Ktismatics

10 September 2008

Disambiguation: Cognitivism

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:56 am

I feel the need to distinguish between cognitive psychology on the one hand and cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT on the other.

Cognitive psychology is a research paradigm within empirical psychology. Emerging in the sixties, the cognitive paradigm recognizes that human psychology cannot be reduced to the stimulus-response mechanisms of behaviorism, which had previously dominated American academic psychology. Even though it’s impossible for one person to gain direct access to the inner workings of the human mind, it is possible to infer them; e.g., by looking at intermediate steps in solving a complex problem, by identifying and interpreting the types of errors people tend to make, by analyzing how people use language to understand and to communicate, by the systematic analysis of self-report data, by exploring motivations and emotional responses to performance, even by looking at MRI images of brain function while individuals are performing mental tasks. In historical continuity with psychological empiricism, cognitive researchers rely on the usual techniques: defining tasks and variables as precisely as possible, systematically collecting data from individual subjects, analyzing the aggregate via inferential statistics, comparing observed versus hypothesized results. Cognitivists, many of whom draw explicit analogies between human and machine information processing, also like to construct computer simulations of their models of human cognition.

CBT as a therapeutic paradigm also grew out of behaviorism. Like its research counterpart, therapeutic cognitivism acknowledges that humans have internal states and processes which intervene between stimulus and response. In CBT, emotional disorders like depression and anxiety both cause and result from the individual’s inability to do what she really wants to do. Instead of merely trying to change the client’s behaviors, though, the cognitive-behavioral therapist tries to change the attitudes and beliefs that drive behavior. In particular, CBT tries to identify “irrational” cognitions that get in the way of the client doing what she wants to do. CBT the relationship between therapist and client is meant to emulate that between psychological researcher and research subject. The therapist collects data about the client’s symptoms, using the data to assign the client to one or more diagnostic categories. Throughout the course of treatment the therapist and client together identify mismatches between what the client wants to do and what she actually does, between consciously espoused attitudes/beliefs that align with what the client wants and those maladaptive or irrational attitudes/beliefs that keep the client from doing what she wants. Systematic attempts are made to strengthen those cognitions that are most likely to lead to the desired behaviors. Direct attempts to modify behavior are also part of treatment, but always in conjunction with “attitude adjustment.” Success in therapy is evaluated by improvement in psychological disorder (as measured by pre-post changes in symptom checklists) and by client self-reported changes in cognitions and behaviors.

While CBT takes on the language and trappings of cognitive psychological research, it’s not really based on research findings. While it’s possible to identify statistical relationships between attitudes and behaviors, and while it’s possible to build hypothetical causal models linking particular attitudes to particular behaviors, these findings and models apply to very tightly constrained experimental tasks rather than to real-world complexities. Further, there’s precious little compelling research evidence to support CBT’s core contention that systematically tinkering with subjects’ attitudes will result in their becoming more successful in behaving the way they’d like to or in improving their emotional state. In my view, with its performance measurements and goal-setting activities and best practices for achieving goals, CBT has more in common with corporate managerial techniques than with cognitive psychological research.

For most psychological disorders, empirical studies of therapeutic outcomes detect no significant differences between CBT and pretty much any other therapeutic praxis in reducing clients’ symptoms. Even untrained non-professionals who enter into an ongoing supportive relationship with the client get results comparable to the pros. It should be noted, though, any sort of “therapeutic alliance,” whether professional or amateur, CBT or alternative, achieves much better symptom reduction than does “watchful waiting.”

Advertisements

17 Comments »

  1. Emerging in the sixties, the cognitive paradigm recognizes that human psychology cannot be reduced to the stimulus-response mechanisms of behaviorism, which had previously dominated American academic psychology…

    you know I did pass my methodology of psycho research I and with a good grade, too. The organismic variable they introduced in that time, the S-(O)-R schema, still leaves the O-variable pretty much a black box, where the input and the output matters more than the organism’s internal/intrinsic qualities. And like behaviorists they observe psychoanalysis with suspicion because the Unconscious can’t be proven.

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 10 September 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  2. I think we’ve had this disagreement before, and since you’re unpersuadable by empirical evidence we’ll have to live in parallel universes on this one. But through intuition and clinical insight I know what you mean and can relate. There are aspects of the psychoanalytic idea that probably are outside the purview of empiricism. E.g., is the unconscious structured like a language, populated by signifiers without signifieds? It’s hard to picture how one would subject that hypothesis to empirical test. Has the human self always-already lost something? Does language kill the Real? These are metaphysical, even theological, statements.

