeutic communities have turned out to be effective in the long-term treatment of difficult patients with severe personality disorders with the outcome being more positive with longer treatments. These therapeutic communities are believed to lead to improvements in mental health and interpersonal functioning. For drug misuse issues, the assumption that clinicians make over users attempt to quit being due to conscious guidance & coherent plans should be revised as no evidence suggests so, and more evidence argue that unconscious processes, classical and operant conditioning, erratic impulses, and highly specific environmental cues affect the development and cessation of drug use (West, 2006). According to West, interventions should not stimulate adolescents to think of what ‘stage’ they are in or be matched to a stage, but maximum tolerable pressure should be put on the young person to cease drug use – which contradicts the stages of change model (DiClemente, 2003; Prochaska et al., 1992) where 30 days are allocated to stages [pre-contemplation, contemplation, action & maintenance] based on no evidence. While concepts such as harm reduction programmes with needle exchange, safe injection sites, and the provisions of free tests of quality of MDMA sold at raves remain controversial, some believe they prevent mortality and morbidity (Marlatt & Witkiewitz, 2010), while others argue they send the message that hard drug use [such as heroin] may be acceptable.

The second major controversy in modern day mental health practice remains the “Person or Context” debate where many in the field still question the validity of focusing on context as it shifts attention from the individualistic characteristics of the patient, and whether the focus should shift depending on the disorder and the patient’s age. For example in the treatment of childhood disorders, if difficulties are assumed to be individual ‘psychiatric’ illnesses the risk of focus being solely on the child and not on broader social environment may lead to medical treatments and individual therapy without addressing important risk factors for those of such young age who are influenced by their social environment, e.g. teacher, school and wider social context. This may not be the case for some adults who value a sense of autonomy more than being influenced by wider social contexts that they have no connection to, interest in or affinity for. In contrast, to the autonomic adult, treatment cases of other childhood behaviour disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorders may be particularly problematic, since the major risk factors that should be addressed are social: through interventions such as parent training, family therapy, multisystemic therapy and treatment foster care. For ADHD, the bold emphasis on medication is dangerous as the effects are limited to only 3 years (Swanson & Volkow, 2009), while growth and cardiovascular functioning may be affected that may lead to somatic complaints such as loss of appetite, headaches, insomnia and tics, which are present in 5-12% of cases (Breggin, 2001; Paykina et al., 2007; Rapport & Moffitt, 2002).

Another interesting argument comes from the Scottish psychiatrist and psychoanalyst R. D. Laing (2009) in the 1960s and 1970s who opposed the view that schizophrenia was a genetically based medical condition requiring treatment with antipsychotic medication. His dimensional approach led him to view schizophrenia as a ‘sane reaction to an insane situation’ where the contents of psychotic symptoms were simply viewed as psychological responses to complex, confusing, conflicting and powerful parental injunctions that left no scope for more rational and adaptive modes of expression. Thus, Laing proposed that the treatment involved creating a context where insight into the complex family process [e.g. poor housing, low SES, deviant parents with drug problems, over-involved family members who maintain the patient’s stress, alcohol problems, sexual deviance, incest, lack of financial stability, poor educational motivation, poor emotional education, lack of problem solving skills, lack of sophistication, poor nutrition, restricted finances, etc] of patients with schizophrenia and psychotic response to these could be facilitated. The context here seems partially important in the case where the patient’s delusions and hallucinations are linked, where their interpretation would be the client’s response to conflicting parental injunctions. The experience of psychosis and recovery was a process where the individual could emerge stronger with new and valuable insights regarding the solutions to their problems. However, this has not been supported by any evidence or subsequent research. In contrast, strong scientific evidence points to the importance of a more client-centred individual approach focussed solely on the patient with defective inherited neurobiological factors as major focus for the role they play in schizophrenia, and antipsychotic medication for the reduction of symptoms in two-thirds of psychotic patients affected (Ritsner & Gottesman, 2011; Tandon et al., 2010). Research has supported the hypothesis that suggests the family does affect the psychotic process and that psychotherapy has a place in the management of psychosis, for example personal trauma, including child abuse increases the risk of psychosis, and stressful life events including those within the family can precipitate an episode of psychosis, and high levels of family criticism, hostility and emotional over-involvement increase the risk of relapse (Bebbington & Kuipers, 2008; Hooley, 2007; Shelvin et al., 2008). So for those with a strong sense of family, and heavily involved peers, family therapy delays relapse in troubled families characterized by “extreme” levels of expressed emotion; and cognitive behaviour therapy which stresses the idea that psychotic symptoms are understandable and on a continuum with normal experience can help patients control these psychotic symptoms (Tandon et al., 2010), with solutions to rebuild their lives, their own identity and manage their social circle intelligently by differentiating types of relationship and expectations.

personality

The third and last controversy to be addressed is the ongoing debate in clinical psychology over the categorisation of psychological disorders where many have been arguing over a dimensional outlook on psychological conditions that offers more precision in diagnosis along with a more scientific approach. In the case of childhood behaviour disorders with regard to scientific approaches, there is an ongoing debate over whether they should be viewed and classified in categorical or dimensional terms. While DSM are based on rigid categories, most empirical studies support the view of a dimensional outlook. Furthermore, factor analytic studies consistently show that common childhood difficulties belong to two dimensions of internalizing and externalizing behaviour, which are normally distributed within the population (Achenbach, 2009). Young children diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder and ADHD are part of a subgroup of cases with extreme externalizing behavioural problems, while those with anxiety or depressive disorders have extreme internalizing behaviour problems (Carr, 2006a). By the same dimensional approach, children diagnosed with intellectual disability fall at the lower end of the continuum of intelligence, a trait also normally distributed within the population (Carr et al., 2007). The dimensional approach is not only more scientific, but also has a less stigmatizing and rational approach to human uniqueness. The dimensional approach has also enhanced the movement critical of qualifying psychological deficiencies as ‘real psychiatric illnesses’, conditions such as ADHD, conduct disorder and other DSM diagnoses. Questions have been raised over whether they are invalid fabrications or spurious social constructions (Kutchins & Kirk, 1999). Those who trust the evidence of the dimensionality of childhood disorders argue that they may simply be traits distributed normally among the population where some cases fall on the extreme ends of certain traits, while those who point to the interests of pharmaceutical industries’ financial motives argue that they are spurious social constructions. The latter seems unethical but is a part of the decadent and immoral economic reality that we have allowed to exist. As parents, health and educational professionals, it is clear that the pharmaceutical industry and governments may all gain from conceptualising children’s psychological difficulties as ‘real psychiatric illnesses’. Some schools or uncaring parents may prefer children to receive a diagnosis of ADHD with stimulant therapy as they may have difficulty meeting their needs for intellectual stimulation, nurturance and clear limit-setting; thus these children in their care become more aggressive and disruptive.

In the case of schizophrenia, a dimensional approach has also led to the schizotypy construct as a dimensional alternative to the prevailing categorical conceptualization of schizophrenia (Lenzenweger, 2010). In contrast to the categorical view based on Kraepelin’s (1899) work and used in the DSM which sees schizophrenia as a discrete diagnostic category, this one proposes that anomalous sensory experiences, odd beliefs and disorganized thinking exist in extreme forms of schizophrenia as hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder, but these are simply on continuum with normal experience [i.e. it is present in all ‘normal’ people but peaks in abnormal ones] – a position originally advocated by Bleuler (1911). Research measures have provided support for the dimensional construct of schizotypy (Lenzenweger, 2010) where the continuum may be composed of sub-dimensions; from normal to psychotic experiences. Schizotypy is heritable; and patients with high schizotypy scores but who are not psychotic show attentional, eye-movement and other neuropsychological abnormalities associated with schizophrenia. Further, the dimensional approach has also led to the distinction between schizophrenia and split personality where 40% in the UK equated split or multiple personality with schizophrenia – as popular culture often does. It is clear that schizophrenia does not refer to such characteristics.

dr_jekyll_and_mr_hyde

The closest equivalent to split personality is a condition known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), where the central feature is the apparent existence of two or more distinct personalities within the same individual, with only one being evident at a time. Each personality (or alter) is distinct with its own memories, behaviour and interpersonal style. In most cases, the host personality is unaware of the existence of alters and these vary in knowledge of each other. Evidence suggests that the capacity to dissociate is normally distributed within the population and an attribute many use to manage their own lives and network. Those with high degree of this trait may cope by dissociating their consciousness from the experience of trauma (such as child abuse, extreme graphic violence, etc) in early childhood by entering a trance-like state. This dissociative habit is negatively reinforced (strengthened) as an effective distress-reducing coping strategy over repeated traumas in early childhood as it brings relief from distress during trauma exposure. Eventually a sufficient number of experiences become dissociated to constitute a separate personality that may be activated in later life at times of stress or trauma through suggestion in hypnotic psychotherapeutic situations. Treatment often simply involves helping clients integrate the multiple personalities into a single personality and develop non-dissociative strategies for dealing with stress [e.g. argument with work colleagues, new manager, divorce, adolescents leaving home for studies, partner with alcohol problems, over-involved family members, etc] – this helps them deal with tough situations by facing them with problem-solving abilities and skills to come out with a firm resolution and have their views understood. Core symptoms of multiple personality disorder are not treated with psychotropic medication unlike schizophrenia but involves psychological education for patients to learn the skill of mentalizing [understand their own state of mind and that of others].

whoareyou

Finally, with personality disorders, the dimensional approach has led to the trait theory in conceptualizing important aspects of behaviour and experience from a limited number of dimensions. Any given trait is believed to be normally distributed in the population, for example, introversion – extraversion, most people show a moderate level of the trait, however those who exhibit extremely low or high levels [extremes] would have the sort of difficulties attributed in the DSM. So, normal people only differ from the abnormal in the degree to which they show particular traits. The trait theory has become dominated by the five-factor theory (McCrae & Costa, 2008) in recent years. This model includes the dimensions: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. There is evidence for the heritability of all of factors within the Five Factor Model except agreeableness which seems to be predominantly determined by one’s environment (Costa & Widiger, 1994). Thomas Widiger has proposed that the five-factor model may be used as an alternative system for describing personality disorders (Widiger & Mullins-Sweatt, 2010). Widiger also argues that trait theory offers a more scientifically useful approach to assessment with good psychometric properties embraced by its questionnaires (De Raad & Perugini, 2002) – they are reliable and valid, and have population norms. Compared to categorical classification systems, trait models offer a more parsimonious way of describing patients with rigid dysfunctional behaviour patterns which in turn offers a more parsimonious way to conceptualize the development of effective treatments.

LondonCity

Photo: The Promise of Dawn (J.Hawkes)

The major controversies in modern day mental health practice seem to revolve around the precision and the validity of constructs as psychological illnesses, and since they may stigmatise those who suffer from them, the constant research into better and more modern interpretations and explanations of their characteristics and treatment seem bound to revolutionise the field of psychology, as the movement takes a more dimensional approach; with a new generation of psychologists applying the rules with an open mind and a creative outlook on new perspectives and methods – the field of psychology looks set on a positively progressive course.

UneNation

“A great aggregation of men sane in mind & warm in the heart, creates a moral conscience that is known as a nation” – Ernest Renan / Source: Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Arthur Hughes - A Music Party 1864

Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915), “A Music Party

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References

  1. Achenbach, T. M. (2009). ASEBA: Development, findings, theory, and applications. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Research Centre for Children, Youth and Families.
  2. Bleuler, E. (1911). Dementia praecox or the group of schizophrenias. New York: International University Press.
  3. Breggin (1991). Toxic psychiatry. London: Harper Collins.
  4. Breggin, P. (2001). Talking back to Ritalin: What doctors aren’t telling you about stimulants and ADHD. New York: Da Capo Press.
  5. Bridge, J. A., Iyengar, S., & Salary, C. B. (2007). Clinical response and risk for reported suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in paediatric antidepressant treatment: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Medical Association, 297, 1683-1696.
  6. Bushnell, G., Stürmer, T., Gaynes, B., Pate, V. and Miller, M. (2017). Simultaneous Antidepressant and Benzodiazepine New Use and Subsequent Long-term Benzodiazepine Use in Adults With Depression, United States, 2001-2014. JAMA Psychiatry, 74(7), p.747.
  7. Carr, A. (2006a). Handbook of child and adolescent clinical psychology: A contextual approach (second edition). London: Routledge.
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  10. Costa, P. & Widiger, T. (1994). Personality disorders and the five factor model of personality. Washington, DC: APA.
  11. De Raad, B., & Perugini, M. (2002). Big five assessment. Bern, Switzerland: Hogrete & Huber.
  12. DiClemente, C. (2003). Addiction and change. New York: Guilford.
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  14. Hankin, B., & Abele, J. (2005). Developmental psychopathology: A vulnerability-stress perspective. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage.
  15. Kraepelin, E. (1899). Psychiatrie (sixth edition). Leipzig, Germany: Barth.
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  17. Laing, R. D. (2009). Selected works of R. D. Laing, Volumes 1-7. (Vol. 1. The divided self. Vol 2. Self and others. Vol. 3. Reason and violence. Vol. 4. Sanity and madness in the family. Vol. 5. The politics of the family. Vol. 6. Interpersonal Perception. Vol. 7. Knots.) London: Routledge.
  18. Lehman, A., & Steinwachs, D. (1998). At issue: Translating research into practice: The Schizophrenia Patient Outcomes Research Team (PORT) treatment recommendations. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2, 1-10.
  19. Lenzenweger, M. (2010). Schizotypy and schizophrenia. New York: Guilford.
  20. Maine, M. & Bunnell, D. (2010). A perfect biopsychosocial storm: Gender, culture, and eating disorders. In M. Maine, B. McGilley, & D. Bunnell (Eds.), Treatment of eating disorders: Bridging the research-practice gap (pp. 3-16). San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
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  25. Prochaska, J., DiClemente, C., & Norcross, J. (1992). In search of how people change: Applications to addictive behaviours. American Psychologist, 47, 1102-1114.
  26. Rapport, M. & Moffitt, C. (2002). Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and methylphenidate: A review of height/weight, cardiovascular, and somatic complaint side effects. Clinical Psychology Review, 22, 1107-1131.
  27. Read, J., & Bentall, R. (2010). The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review. Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 19, 333-347.
  28. Ritsner, M., & Gottesman, I. (2011). The schizophrenia construct after 100 years of challenges. In M. Ritsner (Ed.), Handbook of schizophrenia spectrum disorders, Volume I: Conceptual issues and neurobiological advances (pp. 1-44). New York: Springer.
  29. Swanson, J. M., & Volkow, N. D. (2009). Psychopharmacology: Concepts and opinions about the use of stimulant medications. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50 (1-2), 180-193.
  30. Szasz, T. (2010). Psychiatry, anti-psychiatry, critical psychiatry: What do these terms mean? Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 17, 229-232.
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  33. Widiger, T.A., & Mullins-Sweatt, S. N. (2010). Clinical utility of a dimensional model of personality disorder. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41, 488-494.

Updated 8th of August 2017 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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Essay // Biopsychology: Children & Impulsiveness

Image: PsyBlog

The Frontal lobe, responsible for most executive functions and attention, has shown to take years [at least 20] to fully develop. The Frontal lobe [located behind the forehead] is responsible for all thoughts and voluntary behaviour such as motor skills, emotions, problem-solving and speech.

In childhood, as the frontal lobe develops, new functions are constantly added; the brain’s activity in childhood is so intense that it uses nearly half of the calories consumed by the child in its development.

As the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex is believed to take a considerable amount of at least 20 years to reach maturity (Diamond, 2002), children’s impulsiveness seem to be linked to neurological factors with the Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex; particularly, their [sometimes] inability to inhibit response(s).

JeanPiaget

“Our real problem is: what is the goal of education? Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds capable of discovery from the preschool age through life?” – Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)

The idea was supported by developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget‘s  Theory of Cognitive Development of Children [known for his epistemological studies] where he showed the A-not-B error [also known as the “stage 4 error” or “perseverative error”] is mostly made by infants during the substage 4 of their sensorimotor stage.

