Thursday, 17 May 2018

Exploring Culture and Experience

A workshop, entitled “Exploring Culture and Experience: choosing methodologies in qualitative research”, took place at Aston University on the 26th of April 2018. This brief report is written by two of the organisers, William Day (graduate teaching assistant/PhD student in Psychology at Aston) and Tiago Moutela (research assistant/PhD student at Aston). Most of the talks were recorded, and are linked to at the end this write-up.

This workshop was organised by members of the interdisciplinary, interuniversity, group Phenomenology of Health and Relationships (PHaR). PHaR meets bi-monthly at Aston University to read, discuss and share insights into any work which brings a phenomenological focus to the study of health and illness. We are especially interested in understanding the relational context of health and illness, and what we might call a 'health relationship.' Together, some members of PHaR successfully submitted an application to a workshop fund ran by the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG).

We had hoped that the rather ‘broad’ scope of the workshop’s focus would enable both the speakers and workshop attendees the freedom and space to talk about their own research, and research interests; whilst exploring the possibilities offered by new and ‘innovative’ ways of collecting and presenting data. Although rooted in psychology, we intended to continue the interdisciplinary ethos of PHaR. As such, delegates from a variety of backgrounds attended including optometry, philosophy and the local police force.

Opening the day, in a talk titled “foregrounding context in qualitative research”, Dr Michael Larkin (Aston University) drew upon a wealth of examples (his son’s spatial explorations of a car being the, perhaps, most memorable) to explain how and why context in qualitative research is the topic of interest rather than a ‘thing’ to be excluded and controlled for. Instead, we should think creatively about how to access the relationship between an individual and their world; how different types of data can bring the different aspects of these relationships to the foreground.

The second talk of the day was by Dr Sarah Seymour-Smith (Nottingham Trent University): “a synthetic discursive approach: research towards the co-production of a prostate cancer mobile application for African Caribbean men”. Speaking candidly about her experiences of data collection, Sarah explored the affect of her status as an ‘outsider’ within a community involved project. Of particular interest were issues experienced around dissemination, where participants actively wanted to be named and credited for their involvement in the project, and responses to perceived positioning (concerns that African Caribbean men were understood as being “homophobic”).

Before lunch we embraced some disciplinary clichés and handed out post-it notes. Attendees were encouraged to briefly write about methodological issues they would like to discuss, before sticking the post-it notes to adjacent walls and finding likeminded individuals. Despite some passing logistical mysteries, the exercise worked well as an ‘ice breaker’: described by one of the delegates as “an academic speed dating event”.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Tripartite Role of Belief

Today's post is written by Kenny Easwaran, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. He received his PhD in 2008 from the Group in Logic and Methodology of Science at UC Berkeley, doing interdisciplinary work on the mathematics and philosophy of conditional probability.

This post is about "The Tripartite Role of Belief" which appeared in Res Philosophica as part of a special issue on Bridging Formal and Traditional Epistemology. This paper and the others in the issue were presented at a workshop at St. Louis University. (The paper can be found here.)

This paper considers three broad accounts of the role belief and related notions play in our lives, and suggests connections between them, and the way that different philosophical literatures have privileged one or another. My focus has been on work in epistemology within the analytic tradition, though there is some interactions with psychology, economics, statistics, and other fields, and I hope the typology I draw can be illuminating to people in other traditions.

The starting point is the observation that belief is not a completely unconstrained activity (like imagination or supposition) but instead has some substantive notion of correctness or value. The classification I give is based on whether the goodness of a belief consists in properly following the evidence (or other "upstream" considerations of how the belief was formed), or whether the goodness of a belief consists in it effectively guiding actions to achieve one's other desires (or other "downstream" roles of how the belief is used), or whether the goodness of a belief consists in accurately representing the world (or any other "static" consideration that is neither properly upstream nor downstream).

I suggest that the history of mainstream analytic epistemology traces a pattern from the upstream considerations, through static ones, to a contemporary rising interest in downstream ones, while the history of formal epistemology moves from a focus on downstream considerations through static ones, to a contemporary growth of interest in upstream ones.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Metacognitive Diversity: Interdisciplinary Approaches

Joëlle Proust is an Emeritus CNRS Director of Research at Institut Jean-Nicod, Ecole Normale Supérieure, in Paris. She published The Philosophy of Metacognition in 2013, and co-edited in 2012 a collective volume entitled The Foundations of Metacognition. In this post, she presents a new collective book co-edited with Martin Fortier, Metacognitive Diversity: Interdisciplinary approaches.

The control and monitoring of one's own cognitive actions is called "metacognition". For example, try to remember Mark Twain's original surname. If you fail to retrieve it immediately, you may have the feeling that you will soon do: you have a "feeling of knowing". Other metacognitive feelings include the feeling of familiarity (when seeing a face), of understanding (an utterance), of being right (in drawing a conclusion) – with their negative versions: unfamiliarity, puzzlement, feeling of error. Other feelings lead you to decide whether or not to perform a task as a function of its apparent ease or difficulty.

Studying such feelings is an important topic for philosophers of mind, because attempting to articulate a state of uncertainty with its target belief leads to revise received views about cognitive architecture. Metacognitive feelings also have a central relevance to epistemology. They raise the question of the nature of the epistemic norms that regulate our feelings of knowing, of understanding, of clearly perceiving an object, and of the role of affect in rationality.

Because metacognitive feelings guide our judgments about what seems true, interesting, cognitively easy to do, (or about what seems boring, incoherent or too difficult for us), they play a considerable role in our daily lives as well as in our epistemic practices. Western philosophers until now have tended to assume that the intuitions they have concerning the meaning of concepts are universally shared across cultures. This assumption is foundational for much of the work conducted in analytic philosophy.

Similarly, cognitive scientists have tended to assume that participants in experi¬mental paradigms belonging to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies ( for short: "WEIRD" participants)  do not differ, in their way of processing information, from the much larger set of participants who do not belong to the "WEIRD" group.  This assumption was proven false in the few domains where it was tested, such as attentional mechanisms and moral cognition. Similarly, in philosophy, conceptual intuitions were found not to be as plainly universal as assumed – but again, few of them have been so far tested across cultures.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Self-deception, Delusions and Responsibility

Quinn Hiroshi Gibson is currently a Teaching Fellow in the Global Perspectives on Society program at New York University Shanghai. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. He works on the moral psychology of self-deception, addiction, delusion, and other psychiatric disorders. His personal website can be found here.

In my recent article ‘Self-deception in and out of Illness: Are some subjects responsible for their delusions?’ I argue that there is significant overlap between self-deception and delusion. Obviously, whether this is true depends on how we think about self-deception. So, in this paper I offer an account of self-deception, which I call Self-deception as Omission. According to my view, self-deception that p occurs if an agent `intentionally omits to seek, recognize, or appreciate externally available evidence for not-p, for reasons which ultimately derive from her desire that that p be true, in a way which enables the maintenance of her belief that p.’

Most other views of self-deception face the difficulty of trying to account for how we get into the self-deceptive state. This is notoriously difficult to do. Three features of the self-deceptive process don’t seem to hang together very well: (1) that it is an intentional process (2) that the ‘self’ that is the agent of the process is unified and (3) that the process yields belief. Other views put pressure on one or more of these features, but often end up harbouring the original difficulty in concealed form.

My view says that it is sufficient for self-deception that the agent is guilty of a certain epistemic violation in the maintenance of her belief, so the self-deceptive state does not depend on coming about through some distinctively self-deceptive process at all. This allows us to sidestep these difficulties altogether. Indeed, I think the only way to decisively respond to such difficulties is to sidestep them altogether. (The argument I am able to offer in this paper for the superiority of my view of self-deception over others is necessarily compressed, but a more complete elaboration and defense of the view is available in my 'Self-deception as Omission’, currently under review, but available as a draft here).

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Bodily Self: Selected Essays

This post is by José Luis Bermúdez, who is Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. His books include The Paradox of Self-Consciousness (MIT Press, 1998), Thinking without Words (OUP, 2003), Rationality and Decision Theory (OUP, 2009), and Understanding “I”: Language and Thought (OUP, 2017).

His current projects include the third edition of his textbook Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind (CUP); and The Power of Frames: New Tools for Rational Thought (to be published by CUP), supported by a fellowship by the American Association of Learned Societies for the 2018-2019 academic year and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend for 2018. In this post he presents his new book: The Bodily Self.

The Bodily Self contains a selection of essays on self-consciousness and bodily awareness written over the two decades since The Paradox of Self-Consciousness came out in 1998. All of the papers have been revised, some extensively so, and one appears here for the first time. The Introduction draws out the principal themes running through the volume, and an Afterword points to new directions.

For many philosophers, self-consciousness is closely tied to language. Think of Kant, for example, and “the ‘I think’ that accompanies all my representations”. For Kant, to be conscious of oneself is to be capable of thinking about oneself in a special way. Kant, like many others, took that special way of thinking of oneself to be coeval with the ability to refer to oneself using the first person pronoun “I” (or its equivalent in other languages).

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How False Memories Can Be a Positive Sign

Today’s post is provided by Project PERFECT Research Fellow Katherine Puddifoot. It introduces the argument of the paper “Epistemic innocence and the production of false memory beliefs” co-authored with Project P.I. Lisa Bortolotti and available open access in Philosophical Studies.

Suppose that your friend tells you an anecdote at a dinner party. She honestly claims to be describing her personal experience but includes details that you told to her after the event. Imagine that your colleague tells you that Tim was at a meeting when he was not but all of the other members of his team were there. Suppose that your brother tells you that he overheard a really good joke on the train the other day, but you are confident that what he is describing is a scene from a recently released film that he has watched. You conclude that he must have imagined being in the scene while watching the film and falsely recalled experiencing the imagined event.

In each of these cases, a person has made a memory error. They have a false memory belief about an event in the past: misremembering who supplied some information, misremembering someone being in a meeting because others relevantly related to them were, or misremembering that something that was merely imagined really occurred. The errors correspond to three errors commonly discussed in the cognitive science literature: the misinformation effect, the DRM illusion and imagination inflation.

A natural response to memory errors of this type is to lower the trust that you place in the person providing the inaccurate information. It is also natural to be pessimistic about whether the person displaying the errors is generally a good source of information, at least about the past. One might conclude on the basis of evidence of memory errors of this type that other people are more likely to be good source of information than the person who made the error.

However, in a recent paper by myself and Lisa Bortolotti, we emphasise the bright side of the memory errors. We show how research from the cognitive sciences implies that the memory errors are the result of the ordinary operation of cognitive mechanisms that often allow us to gain knowledge and understanding and to utilise the information that we have about the world. Building on the cognitive science, we claim that the cognitive mechanisms that produce the memory errors are epistemically innocent.

A cognitive mechanism is epistemically innocent if it brings epistemic costs, preventing the epistemic agent from achieving goals like acquiring new true beliefs, increasing coherence between existing beliefs, gaining and properly using information, but it also brings significant epistemic benefits that would not otherwise be accrued.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Keeping Mood on Track

On 12 March 2018 the project PERFECT team hosted an event for the Arts and Science Festival at the University of Birmingham, entitled: Start, Stop, Pause: Keeping Mood on Track, with the aim of sharing information about bipolar disorder, and the psychological interventions that have proved successful in improving people's quality of life and avoiding their relapse.

The session was led by Lizzie Newton who works as a clinical psychologist on the Mood on Track programme and an expert by experience describing how bipolar disorder impacted on his life, and what his involvement was with the programme. Their joint presentation included information about what bipolar is, about how a diagnosis is made and people can get help, about the Mood on Track programme, and about what we can all do to support people who may be experiencing changes in mood. The session ended with some questions and comments from the audience.

Bipolar disorder presents as a pattern of changes in how people think, feel and behave, and in their physical responses. Between 1% and 5% of the population has bipolar disorder, and more women than men ask for help. People tend to be diagnosed when they are in their twenties. They get this diagnosis when they experience different moods, from mania (high mood) to depression (low mood). They can also get some psychotic symptoms when they have mania or depression, and such symptoms disappear when their mood gets better.

Some people also suffer from anxiety, may have suicidal thoughts, and engage in risky behaviour. Associated with bipolar are not only bad experiences, but also good experiences (especially when mood is high): higher connectedness, creativity, a greater sense of autonomy, and productivity.

Via the recount of a person experience of bipolar, the audience heard that no bipolar presentation is the same, and that there can be big differences from person to person. That is why Mood on Track offers group interaction but ultimately leaves participants with a personalised "get well plan" that they have arrived at with some help, and they prepare to follow. 

The programme is very unique as it offers both psychoeducation and personalised treatment to reduce relapse, improve functioning, and reduce risk. It is 20 years old and in this time it has been very effective and has produced good health outcomes helping people manage their mood and keep on track.

The speakers ended the session asking how we can change attitudes to mental health, and their suggestions are as follows:

1. STOP ignoring mental illness

2. PAUSE to think about mental health

3. START talking and asking about mental health and wellbeing

It was a very informative and engaging session!

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A New Defence of Doxasticism about Delusions

Today's post is by Peter Clutton is a graduate student at the Australian National University School of Philosophy (previously at Macquarie University) working on the nature and taxonomy of delusions.

In my recent article, "A new defence of doxasticism about delusions: The cognitive phenomenological defence", I enter the ongoing debate over whether delusions are beliefs (or whether they are some other, non-doxastic state). I argue that delusions are beliefs, despite the many objections to that view.

It might seem obvious that delusions are beliefs. People with delusions typically insist they believe what they say, and the fact that they do is often the very reason they come to clinical attention in the first place. Indeed, clinical manuals like the DSM define “delusion” as a type of “false belief”.

On the other hand, delusions seem to defy many preconceptions about the nature of belief. For example, we expect people to act on their beliefs, but people with delusions do not always act in expected ways: people with the Capgras delusion insist that their spouse has been replaced by an imposter, and yet they often continue to live with the supposed imposter, and do not to report their “real” spouse missing.

I argue that delusions really are beliefs, despite the fact that they violate these preconceptions about beliefs. I defend what I refer to as a “cognitive phenomenological” account of belief (based on the work of Kriegel), and argue that on this view, delusions are beliefs. On this view, beliefs are defined by the type of experience they involve. When I consider the proposition “snow is white”, for instance, I experience a certain kind of mental assent towards the proposition. That is what it is to believe that snow is white.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Justice and the Meritocratic State

This post is by Thomas Mulligan, a faculty fellow at the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics. He talks about his new book, Justice and the Meritocratic State.

A striking feature of the philosophical debate about justice is that our most popular theories are rejected by the people who would have to live under them.  Since the 1970s, libertarianism and egalitarianism have dominated political philosophy despite being unpalatable to the public; we know, for example, that “empirical studies provide almost no support for egalitarianism, understood as equality of outcomes, or for Rawls’s difference principle” (Konow 2003: 1199).

The goal of this book is to provide a theory of justice that is consonant with human intuition and more conceptually compelling than these competitors on the right and the left. Although you wouldn’t know it from our politics, there is deep normative agreement about the structure of a just economy.  Human beings across lines of gender, race, class, and culture believe that people should get their just deserts.  This is why, for example, if you pay a person less than she thinks she deserves, or more than she thinks she deserves, she is unsatisfied with her compensation.  

That justice is desert has been verified by decades of research in experimental economics, social psychology, neurology, evolutionary history, and other fields.  Rather than reject that consensus, as most philosophers would, I argue that we should embrace it, and agree that “the concepts of moral desert and justice are deeply connected, and one needs the other for a proper definition” (Rustichini and Vostroknutov 2014).

The theory of justice I advance is monistic (justice is desert and nothing else), deontological, and leads to a society that is “meritocratic” in character.  The theory rests on three principles. Principle one: Equal opportunity.  We normally want to say that the fastest runner deserves the medal on the basis of his merit.  

But this is no longer true if the other runners were hobbled before the starting gun went off.  In that case, the winner’s claim to deserve the medal is weakened, if not nullified.  As it goes for races, so too for our economy.  Justice requires that we provide robust public education, healthcare, and other forms of social support to children born into disadvantage, and that no one has a head start owing to inheritance or nepotism.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Distorted Memories and Self-defining Beliefs

In this post I introduce a paper I wrote with Ema Sullivan-Bissett on the epistemic benefits of clinical memory distortions, which recently appeared open access in Mind and Language. It is one of the core outputs of two recent projects, the AHRC-funded Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions and the ERC-funded project PERFECT. The key message in the paper has received some coverage in the press (Medicalxpress, India Blooms, Laboratory Equipment, and Health Canal). 

In Keeping Mum, Marianne Talbot describes how her mother was a great storyteller before she had dementia. One of her best stories was how one day, when she was 14, she was late for school because her mother had just given birth to twins. The headmistress did not believe that that was the reason for being late and punished her, which she felt was a great injustice. When dementia advanced, the story about the twins’ birth ended up being merged with other stories (for instance, other stories about being late for school) and was repeated many times.

Martha, who had Alzheimer's disease, often told the story of how she learnt to drive, and she bought her own car, defying the doubts of her husband and her own family (Hydén & Örulv, 2009). This was something she was presumably very proud of because not many women at the time would have done the same. Aspects of her story were repeated frequently, even during the same conversation, and presented a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

The distorted memories and repetitive scripts in the examples above are epistemically problematic because they involve false beliefs. However, it is important for people with dementia to repeat stories that they find central or even self-defining (the unfairly punished teenager, the defiant woman) even if details in such stories are inaccurate. Why so?

Due to serious impairments in autobiographical memory, people with dementia have been found to lose their identity, having progressively fewer and more vague beliefs about themselves and their past (see the classic Addis and Tippett, 2004) with negative effects on wellbeing. It is particularly challenging for people with dementia to integrate information about their lives before the illness into their current personal narratives. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

False and Distorted Memories

This post is by Robert Nash. Robert A. Nash is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Aston University, and a recent presenter at TEDxBrum. Much of his research is focused on biases and distortions of memory, and their implications in various real-life contexts. In this post, he talks about his recent edited book (with James Ost, University of Portsmouth), entitled False and Distorted Memories.

Psychologists have been writing about and studying the reconstructive properties of memory for more than a century. Nowadays, hundreds of scientific papers are published every year that further propel our understanding of how people use memory to reconstruct the past.

So why, despite all of these decades of studies, do so many of the general public still subscribe to the idea that remembering is infallible, like the re-playing of a video recording? Why hasn’t all this scientific research had a much more tangible influence on what people believe about memory?

In our recent edited book False and Distorted Memories, we proposed that at least three factors may contribute. The first is that mistaken views of memory are difficult to change because they are deeply ingrained, not only individually but also culturally and even linguistically.

The second factor is that it can be uncomfortable for us to suppose that our autobiographical identities, our values and our viewpoints, could be based partly on fiction, and we might therefore intuitively resist entertaining such notions too seriously.

The third factor is that the concept of ‘false memory’ is for many people inexorably linked with controversies around putative memories of childhood trauma, a link that has arguably often skewed discussions of the countless ways—positive and negative—in which distortions of belief and memory touch our remembered lives.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Project PERFECT Year 4 - Michael Larkin

Today's post is provided by Project PERFECT's Co-investigator Michael Larkin from Aston University. In the post he outlines his plans for the coming months of the project.

We’ve had a good start to this final block already, with Rachel Gunn and Magdalena Antrobus both successfully defending their theses at viva before Christmas, and subsequently being awarded their doctorates. I’ve really enjoyed working with Lisa Bortolotti and these two brilliant, creative and insightful researchers. It has been really exciting to see the interdisciplinary nature of their work take on such a distinctive character: I hope that we will see the the benefits of this in future work, post-PERFECT, too. 

In Magdalena’s work, the interdisciplinary quality has taken the form of a very rigorous engagement with existing psychological evidence about the nature and context of low mood. In Rachel’s thesis, it involved conducting interviews, and engaging with phenomenological data, about the experience of unusual beliefs.  One of the things that I’m most looking forward to for this year’s work is finishing the paper that Rachel and I have started, based on some this analysis.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Unhappiness, Sadness and Depression

This post is by Tulio Giraldi. Tulio Giraldi is a researcher and teacher of pharmacology and clinical psychology at the University of Trieste, currently Visiting Professor at the Department of Global Health & Social Science at the King’s College London. 

The topics of his basic and clinical research have been cancer chemotherapy, together with the pharmacology of the central nervous system and the responses to stress. More recently, he has been researching the role of genetic polymorphisms in mental health, and the pharmacogenetics of the response of psychiatric drugs. In this post he talks about his book Unhappiness, Sadness and Depression.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an epidemic of depression is spreading around the world, expected to become by 2020 the second leading cause of world disability and by 2030 to be the largest contributor to disease burden.

The serious concern for depression and antidepressant drugs led me to analyze all the available data and to write this book.What immediately appeared is that melancholic depression, since the time of Greek medicine, is a serious ailment affecting a limited proportion of the population. With the birth in the 60s of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association, melancholic depression was transformed into the “major depressive disorder (MDD)”.

The inclusivity of the DSM diagnostic criteria are consequently responsible for the spread of depression lamented by the WHO. They do not discriminate between morbid conditions, requiring medical attention and intervention, form healthy emotional responses accompanying the adaption to stressful life events. Stressful events, including those caused by the economic crisis, occur with a worrying increasing frequency in the globalized society of today.

Just one citation can support and illuminate this perspective, and it is the title of the book written by Allen Frances, the American who chaired the task force that produced the fourth revision of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) and became critical of the current version, DSM-5. The title is: “Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.”

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

What Makes Delusions Pathological?

Today’s post is provided by Jorge Gonçalves of IFILNOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL) and the Lisbon Mind & Reasoning Group (group included in IFILNOVA). In this post he provides a summary of his chapter "Why are delusions pathological?" in Hipólito, I., Gonçalves, J. Pereira, J. G. Schizophrenia and Common Sense: explaining the relation between madness and social values.

The aim of the article is to identify a characteristic of delusions: that which makes them pathological. This aim may appear a bit strange at first because one believes that delusions just are a pathological alteration of the mind. However, some authors have shown that although pathological delusions are the most studied, not all delusions have necessarily harmful consequences for the delirious subject or for others. Hence, it seems pertinent to question what makes delusions a pathological state.

“Pathological” is here understood as that which damages the subject (not that which deviates from the norm). Delusions are defined in DSM-5 as “false beliefs” but some have been argued that delusions are not beliefs but another kind of mental state. Here I adopt a model – the Multiple Realities Model - that considers delusions as experiences, not beliefs. But at the same time I admit the two perspectives are not incompatible.

The Phenomenological Multiple Realites Model of Schütz/Gallagher maintains that everyday reality is not the only reality in which consciousness can be found. There are several realities, each having a different cognitive style. Usually the so-called “accent of reality” is placed on everyday reality, which is the paramount reality. In this reality, we accept the given world without questioning it, without questioning its reality. But Schütz refers to and analyzes other realities, highlighting their relationship with everyday reality: the worlds of fantasies, dreams, scientific theory, art, children’s game, and the insane. Gallagher includes here “delusion”.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Global Challenges in Mental Health: Children in Crisis

On 9th January at the Royal Society of Medicine an event took place, Global Mental Health: Children in Crisis

The first speaker, Vikram Patel (Harvard Medical School), presented a lecture on how to prevent mental health problems in children. He highlighted the importance of linking epidemiological and neuroscientific data. From en epidemiological perspective, deprivation is a very significant risk factor for mental health problems, comparable to what smoking is for lung cancer. And most mental health probelms begin before the age of 24. From a neuroscientific perspective, the brain is very plastic in young adulthood. The prefrontal region of the brain (linked to executive decision making) matures 5-8 years later than the limbic region (linked to basic emotional reactions).

Adversities associated with poor developmental outcomes include:
  • Malnutrition
  • Stressors
  • Infections
  • War and displacement
  • Parental ill-health
  • Abuse
The need for responsive parents and the experience of stressors (especially toxic stress, continuous state of stress without support by adults) determine the architecture of the brain and shape brain circuitry (Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University). We need nurturing, stable and engaging enviroments for children to develop.

Vikram Patel

Theresa Betancourt

So risks factors for mental health issue are primarily (1) missing interactions with relevant adults and (2) excessive, prolonged stress. How these factors impact on health depends on the life stage of the child, whether the adversities occur in the first five years of the child's life or later on in adolescence.

In the first 5 years of life, home, school, and neighbourhood are the most significant environments. Structured play has a very strong impact on the wellbeing of young children. Children whose parents play engagingly with them become better educated, more healthy adults, and they go on to earn more than children who did not receive the same attention.

The principles of structured play are:
  • follow the child
  • use everyday objects
  • stimulate all senses
We know now much more than we previously did about the adolescent brain. The prefrontal cortex matures well after the limbic system and that is why juveniles in all species, not just humans, are more risk-taking. In the face of social adversities, teenagers are more vulnerable. Adversities include family disruption, early age of puberty, violence in the community, digital world, use of alcohol and energy drinks, rigid social norms about gender and life choices.

Interventions at this stage cover parental involvement, activities promoting agency and participation in schools, focus on emotional competence, reducing exposure to harmful behaviours (substance abuse). Interventions that aim at enhancing agency in young people and improving school climate have the following goals:
  • Promoting social skills
  • Engaging young people in decisions
  • Making information accessible
  • Enhancing problem solving skills
Interventions with the goals above have been shown to reduce bullying and depressive symptoms. But the problems with the current programmes are that interventions are fragmented and episodic and the focus tends to be on specific behaviours and risks. Moreover, there is a lack of youth leadership and engagement, and a lack of coordination across sectors.

To try and overcome some of these issues there is a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement initiative in India inviting young people to talk openly about they feel:

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Conceptual Centrality and Implicit Bias

Today's post introduces Guillermo Del Pinal and Shannon Spaulding's paper, "Conceptual Centrality and Implicit Bias", published in Mind and Language.

Guillermo Del Pinal is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Leibniz-ZAS, Berlin. He works in the philosophy of language, mind and cognitive science. His main area of research is the relation between language and general cognition, focusing on topics such as the degree of modularity of language, and the role of natural logic within the language system.

Shannon Spaulding is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Oklahoma State University. Her general philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, philosophical psychology, and the philosophy of science. The principal goal of her research is to construct a philosophically and empirically plausible account of social cognition. She also has research interests in imagination, pretense, and action theory.

How are biases encoded in our representations of social categories? Current discussions of implicit bias overwhelmingly focus on salient associations between target features and representations of social categories. Salient associations track the prominence or availability of an association between a category (e.g., WOMAN) and a feature (e.g., +FAMILY ORIENTED). These are the sorts of associations probed by the Implicit Association Test and similar priming tasks. While these kinds of associations likely encode biases which affect judgment and behavior, we believe that other kinds of biases may affect social cognition in more dramatic ways.

In Del Pinal and Spaulding (2018), we argue that some social biases are likely encoded in the dependency networks that are part of our representations of social categories. Dependency networks encode information about the inter-dependencies and degree of centrality of features in a conceptual representation. For example, +MADE FOR SITTING is a central feature of CHAIR because various other features of chairs depend on their being made for sitting. Importantly, that a feature is central for a category doesn’t entail that it is also salient: +MADE FOR SITTING, although central, need not be more salient than other (less central) features such as +HAS A BACK or +FOUR LEGS. In our view, many socially relevant biases are likely encoded in dependency networks, and can’t be picked out by measures that track merely salient or typical features.

Why does this matter? Why should we care about how, precisely, biases are encoded? Here is why …

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Knowing Emotions

This post is by Rick Furtak.  Rick Anthony Furtak is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colorado College, where he has taught for over twelve years. In addition to the philosophy of emotions, his other main area of focus is existential thought. He is also a poet and translator who is interested in the literary aspects of philosophy and the philosophical significance of literature. In this post, he talks about his new book Knowing Emotions.

This book investigates the question of how our emotions can enable us to know.  It claims that human emotions are not just feelings of physiological disturbance: rather, they are experiences in which we apprehend significant matters of concern.  When Pascal noted that the heart has its own reasons, he indicated that our dispassionate rational faculty alone cannot grasp what is revealed in our affective experience.  Knowing Emotions seeks to explain why human emotions are indeed capable of making us aware of significant truths that we could not know by any other means.

Recent philosophical and interdisciplinary research on the emotions has been dominated by a renewal and further development of the debate over how best to characterize the intentionality of emotions as well as their bodily character.  In Knowing Emotions, I argue that intentionality and feeling are not two discrete parts of affective experience, but conceptually distinguishable aspects of a single unified response.  My account captures how an emotion’s phenomenal or “felt” quality (what it is like) is related to its intentional content (what it is about).

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

What Makes a Belief Delusional?

In December 2016 an exciting volume entitled Cognitive Confusions: Dreams, Delusions and Illusions in Early Modern Culture has been published by Legenda. The book, edited by Ita McCarthy, Kirsty Sellevold and Olivia Smith, contains a chapter authored by Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Rachel Gunn and myself on the challenges we face when we want to tell delusional beliefs apart from other beliefs.

We start with the standard DSM definition of delusions, and explain that clinical delusions are characterised by surface features of two kinds, epistemic (fixity, implausibility) and psychological (negative impact on functioning). Then we ask whether we can decide whether a type of belief is delusional by using those criteria. We consider three cases of belief that match at least some of the criteria: the belief that some thoughts have been inserted in one's mind by a third party; the belief that one has been abducted by aliens; and the belief that one is better than average at just about everything.

Discussing the similarities and differences among such beliefs -- Are they based on evidence? Are they common or rare? Do they bring any benefit? Do they help explain anomalous experience? -- is relevant to two projects that have been featured on this blog before: the Costs and Benefits of Optimism project and the PERFECT project. In the end, our goal is to show that neither the epistemic nor psychological features mentioned in the definition of delusions can help us sort delusional beliefs from non-delusional ones. Some delusions do not meet the criteria and some beliefs that we would not class as delusions do.

Rachel Gunn (who successfully completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham, working on delusions) examines the phenomenon of thought insertion by using very interesting first-person reports by people who used internet forums to share their unusual experiences. She observes that the experience affects people in different ways. For some but not for all the thought is felt like an unwelcome intrusion. For some but not for all the content of the thought also generates a compulsion to think or do certain things. Thought insertion is regarded as a symptom of schizophrenia, but whether it involves a pathological experience, whether it is a delusional belief, or whether it is harmful cannot be established without reflecting on the specifics of the individual case.

Here is one of the first-person reports Rachel analyses:
i truly do have unwanted thoughts that are forced into my head from somewhere... I mean I will have a thought saying my grandmother is a bitch. I would never ever think of my grandmother as a bitch. She is one of the greatest women I know and I adore her. So how is that a delusion? It is an intrusive thought! I sure didnt imagine it!.... i really do not think my grandmother is a bitch. i think these thoughts are evil and came from an evil being. Some thoughts however that pop into my head all of a sudden are my own thoughts and i can recognize that even though they are unwanted, but some are just plain ridiculous and mean and i know must be from an outside force. 
Star-28, ‘Forum’, Mental Health Forum (2010)

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Unbelievable Errors

This post is by Bart Streumer. Bart Streumer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Groningen. In this post he introduces his book Unbelievable Errors, which has recently been published by Oxford University Press.

Widespread beliefs can be systematically mistaken. Take religious beliefs: if God does not exist, these beliefs are all mistaken. But you may think that some widespread beliefs cannot be mistaken in this way. For example, consider normative judgements: our beliefs about what is right or wrong, or about what there is reason to do or to believe. Could these beliefs be systematically mistaken?

In my book Unbelievable Errors, I argue that they are. I argue that normative judgements ascribe normative properties, but that these properties do not exist. This means that all normative judgements are false. For example, the belief that stealing is wrong ascribes the property of being wrong to stealing, but this property does not exist, which means that this belief is false. The belief that stealing is permissible ascribes the property of being permissible to stealing, but this property does not exist either, which means that this belief is false as well. And similar claims apply to all other normative judgements.

The view I defend in the book is known as ‘error theory’. Some philosophers accept such a theory about moral judgements. But the error theory about all normative judgements that I defend may seem so bizarre as to be simply incredible. I agree. For in addition to defending the error theory, I also argue that we cannot believe this theory. If I am right that the theory is true of judgements about reasons for belief, the theory entails that there is no reason to believe the theory. I therefore think that we only really believe the error theory if we believe that there is no reason to believe the theory. And I argue that we cannot do this: we cannot have a belief while at the same time believing that there is no reason for this belief. If so, it follows that we cannot believe the error theory.

If I am right that we cannot believe the error theory, the arguments I give in my book cannot convince anyone that this theory is true. That is why I have called the book  Unbelievable Errors. But the fact that an argument cannot convince us does not show that this argument is unsound. Moreover, I argue that our inability to believe the error theory actually makes the theory more likely to be true, since it helps to answer objections to the theory, it makes it harder to reject the arguments for the theory, and it undermines revisionary alternatives to the theory. I therefore think that our inability to believe the error theory is an advantage rather than a problem for the theory.

When we have mistaken beliefs, it is normally possible for us to see that these beliefs are mistaken. But this may not always be possible. If I am right, our normative judgements are systematically mistaken in a way that we are unable to see.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Paradoxical Self

Today's post is by Clara Humpston. Clara is a Research Associate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London.

Not long ago I completed my PhD from Cardiff University and this paper was first written a couple of years ago when I was a PhD student there.

My PhD research focused on the pathogenesis of psychotic symptoms and adopted a cognitive neuropsychiatric approach by incorporating behavioural and phenomenological investigations. In my second post for Imperfect Cognitions, I summarise my most recent theoretical paper on the paradoxical nature of self-awareness in schizophrenia, published in Philosophical Psychology.

The primary manifestations of schizophrenia in my opinion, are basic self-disturbances leading to the adoption of a solipsistic lifeworld that provides fertile ground for the development of psychotic phenomena such as first-rank symptoms. First-rank symptoms are often disruptions of one’s ego-boundary: that is, one’s demarcation between the internal and external worlds, between self and other. This paper aims to provide an integrated account of the structure of self-disorders found in schizophrenia and shed further light on the issues of paradoxicality and solipsism which are often overlooked or ignored in the clinic.

Contemporary theorists such as Louis Sass and Josef Parnas have further disentangled anomalous self-experience (‘ipseity disturbance’, from Latin ipse – ‘self’) into a combination of factors termed ‘hyperreflexivity’ and ‘diminished self-affection’, which is a dominant theory which has guided many others’ pursuits in this matter. According to Sass and Parnas, ipseity is the most fundamental, pre-reflective and vital level of the broadly defined ‘sense of self’ and concerns the ‘experiential sense of being a vital and self-identical subject of experience or first-person perspective on the world’ which is tacit and property-less, but forms the very foundation of other more complex levels of the self.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Real Hallucinations

This post is by Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor for Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Vienna, Austria. Ratcliffe also leads the Phenomenological Psychopathology and Philosophy of Psychiatry research group. Most of his recent work addresses issues in phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychiatry. He is the author of: Rethinking Commonsense Psychology: A Critique of Folk Psychology, Theory of Mind and Simulation (Palgrave, 2007), Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality (Oxford University Press, 2008), and Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology (Oxford University Press, 2015).

In this post Ratcliffe presents a review of his most recent book Real Hallucinations: Psychiatric Illness, Intentionality and the Interpersonal World.

When we perceive something, we seldom wonder whether we are actually perceiving it rather than imagining or remembering it. Perceptual experience ordinarily incorporates a pre-reflective sense of perceiving, an observation that applies equally to other types of intentional states. For instance, what we imagine is usually experienced as imagined. In Real Hallucinations, I develop an account of what this sense of being in an intentional state consists of, through an exploration of various changes in the structure of intentionality that can occur in psychiatric illness.

One might think that the sense of being in one or another type of intentional state is easy enough to characterize: it is a matter of experiential content. Certain aspects of perceptual content are specific to perception in one or another modality; aspects of imagined content are specific to one or another type of imagining; and so forth. However, I show that this cannot be the case, as sense and content are dissociable. To do so, I offer a detailed examination of thought insertion (TI) and auditory verbal hallucination (AVH). I argue that many of those experiences referred to as TI and/or AVH involve a sense of perceiving something, but without the usual perceptual content.

An experiential content resembling that of inner speech, autobiographical memory, or some form of imagination comes to be associated with the sense of encountering something perceptually. In such cases, the sense of perceiving is usually incomplete and often conflicted, resulting in an intrinsically strange experience that stands out as distinct from mundane forms of intentionality. I go on to show how experiences like this tend to arise in the context of much more pervasive but less pronounced disturbances of the structure of intentionality. This approach, I suggest, also applies to many other anomalous experiences that are labeled as “delusions” and “hallucinations”.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Taxonomising Delusions

Colin Klein

We are philosophers working on various topics that intersect with delusions. Colin Klein works on the philosophy of neuroscience and the application of interventionist accounts of causation to this area, and has also discussed the relation between psychopathologies like somatoparaphenia and his theory of pain. Stephen Gadsby works on distorted body representations and false body size beliefs in anorexia nervosa. And Peter Clutton has defended the doxastic status of delusions—offering a cognitive phenomenological account of delusions (forthcoming)—and explored the status of delusions on the harmful dysfunction account.

Peter Clutton

Any discussion of delusions needs some criteria by which patients are grouped together as having the same delusion. In our paper, ‘Taxonomising Delusions: content or aetiology?’, we compare content-based and aetiological taxonomies of delusions, arguing in favour of the latter.

Stephen Gadsby

Most authors taxonomise delusions by the content of the delusional belief: Capgras patients believe that their spouse has been replaced by an imposter, Cotard’s delusion involves the belief that one is dead, and so on. Taxonomising by belief content has intuitive appeal. Content is often what brings patients to clinical attention in the first place, and may be all a researcher has to work with. Additionally, content appears to offer a theory-neutral starting point, in that it does not presuppose any particular theoretical explanation of the underlying causes of delusions.