    Here’s some empirical findings that tap into the unconscious: Individuals perceived as leaders in groups are less likely to laugh or to use first-person pronouns in their speech. It’s unlikely that the leaders are consciously speaking this way, or that followers are consciously looking for non-laughing, non-self-referring people to follow. Where in the unconscious do people attend to this sort of information about others, and how do they connect it attitudinally to leader-follower dynamics? That’s perhaps impossible to determine without radically improved brain scan technologies, but even if you could find the neural pathways I’m not sure how much that would add to understanding. You can picture consultants to business and political leaders teaching them not to laugh so much and not to refer directly to themselves. (What do these findings suggest about a parodist who talks about himself a lot?)

    I (1st person singular) don’t want to return either to empirical psychology or to theology, nor do I want to become expert in philosophy or cultural studies or whatever. Fiction and movies offer more enlightenment about what people are really like, what lives are like, than do these more theoretical and scientific disciplines. Actually listening to other people might be even better if most people weren’t so boringly similar to each other. One needs to cultivate a palate for subtle personal nuances in order to find every individual fascinating.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 10 September 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  3. A classic and well-known psychoanalytic response to cognitivism would be that the attempt to ”infer” the content of the ”black box” is in itself mediated by language (as though the cognitivist tries to block out the existence of the possibility of a threatening x-factor that might usurp his graphs, models and calculations). In fact as soon as you start investing so much effort in constructing a model, you’re already trapped by mediation i.e. language. Do you see what I mean?

    I nominated you for the best bottom blawg ambassador award at this year’s Parody Oscar but I don’t think you’ll win until the link to the Parody Center is fully restored.

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 10 September 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  4. “Trapped by language” is already an analytic and especially a Lacanian framework — a sense that language kills the Real it attempts to describe. It becomes a futile paradox for the language-user to describe anything, regardless of whether that language is analytical or empirical or even literary, leaving the task of encountering the Real to the musician, the graphic artist, the dancer, the athlete, the murderer, the madman…

    If I tell you to go fuck yourself with the statuette am I disqualified? No, I suppose not — just asking is a bottom behavior I’m sure. By the way, one day earlier this week I told two different people to go fuck themselves and to shove something up their ass — not on blogs, but face to face. I apologized of course.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 10 September 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  5. I don’t see how the first paragraph is an answer to the critique, when making a scientific model you use scientific language, and purely logically without any resort to psychoanalysis that model can only ever be semi-objective and testable because it is mediated by that scientific language. There is hardly any way of escaping language in human sciences. But also when you say ”inference” – if something is inferred, it implies a realm beyond symbolization so it’s sort of like the cognitive paradigm is implicitly acknowledging the existence of a ”something” beyond the input and the output.Then after that it becomes foolish going on pretending that that ”something” doesn’t exist.

    I never tried putting a statuette in my ass, or any other immobile objects, except for one dildo session which ended sadly because I didn’t like the feeling of being inserted with something inanimate that doesn’t belong to a human being.

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 10 September 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  6. I’ve tried to make the case elsewhere that scientific language, including the statistical relationships that constitute the grammar of the language, at least describe real phenomena even if they don’t represent the real directly. Human behaviors can be described in scientific language, as can interactions among inanimate objects. Natural language too can describe non-linguistic phenomena. So I don’t see why the unconscious can’t be described scientifically. The unconscious can only be inferred, but the same can be said for consciousness. There is no direct observation of consciousness: it can only be inferred through language, behavior, brain activity, and other observable manifestations. The inferred entity behind the observables can be described but that description might not capture the real essence of the thing. So scientists can describe a black hole or a neutrino or an extinct dinosaur even though they’ve never actually seen one directly. I agree though that scientific language through its very precision ignores nuance and individual difference, much as in your animation examples the precisely-drawn figure is unable to capture that which the hesitant or indistinct line does better.