Researchers used 2 boxes, marked A and B, where the experimenter had repeatedly hid a visually attractive toy under the Box A within the infant’s reach [for the latter to find]. After the infant had been conditioned to look under Box A, the critical trial had the experimenter move the toy under Box B.

Children of 10 months or younger make the “perseveration error” [looked under Box A although fully seeing experimenter move the toy under Box B]; demonstrating a lack of schema of object permanence [unlike adults with fully developed Frontal lobes].

gmatter

Frontal lobe development in adults was compared with that in adolescents, e.g. Sowell et al (1999); Giedd et all (1999); who noted differences in Grey matter volume; and differences in White matter connections. Adolescents are likely to have their response inhibition and executive attention performing less intensely than adults’. There has also been a growing & ongoing interest in researching the adolescent brain; where great differences in some areas are being discovered.

The Pre-Frontal Lobe/Cortex [located behind the forehead] is essential for ‘mentalising’ complex social and cognitive tasks. Wang et al (2006) and Blakemore et al (2007) provided more evidence between the difference in Pre-Frontal Lobe activity when ‘mentalising’ between adolescents and adults. Anderson, Damasio et al (1999) also noted that patients with very early damage to their frontal lobes suffered throughout their adult lives.

skull

2 subjects with Frontal Lobe damage were studied:

1) Subject A: Female patient of 20 years old who suffered damages to her Frontal lobe at 15 months old was observed as being disruptive through adult life; also lied, stole, was verbally and physically abusive to others; had no career plans and was unable to remain in employment.

2) Subject B was a male of 23 years of age who had sustained damages to his Frontal lobe at 3 months of age; he turned out to be unmotivated, flat with bursts of anger, slacked in front of the television while comfort eating, and ended up obese in poor hygiene and could not maintain employment. [However…]

Reflexion

While research and tests have proven the link between personality traits & mental abilities and frontal brain damage, the physiological defects of the frontal lobe would likely be linked to certain traits deemed negative by a subject willing to be a functional member of society [generally Western societies].

However, personality traits similar to the above Subjects [A & B] may in fact not always be linked to deficiency and/or damage to the frontal lobes; as many other factors are to be considered when assessing the behaviour & personality traits of subjects; where [for example] violence and short temper may [at times] be linked to a range of factors and environmental events during development, or other mental strains such as sustained stress, emotional deficiencies due to abnormal brain neurochemistry, genetics, or other factors that may lead to intense emotional reactivity [such as provocation or certain themes/topics that have high emotional salience to particular subjects, ‘passion‘]

SigmundFreudYouthAge

*****

References

Anderson, S.W., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., Damasio, A.R. (1999) Impairment of social and moral behaviour related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex. Nat Neurisci, 2(11), 1032-7

Blakemore, S.J., Den Ouden, H., Choudhury, S., Frith, C. (2007). Adolescent development of the neural circuitry for thinking about intentions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2(2), 130-9

Diamond A. (2002). Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. In: Stuss DT, Knight RT, editors. Principles of frontal lobe function. New York: Oxford University Press. P 466-503

Giedd, J.N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N.O., Castellanos, F.X., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, A., et al. (1999). Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study. Nat Neurosci, 2, 861-863

Miller P, Wang XJ (2006) Inhibitory control by an integral feedback signal in prefrontal cortex: A model of discrimination between sequential stimuli. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 103(1), 201-206

Sowell ER, Thompson PM, Holmes C.J., Jernigan, T.L., Toga A.W. (1999). In vivo evidence for post-adolescent brain maturation in frontal and striatal regions. Nat Neurosci, 2, 859-861

24.01.2016 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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Essay // Psychology: The Concept of Self

SelfRope

The concept of the self will be explored in this essay – where it comes from, what it looks like and how it influences thought and behaviour. Since self and identity are cognitive constructs that influence social interaction and perception, and are themselves partially influenced by society, the material of this essay connects to virtually all aspects of psychological science. The self is an enormously popular focus of research (e.g. Leary and Tangney, 2003; Sedikides and Brewer, 2001; Swann and Bosson, 2010). A 1997 review by Ashmore and Jussim reported 31,000 social psychological publications on the self over a two-decade period to the mid-1990s, and there is now even an International Society for Self and Identity and a scholarly journal imaginatively entitled Self and Identity.

Nikon Portrait DSC_0169 Res600

The concept of the “self” is a relatively new idea in psychological science. While Roy Baumeister’s (1987) painted a picture of a medievally organised society where most human organism’s reality were fixed and predefined by rigid social relations and legitimised with religious affiliations [family membership, social rank, birth order & place of birth, etc], the modern perspectives adopted by scholars and innovative psychologists has been contradicting such outdated concepts. The idea of a complex & sophisticated individual self, lurking underneath would have been difficult, if not impossible, to entertain under such atavistic assumptions of social structures affecting an individual human organism.

However, all this changed in the 16th century, where momentum gathered ever since from forces such as:

Secularisation – where the idea that fulfilment occurs in afterlife was replaced by the idea that one should actively pursue personal fulfilment in this life

Industrialisation – where the human being was increasingly being seen as individual units of production who moved from place to place with their own “portable” personal identity which was not locked into static social structures such as extended family

Enlightenment – where people felt they were solely responsible for choosing, organising and creating better identities for themselves by overthrowing orthodox value systems and oppressive regimes [e.g. the French revolution and the American revolution of the late 18th century]

and

Psychoanalysis – Freud’s theory of the human mind unleashed the creative individual with the notion that the self was unfathomable because it lived in the depth of the unconscious [e.g. Theory of social representations – theory invoking psychoanalysis as an example of how a novel idea or analysis can entirely change how people think about their world (e.g. Moscovici, 1961; see Lorenzi-Cioldi and Clémence, 2001).

summer

Together, these and other socio-political and cultural influences lead to society thinking about the self and identity as complex subjects, where theories of self and identity propagated and flourished in this fertile soil.

As far as self and identity are concerned, we have noticed one pervasive finding in cultural differences. The so called “Western” world involving continents such as Western Europe, North America and Australasia, tend to be individualistic, whereas most other cultures, such as in Asia, South America and Africa are collectivist (Triandis, 1989; also see Chiu and Hong, 2007, Heine, 2010, 2012; Oyserman, Coon and Kemmelmeier, 2002). Anthropologist Geertz puts it beautifully:

“The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated, motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.”

Geertz (1975, p.48)

the individual

Markus and Kityama (1991) describe how those from individualistic cultures tend to have an independent self, whereas people from collectivist cultures have an interdependent self. Although in both cases, people seek a clear sense of who they are, the [Western] independent self is grounded in a view of the self that is autonomous, separate from other people and revealed through one’s inner thoughts and feelings. The [Eastern] interdependent self on the other hand, unlike in the West, tends to be grounded in one’s connection to and relationships with other people [expressed through one’s roles and relationships]. As Gao explained: ‘Self… is defined by a person’s surrounding relations, which often are derived from kinship networks and supported by cultural values based on subjective definitions of filial piety, loyalty, dignity, and integrity’ (Gao, 1996, p. 83).

From a conceptual review of the cultural context of self-conception, Vignoles, Chryssochoou and Breakwell (2000) conclude that the need to have a distinctive and integrated sense of self is “likely” universal. However from individualist and collectivist cultures, the term “self-distinctiveness” holds a set of very different assumptions. In the individualist West, separateness adds meaning and definition to the isolated and bounded self. In the collectivist & Eastern others, the “self” is relational and gains meaning from its relations with others.

universal

A logic proposed by analysing historical conceptions of self with an account of the origins of individualist and collectivist cultures along with the associated independent and interdependent self-conceptions may be related to economic policies. The labour market is an example where mobility helped the industry by viewing humans as “units” of production who are expected to shift their geographical locations from places of low labour demand to those of higher demand, along with their ability to organise their lives, relationships, self-concepts around mobility and transient relationships.

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

Construction workers eat their lunches atop a steel beam 800 feet above ground, at the building site of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

Independence, separateness and uniqueness have become more important than connectedness and long-term maintenance of enduring relationships [values that seem to have become pillars of modern Western Labour Culture – self-conceptions reflect cultural norms that codify economic activity].

However, this logic applied to any modern human organism seems to clearly offer more routes to development [personal and professional], more options to continuously nurture the evolving concepts of self-conception through expansive social experience and cultural exploration, while being a set of philosophy that places more powers of self-defined identity in the hands of the individual [more modern and sophisticated].

TheMan

Now that some basic concepts and origins of the “self” along with its importance and significance to psychological science has been covered, we are going to explore two creative ways of learning about ourselves.

Firstly, the concept of self-knowledge which involves us storing information about ourselves in a complex and varied way in the form of a schema means that information about the self is assumed to be stored cognitively as separate context specific nodes such that different nodes activate different ones and thus, different aspects of self (Breckler, Pratkanis and McCann, 1991; Higgins, van Hook and Dorfman, 1988). The concept of self emerges from widely distributed brain activity across the medial prefrontal and medial precuneus cortex of the brain (e.g. Saxe, Moran, Scholz, and Gabrieli, 2006). According the Hazel Markus, self-concept is neither “a singular, static, lump-like entity” nor a simple averaged view of the self – it is a complex and multi-faceted, with a relatively large number of discrete self-schemas (Markus, 1977; Markus and Wurf, 1987).

masks

Most individuals tend to have clear conceptions of themselves on some dimensions but not others – generally more self-schematic on dimensions that hold more meaning to them, for e.g. if one thinks of oneself as sophisticated and being sophisticated is of importance to oneself, then we would be self-schematic on that dimension [part of our self-concept], if not then we would not [would not be part of our self-concept – unsophisticated]. It is widely believed that most people have a complex self-concept with a large number of discrete self-schemas. Patrice Linville (1985, 1987; see below) has suggested that this variety helps to buffer people from life’s negative impacts by ensuring enough self-schemas are available for the individual to maintain a sense of satisfaction. We can be strategic in the use of our self-schemas – Linville described such judgement colourfully by saying: “don’t put all your eggs in one cognitive basket.” Self-schemas influence information processing and behaviour similarly to how schemas about others do (Markus and Sentis, 1982): self-schematic information is more readily noticed, is overrepresented in cognition and is associated with longer processing time.

egg

Self-schemas do not only describe how we are, but they are also believed to differ as we have an array of possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986) – future-oriented schemas of what we would like to become, or what we fear we might become. For example, a scholar completing a postgraduate may think of a career as a lecturer, writer, entrepreneur, politician, actor, rock musician, etc. Higgins (1987) proposed the self-discrepancy theory, suggesting that we have 3 major types of self-schema:

  • The actual self – how we are
  • The ideal self – how we would like to be
  • The ‘ought’ self – how we think we should be

Discrepancies between the actual, ideal and/or ought, can motivate change to reduce the discrepancy – in this way we engage in self-regulation. Furthermore, the self-discrepancy and the general notion of self-regulation have been elaborated into the regulatory focus-theory (Higgins, 1997, 1998).This theory proposes that most individuals have two separate self-regulatory systems, termed Promotion and Prevention. The “Promotion” system is concerned with the attainment of one’s hopes and aspirations – one’s ideals. For example, those in a promotion focus adopt approach strategic means to attain their goals [e.g. promotion-focused students would seek ways to improve their grades, find new challenges and treat problems as interesting obstacles to overcome. The “Prevention” system is concerned with the fulfilment of one’s duties and obligations. Those in a prevention focus use avoidance strategy means to attain their goals. For example, prevention-focussed students would avoid new situations or new people and concentrate on avoiding failure rather than achieving highest possible grade.

aimhigh

Whether an individual is more approach or prevention focussed is believed to stem during childhood (Higgins and Silberman, 1998). Promotion-focus may arise if children are habitually hugged and kissed for behaving in a desired manner and love is withdrawn as a form of discipline. Prevention-focus may arise if children are encouraged to be alert to potential dangers and punished when they display undesirable behaviours. Against this background of individual differences however, regulatory focus has also been observed to be influenced by immediate context, for example by structuring the situation so that subjects focus on prevention or on promotion (Higgins, Roney, Crowe and Hymes, 1994). Research also revealed that those who are promotion-focussed are more likely to recall information relating to the pursuit of success by others (Higgins and Tykocinski, 1992). Lockwood and her associates found that those who are promotion-focussed look for inspiration to positive role models who emphasise strategies for achieving success (Lockwood, Jordan and Kunda, 2002). Such individuals also show elevated motivation and persistence on tasks framed in terms of gains and non-gains (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998). On the other side of the spectrum, individuals who are prevention-focussed tend to recall information relating to the avoidance of failure by others, are most inspired by negative role models who highlight strategies for avoiding failure and exhibit motivation and persistence on tasks that framed in terms of losses and non-losses. After being studied in intergroup relations (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998), the regulatory focus theory was found to strengthen positive emotion related bias and behavioural tendencies towards the ingroup when in the context of a measured or manipulated promotion focus. Prevention-focus strengthens more negative emotion-related bias [haters] and behavioural tendencies against the outgroup (Shah, Brazy and Higgins, 2004).

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The second way of learning about the concept of self is through the understanding of our “many selves” and multiple identities. In the book, The Concepf of Self, Kenneth Gergen (1971) depicts the self-concept as containing a repertoire of relatively discrete and often quite varied identities, each with a distinct body of knowledge. These identities have their origins in a vast array of different types of social relationships that form, or have formed, the anchoring points for our lives, ranging from close personal relationships with other professionals, mentors, trusted friends, etc and roles defined by skills, fields, divisions and categories, to relationships fully or partially defined by languages, geography, cultures [sub-cultures], groups values, philosophy, religion, gender and/or ethnicity. Linville (1985) also noted that individuals differ in terms of self-complexity, in the sense that some individuals have more diverse and extensive set of selves than othersthose with many independent aspects of selves have higher self-complexity that those with a few, relatively similar, aspects of self. The notion of self-complexity is given a rather different emphasis by Marilynn Brewer and her colleagues (Brewer and Pierce, 2005; Roccas and Bewer, 2002) who focussed on self that is defined in group terms (social identity) and the relationship among identities rather than number of identities individuals have.

TheMask

They argued that individuals have a complex social identity if they have discrete social identities that do not share many attributes but a simple social identity if they have overlapping social identities that share many attributes [simple]. For example, when Cognitive Psychologists [cognitive psychology explores mental processes] study high-level functions such as problem solving and decision making, they often ask participants to think aloud. The verbal protocols that are obtained [heard] are then analysed at different levels of granularity: e.g. to look at the speed with which participants carry out mental processes, or, at a higher level of analysis, to identify the strategies being used. Grant and Hogg (2012) have recently suggested and empirically shown that the effect, particularly on group identification and group behaviours of the number of identities one has and their overlap may be better explained in terms of the general property of social identity prominencehow subjectively prominent, overall and in a specific situation, a particular identity is one’s self-concept. Social identity theorists (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) argued 2 broad classes of identity that define different types of self:

(i) Social Identity [which defines self in terms of a “particular” group membership (if any meaningful ones exist for the individual)], and

(ii) Personal Identity [which defines self in terms of idiosyncratic traits & close personal relationships with specific individuals/groups (if any) which may be more than physical/social, e.g. mental [strength of association with specific others on specific tasks/degrees]

The first main focus question here is asked by Brewer and Gardner (1996), ‘Who is this “we”?’ and distinguished three forms of self:

  • Individual self – based on personal traits that differentiate the self from all others
  • Relational self – based on connections and role relationships with significant/meaningful others
  • Collective self – based on group membership [can depend of many criteria] that differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’

More recently it has been proposed that there are four types of identity (Brewer, 2001; Chen, Boucher and Tapias, 2006):

  • Personal-based social identities – emphasising the way that group properties are internalised by individual group members as part of their self-concept
  • Relational social identities – defining the self in relation to specific other people with whom one interacts [may not be physical or social only] in a group context – corresponding to Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) relational identity and to Markus and Kitayama’s (1991) ‘interdependent self’.
  • Group-based social identities – equivalent to social identity as defined above [sense of belonging and emotional salience for a group is subjective]
  • Collective identities – referring to a process whereby  those who consider themselves as “group members” not only share self-defining attributes, but also engage in social action to forge an image of what the group stands for and how it is represented and viewed by others.