We argue that these intuitive advantages are not as strong as they seem, and that an aetiological taxonomy is to be preferred: that is, we think that patients ought to be grouped by the causes of their delusions, rather than by what they believe. An aetiological taxonomy has the advantage of supporting the kinds of empirical generalisations we want from scientific taxonomies. Good taxonomies identify similarities among group members that manifest across a variety of distinct circumstances. In studying the cognitive processes that lead to delusions (and thereby learning about the normal processes of cognition, as cognitive neuropsychiatrists aim to do), we want discoveries about one patient to guide our thinking about other patients we encounter with the same problem. Taxonomising delusions by their underlying cognitive causes allows for just such projectability.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Philosophy of Mind Workshop Series

Does philosophy have a purpose outside academia? What does philosophy look like when it’s done beyond the walls of the lecture theatre and the seminar room? And who should get to do it? I got to think quite a bit about these questions recently. It was back at the start of 2017 that I travelled to London to meet some of the senior team from mental health charity Mind in Camden to discuss the possibility of developing a series of philosophy workshops, based on project PERFECT’s research, and running them at Mind in Camden, for people with lived experience of unusual beliefs and experiences, and mental distress, as well as for service providers and mental health advocates.

Mind in Camden runs training, support and capacity building services to benefit people who are struggling with mental distress, and I saw commonalities between its values and the sorts of conceptions of mental health and rationality that we’re arguing for through PERFECT. So, the organisation was a natural partner in this collaboration. 

The idea of the workshop series was this: in groups of around 10, we would learn some philosophical techniques, and set up a receptive space for debate in which to exercise these, and then, drawing on aspects of PERFECT’s research, and inviting reflection on lived experience, we would explore and critique different theories of mental health and rationality.

It’s the first time I’ve done something like this with project PERFECT. As I sat on the 29, chugging up Marylebone Road, on my way to the first session, I did wonder to myself: would any of this be of any use – or interest – to Mind in Camden’s members?

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Dissociative Identity Disorder, Ambivalence and Responsibility

Today's post is by Michelle Maiese, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Emmanuel College in Boston, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on topics in philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychiatry, and moral psychology.

There has been debate among philosophers about how to address issues of responsibility in cases where subjects suffer from dissociative identity disorder (DID). If one personality commits a wrongful act of which another was unaware, should we regard this individual as responsible for her actions? If we regard DID as a case in which multiple persons inhabit a single body, it may seem natural to conclude that each alter is a separate agent and that one alter is not responsible for the actions of another. However, in “Dissociative Identity Disorder, Ambivalence, and Responsibility", I argue that even once we acknowledge that a subject with DID is a single person, there are still serious reasons to question the extent to which she is responsible for her actions.

This is because a subject suffering from DID often will find it difficult to exercise autonomous agency. This individual cannot control the slide into one or another alter-state, and once she is in that state, she will lack awareness of many considerations favoring a particular course of action. In addition, due to disturbances in memory and self-awareness, the subject with DID is either incapable of remembering prior decisions, or incapable of being properly motivated by them. Even if a subject decides on a course of action, other desires and priorities may ‘take over’ once she switches to a different alter-personality. Also, there may be so much psychological fragmentation and memory loss that it becomes difficult for her to foresee what she will do or assess the long-term consequences of her actions.

I argue that these impairments in agency are the direct result of extreme ambivalence: young children who develop DID experience extreme inner conflict regarding emotional needs to which they feel deeply attached. Suppose that Sue hates her mother and wants her to die, but also loves her mother and wants to have a close relationship with her. Rationality demands that Sue alter her desires appropriately. However, suppose that Sue feels so strongly attached to both of these conflicting desires that there is no way to achieve a well-integrated, unified perspective. What allows her to avoid crumbling under the pressure of inner contradictions is the belief that her conflicting mental states belong to separate selves. That is, she both accepts certain desires and tries to rid herself of them, and those desires that seem like ‘unacceptable intruders’ are handed off to an alter-personality. This ‘handing-off’ of desires and actions thus can be understood as Sue’s attempt to mask contradictions and manage inner conflict. Although extreme dissociation may intensify emotional disturbance over the long-term, it may be in Sue’s short-term interests in the sense that it allows her to compartmentalize painful feelings and memories.

Such compartmentalization can be paralyzing or lead to other disruptions of agency. It is notable that “competing” alter-personalities often vie for control of the body. For example, alters sometimes intervene in the lives of other alters by destroying their school work, spending their money, or hiding their things. This lack of a coherent will also is evidenced via the phenomenon of waverings, when one alter attempts to do something that is directly at odds with the goals and intentions of another. Such struggles for control should be understood as the outward signs of inner conflict. Because the subject with DID suffers from persistent and pervasive ambivalence, she does not form an integrated will and is largely incapable of restructuring it. Since her concerns and attitudes are not integrated, she is unable to arrive at an ‘all-things-considered’ judgment about what it would be best to do

If it is true that subjects with DID suffer from extreme ambivalence of the sort I describe, then it would be a mistake to regard them as responsible for their wrongful actions in the same way that we regard ordinary adults as responsible. However, although autonomy and responsibility are eroded in such cases, they do not disappear altogether. If such a subject behaves wrongfully, there certainly is ‘part’ of her that wanted to do so, and thus, the action is attributable to her. Furthermore, even if she cannot exercise self-determination, it is important to acknowledge that her overall capacity for autonomous agency remains intact. This means there may be steps she can and should take to attempt to restore her autonomy or prevent any immoral actions from occurring.