    “There is no sexual relation” is the sort of paradoxical statement that tries to dissociate language even from observable phenomena. While it’s possible to parse out what Lacan means by such an assertion, it reveals the sort of pessimism that I regard not just as discouraging but as occupying some realm of existence that denies both material and emotional experience. I think both the scientific and the common-sense meaning of “sexual relation” is closer to the Real of it than Lacan’s adumbration. However, Lacan is trying to use language to achieve other purposes, which includes the jarring cognitive and emotional response provoked in the listener who hears such an absurd remark.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 10 September 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  7. Another thought on bottom-ness came to mind while watching “Operation Homecoming” last night, in which American soldiers describe their experiences in Iraq. When I used to be a therapist for Vietnam veterans, occasionally someone would show up at a group session with a tough-guy pose, telling stories about all the action he’d seen, the people he’d killed, etc. I came to recognize what the ex-soldiers seemed to know instinctively: that these John Wayne types most often had seen little or no combat. We even had one guy who eventually admitted he’d never even been in the military — he just wanted to be accepted by men he regarded as braver and tougher than he was (and he was a big strong fellow). Those soldiers who had participated in the most violence tended to have the least to say about it. When they did speak there was no sense of bravura about what they had done and seen. I think that, with rare exceptions, killing a man is a terrible and humbling experience.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 10 September 2008 @ 11:58 pm

  8. So I don’t see why the unconscious can’t be described scientifically. The unconscious can only be inferred, but the same can be said for consciousness. There is no direct observation of consciousness: it can only be inferred through language, behavior, brain activity, and other observable manifestations

    What I meant is that the very expression ”inference” brutalizes consciousness or unconsciousness, introduces a separation based on language – do you see? What do you mean there is no direct observation of consciousness, what about thoughts, or fantasies?

    The joke with top and bottom draws on the parodic tradition of John Waters, who uses it to hilarious effect in his interviews. It is also a part of the gay vernacular because while men and women occupying wellknown and accepted roles, don’t have to declare things like that, gays often have to resort to all kinds of weird hanky codes. But I am also talking about philosophic positions independent of sex.

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 11 September 2008 @ 3:14 am

  9. One can observe one’s own thoughts, fantasies, etc. but not someone else’s: this is a longstanding philosophical problem. All you can do with respect to the other is infer from their language, or perhaps just their shared humanity, that they have an interior life like your own. Plus, you become aware that your mind plays tricks on you: it hides some things from you and makes other things up; what seem like direct perceptions are always wrapped in inference and other people’s opinions; ideas colonize your mind without your even being aware of how they get in there. So introspection is an unreliable source of information even about yourself. At a certain point in its history academic psychology forsook introspection as a reliable source of information about the human mind and began systematically observing aspects of human psychology that were available to the other’s inspection without being filtered through the subject’s inferences, self-deception, and language. This is why modern empirical psychology is built on foundations of sensation, perception, and behavior — the data are observable by anyone; results can be compiled across individual subjects and analyzed mathematically; the scientists’ inferences are separated from the data under investigation. I’m sure you’ve read this history, which starts in Germany rather than the US, but it’s interesting to reconsider it from time to time.

    In parallel historically and even geographically is the psychoanalytic movement. Instead of forsaking introspection and self-report, Freud builds his entire system on it. He works on methods for getting his patients to speak more freely, without conscious censoring and manipulated self-presentation, in order to get more direct access to the unformulated and repressed material that the patient’s mind is hiding from the patient himself. The doctor observes the patient’s unintended behaviors, regarding them as clues to what’s going on outside the patient’s own self-awareness. Though he may be working within a generalizable psychological theory, the analyst’s focus isn’t on mankind generallly, as is the scientist’s, but on this particular human being — hence the continuity with the medical clinic rather than the academy. But the analyst is still always on the outside looking in, relying on the patient’s self-report and his own observations of the patient’s symptoms, then drawing inferences and making interpretations.

    What’s unique about Lacan — these are things I first learned from you, Dejan — is that he acknowledges explicitly that the analysand’s mind is never directly accessible to the analyst — that the analyst can never really know about the other. But at the same time the analysand can never really know his own mind either: it’s always shrouded in image and symbol, breaking through unpredictably in the gaps between image and language, only to be swallowed up again almost immediately by conscious processing. The analyst can only try to detect, from the outside, evidence of these unconscious irruptions of the Real — but he might be wrong, he can’t know for sure. The analysand becomes his own analyst; there is no big Other who knows for him.