China Collective

The relational self  [for those who choose to be defined by others at least] is a particularly interesting concept as it can also be considered a particular type of collective self. As Masaki Yuki (2003) observed, some groups and cultures (notable East-Asian cultures) define groups in terms of networks of relationships. Research also revealed that women tend to place a greater importance than men on their relationships with others in a group (Seeley, Gardner, Pennington and Gabriel, 2003; see also Baumeister and Sommer, 1997; Cross and Madson, 1997).

In search for the evidence for the existence of multiple selves which came from research where contextual factors were varied to discover that most individuals describe themselves and behave differently in different contexts. In one experiment, participants were made to describe themselves on very different ways by being asked loaded questions which prompted them to search from their stock of self-knowledge for information that presented the self in a different light (Fazio, Effrein and Falender, 1981). Other researchers also found, time and time again, that experimental procedures that focus on group membership lead people to act very differently from procedures that focus on individuality and interpersonal relationships. Even “minimal group” studies in which participants are either: (a) identified as individuals; or (b) explicitly categorised, randomly or by some minimal or trivial criterion as ‘group’ members (Tajfel, 1970; see Diehl, 1990), a consistent finding is that being categorised tends to lead people to being discriminatory towards an outgroup, conform to ingroup norms, express attitudes and feelings that favour ingroup, and indicate a sense of belonging and loyalty to the ingroup.

ManVsGorilla

Furthermore, these effects of minimal group categorisation are generally very fast and automatic (Otten and Wentura, 1999). The idea that we may have many selves and that contextual factors can bring different selves into play, has a number of ramifications. Social constructionists have suggested that the self is entirely situation-dependent. An extreme form of this position argues that we do not carry self-knowledge around in our heads as cognitive representations at all, but rather that we construct disposable selves through talk (e.g. Potter and Wetherell, 1987). A less extreme version was proposed by Penny Oakes (e.g. Oakes, Haslam and Reynolds, 1999), who does not emphasise the role of talk but still maintains that self-conception is highly context-dependent. It is argued that most people have cognitive representations of the self that they carry in their heads as organising principles for perception, categorisation and action, but that these representations are temporarily or more enduringly modified by situational factors (e.g. Abrams and Hogg, 2001; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam and Veenstra, 2006).

evolution

Although we have a diversity of relatively discrete selves, we also have a quest: to find and maintain a reasonably integrated picture of who we are. Self-conceptual coherence provides us with a continuing theme for our lives – an ‘autobiography’ that weaves our various identities and selves together into a whole person. Individuals who have highly fragmented selves (e.g. some patients schizophrenia, amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease) find it very difficult to function effectively. People use many strategies to construct a coherent sense of self (Baumeister, 1998). Here is a list of some that we have used ourselves.

Sometimes we restrict our life to a limited set of contexts. Because different selves come into play as contexts keep changing, protections from self-conceptual clashes seem like a valid motive.

Other times, we continuously keep revising and integrating our ‘biographies’ to accommodate new identities. Along the way, we dispose of any meaningless inconsistencies. In effect, we are rewriting our own history to make it work to our advantage (Greenwald, 1980).

We also tend to attribute some change in the self externally to changing circumstances [e.g. educational achievements, professional circle, industry, etc] rather than simply internally to construct who we are. This is an application of the actor-observer effect (Jones and Nisbett, 1972).

In other case, we can also develop self-schemas that embody a core set of attributes that we feel distinguishes us from all other peoplethat makes us unique (Markus, 1977). We then tend to recognise these attributes disproportionately in all our selves, providing thematic consistency that delivers a sense of a stable and unitary self (Cantor and Kihlstrom, 1987). To sum up, individuals tend to construct their lives such that their self-conceptions are both steady and coherent.

One of major elements in the conception of self, is the ability to communicate through language and its varying degrees of granularity that hold a major role in social identity.

The remaining part of this essay will focus on the power and importance of language as the essence of the human being.

___________________________________________________

The Essence of the Modern Human Being: Language, Psycholinguistics & Self-Definition

Human communication is completely different from that of other species as it allows virtually limitless amounts of ideas to be expressed by combining finite sets of elements (Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2005; Wargo, 2008). Other species [e.g. apes] do have communicative methods but none of them compare with human language. For example, monkeys use unique warning calls for different threats, but never combine these calls on new ideas. Similarly, birds and whales sing complex songs, but creative recombination of these sounds in the expression of new ideas has not occurred to these animals either.

MicOne.jpg

As a system of symbol, language lies at the heart of social life and all its multitude of aspects in social identity. Language may be at the essence of existence if explored from the philosopher Descartes most famous quote, “Cogito Ergo Sum” which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”, as thought is believed to be experienced and entertained in language. The act of thinking often involves an inner personal conversation with oneself, as we tend to perceived and think about the world in terms of linguistic categories. Lev Vygotsky (1962) believed that inner speech was the medium of thought and that it was interdependent with external speech [the medium of social communication]. This interdependence would lead to the logical conclusion that cultural differences in language and speech are reflected in cultural differences in thought.

In the theory of linguistic relativity devised by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, a more extreme of that logic was proposed. Brown writes:

Linguistic relativity is the reverse of the view that human cognition constrains the form of language. Relativity is the view that the cognitive processes of a human being – perception, memory, inference, deduction – vary with structural characteristics – lexicon, morphology, syntax – of the language [one speaks].

rene-descartes

Rene Descartes (1596-1659) was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in the history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the “father of modern philosophy”, Descartes profoundly influenced intellectuals across Europe with his writings. Best known for his statement “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), the philosopher started the school of rationalism which broke with the scholastic Aristotelianism. Firstly, Descartes rejected the mind-body dualism, arguing that matter (the body) and intelligence (the mind) are 2 independent substances (metaphysical dualism) and secondly rejected the causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment. The philosopher spent a great part of his life in conflict with scholastic approach (historically part of the religious order and its adherents) which still dominated thoughts in the early 17th century.

Communication & Language

The study of communication is therefore an enormous undertaking that draws on a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, linguistics, socio-linguistics, philosophy and literary criticism. Social psychologists have tended to distinguish between the study of language and the study of non-verbal communication [where scholars agree both are vital to study communication (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Holtgraves, 2010; Semin, 2007)]; with also a focus on conversation and the nature of discourse. However the scientific revolution has quickly turned our era into one hugely influenced by computer-mediated communication which is quickly turning into a dominant channel of communication for many (Birchmeier, Dietz-Uhler and Stasser, 2011; Hollingshead, 2001).

Communication in all its varieties is the essence of social interaction: when we interact we communicate. Information is constantly being transmitted about what we sense, think and feel – even about “who we are” – and some of our “messages” are unintentional [instinctive]. Communication among educated humans comprises of words, facial expressions, signs, gestures and touch; and this is done face-to-face or by phone, writing, texting, emails or video. The social factors of communication are inescapable:

  • It involves our relationship with others
  • It is built upon a shared understanding of meaning
  • It is how people influence each other

Spoken languages are based on rule-governed structuring of meaningless sounds (phonemes) into basic units of meaning (morphemes), which are further structured by morphological rules into words and by syntactic rules into sentences. The meanings of words, sentences and entire utterances are determined by semantic rules; which together represent “grammar”. Language has remained an incredibly and endlessly powerful medium of communication due to the limitless amount of meaningful utterances it can generate through the shared knowledge of morphological, syntactic and semantic rules. Meaning can be communicated by language at a number of levels, ranging from a simple utterance [a sound made by one person to another] to a locution [words placed in sequence, e.g. ‘It’s cold in this room’], to an illocution [the locution and context in which it is made: ‘It’s cold in this room’ may be a statement, or a criticism of the institution for not providing adequate heating, or a request to close the window, or a plea to move to another room (Austin, 1962; Hall, 2000)].

SonicDelicacy

Linguistic mastery therefore involves dexterity at many levels of cultural understanding and therefore should likely differ from one individual to another depending on their personality, IQ, education and cultural proficiency in adaptation. This would lead to being able to navigate properly in the appropriate cultural context through language whilst knowing the appropriateness of the choice of words in term of “when, where, how and to whom say it.” Being able to master these, opens the doors to sociolinguistics (Fishman, 1972; also see Forgas, 1985), and the study of discourse as the basic unit of analysis (Edwards and Potter, 1992; McKinlay and McVittie, 2008; Potter and Wetherell, 1987). The philosopher John Searle (1979) has identified five sorts of meanings that humans can intentionally use language to communicate; the can use language:

  • To say how something is signified
  • To get someone to do something.
  • To express feelings and attitudes
  • To make a commitment
  • To accomplish something directly

Language is a uniquely human form of communication, as observed in the natural world, no other mammal has the elaborate form of communication in its repertoire of survival skills. Young apes have been taught to combine basic signs in order to communicate meaningfully (Gardner and Gardner, 1971; Patterson, 1978), however not even the most precocious ape can match the complexity of hierarchical language structure used by a normal 3-year-old child (Limber, 1977).

BabyBoy

Language has been called a human instinct because it is so readily and universally learned by infants. At 10 months of age, little is said, but at 30-month-old infants speak in complete sentences and user over 500 words (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). Moreover, over this very 20 month period, the plastic infant brain reorganises itself to learn the language of its environment(s). At 10 months infants can distinguish the sounds of all languages, but by 30 months, they can readily discriminate only those sounds to which they have been exposed (Kraus and Banai, 2007). Once the ability to discriminate particular speech sounds is lost, it is very hard to regain in most, which is one of the reason why most adults tend to have difficulties with learning a new language without an accent.

Neuro_SpeakingAHeardWord

Processes involved in the brain when speaking a heard word. Damage to areas of the Primary auditory cortex on the Left temporal lobe induce Language Recognition Problems & damage to the same areas on the Right produce deficits in processing more complex & delicate sounds [e.g. music, vocal performances, etc]. Hence, in Neuroscience, although it is not always the case, it can be generalised with a fair amount of confidence that Left is concerned with Speed, and Right is focused on Complex Frequency Patterns.

Most intellectuals researching the evolution of sophisticated human languages turned first to comparative studies of the vocal communications between human beings and other lesser primates [e.g. apes / monkeys]. For example, vervet monkeys do not use alarm calls unless other similar monkeys are within the vicinity, and the calls are more likely to be made only if the surrounding monkeys are relatives (Cheney and Seyfarth, 2005). Furthermore, chimpanzees vary the screams they produce during aggressive encounters depending on the severity of the encounter, their role in it, and which other chimpanzees can hear them (Slocombe and Zuberbuhler, 2005).

A fairly consistent pattern has emerged in the study of non-human vocal communication: There is a substantial difference between vocal production and auditory comprehension. Even the most vocal non-human primates can produce a relatively few calls, yet they are capable of interpreting a wide range of other sonic patterns in their environment. This seems to suggest that non-human primates’ ability to produce vocal language is limited, not by their inability to interpret sounds, but by their inability to exert ‘fine motor control’ over their voices – only humans have this distinct ability. It also confidently suggests that human language has likely evolved from a competence in comprehension already existing in our primate ancestors.

theyoungafricanape

The species specificity to language has led to some linguistic theorist to assume that an innate component to language must be unique to humans, notably Noam Chomsky (1957) who argued that the most basic universal rules of grammar are innate [called a “Language Acquisition Device”] and are activated through social interaction which enables the “code of language” to be cracked. However some other theorists argue for a different proposal, believing that the basic rules of language may not be innate as they can be learnt from the prelinguistic parent-child interaction (Lock, 1978, 1980), furthermore the meanings of utterances are so dependent on social context that they seem unlikely to be innate (Bloom, 1970; Rommetveit, 1974; see Durkin, 1995).

Motor Theory of Speech Perception

The motor theory of speech perception proposes that the perception of speech depends on the words activating the same neural circuits in the motor system that would be activated if the listener said the words (see Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner, 2009). Support for this theory has come from evidence that simply thinking about performing a particular task often activates the similar brain areas as performing the action itself, and also the discover of mirror neurons, motor cortex neurons that fire when particular responses are either observed or performed (Fogassi and Ferrari, 2007).

Cerebellum

Broca’s area: Speech production & Language processing // Wernicke’s area: Speech Comprehension

This seems to make perfect sense when solving the equation on the simple observation that Broca’s Area [speech area] is a part of the left premotor cortex [motor skills/movement area]. And since the main thesis of the motor theory of speech perception is that the motor cortex is essential in language comprehension (Andres, Olivier, and Badets, 2008; Hagoort and Levelt, 2009; Sahin et al., 2009), the confirmation comes from the fact that many functional brain-imaging studies have revealed activity in the primary or secondary motor cortex during language tests that do not involve language expression at all (i.e., speaking or writing). This may also suggest that fine linguistic skills may be linked to fine motor skills. Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner (2009) compiled and evaluated results of recorded activity in the motor cortex during speech perception and concluded that the motor cortex is active during conversation.

Gestural Language

Since the unique ability of a high degree of motor control over the vocal apparatus is present only in humans, communication in lesser non-human primates are mainly gestural rather than vocal.

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Image: Reuters

This hypothesis was tested by Pollick, and de Waal in 2007, who compared the gestures and the vocalisations of chimpanzees. They found a highly nuanced vocabulary of hand gestures being used in numerous situations with a variety of combinations. To conclude, chimpanzees gestures were much more comparable to human language that were their vocalisations. Could this simply suggest that primate gestures have been critical stage in the evolution of human language (Corballis, 2003)?

On this same note, we may focus on the already mentioned “Theory of Linguistic Relativity” (Whorf, 1956) which states that our internalised cognitions as a human being, i.e. perception, memory, inference, deduction, vary with the structural characteristics, i.e. lexicon, morphology and syntax of the language we speak [cultural influence shapes our thoughts].

Thoughts

In support of of Sapir and Whorf’s position, Diederik Stapel and Gun Semin (2007) refer poetically to the “magic spell of language” and report their research, showing how different categories in the language we speak guide our observations in particular ways. We tend to use our category of language to attend to different aspects of reality. The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language entirely determines thought, so those who speak different languages actually perceive the world in entirely different ways and effectively live in entirely different cognitive-perceptual universes. However extreme this suggestion may seem, a good argument against this assumption would be to consider whether the fact that we can distinguish between living and non-living things in English means that the Hopi of North-America, who do not, cannot distinguish between a bee and an aeroplane? Japanese personal pronouns differentiate between interpersonal relationships more subtly than do English personal pronouns; does this mean that English speakers cannot tell the difference between relationships? [What about Chong, Khan, Balaraggoo, Tyrone, Vodkadinov, Jacob, Obatemba M’benge and Boringski – where would you attribute their skills in the former question?]

The strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is believed to be the most extreme version to be applicable to the mainstream, so a weak form seems to better accord with the quantitative facts (Hoffman, Lau and Johnson, 1986). Language does not determine thought but allows for the communication of aspects of the physical or social environment deemed important for the community. Therefore in the event of being in a situation where the expertise in snow is deemed essential, one would likely develop a rich vocabulary around the subject. Similarly, should one feel the need to have a connoisseur’s discussion about fine wines, the language of the wine masters would be a vital requisite in being able to interact with flawless granularity in the expression finer experiences.

EQ2

Although language may not determine thought, its limitations across cultures may entrap those ‘cultured’ to a specific one due to its limited range of available words. Logically, if there are no words to express a particular thought or experience we would not likely be able to think about it. Nowadays such an idea based on enhancing freedom of expression and the evolution of human emancipation, a huge borrowing of words across languages has been noted over the years: for example, English has borrowed Zeitgeist from German, raison d’être from French, aficionado from Spanish and verandah from Hindi. This particular concept is powerfully illustrated in George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which a totalitarian regime based on Stalin’s Soviet Union is described as imposing its own highly restricted language called “Newspeak” designed specifically to prohibit people from even thinking non-orthodox or heretical thoughts, because the relevant words do not exist.