    What these two trajectories have in common — the empirical and the analytic — is the essential separateness of the individual human being. This autonomy of the individual self is an idea they inherited from the Reformers (the earliest modern empiricists — each man can undertand the Bible for himself) and from Descartes’ introspectionism. The roots go back further in Western intellectual history than that of course. Structuralism comes on the scene and affects Lacan’s ideas about how the subject is always spoken or imagined by the other, but this sense of being defined by the Other is the barrier that prevents the self from arriving at a true and real self.

    This is why I’ve become more interested in people like philosopher Donald Davidson and empiricist Michael Tomasello, who propose that the individual self is not an autonomous monad, and that even introspection is premised on ideas about thinking, feeling, imagining, etc. that one learns from others. Rather than regarding this interpersonal linguistic matrix as a barrier to the real in the world and in oneself, it’s possible to assert that the subjectively and objectively human real are also intrinsically intersubjective. All three of these registers — subjective, intersubjective, objective — determine and facilitate each other. This is “the Correlation” in the adumbrations of Meillassoux and the other “speculative realists” — the seeming impossibility of disconnecting knowledge about the world from the intersubjective matrix. Is it possible to speculate access to the Real outside the Correlation? And so this is the context in which I’m revisiting a lot of these things.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 September 2008 @ 7:20 am

  10. Regarding top/bottom: Within the psychoanalytic tradition there appears Karen Horney and her great book “Our Inner Conflicts.” She says that there are three characteristic ways of responding to interpersonal conflict: moving toward the other, moving against, and moving away. Presumably the well-adjusted individual is flexible, choosing the appropriate response to the situation at hand. But people tend to get locked into a characteristic way of responding. A “moving toward” interpersonal style involves placating the other in order to restore harmony: this is presumably the bottom position. A “moving against” responds to conflict with attack and the attempt to defeat the other: this is top position, I’m guessing. A “moving away” person does just that: walks away from the conflict and from the other.

    There are personality tests based on Horney’s schema: I administered one to subjects in my master’s thesis, along with a “moral development” questionnaire. In my results I demonstrated that the “moving toward” types evaluate moral dilemmas in terms of conflicting DUTIES, whereas the “moving against” make judgments based on conflicting RIGHTS. As I recall, when I self-administered the Horney inventory I was mostly moving-away and secondarily moving-against. I think my moving-awayness makes me more of an observer than a participant, which can be a useful perspective as scientist, analyst, theorist, artist…

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 September 2008 @ 7:35 am

  11. …and also plumber, clerk, computer programmer, unemployed…

    I think if I were able successfully to mediate a dispute it would be something of an accomplishment. “It’s not my way,” as Keith Carradine sings in Nashville. His character is a different sort altogether: one who poses as the accommodating lover in order to attract others to his narcissistic self-absorption. Every time we see the Carradine character in a private moment he’s listening to his own music on the tape player. Though of course you and our mutual friend are getting along nicely again, at least for now. Hey, no need to thank me: it wasn’t even an intentional intervention.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 11 September 2008 @ 8:27 am

  12. Though of course you and our mutual friend are getting along nicely again, at least for now.

    The intermittent break-ups only add up to excitement.

    Like

    Comment by parodycenter — 12 September 2008 @ 4:05 am

  13. “if something is inferred, it implies a realm beyond symbolization so it’s sort of like the cognitive paradigm is implicitly acknowledging the existence of a ‘’something” beyond the input and the output.Then after that it becomes foolish going on pretending that that ‘’something” doesn’t exist.”

    There is no implication through inference here. If I say “Pegasus, the winged horse”, one can infer that I am talking about something from Greek mythology. But that something does not exist. We can talk about something that does not exist. (As I write this, I am sitting on a toadstool sharing a pipe with a congenial caterpillar.) If something is inferred, it is precisely a symbolisation, through deduction or induction, even when it is symbolising something that does not exist.

    “What I meant is that the very expression ‘inference’ brutalizes consciousness or unconsciousness, introduces a separation based on language”

    Only if one accepts that someone would understand the words “consciousness or unconsciousness” and “inference” without language (even mime). Is that possible?

    What does the word ‘this’ symbolise? Something beyond symbolisation?

    ‘It was an experience beyond words!’ ‘Words fail!’ Words have failed to describe here, but have they failed to communicate anything at all?

    “This is why I’ve become more interested in people like philosopher Donald Davidson and empiricist Michael Tomasello, who propose that the individual self is not an autonomous monad, and that even introspection is premised on ideas about thinking, feeling, imagining…”

    This sounds interesting. Have you written about them before?