Further evidence over the impact of language on thought-restriction comes from research led by Andrea Carnaghi and her colleagues (Carnaghi, Maas, Gresta, Bianchi, Cardinu and Arcuri, 2008). In German, Italian and some other Indo-European languages [such as English], nouns and adjectives can have different effects on how we perceive people. Compare ‘Mark is gay’ [using an adjective] with ‘Mark is a gay’ [using a noun]. When describing an individual, the use of an adjective suggests an attribute of that individual; whereas a noun seems to imply a social group and being a member of a ‘gay’ group. The latter description with a noun is more likely to invoke further stereotypic/prejudicial inferences and an associated process of essentialism (e.g. Haslam, Rothschild and Ernst, 1998) that maps attributes onto invariant, often bio-genetic properties of the particular social category/group.

Paralanguage and speech style

The impact of language on communication is not only dependent on what is said but also by how it is said. Paralanguage refers to all the non-linguistic accompaniment of speech – volume, stress, pitch, speed, tone of voice, pauses, throat clearing, grunts and sighs (Knapp, 1978; Trager, 1958). Timing, pitch and loudness (the prosodic features of language; e.g. Argyle, 1975) play major roles in communication as they can completely change the meaning of utterances: a rising intonation at the end of a statement turns it into a question or communicates uncertainty, doubt or need for approval (Lakoff, 1973). Underlying emotions are often revealed in prosodic features of speech: low pitch could signify sadness or boredom, while high pitch could communicate anger, fear or surprise (Frick,1985). Naturally fast speech often reflects power and control (Ng and Bradac, 1993).

EQ

To gain further understanding of the feelings elicited by different paralinguistic features, Klaus Scherer (1974) used a synthesizer to vary short neutral utterances and has had individuals identify the emotions that were being communicated. Fig. A shows how different paralinguistic features communicate information about the speaker’s feelings.

In addition to paralinguistic cues, communication can also happen in different accents, different language varieties and different languages altogether. These are important speech style differences that have been well researched in social psychology (Giles and Coupland, 1991). From social psychology, the focus in language is mainly on how something is said rather than on what is said, with speech style instead of speech content; whereas discourse analytic approaches also place importance on what is said.

Table D2

Fig. A | Emotions displayed through paralinguistic cues

Social Markers in Speech

Most individuals have a repertoire of speech styles that is automatically or deliberately tailored depending on the context of the communicative event. For example, one would tend to speak slowly, use short words and simple grammatical constructions when dealing with foreigners and children (Clyne, 1981; Elliot, 1981). Longer, more complex constructions along with formalised language varieties or standard accents tend to be used in more formal contexts such as an interview or a speech.

In 1979, Penelope Brown and Colin Fraser categorised different components of a communicative situation that may influence speech style and distinguished between two broad features:

  • The scene (e.g. its purpose, time of day, whether there are bystanders or an audience, etc)
  • The participants (e.g. their personality, ethnicity, chemistry between them)

It is important to note however that individual differences have a major role to play in this objective classification of situations as different individuals may not define the similar “objective” situations similarly. For example, what is deemed formal for some may simply be common place to others; this subjective perception of objective situations has an effect on one’s chosen speech style.

RelaxedNaturally

One amazing point raised by Adrian Furnham (1986) is the fact that not only does one adjust speech styles to subjectively perceived situational demands, but one also seeks out situations that are appropriate to a preferred speech style. Contextual variations in speech style contains information about who is speaking to whom, in what context and on what topic? Speech contains social markers (Scherer and Giles, 1979). The most researched markers in social psychology are of group “memberships” such as society, social class, ethnicity, education, age and sex. Social markers are in most cases clearly identifiable and act as reliable clues to group membership. For example, most of the English can easily identify Americans, Australians and South Africans from their speech style alone, and (see Watson, 2009) are probably even better at identifying people who have been cultured in Exeter, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Essex! Speech style generally elicits a listener’s attitude towards the group that the speaker “represents” [at the exception of some non-mainstream individuals – as in any other group]. A mainstream media example could be the actress Eliza Doolittle’s tremendous efforts in the film My Fair Lady to acquire a standard English accent in order to hide her Cockney origins. This idea or concept is known as the match-guise technique, one of the most widely used research paradigms in the social psychology of language – devised to investigate language attitudes based on speech alone (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner and Fillenbaum, 1960). The method involves individuals rating short speech extracts similar in paralinguistic, prosodic and content respects, differing ONLY in speech style (accent, dialect, language). All the speech extracts were spoken by the very same individual – who was fluently bilingual. The speaker is rated on a number of evaluative dimensions, which fall into 2 clusters reflecting competence and warmth as the 2 most basic dimensions of social perception (Fiske, Cuddy and Glick, 2007).

  • Status variables (e.g. intelligent, competent, powerful);
  • Solidarity variables (e.g. close, friendly, warm).

The matched-guise technique has been used extensively in a wide range of cultural contexts to investigate how speakers of standard and non-standard language varieties are evaluated. The standard language variety is the one that is associated with high economic status, power and media usage – in England, for example, it is what has been called received pronunciation (RP) English. Non-standard varieties include regional accents (e.g. Yorkshire, Essex), non-standard urban accents (e.g. Birmingham, North/South London) and minority ethnic languages (e.g. Afrikaan, Urdu, Arab, Hindi, Mandarin and other foreign minority languages in Britain). Research reveals that standard language varieties are more favourably evaluated on status and competence dimensions (such as intelligence, confidence, ambition) than non-standard varieties (e.g. Giles and Powesland, 1975).

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There is also a tendency for non-standard variety speakers to be more favourably evaluated on solidarity dimensions. For example, Cindy Gallois and her colleagues (1984) found that both white Australians and Australian Aborigines upgraded Aboriginal-accented English on solidarity dimensions (Gallois, Callan and Johnstone, 1984). Hogg, Joyce and Abrams (1984) found that a similar scenario occurs in other linguistic cultures, for e.g. Swiss Germans upgraded speakers of non-standard Swiss German relative to speakers of High German on solidarity dimensions.

Language, Identity & Ethnicity

Matched-guise technique and other studies in linguistics have revealed how our speech style [accents, language, grammatical proficiency & voice] can affect how others evaluate us socially. This is unlikely to be due to the fact that some speech styles are aesthetically more pleasant than others, but more likely to be because speech styles are associated with particular social groups that are consensually evaluated more or less positively in society’s scale. Unless being acted, a person speaking naturally in the speech style of lower-status groups may lead to an evaluation similar to that of the group and their image [in terms of way of life] in society [for most mainstream cases & not expert assessors of individuality]. This simply suggests that processes associated with intergroup relations and group memberships may affect language and social behaviour among the mainstream crowd.

A Scholar at His Desk

Howard Giles and Richard Bourhis and their colleagues employed and extended principles from the social identity theory to develop an intergroup perspective on the social psychology of language (Giles, Bourhis and Taylor, 1977; Giles and Johnson, 1981, 1987). Since the original analysis focussed mainly on ethnic groups that differ in speech style, the theory is called ethnolinguistic identity theory; however, the wider intergroup analysis of language and communication casts a much wider net to embrace all manner of intergroup contexts (e.g. Giles, 2012; Giles, Reid and Harwood, 2010). 

Speech Style and Ethnicity

Although it is well know that ethnic groups differ in appearance, dress, cultural practices, and religious beliefs, language or speech style is often one of the most distinct and clear markers of ethnic identitysocial identity as a member of an ethnolinguistic group (an ethnic group defined by language or speech-style). For instance, the Welsh and the English in the UK are most distinctive in terms of accent and language. Speech style, then, is an important and often central stereotypical or normative property of group identity: one of the most powerful ways to display your Welshness is to speak English with a marked Welsh accent – or, even better to simply speak Welsh.

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Language or speech style cues ethnolinguistic identity. Therefore, whether people accentuate or de-emphasise their ethnic language is generally influenced by the extent to which they see their ethnic identity as being a source of self-respect or pride. This perception will in turn be influenced by the real nature of the power and status relations between ethnic groups in society. Research in England, on regional accents rather than ethnic groups, illustrates this (e.g. Watson, 2009) – some accents are strengthening and spreading and others retreating or fading, but overall despite mobility, mass culture and the small size of England, the accent landscape is surprisingly unchanged. Northern accents in particular such as Scouse and Geordie have endured due to low immigration and marked subjective regional pride of these respective communities. Brummie is slowly spreading into the Welsh Marches due to population spread, and Cockney-influenced Estuary English popular due to it being portrayed in mainstream middle-class films has luckily not influenced East Anglia and South East England – that have kept their grammar and granularity.

It should be noted that almost all major societies have a multicultural component with ethnic groups, however all contain a single dominant high-status group whose language is the lingua franca of the nation with ethnic groups whose languages are subordinate. However, in major immigrant economies such as the United States, Canada and Australia some of the biggest variety of large ethnic groups occur. Unsurprisingly, most of the research on ethnicity and language comes from these countries, in particular, Australia and Canada. In Australia for example, English is the lingua franca, but there are also large ethnic Chinese, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese communities – language research has been carried out on all these communities (e.g.  Gallois, Barker, Jones and Callan, 1992; Gallois and Callan, 1986; Giles, Rosenthal and Young, 1985; Hogg, D’Agata and Abrams, 1989; McNamara, 1987; Smolicz, 1983)

Speech Accommodation

Social categories such as ethnic groups may develop and maintain or lose their distinctive languages or speech style as a consequence of intergroup relations. However, categories do not speak. People speak, and it is generally done with one another, usually in face-to-face interaction. As mentioned earlier, when people interact conversationally, they tend to adapt their speech style to the context – the situation, and in particular the listener. This concept is the foundation of the speech accommodation theory (Giles, 1984; Giles, Taylor and Bourhis, 1973), which invokes specific motivations to explain the ways in which people accommodate their speech style to those who are present. Motivation involved for such adaptations may be a desire to help the listener to understand what is being said or to promote specific impressions of oneself.

Oxford Radcliffe Square at night by Y_Song2

Radcliffe Square at Night, Oxford [Image: Y. Song]

Speech Convergence and Divergence 

Since most conversations involve individuals who are potentially of unequal social status, speech accommodation theory describes the type of accommodation that might occur as a function of the sort of social orientation that the speakers may have towards one another (See Fig. B). Where a simple interpersonal orientation exists (e.g. between two friends), bilateral speech convergence occurs. Higher-status speakers shift their accent or speech style ‘downwards’ towards that of the lower-status speakers, who in turn shift ‘upwards’. In this scenario, speech convergence satisfies a need for approval or liking. The act of convergence increases interpersonal speech style similarity and this enhances interpersonal approval and liking (Bourhis, Giles and Lambert, 1975), particularly if the convergence behaviour is clearly intentional (Simard, Taylor and Giles, 1976). The process is based on the supported idea that similarity typically leads to attraction in most cases (e.g. Byrne, 1971).

Table D1

Fig. B | Speech accommodation as a function of status, social orientation and subjective vitality

Consider a particular scenario where an intergroup orientation exists. If the lower status group has low subjective vitality coupled with a belief is social mobility (i.e. one can pass, linguistically, into the higher status group), there is unilateral upward convergence on the part of the lower status speaker and unilateral speech divergence on the part of the higher status speaker. In intergroup contexts, divergence achieves psycholinguistic distinctiveness: it differentiates the speaker’s ingroup on linguistic grounds from the outgroup. Where an intergroup orientation exists and the lower status group has high subjective validity coupled with a belief in social change (i.e. one cannot pass into the higher status group), bilateral divergence occurs. Both speakers pursue psycholinguistic distinctiveness.

Speech accommodation theory has been well supported empirically (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles and Coupland, 1991). Bourhis and Giles found that Welsh adults accentuated their Welsh accent in the presence of RP English speakers (i.e. the standard non-regional variety of English).  Bourhis, Giles, Leyens and Tajfel (1979) obtained a similar finding in Belgium, with Flemish speakers in the presence of French speakers. In both cases, a language revival was under way at the same time, and thus an intergroup orientation with high vitality was salient. In a low-vitality social mobility context, Hogg (1985) found that female students in Britain shifted their speech style ‘upwards’ towards that of their male partners. Accommodation in intergroup contexts reflects an intergroup or social identity mechanism in which speech style is dynamically governed by the speakers’ motivation to adopt ingroup or outgroup speech patterns. These motivations are in turn formed by perception of:

  • The relative status and prestige of the speech varieties and their associated groups;and
  • The vitality of their own ethnolinguistic group

Stereotyped Speech 

One important factor that may actually govern changes in speech style is conformity to stereotypical perceptions of the appropriate speech norm. Thakerar, Giles and Cheshire (1982) distinguished between objective and subjective accommodation. People converge on or diverge from what they perceive to be the relevant speech style. Objective accommodation may reflect this, but in some circumstances it may not: for instance subjective convergence may resemble objective divergence if the speech style stereotype is different from the actual speech behaviour of the other speaker.

Even the “Queen’s English” is susceptible to some accommodation towards a more popular stereotype (Harrington, 2006). An analysis of the phonetics in the speech of Queen Elizabeth II from her Christmas broadcasts to the world since 1952 show a gradual change in the Royal vowels, moving from ‘upper-class’ RP to a more ‘standard’ and less aristocratic RP. This may simply reflect a softening of the once strong demarcation between the social classes – social change may sometimes be a catalyst for speech change. Where once she might have said “thet men in the bleck het”, she would now say “that man in the black hat”.

Elizabeth

Speech accommodation theory has been extended in recognition of the role of non-verbal behaviour in communication – now called communication accommodation theory (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles, Mulac, Bradac and Johnson, 1987; Giles and Noels, 2002), which acknowledges that convergence and divergence can occur non-verbally as well as verbally. Anthony Mulac and his colleagues found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards the amount of eye contact (now called ‘gaze’) made by their partner (Mulac, Studley, Wiemann and Bradac, 1987). While accommodation is often synchronised in verbal and non-verbal channels, this is not necessarily the case. Frances Bilous and Robert Kraus (1988) found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards men on some dimensions (e.g. total words uttered and interruptions) but diverged on others (e.g. laughter).

Bilingualism and second-language acquisition 

Due to the excessive and culturally destructive waves of migration caused by the exploitation of diplomacy and some corrupt mainstream media and politicians to promote mass migration, most major countries are now bilingual or multilingual, meaning that people need to be able to speak two or more languages with a fair amount of proficiency to communicate effectively and successfully achieve their goals in different contexts. These countries contain a variety of ethnolinguistic groups with a single dominant group whose language is the lingua franca – very few countries are effectively monolingual (e.g. Portugal and Japan) anymore – which may be reflected in the rise in cultural conflict and lack of social coherence.

ZombiesMigrating

The acquisition of a second language is rarely a matter of acquiring basic classroom proficiency, as one might in order to ‘get by’ on holiday – in fact, it is a wholesale acquisition of a language embedded in a highly cultural context with varying degrees of granularity to reach the levels of flawless/effective communication (Gardner, 1979). Second-language acquisition requires native-like mastery (being able to speak like a native speaker), and this hinges more on the motivations of the second-language learner than on linguistic aptitude or pedagogical factors. Failure to acquire native-like mastery can undermine self-confidence and cause physical and social isolation, leading to material hardship and psychological suffering. For example, Noels, Pon and Clément (1996) found low self-esteem and marked symptoms of stress among Chinese immigrants in Canada with poor English skills. Building on earlier models (Gardner, 1979; Clément, 1980), Giles and Byrne (1982) proposed an intergroup model of second language acquisition. There are five socio-psychological dimensions that influence a subordinate group member’s motivational goals in learning the language of a dominant group (see Fig. C):

  • Strength of ethnolinguistic identification
  • Number of alternative identities available
  • Number of high-status alternative identities available
  • Subjective vitality perceptions
  • Social beliefs regarding whether it is or is not possible to pass linguistically into the dominant group

Low identification with one’s ethnic ingroup, low subjective vitality and a belief that one can ‘pass’ linguistically, coupled with a large number of other potential identities of which many are high-status, are conditions that motivate someone to acquire native-like mastery in the second language. Proficiency in the second language is seen to be economically and culturally useful; it is considered additive to our identity. Realisation of this motivation is facilitated or inhibited by the extent to which we are made to feel confident or anxious about using the second language in specific contexts. The converse set of socio-psychological conditions motivates people to acquire only classroom proficiency. Through fear of assimilation, the second language is considered subtractive in that it may attract ingroup hostility and accusations of ethnic betrayal. Early education, individual Intelligence, personality and aptitude may also affect proficiency.

Table D3

Fig. C | Intergroup model of second-language acquisition | Note: Learning a second language is influenced by motivational goals formed by the wider context of social identity and intergroup relations. [Source: Giles and Byrne (1982)]

This analysis of second-language acquisition grounds language firmly in its cultural context and thus relates language acquisition to broader acculturation processes. John Berry and his colleagues distinguished between integration (individuals maintain ethnic culture and relate to dominant culture), assimilation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and wholeheartedly embrace the dominant culture), separation (individuals maintain their ethnic culture and isolate themselves from the dominant culture) and marginalisation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and fail to relate properly to the dominant culture (Berry, Trimble and Olmedo, 1986).

braintolivein

Human brain specimen being studied in neuroscience professor Ron Kalil’s Medical School research lab. © UW-Madison News & Public Affairs 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller

While the only effective forms of adjustments that completely benefit a system remain “native citizens” [in terms of designing culturally fitting human organisms from the lower to the upper scale of society], and assimilation [the small number of culturally & educationally worthwhile & proficient organisms that manage to], the remaining could simply be qualified as burden to most systems, specially children deriving from economic migration [who are already being born in mass (in some cases) due to the higher fertility culture from their parents’ cultural origins, and who seem to want native treatment while not being able to culturally navigate with native-like proficiency (illogical demands with illogical cultural belonging). This ‘nomadic‘ generation of children whose parents initially moved from land to land for nothing else but the simple rush for cash from a socio-economic system with better financial prospects may unfortunately [at the exception of some illogical mainstream college-educated far-left human rights activists] be a scenario fitting with a parasitic ‘metaphoric example’, while to others [such as left wing economic policy makers], this could be what they cheaply describe as “modernism” & “cultural-enrichment“.

In a ‘psychological’ reality, from a social-psychologist’s perspective this may simply be described as a mass phenomenon that society is not used to dealing with and has not been monitoring effectively since the 1950s, to a point where confusion and sheer desperation sets for both native citizens and authorities when thinking of a “rational” solution that seems to be constantly destroyed by outdated, irrational and illogical human rights laws, forever unfavourable to major western societies while defending cheap unskilled migration originally from culturally and economically disastrous systems [e.g. the third world, middle east & some parts of Southern and Eastern Asia].

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Thus, the consequences for second language learning can indeed be very dramatic and have a life changing impact. Most major economies today are fragmented due to linguistic barriers and cultural differences, furthermore, since language is refined from interactions, the lack of chemistry and coherence may well be a major factor in the drop in cultural and educational standards – not to mention a generation that does not seem to represent any values [cultural or philosophical] – but simply regional classroom proficiency and barely any granularity or refinement in the linguistic and cultural context of a heritage that comes with traditions ‘developed’ over centuries of civilisation.

USAChineseTourists

Majority group members do not generally have the motivation to acquire native-like mastery of another language. According to John Edwards (1994), it is precisely the international prestige and utility, and of course widespread use of English that makes native English speakers such poor language students: they simply lack the motivation to become proficient. Itesh Sachdev and Audrey Wright (1996) pursued this point and found that English children were more motivated to learn languages from the European continent (e.g. French, German, Italian) than those from the Asian continent (e.g. Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Urdu, Tamil, Arabic, etc) even though a fair amount of children in the sample were exposed to more Asian & African immigration [due to years of mediocre policies linked to cheap democratic governments & leftist agendas bent on promoting alien invasions – fragmenting societies & destructively shifting geographical compositions] than languages & cultures from Europe. A possible reason would be that English children perceive more prestige and desirability in mastering additional languages & cultures such as French, German & Italian instead of far-flung incompatible foreign ones [e.g. African Third world, Middle-East, Asia etc].

Communicating without words

Speech rarely happens in complete isolation from non-verbal cues. Even on a phone, individuals tend to automatically use a variety of gestures [body language] that cannot be ‘seen’ by the recipient at the other end of the phone line. In a similar fashion, phone and computer-mediated communication (CMC) conversations can be difficult precisely because many non-verbal cues are not accessible [e.g. users may interpret some messages as ‘cold’, ‘short’ or ‘rude’ when a participant might simply not be proficient at expressing themselves on a keyboard]. However, non-verbal channels do not always work in combination with speech to facilitate understanding. In some cases, non-verbal message starkly contradicts the verbal message [e.g. threats, sarcasm and other negative messages accompanied by a smile; Bugental, Love and Gianetto, 1971; Noller, 1984].

Agony, Torture, and Fright by Charles Darwin

Agony, Torture, and Fright | Charles Darwin, 1868

Human beings can produce about 20,000 different facial expressions and about 1,000 different cues based on paralanguage. There are also about 700,000 physical gestures, facial expressions and movements (see Birdwhistell, 1970; Hewes, 1957; Pei, 1965). Even the briefest interaction may involve the fleeting and simultaneous use of a huge number of such devices in combination, making it unclear even to code behaviour, let alone analyse the causes and consequences of particular non-verbal communications. However, their importance is now acknowledged in social psychology (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Burgoon, Buller and Woodall, 1989; DePaulo and Friedman, 1998), and doing research in this area has remained a major challenge. Non-verbal behaviour can be used for a variety of purposes, one may use it to:

  • Glean information about feelings and intentions of others (e.g. non-verbal cues are often reliable indicators of whether someone likes you, is emotionally suffering, etc);
  • Regulate interactions (e.g. non-verbal cues can signal the approaching end of an utterance, or that someone else wishes to speak)
  • Express intimacy (e.g. touching and mutual eye contact);
  • Establish dominance or control (non-verbal threats);
  • Facilitate goal attainment (e.g. pointing)

These functions are to be found in most aspects of non-verbal behaviour such as gaze, facial expressions, body language, touch and interpersonal distance. Non-verbal communications has a large impact, yet it goes largely ‘unnoticed’ – perhaps since we acquire them unaware, we tend not to be conscious when using them. Most individuals acquire non-verbal skills without any formal training yet manage to master a rich repertoire of non-verbal behaviour very early in life – suggesting that huge individual differences in skills and uses should be noticed. Social norms can have a strong influence on our use of non-verbal language, for example, if one is delighted at the demise of an arrogant narcissist or foe, one would be unlikely to smile at their funeral – Schadenfreude is not a noble emotion to express [at least in most situations].

StoneGarden

Individual and group differences also have an influence on, or are associated with, non-verbal cues. Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo, Rogers and Archer, 1979) devised a profile of non-verbal sensitivity (PONS) as a test to chart some of these differences. All things equal, non-verbal competence improves with age, is more advanced among successful people and is compromised among individuals with a range of psychopathologies (e.g. psychosis, autism).

Gender Differences 

Reviews conclude that women are generally better than men at decoding both visual cues and auditory cues, such as voice tone and pitch (E. T. Hall, 1979; J. A. Hall, 1978, 1984). The explanation for this seems to be rather social than evolutionary (Manstead, 1992), including child-rearing strategies that encourage girls more than boys to be emotionally expressive and attentive. One major question remains whether women’s greater competence is due to greater knowledge about non-verbal cues. According to Janelle Rosip and Judith Hall (2004), the answer seems to be ‘yes’ – women have a slight advantage, based on results from their test of non-verbal cue knowledge (TONCK). A meta-analysis by William Ickes has shown that when motivated to do so, women can become even more accurate: for example when women think they are being evaluated for their empathy or when gender-role expectations of empathy are brought to the fore (Ickes, Gesn and Graham, 2000).

FemaleSign

Most individuals can improve their non-verbal skills (Matsumoto and Hwang, 2011), that can be useful for improving interpersonal communication, detecting deception, presenting a good impression and hiding our feelings [when required in some situations]. Practical books have been written and courses on communications has always had an enduring appeal. Why not try yourself out on the TONCK?

Non-verbal behaviour differs among individuals since most have different attachment styles thus different relationships too. In the case of intimate relationships, we would tend to assume that partners would enhance each other’s emotional security through accurate decoding of their individualistic non-verbal cues and responding appropriately (Schachner, Shaver and Mikulincer, 2005). Although there are data dealing with non-verbal behaviour in parent-child interactions and how they relate to the development of attachment styles in children (Bugental, 2005), there is less research focussing on how adult attachment styles are reflected ‘non-verbally’ in intimate relationships.

Reflections 

Finesse

The concept of self is not an overnight process but a gradual and intelligent process involving calculated, precise and minute adjustments to one’s inner thoughts, thus, over time, changing one’s cognitive schemas, personality, identity and linguistic proficiency. It is a process hugely dependent on individual motivation, education, dedication, capability, IQ and cultural proficiency. Along with it, languages are the essence of identity as it also leads to cultural belonging and thus, cognitive schemas related to inner thoughts that allow one to navigate efficiently within the particular cultural theme and be part of the societies related to the languages. Together, psychology, linguistic culture, personality and education are the core of individual conception – to sum it up beautifully for colleagues in innovation, science and psychology out there, “It is not what is in the head that counts, but the ability to turn it into a believable logical reality and a psychologically valid human concept/identity.”

Arthur Hughes Self-Portrait 1851

Image: Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915), “Arthur Hughes

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References 

    1. Abrams, D. and Hogg, M. A. (2001). Collective identity. Group membership and self-conception. In M. A. Hogg and R. S. Tindale (eds),Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes (pp. 425-60). Oxford, UK: Blackwell
    2. Ambady, N. and Weisburg, M. (2010). Nonverbal behaviour. In S. T. Fiske, D.T. Gilbert, and G. Lindzey (eds), Handbook of Social Psychology (5th edn, Vol. 1, pp. 464-497). New York: Wiley
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Essay // Biopsychology: Frontal Brain Damage & The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST)

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(Photo: Jez C Self / Frontal Lobe Gone)

The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST; Grant & Berg, 1948; Heaton, Chelune,Talley, & Curtis, 1993) has long been used in Neuropsychology and is among the most frequently administered neuropsychological instruments (Butler, Retzlaff, & Vanderploeg, 1991).

The test was specifically devised to assess executive functions mediated by the frontal lobes such as problem solving, strategic planning, use of environmental instructions to shift procedures, and the inhibition of impulsivity. Some neuropsychologists however, have questioned whether the test can measure complex cognitive processes believed to be mediated by the Frontal lobes (Bigler, 1988; Costa, 1988).

The WCST test, until this day remains widely used in clinical settings as frontal lobe injuries are common worldwide. Performance on the WCST test is believed to be particular sensitive in reflecting the possibilities of patients having frontal lobe damage (Eling, Derckx, & Maes, 2008). On each Wisconsin card, patterns composed of either one, two, three or four identical symbols are printed. Symbols are either stars, triangle, crosses or circles; and are either red, blue, yellow or green.

At the start of the test, the patient has to deal with four stimulus cards that are different from one another in the colour, form and number of symbols they display. The aim of the participant would be to correctly sort cards from a deck into piles in front of the stimulus cards. However, the participant is not aware whether to sort by form, colour or by number. The participant generally starts guessing and is told after each card has been sorted whether it was correct or incorrect.

Firstly they are generally instructed to sort by colour; however as soon as several correct responses are registered, the sorting rule is changed to either shape or number without any notice, besides the fact that responses based on colour suddenly become incorrect. As the process continues, the sorting principle is changed as the participant learns a new sorting principle.

potbIt has been noted that those with frontal lobe area damage often continue to sort according to only one particular sorting principle for 100 or more trials even after the principle has been deemed as incorrect (Demakis, 2003). The ability to correctly remember new instructions with for effective behaviour is near impossible for those with brain damage: a problem known as ‘perseveration’.

Another widely used test is the ‘Stroop Task’ which sets out to test a patient’s ability to respond to colours of the ink of words displayed with alternating instructions. Frontal patients are known for badly performing to new instructions. As the central executive is part of the frontal lobe, other problems such as catatonia – a condition where patients remain motionless and speechless for hours while unable to initiate – can arise. Distractibility has also been observed, where sufferers are easily distracted by external or internal stimuli. Lhermite (1983) also observed the ‘Utilisation Syndrome’ in some patients with Dysexecutive Syndrome (Normal & Shallice, 1986), who would grab and use random objects available to them pathologically.

 

References

Butler, M., Retzlaff, P., & Vanderploeg, R. (1991). Neuropsychological test usage. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 22, 510-512

Demakis, G. J. (2003). A meta-analytic review of the sensitivity of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test to frontal and lateralized frontal brain damage. Neuropsychology, 17, 255-264

Eling, P., Derckx, K., & Maes, R. (2008). On the historical and conceptual background of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Brain and Cognition, 67, 247-253

Grant, D.A. and Berg, E.A. (1948). A Behavioural Analysis of Degree Impairment and Ease of Shifting to New Responses in Weigh-Type Card Sorting Problem. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 39, 404-411

Heaton, R.K., Chelune, G.J., Talley, J.L., Kay, G.G., & Curtis, G. (1993). Wisconsin Card Sorting Test manual: Revised and expanded. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources

Lhermitte, F. (1983) “Utilization Behaviour” and its relation to lesions of the frontal lobes. Brain, 106, 237-255

Norman, D.A., & Shallice, T. (1986). Attention to action: Willed and automatic control of behaviour. (Center for Human Information Processing Technical Report No. 99, rev. ed.) In R.J. Davidson, G.E. Schartz, & D. Shapiro (Eds.), Consciousness and self-regulation: Advances in research, (pp. 1-18). New York: Plenum Press

 

18.08.2014 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

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Essay // Biopsychology: How our Neurons work

(Image: WPClipArt)

(Image: WPClipArt)

As vast as our universe is, so are its complexities. One of the most complex of objects in it remains the human brain, an organ which when fully grown requires 750 millilitres of oxygenated blood every minute to maintain normal activity – of the total amount of oxygen delivered to the body’s tissues by the arteries, 20 % is consumed by the brain which only makes up 2% of the body’s weight. It also has 100 billion neurons with each connected to 7000 others, leading to a surprising 700 trillion connections. This complexity is far from excessive as we study the importance of the construction of the brain for civilisation and all life on our planet. This fascinating organ is not only at the basis of low-level biological tasks such as heart rate monitoring, respiration and feeding, but it is also vital in the evolution of our behaviours for survival (e.g. perceiving, learning and making rapid decisions). At the heart of human existence, it is also the organ allowing the human organism to explore abilities unique to its kind such as thoughts, emotions, consciousness and love.

While nearly 50% of the Central Nervous System and Peripheral Nervous System are neurons, they are supported by glial cells. The ratio of Neurons to glial cells in the human brain is close to 1:1 (Azevedo et al., 2009) and glial cells come in 3 important types:

Firstly, astrocytes [also known as ‘star cell’] produce chemicals needed for neurons to function such as extracellular fluid, provide nourishment [linked to blood vessel] and clean up dead neurons. They also help keep the neuron in place.

Secondly, oligodendrocytes support the axon by creating a myelin coating which increases the speed and efficiency of axonal conduction [in the PNS myelin is produced by Schwann cells].

Thirdly and lastly, microglia works with the immune system by protecting the brain from infections while also being responsible for inflammation in cases of brain damage.

Neurons are cells that are devised to ensure the reception, conduction, and transmission of electrochemical signals and come in several types depending on their structure and function. The 3 main types are Multipolar, Bipolar and Unipolar neurons.

MBU

Most neurons in the brain are multipolar, and these have many extensions from their body: one axon and several dendrites. Bipolar neurons have two extensions: one consisting of dendrites and one of axon and are typically specialised sensory pathways (e.g. vision, smell, sight and hearing).  Unipolar neurons are cells with a single extension (an axon) from their body and are mostly somatosensory (e.g. touch, pain, temperature, etc). Although existing in variety, all neurons perform the same overall function: to process and transmit information.

The neuron is composed of three main parts, firstly the cell body [also known as the ‘soma’] is a primary component of the neuron that integrates the inputs received by the neurons to the axon hillock. The body or soma is between 5 and 100 microns in diameter (a micron is one-thousandth of a millimetre) surrounded by a membrane and hosts the cytoplasm, the nucleus and a number of organelles. The cytoplasm ressembles jelly-like substances and is in continuous movement, with the nucleus containing the genetic code of the neuron that is used for protein synthesis (e.g. of some types of neurotransmitters). The neuron’s metabolism is dependent on the organelles that perform chemical synthesis, generate and store energy; and provide the structural support (similar to a skeleton) for the neuron.

Secondly, we have the dendrites [derived from Greek ‘Dendron’] which are branched cellular extensions emanating from the cell body that receive most of the synaptic contacts from other neurons. It is important to note that dendrites only receive information from other neurons and cannot transmit any of it to them.. Their purpose is to propagate information to the axon.

Thirdly, axons which can measure from up to a few millimetres to one metre in length, transmit information from the soma to other neurons, ending with the terminal buttons which store chemicals used for inter-neuron communication. There are 2 types of axons. The first type – myelinated axons – are covered with a fatty, white substance known as myelin which is a sheath that has gaps at places known as the nodes of Ranvier. Myelin acts as a catalyst in making electric transmission faster and more efficient by insulating the axon. Hence, with myelinated axons, myelin is vital for effective electric transmission, and its loss leads to serious neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, The second type of axons are not covered by myelin, resulting in a slower electric transmission.ANeuron

TheNeuron

Neurons are always active, even when no information is being received from other neurons, and must feed themselves (through blood vessels), maintain physiological parameters within a certain range (homeostasis), and maintain their electrical equilibrium, which is essential in the transmission of information.

The terminal buttons [also known as Axon terminals] are button-like endings of the axon branches which release the information to other neurons via neurotransmitter molecules through synaptic vesicles stored within itself. The neurotransmitter is then diffused across the synaptic cleft [gap between 2 membranes] where a depolarisation from incoming action potentials lead to the opening of Calcium channels and Ca+ triggers vesicles to fuse with pre-synaptic membrane, releasing the neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft which diffuses across and binds with receptors of the next neuron’s post-synaptic membrane’s receptors; causing particular ion channels to open.

synaptic cleft

Post synaptic potentials further defines the opening credentials. Excitatory Post Synaptic Potential (EPSP) is the result of depolarisation (+ve) which increases the positive charge after allowing Sodium (Na+) ions inside. Another result could be an Inhibitory Post Synaptic Potential (IPSP) which would be caused by the hyperpolarisation (-ve) due to the opening of Chloride (Cl-) channels. The summation carried out by the Axon Hillock calculates whether it reaches the threshold, if it does; an Action Potential in the Postsynaptic Neuron is triggered and excess neurotransmitter is taken back by the pre-synaptic neuron and degraded by enzymes.

Learning is assumed to be the result of changes in the synapses between neurons – a mechanism called long-term potentiation (LTP), which is the strengthening of connections between two neurons by the synaptic chemical change.  Hebbian learning is a key principle for long-term potentiation (LTP): “neurons that fire together, wire together” (Hebb, 1949) – and recent studies seem to also suggest that the growth of new synapses foster learning.

A neuron codes information  through its “spiking rate” [response rate] which is the number of action potentials propagated per second. Some neurons may have  a high spiking rate in some situations (e.g. during speech), but not others (e.g. during vision), while others may simply have a complementary profile. Neurons that respond to the same type of information are generally grouped together, this leads to the functional specialisation of brain regions. The input a neuron receives and the output that it sends to another neuron is related to the type of information a neuron carries. For example, information about sounds is only processed by the primary auditory cortex because this region’s inputs are are from a pathway originating in the cochlea and they also send information to other neurons involved in a more advanced stage of auditory processing (e.g. speech perception). For example, if it were possible to rewire the brain such that the primary auditory cortex was to receive inputs from the retinal pathway instead of the auditory pathway (Sur & Leamey, 2001), the function of that part of the brain would have changed [along with the type of information it carries] even if the regions themselves remained static [with only inputs rewired]. This is worthy of being noted as when one considers the function of a particular cerebral region: the function of any brain region is determined by its inputs and outputs – hence, the extent to which a function can only be achieved at a particular location is a subject open to debate.

Gray matter, white matter and cerebrospinal fluid

Neurons in the brain are structured to form white matter [axons and support cells: glia] and gray matter [neuronal cell bodies]. The white matter lies underneath the highly convoluted folded sheet of gray matter [cerebral cortex]. Beneath the white matter fibers, there is another collection of gray matter structures [subcortex], which includes the basal ganglia, the limbic system, and the diencephalon. White matter tracts may project between different regions of the cortex within the same hemisphere [known as association tracts) and also between regions across different hemispheres [known as commissures; with the most important being the corpus callosum]; or may project between cortical and subcortical regions [known as projection tracts]. A number of hollow chambers called ventricles also form part of the brain, these are filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which serves important functions such as carrying waste metabolites, transferring messenger signals while providing a protective cushion for the brain.

Reflections: From biology to psychology

In the classic essay on the “Architecture of Complexity”, Simon (1996) noted that hierarchies are present everywhere at every level in natural systems – taking the field of physics as an example, in particular the way elementary particles form atoms, atoms form molecules, and molecules form more complex entities such as rocks. Furthering this metaphor as an example, we may also wish to look at the organisation of a book: letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, sections and finally chapters.

In biological systems, a similar type of hierarchical structure can be found at many levels, particularly in the way the brain is organised. Simon seems to convincingly argue that complex systems’ evolution would have had to have benefited from some degree of stability, which is precisely enabled by hierarchical organisation. The main idea is that hierarchical organisations typically have a degree of redundancy – that is, the same functions at the particular level can be carried out by different components; and if one component fails, the system is only slightly affected since other components could perform the functions to some extent. Systems that lack systematic hierarchical organisation tend to lack this degree of flexibility, and a system as complex as the human brain must have a strong hierarchical organisation, or it would not have been able to evolve into such a complex organ.HierarchyOfTheCentralNervousSystemTheHumanLimbicSystem.jpgUsing the Limbic system [diagram above] as an example of each level’s specialisation, it is possible to understand how it is responsible for a particular set of functions related but also separate from other parts of the brain. The Limbic system is essential in allowing the human organism to relate to its environment based on current needs and the present situation with experience gathered. This very intriguing part of the brain may in fact be the source of – what many might call – “Humanity” in man as it is responsible for the detection and subsequent expression of emotional responses. One of its parts, the amygdala is implicated in the detection of fearful or threatening stimuli, while parts of the cingulate gyrus are involved in the detection of emotional and cognitive conflicts. Another part, the hippocampus is of major importance in learning and memory; it lies buried in the temporal lobes of each hemisphere along with the amygdala. Other structures of the Limbic system are only visible from the ventral surface [underside] of the brain; the mamillary bodies are two small round protrusions that have traditionally been implicated in memory (Dusoir et al., 1990), while the olfactory bulbs are located under the surface of the frontal lobes with their connections to the limbic system underscoring the importance of smell for detecting environmentally salient stimuli (e.g. food, animals, cattle, cars, etc) and its influence on mood and memory.

One of the main insight of Simon’s analysis is that scientists should be thankful to nature for the existence of hierarchies, since they make the task of understanding the mechanisms involved easier. It can be achieved by simply focusing on one specific level rather than trying to understand the phenomena in all its complexities – because each level has its own laws and principles. On initial approximation, what happens at lower levels may end up being averaged without taking into account all the details and the happenings at the higher levels, which may unfairly be considered as constant.

AttenboroughDarwin

Naturalist, David Attenborough / Image: Darwin & the tree of life (2009)

Focusing on a popular example, we could look at the biologist and naturalist Charles Darwin when he formulated his theory of evolution. At that time, the structure of DNA [which would be discovered 70 years later] was not a major concern of his, furthermore the latter did not have to consider the way the Earth came to exist. Instead, what the biologist did was to focus on an intermediate level in the hierarchy of natural phenomena (e.g. primates, animals, birds, insects, etc): how species evolved over time. Such example also seems to illustrate a vital point in this analysis: the processes involved at the level we are interested in can be understood by analysing the constraints provided by the levels below and above. What happens at the low levels (e.g. the biochemical level) and what happens at high levels (e.g. the cosmological level) limit how any species evolve;if the biochemistry of life had been disrupted, and if our planet did not provide the appropriate environmental elements and conditions for life to flourish, evolution would simply not have happened. And, as science progresses and shatters many outdated perspectives at looking at life & nature on planet Earth, links are being made between these different levels of explanation.

It is now firmly accepted among intellectuals from evidence gathered in Biopsychology (also known as Neuroscience) that the acquisition of skills is dependent on an organism’s ability to learn and develop throughout its lifetime, and DNA is an important factor at the biochemical level for the transmission of heredity traits postulated by Charles Darwin. Hence, human evolution is a process that is continuous, multifaceted, complex, creative & ongoing; and intelligent design [e.g. psychological, educational, linguistic, biological, genetic, philosophical, environmental, dietary, etc] is an undeniably important factor for the intelligent evolution of human societies.

EverythingPossibleUglyFactHuxley

****

References

  1. Azevedo, F.A.C., Carvalho, L.R.B., Grinberg, L.T., Farfel, J.M., Ferretti, R.E.L., Leite, R.E.P., Jacob Filho, W., Lent, R. & Herculano-Houzel, S. (2009) Equal numbers of neuronal and nonneuronal cells make the human brain an isometrically scaled-up primate brain. Journal of Comparative Neurolology , 513 , 532-541.
  2. Dusoir, H., Kapur, N., Byrnes, D. P., McKinstry, S., & Hoare, R. D. (1990). The role of diencephalic pathology in human-memory disorder-evidence from a penetrating paranasal brain injury. Brain , 113 , 1695-1706.
  3. Gobet, F., Chassy, P. and Bilalic, M. (2011). Foundations of cognitive psychology. 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  4. Hebb, D. O. (1949). Organization of behaviour. NJ: Wiley and Sons.
  5. Pinel, J. (2014). Biopsychology 8th ed. Harlow: Pearson.
  6. Simon, H. A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial (3rd edn). Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  7. Sur, M. & Leamey, C. A. (2001). Development and plasticity of cortical areas and networks. Nature Reviews Neuroscience , 2 , 251-262.

Updated: 09.04.2017 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

Please feel free to support us by considering a donation.

Sincerely,

The Team @ dpurb.com

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Essay // Biopsychology | The Temporal Lobes: Vision, Sound & Awareness

The temporal lobe consists of all the tissues located underneath the lateral (Sylvian) fissure and anterior to the occipital cortex (FIGURE A). The subcortical temporal lobe structures include the limbic cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampal formation (FIGURE B). The connections to and from the temporal lobe extend to all areas of the brain. Typical symptoms of temporal-lobe disorder or damage generally include drastic deficits in affect and personality, memory problems, and some form of deficits of language.

001 sylvian

FIGURE A. Anatomy of the Temporal Lobe | (A) The 3 Major gyri visible on the lateral surface of the temporal lobe. (B) Brodmann’s cytoarchitectonic zones on the lateral surface. Auditory areas are shown in yellow and visual areas in purple. Areas 20, 21, 37 and 38 are often referred to by von Economo’s designation, TE. (C) The gyri visible on a medial view of the temporal lobe. The uncus refers to the anterior extension of the hippocampal formation. The parahippocampal gyrus includes areas TF and TH.

002 sylvian

FIGURE B. Internal Structure of the Temporal Lobe | (TOP) Lateral View of the left hemisphere showing the positions of the amygdala and the hippocampus buried deeply in the temporal lobe. The vertical lines show the approximate location of the coronal sections in the bottom illustration. (BOTTOM) Frontal views through the left hemisphere illustrating the cortical and subcortical regions of the temporal lobe.

Subdivisions of the Temporal Cortex

10 temporal areas were identified by Brodman, however many more have recently been discovered in monkeys, and this finding suggests that humans too may have many more areas to explore. The temporal areas on the lateral surface can be divided into those that are auditory (FIG. A. (B), Brodman areas 41, 42 and 22) and those that make up the Ventral Visual Stream on the lateral temporal lobe (FIG. A. (B), areas 20, 21, 37 & 38). These regions specific to vision are often referred to as the Inferotemporal Cortex or by von Economo’s designation, TE.

003 Rhesus.jpg

FIGURE C. Cytoarchitectonic Regions of the Temporal Cortex of the Rhesus Monkey | (A) Brodmann’s Areas. (B) Von Bonin and Bailey’s Areas. (C and D) Lateral and ventral views of Seltzer and Pandya’s parcellation showing the multimodal areas in the superior temporal sulcus. Subareas revealed in part C are generally NOT visible from the surface.

A huge amount of cortex can be found within the sulci of the temporal lobe as shown in the frontal views at the bottom of FIGURE B, particularly the lateral (Sylvian) fissure which contains the tissue forming the insula: an area that includes the gustatory cortex and the auditory association cortex. The Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS) divides the superior and middle temporal gyri, and also contains a fair amount of neocortex. FIGURE C. shows the many subregions of the Superior Temporal Sulcus, the multi-modal, or polymodal cortex that receives input from auditory, visual, and somatic regions, and from another two polymodal regions (frontal & parietal) along with the paralimbic cortex.

005 MultiMonkeyCortex

FIGURE D. Mutlisensory Areas in the Monkey Cortex | Coloured areas represent regions where anatomical or electrophysiological data or both types demonstrate multisensory interactions. Dashed lines represent open sulci. (After Ghazanfar and Schroeder, 2006.)

The medial temporal region (limbic cortex) includes the amygdala and the adjacent cortex (uncus), the hippocampus and surrounding cortex (subiculum, entorhinal cortex, perirhinal cortex), and the fusiform gyrus (see FIGURE B). The entorhinal cortex is Brodmann’s area 28, and the perirhinal cortex comprises Brodmann’s areas 35 and 36.

Cortical areas TH and TF at the posterior end of the temporal lobe (see FIGURE C) are often referred to as the parahippocampal cortex. The fusiform gyrus and the inferior temporal gyrus are functional parts of the lateral temporal cortex (see FIGURE A and FIGURE B).

Connections of the Temporal Cortex

One major fact about the temporal lobes is that they are rich in internal connections, afferent projections from the sensory systems, and efferent projections to the parietal and frontal association regions, limbic system, and basal ganglia. The corpus callosum connects the neocortex of the left and right temporal lobes, whereas the anterior commissure connects connects the temporal cortex and the amygdala.

006 CorpusCallosumAnteriorComissure

004 Connections

FIGURE E. Major Intracortical Connections of the Temporal Lobe | (A) Auditory and visual information progresses ventrally from the primary regions toward the temporal pole en route to the medial temporal regions. Auditory information also forms a dorsal pathway to the posterior parietal lobe. (B) Auditory, visual, and somatic outputs go to the multimodal regions of the superior temporal sulcus (STS). (C) Auditory and visual information goes to the medial temporal region, including the amygdala and the hippocampal formation.  (D) Auditory and visual information goes to two prefrontal regions, one on the dorsolateral surface and the other in the orbital region (area 13).

Five distinct types of cortical-cortical connections have been revealed through studies on the temporocortical connections of the monkey (see FIGURE E), and each projection pathway subserves a particular function:

  1. A Hierarchical Sensory Pathway. This pathway is essential for stimulus recognition. The hierarchical progress of connections derives from the primary and secondary auditory and visual areas, ending in the temporal pole (see FIGURE E (A)). The visual projections form the ventral stream of visual processing , whereas the auditory projections form a parallel ventral stream of auditory processing.
  2. A Dorsal Auditory Pathway. Projecting from the auditory areas to the posterior parietal cortex (FIGURE E(A)), the pathway is analogous to the dorsal visual pathway and thus concerned with directing movements with respect to auditory information. The dorsal auditory pathway likely has a role to play in the detection of the spatial location of auditory inputs.
  3. A Polymodal Pathway. This pathway is a series of parallel projections from the visual and auditory association areas into the polymodal regions of the superior temporal sulcus (see FIGURE E(B)). The polymodal pathway seems to underlie the categorisation of stimuli.
  4. A Medial Temporal Projection. Vital for long-term memory, the projection from the auditory and visual association areas into the medial temporal, or limbic, regions goes first to the perirhinal cortex, then to the entorhinal cortex, and finally into the hippocampal formation or the amygdala or both (see FIGURE E(C)). The hippocampal projection forms the perforant pathway – disturbance of this projection leads to major dysfunction in hippocampal activity.
  5. A frontal-lobe projection. This series of parallel projections, necessary for various aspects of movement control, short-term memory, and affect, reaches from the temporal association areas to the frontal lobe (see FIGURE E(D)).

These five projection pathways play a unique and major role in temporal-lobe functions.

A Theory of Temporal Lobe Functions

The temporal lobe is multi-functional and comprises the primary auditory cortex, the secondary auditory and visual cortex, the limbic cortex, and the amygdala and hippocampus. The hippocampus works in combination with the object-recognition and memory functions of the neocortex and has a fundamental role in organising memories of objects in space. The amygdala is also responsible for adding affective tone (emotions) to sensory input and memories.

Based on the cortical anatomy, 3 basic sensory functions of the temporal cortex can be identified:

  1. Processing auditory input
  2. Visual object recognition
  3. Long-term storage of sensory input

Temporal-lobe functions are best explained by considering how the brain analyses and processes sensory stimuli as they enter the nervous system. A good example would be a hike in the woods where on a journey, one would notice a wide variety of birds. Furthering this example, let us assume that the individual on the hike decides to keep a mental list of all the birds encountered to report to his/her sister who happens to be an avid nature lover and birder. Now let us assume that the individual upon exploring has encountered a rattlesnake in the middle of his/her path; it is highly likely that he/she would change direction and look for birds in a safer location. Let us now consider the temporal-lobe functions engaged in such activity.

Sensory Processes

We shall use the hiking example above to explain the processes as we progress. In the case of birds of different types, the awareness of specific colours, shapes and sizes would be vital, and such a process involving object recognition is the function of the ventral visual pathway in the temporal lobe.

Speed is also of the essence in such natural situations since birds may not remain static for extended amounts of time, thus, we would tend to spot them fast from sighting to sighting (e.g. lateral view vs rear view). The development of categories for object types is vital to both perception and memory, and this depends on the inferortemporal cortex. The process of categorisation may also require some form of directed attention, since some aspects of a stimuli tend to play a more important role in the process of classification than do others [e.g. language, culture & speech in human beings].

For example, classifying two different types of yellow birds would require attention to be directed away from colour, to instead focus on shape, size and other individual characteristics. It has been revealed that damage to the temporal cortex leads to deficits in identifying and categorising stimuli. However, such a patient would have no difficulty in the location of stimulus or in recognising that the object is physically present, since these activities are functions of another part of the brain: the posterior parietal and primary sensory areas respectively.

As the individual would continue the journey to spot birds, he/she may also hear a bird song, and this stimulus would also have to be matched with the visual input. This process of matching visual and auditory information is known as cross-modal matching, and likely depends on the cortex of the superior temporal sulcus.

As the journey progresses, the individual may come across more and more birds which would require the formation of memory for later retrieval of their specificity. Furthermore, as the birds vary, their respective names would have to be accessed from memory; these long-term memory processes depend on the entire ventral visual stream as well as the paralimbic cortex of the medial temporal region.

Affective Responses

Using the encounter with the snake as an example, the individual would first hear the rattle, which is an alert of the reptilian danger, and stop. Next, the ground would have to be scanned visually to spot the venomous creature, to identity it while dealing with a rising heart rate and blood pressure. The affective response in such a situation would be the function of the amygdala. The association of sensory input (stimulus) and emotion is crucial for learning, because specific stimuli become associated with their positive, negative or neutral consequences, and behaviour is shaped/modified accordingly.

If such an affective system was to be cancelled out from a person’s brain, all stimuli would be treated equallyconsider the consequences of failing to associate a rattlesnake, which is venomous, with the consequences of being bitten. Furthering the example, consider an individual who is unable to associate good & positive feelings (such as honesty, warmth, trust & human love) to a specific person.

Laboratory animals with amygdala lesions/damage generally become extremely placid and lack any form of emotional reaction to threatening stimuli. For example, monkeys that were formerly terrified of snakes become indifferent to them [and of the fatal consequences] and may reach and pick them up.
Spatial Navigation

When the decision to change directions is made by the individual, the hippocampus becomes active and it contains cells that code places in space that allow us to navigate in space and remember our position [location].

As the general functions of the temporal lobes [sensory, affective & navigational] are considered it is fairly obvious how devastating the consequences on behaviour would be for a person who loses them: the inability to perceive or remember events, including language and loss of affect. However, such a person lacking temporal-lobe function would still be able to use the dorsal visual system to make visually guided movements and under many circumstances, would shockingly appear completely normal to many.

The Superior Temporal Sulcus & Biological Motion

The hiking example above has lacked an additional temporal-lobe function, a process that most animals engage in known as biological motion: movements that have particular relevance to a particular species. For example, among humans in Western Europe, many movements involving the eyes, face, mouth, hands and body have social meanings – the superior temporal sulcus analyses biological motion.

007 Superior Temporal Sulcus

FIGURE F. Biological Motion | Summary of the activation (indicated by dots) of the Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS) region in the left (A) and right (B) hemispheres during the perception of biological motion. (After Allison, Puce, and McCarthy, 2000.)

The STS plays a role in categorising stimuli from received multimodal inputs. One major category is social perception, which involves the analysis and response of actual or implied bodily movements that provide socially relevant information about a person’s actual state. Such information has an important role to play in social cognition, or “Theory of Mind”, that allows us to develop hypotheses about another individual’s intentions. For example, the direction of an individual’s gaze provides some information about what that person is attending (or not attending) to.

In a review, Truett Allison and colleagues proposed that cells in the superior temporal sulcus have a key role to play in social cognition. For example, cells in the monkey STS respond to various forms of biological motion including the direction of eye gaze, facial expression, mouth movement, head movement and hand movement.

In the case of advanced social animals such as primates, the ability to understand and respond to biological motion is critical information needed to infer the intention of others. As shown in FIGURE F , imaging studies revealed the activation along the STS during the perception of a variety of biological motion.

One major correlate of mouth movements is vocalisation, and so it is possible to predict that regions of the STS are also implicated in perceiving the specific sounds of a particular species. In monkeys for example, cells in the Superior Temporal Gyrus, which is adjacent to the STS and sends connections to it, show a preference for “monkey calls”. In humans too, imaging studies have revealed that the superior temporal gyrus is activated by both human vocalisations and by melodic sequences.

The activation in some part of the superior temporal sulcus in response to a combination of visual stimulus (mouth movements) and talking or singing could be predicted, and presumably sophisticated speech and vocal performances (singing) are perceived as complex forms of biological motion. Hence, it is fairly obvious that people with temporal-lobe injuries that lead to impairments in the analysis of biological motion will likely be correlated with deficit in social awareness/judgement. Indeed, the studies of David Perrett and his colleagues illustrate the nature of processing in the STS, who revealed that neurons in the superior temporal sulcus may be responsive to particular faces viewed head-on, faces viewed in profile, the posture of the head, or even the specific facial expressions. Perrett also found that some STS cells are extremely sensitive to primate bodies that move in a particular direction, another characteristic biological motion (see FIGURE G below). Such finding is quite remarkable since the basic configuration of the primate stimulus remains identical as it moves in different directions; solely the direction changes.

008 NeuronalSensitivity

FIGURE G. Neuronal Sensitivity to Direction of Body Movements | (Top) Schematic representation of the front view of a body. (Bottom) The histogram illustrates a greater neuronal response of STS neurons to the front view of a body that approaches the observing monkey compared with the responses to the same view of the body when the body is moving away, to the right and to the left, or is stationary. (After Perrett et al., 1990.)


Visual Processing in the Temporal Lobe

visualstream

All visual information goes through the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus (LGN) which is part of the thalamus. The LGN directs visual information into the brain where most of it is sent straight to the occipital cortex/lobe. The dorsal and ventral streams are primary pathways to visual cortex V1 located around the calcarine fissure in the occipital lobe [V1 is critical for sight, loss leads to blindness]. It is believed that human beings possess two distinct visual systems.

When visual information leaves the occipital lobe (visual cortex), it follows two streams:

1) The Ventral Stream begins with V1 and passes through vision region V2, then V4 and to the inferior temporal cortex. It is known as the “What Pathway” and is responsible for processes related to form recognition and object representation; and is also linked to the formation of long-term memory. The ventral stream is associated to a concept of “vision in the brain”, which allows humans to make sense of the visual information they receive. Vartanian & Skov (2014) have recently found activity in the anterior insula [emotion experiencing part] and in the ventral stream when viewing art paintings. Sustained damage to the ventral stream would allow a subject to see, perceive colours, movements, understand the underlying expectation of meaning to an object or face; but yet fail to perceive “what” the object/face is. This condition is known as agnosia which means the “failure to know”; where patients lose the ability to identify by sight but have no difficulties with memory for word or descriptive language.

OpticRadiations56Visual agnosia appears to be the result of not a primary vision problem but an associative function in the brain to give definition.

Lissauer (1890) defined 2 types of visual agnosias; apperceptive visual agnosia and associative visual agnosia.

In the apperceptive type subjects cannot identify, draw, copy but identify the object upon touch (Benson and Greenberg, 1969). In associative visual agnosia, subjects can “perceive” the object but cannot associate it with correct vocabulary; showing that the knowledge is present along with touch recognition and verbal description but not object identification; although they can copy even if extensive time is taken on simple figures.

2) The Dorsal Stream also known as the “where” stream begins with V1, goes through vision region V2, then through the dorsomedial area and V5, then to the posterior parietal cortex. Known as the “Where” or “How” Pathway it is believed to play a major part in the processing of motion, location of particular objects in the viewer’s range, fine motor controls of the arms and eyes. Damage to the dorsal stream disrupts visual spatial perception and visually guided behaviour; but not conscious visual perception.

The famous case of A.T the woman who could not grasp unfamiliar objects seen had her dorsal route interrupted due to a lesion of the occipitoparietal region. She was able to recognise objects & demonstrate size with fingers but was incorrect in object directed movements along with ability to properly grip with her fingers; instead tried grabbing awkwardly with bad finger synchronisation.


FFA [Fusiform Face Area] & PPA [Parahippocampal Place Area]

010 FFA&PPA

The selective activation of the FFA [Fusiform Face Area] an the PPA [Parahippocampal Place Area] related to categories of visual stimulation that include a wide range of different exemplars of the specific categories raises the interesting question of how such dissimilar objects could be  treated equivalently by specialised cortical regions. Different views of the same object are not only linked together as being the same, but different objects appear to be linked together as being part of the same category as well. Such an automatic categorisation of sensory information has to be partially learned since most humans categorise unnatural objects such as cars or furniture; the brain is unlikely to be innately designed for such categorisations.

To understand how the brain learns such processes, researchers have looked for changes in neuronal activity as subjects learn categories. Kenji Tanaka started by attempting to determine the critical features for activating neurons in the monkey inferotemporal cortex. Tanaka and his colleagues presented a range of three-dimensional animal and plant representations to find the effective stimuli for specific cells, then they tried to determine the necessary and sufficient properties of theses cells. They found that most cells in the TE (see FIGURE C) require complex features for activation such as orientation, size, colour and texture.

009 ColumnarOrganisation

FIGURE H. Columnar Organisation in Area TE | Cells with similar but slightly different selectivity cluster in elongated vertical columns, perpendicular to the cortical surface.

As shown in FIGURE H, Tanaka has found that cells with similar, although slightly different selectivity, tend to cluster vertically in columns. These cells were not similar in their stimulus selectivity; so an object is likely represented not by the the activity of a single cell but rather by the activity of many cells within a columnar module.

Two remarkable features of the inferotemporal neurons in monkeys have also been described by Tanaka and others. First, the stimulus specificity of these neurons is altered by experience. In a period of one year, monkeys were trained to discriminate 28 complex shapes. The stimulus preferences of inferotemporal neurons were then determined from a larger set of animal and plant models. Among the trained monkeys, 39% of the inferotemporal neurons gave a maximum response to some of the stimuli used in the training process, compared with only 9% of the neurons in the naïve monkeys.

These results confirm that the temporal lobe’s role in visual processing is not fully determined genetically but is subject to experience even in adults. It can be speculated that such experience-dependent characteristics allows the visual system to adapt to different demands in a changing visual environment. This is a feature important for human visual recognition abilities that have demands in forests that greatly differ from those on open plains or in urban environments. Furthermore, experience-dependent visual neurons ensure that we can identify visual stimuli that were never encountered in the evolution of the human brain.

The second interesting feature of inferotemporal neurons is that they may not only process visual input but also provide a mechanism for the internal representation of the images of objects. Joaquin Fuster and John Jervey demonstrated that, if monkeys are shown specific objects that are to be remembered, neurons in the monkey cortex continue to discharge during the “memory” period. Such selective discharges of neurons may provide the basis for visual imagery, i.e. the discharge of groups of neurons that are selective for characteristics of particular objects may create a mental image of the object in its absence.

Could human faces be special?

Most humans on earth spend more time in the analysis of faces that any other single stimulus. Infants tend to look at faces from birth while adults are particularly skilled at identifying faces despite large variations in the expressions and viewing angles, even when the faces are modified visually [with beards, spectacles, or hats]. Faces also have an incredible number of muscles to convey a wealth of social information, and humans are unique among all primate species in spending a great deal of time in looking directly at a wide range of faces from other members of our species on earth. The importance of faces as visual stimuli has led to the assumption that special pathways exist specifically for human faces, and several lines of evidence support the view. 

012 HumanNeuralSystemForFacePerception

FIGURE I. A Model of Distributed Human Neural System for Face Perception | The model is divided into a core system (TOP), consisting of occipital and temporal regions, and an extended system (BOTTOM), including regions that are part of neural systems for other cognitive functions. (After Haxby, Hoffman, and Gobbini, 2000.)

The face-perception system is extensive and includes regions in the occipital lobe as well as several different regions of the temporal lobe. Figure I above summarises a model by Haxby and his colleagues in which different aspects of facial perception (such as facial perception VS identity) are analysed in core visual areas in the temporal part of the visual stream. This model has also included other cortical regions as an “extended system” that includes the analysis of other facial characteristics such as emotion and lip reading. The key point to note is that the analysis of human faces is unlike any other stimuli: faces may indeed be special objects to the brain. A clear asymmetry exists in the role of the temporal lobes in facial analysis: right temporal lesions/damage have a greater effect on facial processing that do similar left temporal lesions/damage. Even in normal subjects, researchers have noted the asymmetry in face perception.

011 SplitFacesTest

FIGURE J. The Split-Faces Test | Subjects were asked which of the two pictures, B or C, most closely resembles picture A. Control subjects chose picture C significantly more often than picture B. Picture C corresponds to that part of picture A falling in a subject’s left visual fied. The woman pictured chose B, closer to the view that she is accustomed to seeing in the mirror. (After Kolb, Milner, and Taylor, 1983).

Photographs of faces as illustrated in FIGURE J, were presented to subjects. Photographs B and C are composites of the right or left sides, respectively, of the original face shown in Photograph A. When asked to identify the composite most similar to the original face, normal subjects consistently matched the left side of photograph A to its composite in photograph C. Participants did so whether the photographs were presented inverted or upright. Furthermore, patients with either right temporal or right parietal removals failed to consistently match either side of the face in either the inverted or upright scenario.

These results of the split-faces do not simply provide evidence for asymmetry in facial processing but also raises the issue of the nature of our perceptions of our own faces. Self-perception seems to provide a unique example of visual perception, since the image of our face tends to come from the mirror whereas the image that the world has of our face comes from each individuals direct view, and the inspection of FIGURE J illustrates the implications of this difference.

Photograph A is the image that most people perceive of the female subject shown above. Since humans have a left-visual-field bias in their perception, most right-handers choose photograph C as the picture most resembling the original A. However, upon asking the female subject in the photograph to choose the photograph most resembling her, she chose photograph B, as her common view of herself in the mirror seemed to match her choice although it is the reverse of most other people.

This intriguing consequence is the simple result of most people’s biased self-facial image of their opinion of personal photographs. Members of the general public tend to complain about their photographs not being photogenic, that their photographs are never taken at the correct angle, and other complaints about the image. The truth is that the problem may be rather different: people are accustomed to seeing themselves in the mirror and hence when a photograph is presented, most are biased to look at the side of the face that is not normally perceived selectively in the mirror, hence the person has a glimpse of himself/herself from the eyes of the rest of the world. Indeed people tend to not see themselves as others see them – the greater the asymmetry of a human face, the less flattering the person will see his or her image to be.

One major critical question about facial processing and the FFA remains however. Some researchers have argued that although face recognition appears to tap into a specialised face area, the exact same region could be used for other forms of expertise and is not specific for faces. For example, imaging studies have revealed that real-world experts show an overlapping pattern of activation in the FFA for faces in control participants, for car stimuli in car experts, and for bird stimuli in bird experts. The main scientific view is that the FFA is fairly plastic as a consequence of perceptual experience and training, and is innately biased to categorise complex objects such as faces but can also be recruited for other forms of visual categorisation expertise.


Auditory Processing in the Temporal Lobe

A cascade of mechanical and neural events in the cochlea, the brainstem, and, eventually, the auditory cortex that results in the percept of sound is stimulated whenever a sound reaches the ear. Similarly to the visual cortex, the auditory cortex has multiple regions, each of which has a tonotopic map.

015 Auditory Mapping.jpg

Although the precise functions of these maps are still to be fully understood, the ultimate goal lies in the perception of sound objects, the localisation of sound, and the decision about movements in relation to sounds. A great amount of cells in the auditory cortex respond only to specific frequencies, and these are often referred to as sound pitches or to multiples of those frequencies. Two of the main and most important types of sound for humans are music & language.

Speech Perception

Unlike any other auditory input, human speech differs in three fundamental ways.

  1. Speech sounds come mainly from three restricted ranges of frequencies, which are known as formants. FIGURE K(A) shows sound spectrograms of different two-formant syllables. The dark bars indicate the frequency bands seen in more detail in FIGURE K(B), which shows that the syllables differ both in the onset frequency of the second (higher) formant and in the onset time of the consonant. Notice that vowel sounds are in a constant frequency band, but consonants show rapid changes in frenquency.
  2. The similar speech sounds vary from one context in which they are heard to another, yet all are perceived as being the same. Thus, the sound spectrogram of the letter “d” in English is different in the words “deep”, “deck” and “duke”, yet a listener perceives all of them as “d”. The auditory system must have a mechanism for categorising varying sounds as being equivalent, and this mechanism must be affected by experience because a major obstacle to learning a new language in adulthood remains the difficulty of learning equivalent sound categories. Thus, a word’s spectrogram depends on the context – the words that precede and follow it (there may be a parallel mechanism for musical categorisation).
  3. Speech sounds also change very rapidly in relation to one another, and the sequential order of the sounds is critical to understanding. According to Alvin Liberman, humans can perceive speech at rates of as many as 30 segments per second. Speech perception at the higher rates is truly astonishing, because it far exceeds the auditory system’s ability to transmit all the speech as separate pieces of auditory information. For example, non-speech noise is perceived as a buzz at a rate of only about 5 segments per second.It seems fairly obvious that the brain must recognise and analyse language sounds in a very special way, similar to the echolocation system of the bat which is specialised in the bat brain. It is highly probable that the special mechanism for speech perception is located on the left temporal lobe. This function may not be unique to humans, since the results of studies in both monkeys and rats show specific deficits in the perception of species-typical vocalisations after left temporal lesions.
013 Speech Sounds

FIGURE K. Speech Sounds | (A) Schematic spectrograms of three different syllables, each made up of two formants. (B) Spectrograms of syllables differing in voice onset time. (After Springer, 1979.)


Music Perception

Music is different from language since it relies on the relations between auditory elements rather than on individual elements. And a tune is not defined by the pitches of the tones that constitute it but by the arrangement of the pitches’ duration and the intervals between them. Musical sounds may differ from one another in three major aspects: pitch (frequency), loudness (amplitude) and timbre (complexity).

014 BreakingDownSound

FIGURE L. Breaking Down Sound | Sound waves have 3 physical dimensions – frequency (pitch) amplitude (loudness) & timbre (complexity) – that correspond to the perceptual dimensions

  • Pitch (Frequency) refers to the position of a sound on the musical scale as perceived by the listener. Pitch is very clearly related to frequency: the vibration rate of a sound wave. Let us take for example, middle C, described as a pattern of sound frequencies depicted in FIGURE M. The amplitude of the acoustical energy is conveyed by the darkness of the tracing in the spectrogram. The lowest component of this note is the fundamental frequency of the sound pattern, which is 264 Hz, or middle C. Frequencies above the fundamental frequency are known as overtones or partials. The overtones are generally simple multiples of the fundamental (for example, 2 x 264, or 528 Hz; 4 x 264, or 1056 Hz), as shown in FIGURE M. Overtones that are multiples of the fundamental freqency are known as harmonics.
  • Loudness (Amplitude) refers to the magnitude of a sensation as judged by a given person. Loudness, although related to the intensity of a sound as measured in decibels, is in fact a subjective evaluation described by simple terms such as “very loud”, “soft”, “very soft” and so forth.
  • Timbre (Complexity) refers to the individual and distinctive character of a sound, the quality that distinguishes it from all other sounds of similar pitch and loudness. For example, we can distinguish the sound of a guitar from that of a violin even thought they may play the same note at a similar loudness.
016 SpectrographicDisplay

FIGURE M. Spectrographic Display of the Steady-State Part of Middle C (264 Hz) Played on Piano | Bands of acoustical energy are present at the fundamental frequency, as well as at integer multiples of the fundamental (harmonics). (After Ritsma, 1967)

If the fundamental frequency is cancelled out from a note by the means of electronic filters, the overtones are sufficient to determine the pitch of the fundamental frequency – a phenomenon known as periodicity pitch.

The ability to determine pitch from the overtones alone is likely due to the fact that the difference between frequencies of various harmonics is equal to the fundamental frequency (for example, 792 Hz – 528 Hz = 264 Hz = the fundamental frequency). The auditory system can determine this difference, and hence one perceives the fundamental frequency.

One major aspect of pitch perception is that, although we can generate (and perceive) the fundamental frequency, we still perceive the complex tones of the harmonics, and this is known as the spectral pitch. When individual subjects are made to listen to complex sounds to then be asked to make judgements about the direction of shifts in pitch, some individuals base their judgement on the fundamental frequency and others on the spectral pitch. This difference from one to the other is not based or related to musical training but rather to a basic difference in temporal-lobe organisation. The primary auditory cortex of the right temporal lobe appears to make this periodicity-pitch discrimination.

Robert Zatorre (2001) found that patients with right temporal lobectomies that include the removal of primary auditory cortex (area 41 or Heschl’s gyrus) are impaired at making pitch discriminations when the fundamental frequency is absent but are normal at making such discriminations when the fundamental frequency is present, however their ability to identify the direction of the pitch change was impaired.

Timing is a critical component of good music, and two types of time relations are fundamental to the rhythm of musical sequences:

(i) The segmentation of sequences of pitches into groups based on the duration of the sounds

(ii) The identification of temporal regularity, or beat, which is also professionally known as meter.

Both of these two components could be dissociated by having the subjects tap a rhythm versus keeping time with the beat (such as the spontaneous tapping of the foot to a strong beat)

Robert Zatorre and Isabelle Peretz came to the conclusion after analysing studies of patients with  temporal-lobe injuries as well as neuroimaging studies, that the left temporal lobe plays a major role in temporal grouping for rhythm, while the right temporal lobe plays a complementary role in meter (beat). However, the researchers also observed that a motor component of rhythm is also present, and it is broadly distributed to include the supplementary motor cortex, premotor cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.

RareDicesOfGodHawking

In seems clear that music is much more than the perception of pitch, rhythm, timbre and loudness. Zatorre and Peretz reviewed the many other features of music and the brain, including faculties such as music memory, emotion, performance (both singing and playing), music reading, and the effect of musical training. The importance of memory to music is inescapable since music unfolds over time for one to perceive a tune.

The retention of melodies is much more affected by injuries to the right temporal lobe, although injury to either temporal lobe impairs the learning of melodies. While both hemispheres contribute to the production of music, the role of the right temporal lobe appears to be greater in the production of melody, and the left temporal lobe appears to be mostly responsible for rhythm. Zatorre (2001) proposed that the right temporal lobe should have a special function in extracting pitch from sound, regardless of whether the sound is speech or music. However, when processing speech, the pitch (frequency) will contribute to the “tone” of the voice, and this is known as prosody.

Earlier, we learned from Kenji Tanaka’s studies of visual learning about how cells in the temporal lobe alter their perceptual function with experience [training]. Unsurprisingly, the same appears to be valid for musical experience. Zatorre and Peretz reviewed noninvasive imaging studies and concluded not only that the brains of professional musicians have more-pronounced responses to musical information than to those of non-musicians [or non musically oriented], but also that the brains of musicians have a completely different morphology in the area of Heschl’s gyrus. Peter Schneider and his colleagues estimated the volume of gray and white matter in Heschl’s gyrus and found much larger volumes in both temporal lobes in the musicians (see FIGURE N).

017 MusicandBrainMorphology.jpg

FIGURE N. Music and Brain Morphology | (A) At left, a three dimensional cross section through the head showing the primary auditory cortex (AC) in each hemisphere, with the location of auditory evoked potentials shown at red and blue markers. At right, reconstructed dorsal views of the right auditory cortical surface showing the difference in morphology among three people. Heschl’s gyrus is shown in red. (B) Examples from individual brains of musicians (top row) and non-musicians (bottom row) showing the difference in morphology between people who hear fundamental frequency and those who hear spectral pitch. Heschl’s gyrus is bigger on the left in the former group and bigger on the right in the latter group. Note: Heschl’s gyrus is bigger overall in the musicians. (From: Schneider, Sluming, Roberts, Scherg, Goebel, Specht, Dosch, Bleeck, Stippich and Rupp, 2005).

These gray matter differences are positively correlated with musical proficiency, i.e. the greater the gray-matter volume, the greater the musical ability. It has also been revealed that fundamental-pitch listeners exhibit a pronounced leftward asymmetry of gray-matter volume in Hechl’s gyrus, whereas spectral-pitch listeners have a rightward asymmetry, independent of musical training (see FIGURE N (B)). The results of these studies from Schneider imply that innate differences in brain morphology are related to the way in which pitch is processed and that some of the innate differences are related to musical ability. Practice and experience with music seem likely to be related to anatomical differences in the temporal cortex as well, however the relation may be difficult to demonstrate without brain measurements before and after intense training in music.

Although the role of the temporal lobes in music is vital [similar to language which is also distributed in the frontal lobe], music perception and performance also include the inferior frontal cortex in both hemispheres. Sluming et al. (2002) have demonstrated that professional orchestral musicians have significantly more gray matter in Broca’s area on the left. Such frontal-lobe effect may be related to similarities in aspects of expressive output in both language and music. The main point however, is that music likely has widespread effects on the brain’s morphology and function that science has only started to unravel.

018 NeanderthalBoneFlute

This bone flute found in Hohle Fels cave is believed to be around 43, 000 years old and comes as evidence that, like modern humans, Neanderthals likely had complementary hemispheric specialisation for music and language, which means that these abilities seem to have biological & evolutionary roots. While this assumption seems obvious for language, it comes as less obvious for music, which has often been perceived as an artifact of culture. However considerable evidence suggests that humans are born with a predisposition for music processing. Young infants display learning preferences for musical scales and are biased towards perceiving the regularity (such as harmonics) on which music is built. One of the strongest evidence for favouring the biological basis of music is that a surprising number of humans are tone deaf, a condition known as congenital amusia. It is believed that these amusic types of humans have an abnormality in their neural networks for music, and no amount of musical training leads to a cure. [Credit: Jensen / University of Tubingen]


Asymmetry of Temporal-Lobe Function

Epileptiform abnormalities have often been linked to sensitive temporal lobes, and the surgical removal of the abnormal temporal lobe tends to benefit patients suffering from epilepsy. These surgical cases have also allowed neuropsychologists to study the complementary specialisation of the right and left temporal lobes.

From a comparison of the effects of right and left temporal lobectomy by Brenda Milner and her colleagues, it has been revealed that specific memory defects vary depending on the side of the lesion. Deficits in non-verbal memory (e.g. faces) is associated to damage to the right temporal lobe, and deficits in verbal memory to the left temporal lobe.

In a similar sense, right temporal lesions would be associated with deficits in processing certain aspects of music, while left temporal lesions would be associated with deficits in processing speech sounds. However, much remains to be learnt and discovered regarding the relative roles of the left and right temporal lobes in social and affective behaviour. Right, but not left, temporal-lobe damage/lesions lead to impairments in the recognition of faces and facial expressions; so it seems fairly obvious that these two sides play different roles in social cognition. From experience, clinical cases suggest that left and right temporal lobe lesions have different effects on personality. Liegeois-Chauvel and colleagues studied musical processing in large groups of patients with temporal lobectomies, and confirmed that injury to right superior temporal gyrus impairs various aspects of processing necessary for the discrimination of melodies. Furthermore, a dissociation between the roles of the posterior and anterior regions of the superior temporal gyrus on different aspects of music processing suggest their relative localisation within the superior temporal gyrus.

Hence, it would be incorrect to assume that the removal of both temporal lobes merely doubles the symptoms of damage seen in unilateral temporal lobectomy. Bilateral temporal-lobe removal produces dramatic effects on both memory and affect that are orders of magnitude greater than those observed subsequent to unilateral lesions.

*****

References

  1. Fuster, J.M. & Jervey, J.P. (1982). Neuronal firing in the inferotemporal cortex of the monkey in a visual memory task. Journal of Neuroscience. 2, 361-375
  2. Kolb, B. and Whishaw, I. (2009). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology. NY: Worth Publishers
  3. Liegeois-Chauvel, C., Peretz, I., Babai, M., Laguitton, V., and Chauvel, P. (1998). Contribution of different cortical areas in the temporal lobes to music processing. Brain. 121, 1853-1867.
  4. Perrett, D. I., Harries, M. H., Benson, P. J., Chitty, A. J. & Mistlin, A. J. (1990). Retrieval of structure from rigid and biological motion: An analysis of the visual responses of neurones in the macaque temporal cortex. In A. Blake & T. Troscianko, Eds. AI and the Eye. New York: Wiley
  5. Tanaka, J. W. (2004). Object categorisation, expertise and neural plasticity. In M.S. Gazzaniga, Ed. The Cognitive Neurosciences III, 3rd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press
  6. Tanaka, K. (1993). Neuronal Mechanism of object recognition. Science, 262, 685-688

 

Updated July, 2nd, 2017 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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