    Like

    Comment by NB — 14 September 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  14. I agree, NB, that one can infer nonexistent things. Cognitivists, also being empiricists, have no problem inferring existent things either. Thought cannot be directly observed, so it must be inferred. The same holds true for gravity: its effects can be observed, but not the force itself. A strange feature of Lacan’s system is that one can in principle never infer anything about any existent thing, because inference takes place within the Symbolic the the Symbolic swallows up the Real. So for Lacan words like “cognition” or “mind” or even “dog” never escape the Symbolic order into contact with the Real. This skepticism about using language to describe the Real is true of most structuralist theories, where meaning takes shape within the interplay of the structure of signifieds rather than in the link between the signifier and the actual thing to which it points. Cognitivist theories of language don’t share this structuralist skepticism about the link between language and the thing. So whether we’re talking about nonexistent or existent things, inference beyond language “works” within the cognitivist paradigm.

    I posted previously on Davidson here. There are a few Tomasello posts: here and here and here and here and here and here.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 14 September 2008 @ 6:17 pm

  15. “A strange feature of Lacan’s system is that one can in principle never infer anything about any existent thing”

    I’m not sure this is entirely right. But if it is right, how is one to make any decisions, or use any language at all? Is this an ethics perhaps? The demeaning of the existent Real thing by the castration of language … or beware the awful, too-much Real perhaps? Why should that demean the thing? The Real is as much fantasy as reality. It is a name too.

    “meaning takes shape within the interplay of the structure of signifieds rather than in the link between the signifier and the actual thing to which it points.”

    I see that link as part of the structure. If it isn’t part of the structure, or in some way delusionary, a presumptious assumption of knowledge, then again one would be unable to talk about anything at all. You can use the link when having a conversation (or a thought) or you can break the link when having a conversation. This is play, duplicity if you like. Metaphor is the forging of new links to illuminate, or obfuscate.

    Thanks for the links to your posts. I’m on holiday for a week from tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll get to read them.

    Like

    Comment by NB — 15 September 2008 @ 4:39 pm

  16. This disconnect between language and the real is characteristic of hard structuralism, wouldn’t you say? A signified attains its meaning not from the thing it points to but from the network of other signifieds with which it is correlatied. This apparent disconnect between the cognitive-linguistic construct and the thing-in-itself is what puzzles all of continental philosophy since Hume, and is the focus of Meillassoux’s project of “speculative realism” is on about (see posts from a couple of weeks ago). It’s counterintuitive, I have to agree: that “tree” derives its meaning not from that big tall green thing out there but from all the other “not-tree” words in the language seems abstract in the extreme. What makes Lacan’s proposal even more radical than most skepticism is his insistence that the Symbolic “kills” the Real — that language actually increases the distance between us and the Real. Rather than describing or representing the thing, language for Lacan imposes itself between the self and the thing. This loss of the Real is in keeping with Lacan’s pervasive sense of loss in all aspects of “normal” human existence. If you have some other interpretation of this contention, NB, I’m all ears.

    Gotta go to some university student films — more later.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 September 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  17. “You can use the link when having a conversation (or a thought) or you can break the link when having a conversation.”

    This is related to your prior thought about how words can refer either to imaginary things or to real things. I agree entirely. The structuralists, in my view, get hung up on the problem of whether humans can ever really know anything about the world without that knowledge being filtered through human perception and cognition. It seems to me that that’s what perception/cognition are FOR: to dig info and knowledge out of the world that’s relevant to human understanding and action. It’s how children learn language: shared attention between child and mother with reference to something in the shared environment. (This is the thrust of Tomasello’s empirical investigations.) The idea that thought and language have the opposite effect, obscuring the real world from human understanding, seems just backward.

    I’m not sure where you’re going with your reference to metaphor, NB. Perhaps you can elaborate? I’m thinking it’s a reference to the way we use language as either literal or figurative, and that we can easily understand when our conversational partner is shifting from one to the other. On some level all language is metaphorical: I call this thing an “apple” because it is LIKE other apples. Lacan I think disconnects metaphor from the objects in the category to which the word refers. So the word “apple” is LIKE real apples: the word always occupies only the figurative realm, and never the literal. Again, this seems not just excessively pessimistic, but out of keeping with both the intentions of language users and the way in which children acquire language.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 September 2008 @ 5:36 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: