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What neural mechanism allows humans to make phenomenological observations?

What neural mechanism allows humans to make phenomenological observations?


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Phenomenological experiences are altered during mental illnesses, is there a way to objectively know about them, or atleast know how we know about them?


Neural mechanism of priming in visual search

Selective attention affords scrutinizing items in our environment. However, attentional selection changes over time and across space. Empirically, repetition of visual search conditions changes attentional processing. Priming of pop-out is a vivid example. Repeatedly searching for the same pop-out search feature is accomplished with faster response times and fewer errors. We review the psychophysical background of priming of pop-out, focusing on the hypothesis that it arises through changes in visual selective attention. We also describe research done with macaque monkeys to understand the neural mechanisms supporting visual selective attention and priming of pop-out, and survey research on priming of pop-out using noninvasive brain measures with humans. We conclude by hypothesizing three alternative neural mechanisms and highlighting open questions.

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Discussion

The neural and computational mechanisms underpinning attention and decision making have been extensively investigated in isolation. However, a theoretical framework for understanding their interaction has yet to be firmly established. Here, we built upon previous work that has dissociated distinct sensory (visual), decision (parietal), and response (premotor) processing stages that occur en route to a binary category judgment about sequentially occurring information (Smith et al., 2004 de Lafuente and Romo, 2006 Gold and Shadlen, 2007 O'Connell et al., 2012 Wyart et al., 2012). Our findings reveal two distinct attentional filters during decision formation. The first filter occurs as information is passed from feature-selective sensory cortices to a centroparietal signal (O'Connell et al., 2012), at which time it is incorporated into the frame of reference of the category judgment (here, cardinal–diagonal). At this stage, evidence that is unequivocally cued as decision irrelevant (i.e., the uncued stream in the focused attention condition) is eliminated. However, when multiple sources of information need to be integrated simultaneously and independently, a second filter allows only a subset of information to flow from parietal decision signals to effector-selective cortices where it is integrated into a response. This second filter results in an integration leak whereby information proximal to a decision carries greater sway over choices. These two attentional filters map respectively onto the two major experimental manipulations that are typically (and often, interchangeably) used to understand the capacity limits of human information processing, namely directing and dividing attention. Together, these results imply that information can be selected at both an early or a late processing stage, and, as previously hypothesized, that the balance between early and late selection may depend on the level of resources available to perform the task (Lavie and Tsal, 1994).

The facilitatory influence of spatial precueing on the precision of sensory signals has been known for several decades (Hillyard and Mangun, 1987 Hopfinger et al., 2000). However, by dissociating the perceptual and decision information provided by discrete evidence samples, we were able to pinpoint the precise computational stage at which this selection occurs. Perceptual information (i.e., the angular tilt between current and previous samples) was encoded for both cued and uncued streams in contralateral visual cortex, albeit with lower precision for the uncued, distractor stream. However, the most substantial filtering occurred as perceptual information was transformed into the frame of reference of the decision: no reliable encoding of decision updates was observed for the uncued stream in slow parietal signals, as previously reported for gradually changing signals (O'Connell et al., 2012 Kelly and O'Connell, 2013). Interestingly, cued perceptual information was also encoded in ipsilateral visual cortex (Di Russo et al., 2003 Ester et al., 2009), as if additional cortical tissue was recruited to facilitate the processing of decision-relevant locations of space. This is in accord with the view that processing capacity is limited by the cortical territory that can be devoted to the competing contents of perception (Franconeri et al., 2013). However, we note that this additional recruitment of ipsilateral visual cortex observed for the attended stream did not appear critical for performance, in terms of later encoding of decision information in parietal signals. We can only speculate that this ipsilateral encoding of perceptual information would be beneficial to task performance under tight perceptual constraints, using either low-contrast or noisy stimuli. Together, these findings are consistent with theories emphasizing the early filtering of sensory signals under focused attention, but further indicate that selection occurs during the conversion of sensory signals into associative decision signals.

Category judgments can be described by decision-theoretical models in which information is sampled sequentially, but the mathematical formulation that best describes information integration still remains controversial (Wald and Wolfowitz, 1949 Usher and McClelland, 2001 Rouder and Ratcliff, 2004 Ratcliff and McKoon, 2008 Teodorescu and Usher, 2013). Normative models, such as the serial probability ratio test (Wald and Wolfowitz, 1949) and the drift-diffusion model (Ratcliff and McKoon, 2008), assume that integration occurs without loss, whereas other models incorporate a leak parameter that allows information to decay back exponentially to baseline across time (Usher and McClelland, 2001 Ossmy et al., 2013). Leaky integration may describe performance particularly well in extended judgment tasks such as the one used here, where decisions follow evidence provided in discrete samples (Smith and Vickers, 1989). In such tasks, human decisions are often better predicted by information that occurs closer in time to the choice, termed a recency bias. Our behavioral data suggest that the integration leak increases substantially when attention is spread over multiple potentially relevant sources of information. Neurally, this effect is expressed in a muted relationship between the neural processing of early samples and their contribution to choice, and later by a failure to encode early samples in response preparation signals overlying motor cortex in the last hundreds of milliseconds preceding unilateral manual responses (Donner et al., 2009 de Lange et al., 2013). In our study, where the information remains stationary over the course of the trial, this integration leak should be seen as a suboptimal constraint on information processing, not an adaptive process. In other words, an ideal observer performing our task would exhibit no leak, as human participants in the single-stream version of the task (Wyart et al., 2012), unlike in conditions where the state of the environment (here, the category of the stream) can change unexpectedly within each trial (Ossmy et al., 2013).

Our finding that a late processing bottleneck impairs information integration under divided attention might at first glance appear to contradict the findings reported in earlier studies (Luck et al., 1994 Müller et al., 2003), where dividing attention leads to a global dampening of early sensory signals. Moreover, other studies (Thut et al., 2006 Kelly et al., 2009) have reported that attention modulates the link between hemispheric alpha-band lateralization and performance, an effect that we failed to observe. However, some crucial differences exist between the current study and earlier work. First, previous studies manipulated task difficulty at an early sensory or perceptual level, by presenting stimuli at low contrast, or asking participants to perform fine-grained visual discriminations. This manipulation makes it hard to separate the influences of uncertainty at the perceptual and decision stages on performance, or to isolate whether dividing attention operates by attenuating sensory processing, or precluding the conversion of sensory information into a decision signal. By contrast, our task allows us to measure the neural encoding of perceptual and decision information in a dissociable fashion, and to assess how they are respectively influenced by attention. Second, our analyses did not focus on the global influence of attention on the average amplitude of event-related potentials, but instead on the degree of correlation between brain activity and perceptual or decision information at the single-trial level. This provides a more nuanced estimate of how the brain processes each sample during sequential integration.

Nevertheless, considering our work alongside these earlier studies offers some more general insights into the influence of dividing attention on perceptual choice. Notably, whereas the main source of uncertainty in previous studies was at the level of detecting or discriminating the stimuli, in our task the major difficulty faced by participants was in integrating decision information across samples. Together with our findings, these observations might suggest that dividing attention impairs the stage of processing that is the most demanding in the context of the task at hand. However, our paradigm and approach differ in a number of ways from those used previously it will thus be important for future work to validate our findings and interpretation using other paradigms that can distinguish between perceptual and decision stages of processing.


Abstract

In the 40 years since Aaron Beck first proposed his cognitive model of depression, the elements of this model — biased attention, biased processing, biased thoughts and rumination, biased memory, and dysfunctional attitudes and schemas — have been consistently linked with the onset and maintenance of depression. Although numerous studies have examined the neural mechanisms that underlie the cognitive aspects of depression, their findings have not been integrated with Beck's cognitive model. In this Review, we identify the functional and structural neurobiological architecture of Beck's cognitive model of depression. Although the mechanisms underlying each element of the model differ, in general the negative cognitive biases in depression are facilitated by increased influence from subcortical emotion processing regions combined with attenuated top-down cognitive control.


Abstract

Forgiveness―a shift in motivation away from retaliation and avoidance towards increased goodwill for the perceived wrongdoer―plays a vital role in restoring social relationships, and positively impacts personal wellbeing and society at large. Parsing the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of forgiveness contributes theoretical clarity, yet has remained an outstanding challenge because of conceptual and methodological difficulties in the field. Here, we critically examine the neuroscientific evidence in support of a theoretical framework which accounts for the proximate mechanisms underlying forgiveness. Specifically, we integrate empirical evidence from social psychology and neuroscience to propose that forgiveness relies on three distinct and interacting psychological macro-components: cognitive control, perspective taking, and social valuation. The implication of the lateral prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, respectively, is discussed in the brain networks subserving these distinct component processes. Finally, we outline some caveats that limit the translational value of existing social neuroscience research and provide directions for future research to advance the field of forgiveness.


Brain Imaging as Modern Phrenology

In my previous four blog posts I provided examples of the first of two anomalies that will require a paradigm to fix by showing that defense mechanisms, the BioPsychoSocial model, conditioning, box and arrow models, structural equation models, regression models, and mediators completely lack causal mechanism information. The fact that psychologists are more and more frequently turning to brain imaging is an implicit recognition of this fact. But do brain scan-based studies provide the causal mechanism information required to explain how people think, feel, and behave? My short answer is that they don’t. Let me explain.

It is informative to start with phrenology because it is a badly misunderstood conceptual forerunner of modern brain imaging. Most people think that phrenology was all about skull bumps but it was actually about brain lobes. Phrenologists were interested brain-behavior relationships. They knew about brain lobes from postmortem studies. They correctly theorized that these brain lobes controlled our various abilities to think, feel, and behave. They made brain maps that detailed the psychological and behavioral functions associated with each brain lobe. Their problem was that they needed a way to study the living brain. A way forward in this regard came in the form of a convenient assumption that the skull fit the brain like a fine leather glove fits the hand. This assumption enabled phrenologists to believe that a careful examination of the skull revealed the size of the underlying brain lobes in the same way that rubbing your hand over the gloved hand of another person enables you to feel their knuckles and the joints of their phalanges. Hence, phrenologists believed that they could examine the living brain by examining the skull.

Phrenologists attempted to explain psychology and behavior in terms of brain lobes. However, their “explanations” were essentially associations between the results of skull examinations and behavioral observations. No mechanism information was provided in that no explanation of how the identified brain lobes produced the psychological and behavioral functions associated with them was provided. Phrenology was discredited when their key assumption of the skull fitting the brain like a fine leather glove fits the hand was falsified. The important point here is that phrenology was rejected on methodological grounds rather than because it did not provide mechanism information.

Contemporary psychologists have much better methods for studying the living brain while people perform various tasks. However, brain scan results are now presented as though they provide causal mechanism information. But let’s see if this is actually the case by examining a representative article by Liane Young that appeared in the February issue of the American Psychological Society Observer (pp 22-24) entitled “The Mechanics of Moral Judgment”. Notice the use of the term “mechanics in her title. She reported that her fMRI research on neurotypical participants found that the Right Temporo-Parietal junction (RTPJ) is more active when evaluating unintended harm such as accidentally poisoning a friend with a substance that was thought to be sugar and less active when evaluating intended harm. She correctly concluded that “This indicates that our ability to forgive depends on the neural mechanisms that allow us to consider, in the face of harmful consequences, another person’s innocent mistakes and benign intentions” (p. 23, bold font added).

My question to you is has she provided mechanism information? Has she informed us regarding the mechanics of moral judgments as the title of her article promised? My answer is no because establishing that a psychological function depends upon a neural network, brain structure, does not qualify that neural network as a mechanism. Dependencies are not mechanisms. Her reference to “the mechanics of moral judgments” requires her to explain how the neural networks that she identifies generate, implement, the associated psychological functions and she has not done so. My book Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory provides offers additional analysis of this article.

In conclusion, modern brain imaging studies do not offer any greater explanation than phrenology did. They associate brain structures with psychological and behavioral functions but associations are not explanations. The major difference between phrenology and modern brain imaging is that brain scans more accurately identify the brain structures that psychological and behavioral functions depend on but they do not provide any mechanism information because they do not explain how those neural networks generate the psychological functions that have been attributed to them. It is primarily for this reason that Uttal (2001) and Dobbs (2005) correctly refer to brain imaging as modern phrenology. My book provides further details.

So what are we to do now that I have shown that all of the major methods that psychologists use to explain psychology and behavior really don’t explain anything? I have a positive answer but it must wait until I make things even worse in my next blog where I present a second anomaly that requires a paradigm shift to fix.

About the Author

Warren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy. In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at www.fordham.edu/psychology/tryon. This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is [email protected]

Dobbs, D. (2005). Fact or phrenology? Scientific American Mind, 16, 24–31.

Tryon, W. W. (2014). Cognitive neuroscience and psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory. New York: Academic Press. http://store.elsevier.com/9780124200715

Uttal, W. R. (2001). The new phrenology: The limits of localizing cognitive processes in the brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Phenomenological critical realism: a practical method for LIS.

The nature of librarianship and information studies is so broad that a single method cannot possibly be expected to address all the questions and challenges that arise. Among the methods applied, there has been some attention to phenomenology and critical realism. For example, Wilson (2003), acknowledging that phenomenology could provide an integrative framework, says, "The choice of an appropriate research method should be determined by a combination of the philosophical position of the researcher vis-a-vis the research objectives, the nature of the problem to be explored, its novelty in research terms, and the time and resources available to carry out the work" (p. 447). Some writers, such as Wikgren (2005), note that critical realism, as a "philosophy of science also assumes that reality is composed of different levels (e.g., the biological, the psychological, the social, and the cultural level)" (p. 12). These two works are used to begin discussion here because they indicate the need for, and the provision of, a plurality of ontological and epistemological approaches to questions faced in the LIS field. Phenomenology and critical realism are complementary they are certainly not variations on the same method, but, in combination, the strengths of each can assist researchers.

There are many potential applications for the frame described here attention will be focused on information seeking and libraries' instructional programs. There has not been a great deal of attention in LIS either to phenomenology or to critical realism, although there have been some hints of application where ethnography has been used. The work of Dervin (1989) and Kuhlthau (2004), for example, do not mention either phenomenology or critical realism as such, but their emphasis on the nature of meaning, and the recognition that it cannot be imposed on individuals, is somewhat related to the method elaborated upon here. A goal here is one that has been mentioned by other LIS researchers. To gain the most complete understanding of the complexities of human action, and to enhance praxis in the applied fields, LIS must move past "methodological individualism," or the simple aggregation of the thoughts and actions of individuals (see Hjorland, 1997, pp. 116-117). Methodological individualism is an inadequate mode of inquiry throughout the social sciences. An alternative is required.

What is presented here is a suggestion, and it is certainly not entirely original, but it merges some creative and demonstrably connected ideas that span much of the last century. A name for this program will be necessary, so let us call it phenomenological critical realism (PCR). The phenomenological element is drawn primarily, but not solely, from Edmund Husserl's work. There are numerous varieties of phenomenology, but Husserl's (especially as stated in some of his later works) is both compatible with critical realism and offers a rich and fertile ground for development. Husserl's thought is more useful to PCR than, say, Martin Heidegger's because of Heidegger's existential emphasis, which is not entirely compatible with critical realism. Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work is certainly astute, but his concentration on perception and signs is more limited than Husserl's phenomenology. The most concise generic definition of phenomenology is Sokolowski's (2000): "Phenomenology is the study of human experience and of the way things present themselves to us in and through such experience" (p. 2). The definition hardly suffices, though. Experience is necessarily connected to perception in such a way that our experience is directed at something as something, as it can be perceived--actually and ideally. The connection guides Husserl's (1999) definition of evidence: "Evidence is, in an extremely broad sense, an 'experiencing' of something that is, and is thus it is precisely a mental seeing of something itself" (p. 12). Husserl (1999) develops the notion of evidence in a more complete and extremely vital (for the present purposes) way:

One implication of Husserl's definition for the two areas scrutinized here is that the outcome of any sort of analysis or intervention (the examination of processes of information seeking, the evaluation of retrieved content, and the instruction of students) can only be ascertained in terms of the efficacy that the subjects experience. That is, if someone has incomplete, or non-reflexive tactics for seeking and evaluation information, the researcher has to reach as full an understanding of other individuals' actions. The possibility of examining what is (that is, examining ontology) is admitted by Husserl and is even more central to critical realism. Smith (2004) emphasizes the role ontology plays for Husserl: "In Husserl's ontology . the formal structure of states of affairs applies to entities in the material domains of nature (the physical), consciousness (the intentional), and culture (the social)" (p. 6). It is definitely not that perception and experience are ignored, but experience is directed in ways that some other programs do not admit. Directedness toward truth, for example, is explicitly omitted by some of those programs only the social action of scientists and others counts.

The experience-perception aspect of Being can be examined in two fundamental ways: (a) as an ideal of Being, to which human action should be directed so that life can be most fully understood, and (b) as the lived experience of people, examined as people experience and perceive, without a priori imposition or regulation. Being is a less-than-concrete element of our experiences and perceptions, but it is also a product of the context of the life of experiences and perceptions. For a method of LIS the preceding entails combining the abstract and the concrete as a means of achieving full understanding of Being. The examination must reconcile parts and wholes--of experience and of reality itself. Perception can be limited spatio-temporally in fact, human perception is so limited. For example, when one looks at the moon one can only perceive (that is, have direct sensory access to) a part of it. By the same token, examining one point of view in some discursive practice does not entail search for, and assessment of, other (frequently conflicting) points of view. Understanding of the potential perceptual limitations has led humans to overcome the limitation (insofar as this is possible) by repeating perceptual actions--observation--in a variety of ways, at a variety of times, from a variety of perspectives. A similar processing can be adopted in analysis of information seeking and instruction.

Accounting for the distinction between wholes and parts goes deeper it entails comprehending that perception of many parts can be either less or more than perceiving the whole. Phenomenological investigation must also explore presence and absence. Dan Zahavi (2003) explains that, "Husserl claims that our intuitive consciousness of the present profile of the object is always accompanied by an intentional consciousness of the object's horizon of absent profiles [emphasis in original]" (p. 96). Presences and absences are components of examination of any physical objects, but they are also vital to examination of human and social action. What is shown to the senses admittedly exists, but what is shown may not be all that exists. The social sciences must include these aspects of phenomenology so as to avoid errors of narrow empiricism. Critical realism also adopts examination of presence and absence (more will be said about this below).

One of the problems that Husserl recognizes and expresses in his later work is the disunity of many disciplines--disunity that not only is mistaken, but threatens fruitful thought and inquiry into human action and human Being. Merleau-Ponty (1964) offers an astute assessment of Husserl's motivation: "He saw that these different disciplines had entered into a permanent state of crisis which would never be overcome unless one could show, by a new account of their mutual relations and their methods of knowing, not only how each alone might be possible but how all three [philosophy, science, and the sciences of man] might exist together" (p. 44). There are some extremely pertinent points in Merleau-Ponty's observations. One is that Husserlian phenomenology assumes no stasis to inquiry in any field relating to human action (and, in complementary fashion, neither does critical realism) since Being is dynamic, the examination of Being does not have an end where all is known. In short, there are no permanent law-like statements that can be made about human action, since what underlies that action is plastic. Another observation is that the fulfillment of phenomenology can only be realized intersubjectively, through life lived by oneself and another. Another observation by Merleau-Ponty (1964) entails the explicit recognition of cultural things that affect the development, holding, and transmission of ideas: "We must recognize that what we call 'ideas' are carried into the world of existence by their instruments of expression--books, museums musical scores, writings" (pp. 83-84). In short, the transmission of ideas relies on certain ontologies. The importance of Merleau-Ponty's observations cannot be overstated the researcher is not, and cannot be, absolutely neutral or separate from what is studied Being is shared by all humans and is foundational to all human action. Further, Being is manifest in ways that can be examined. The point that Husserl makes--affirmed by Merleau-Ponty and others--is that challenge of what we can call I and thou (self and other) can be addressed through reflection.

The application of phenomenology as method, with or without critical realism, depends on the concept and practice of epoche, which is a difficult concept, but one that is vital to phenomenology as method. In employing epoche as part of a method, a first step is the recognition and acceptance that epoche does not transform the general actions that are observed (for example, information seeking as a phenomenon). The reason why the epoche as examination does not intrude on general actions is that the reduction is a quest for truth on the subjective terms of the actors. It asks why and seeks to find truth-in-itself. Husserl (1970) says, "We perform the epoche--we who are philosophizing in a new way--as a transformation of the attitude which precedes it not accidentally but essentially, namely, the attitude of natural human existence which, in its total historicity, in life and science, was never before interrupted" (p. 151). A couple of examples of what Husserl is speaking of in LIS can be located. Erdelez's (1996) work on information encountering employs the critical stance. Another is that of Foster and Ford (2003) on serendipity, who illustrate the continuous nature of Being, and some people's adoption of continuity of perception when it comes to information that may be useful. These examples demonstrate analysis of individuals' application of epoche the analysis overtly points to distinctions between that application and simplified acceptance of information retrieved by superficial perceptual means.

Husserl (1970) explains the methodological implications of epoche his words suffice to elucidate its application:

Husserl's version of phenomenology is emphasized here for yet another reason (and this reason is also linked to critical realism). History is not ignored, either in the ideal or the actual. History entails the personal and beyond examination of social--or disciplinary--action necessitates historical inquiry. Husserl (1970) expresses the necessity with the greatest clarity:

Husserl's statement provides clear guidance for the LIS researcher.

The exercise of epoche depends on the combination of essential elements of Being, elements that constitute intentionality. Epoche entails avoidance of any assumption that what is perceived, thought of, etc. is completely independent of our perceptions (Hammond, Howarth, & Keat, 1991, p. 4). This is not to say that the world has no existence on its own, but that understanding of the world is militated by human intentions. Inquirers into phenomena related to LIS (including such things as information seeking, interpretation of informational content, applying critical skills to informational objects, etc.) must be sensitive to intentional acts, perceptions, signifying actions, judgments, memories, etc. These acts, or noeses, are demonstrative of the phenomenological attitude. The phenomenological attitude can be contrasted with the natural attitude. The latter is characterized by focus on examination of the world not subjected to epoche. The natural attitude is necessary for any serious investigation into the natural world and human action, but it is not sufficient for a full and complete phenomenological investigation. What is missing is the reduction (closely related to epoche) that characterizes the applied realism, the understanding of the intentionality of the self and the other, and the dynamism of Being. Sokolowski (2000) offers a succinct explanation of reduction: "Reduction, with the Latin root re-ducere, is a leading back, a withholding or a withdrawal. When we enter into this new viewpoint, we suspend the intentionalities we now contemplate" (p. 49). Examination of information behavior and librarianship are limited if the applied realism does not enter the relationship. It is by that reduction that researchers can distinguish between people who live with the natural attitude and those who transcend the natural to the phenomenological attitude. The understanding that results from observing the distinction has direct implications for LIS praxis. As Husserl (2006) himself says, "we firmly maintain that experience has it legitimacy more precisely, that the judgment in the natural attitude, 'on the basis of experience,' has its legitimacy as a matter of course" (p. 11).

Noesis (singular of noeses) is related to noema, a somewhat problematic idea that corresponds to the objects that can be intended, including almost all material objects, including such things as texts and images. Noesis is a notion that Husserl worked through over several decades. The act, or process, of intending is something that Husserl returned to constantly throughout his writings. The ego cogito, the thinking self, manifests itself through intentional acts, and the manifestation is by no means limited to the individual (this is a feature of critical realism as well). It extends to others, which is why it can be examined, can be interpreted. In short, it is one reason why such things as the study of information use and librarianship can exist. It is why researchers in LIS (and the social sciences more generally) are able to ask the questions they do. Smith (2004) helps clarify the complexity: "each act of consciousness is performed or experienced by a subject and directed via content or idea toward some object (typically outside consciousness). The act's content Husserl called a 'noema,' a technical term (found in Aristotle) for what in modern English we call 'idea'" (p. 149). A practical method for LIS begs for some further explanation of noesis and noema. We can turn to Smith (2004) once again for assistance. As he says, "ontology cum phenomenology" depends on a much more completely articulated background that enables intentionality in such situation as the shared environment of LIS. He (2004) proposes the following:

1. Our intentional acts presuppose a background of beliefs, skills, emotions, values, social practices, physical conditions including neural states and more.

2. A crucial part of this background is our fundamental, open-ended background image of the world around us, indicating how things are as well as how we do things, even how we use our bodies.

3. This background image consists of intentional contents, or ideas, including concepts, propositions, values, rules of practice, and items of know-how presupposed in the activities of people in the relevant community.

4. This relation of presupposition between an intentional act and it background is a relation of ontological dependence (p. 149)

What limits Husserl's phenomenology is not the understanding of the constitutive nature of intentionality, but the mechanisms by which research programs can be established and conducted. Enter critical realism.

The other component of this proposed approach is critical realism, as articulated primarily by Roy Bhaskar in a number of works. Phenomenology and critical realism are described separately here so as to clarify the unique contributions each can make to a complementary research method. One basic tenet of Bhaskar's (1994) critical realism is that "the world is constituted by the objects of actual (and, sometimes, possible) experiences" (p. 6). A very attractive part of Bhaskar's thought for those working in the social sciences is his understanding of human and social action as "open." He (1997) rejects the Humean tradition, which has had enormous influence up to the present time, of asserting laws that operate in closed systems. "This has the consequence that neither the experimental establishment nor the practical application of our knowledge in open systems can be situated. Once we allow for open systems then laws can only be universal if they are interpreted in a non-empirical (trans-factual) way" (p. 14). This is a complicated idea customary empirical study has been limited by attention to explicitly manifest and observable actions. The necessity of seeing human action as existing in open systems renders the customary empirical methods problematic they are not able to allow for, much less account for, transcendental aspects of action and Being. The rejection of the closed-system requirement necessitates rejection of simplistic empiricism that adheres to narrow definitions of facts. Actually, critical realism necessitates a reflective examination of the complexities of interactions, such as those that occur between information seekers and bodies of information content. Bhaskar's realism also calls into question any ceteris paribus conditions that might be invoked in social science inquiry. Things are not likely to be equal experiencing what exists (as it exists) renders the presumption of stability problematic.

The openness Bhaskar (1994) argues for carries implications for inquiry and method. Human action cannot be restrictively examined according to superficial characteristics, including initial, uncritical perception. The action itself has cognitive, intellective, linguistic, communicative, and other elements, and so perceiving them fully requires multiple perspectives, along with reflection. The openness, however, does not render human action and the elements that constitute it less real. That is, there is an ontology of cognition, communication, and so forth, just as there is an ontology of mountains, buildings, and so forth. The reality of human action cannot be reduced to stimuli and responses, solely physical reactions, or unconscious behavior.

Human action is characterized by the striking phenomenon of intentionality. This seems to depend upon the feature that persons are material things with a degree of neurophysiological complexity which enables them not just, like other higher-order animals, to initiate changes in a purposeful way, to monitor and control their performances, but to monitor the monitoring of these performances and to be capable of a commentary upon them (Bhaskar, 1998, p. 35).

So critical realism also embodies a connection with phenomenology in that it posits the intentionality of human action. As is the case with other conceptions of intentionality, Bhaskar's includes desires, wishes, and the like, but it also goes beyond them. Intentionality, for him, is pervasive all social action depends on intentionality. Bhaskar (2002) says,

Intentionality is infused--because of consciousness, volition, physicality, and other factors--into our Being, not in one single way, and not in one way at all times. That said, at all times intentionality is marked by consciousness of something it is directed toward what exists and enables an individual to perceive in a full and complete way.

A person acting intentionally has considerable freedom, but some variation inheres in intentionality. Bhaskar (1993) explains the variation:

The planes constitute possibilities for inquiry--solely or (ideally) in combination with one another. The rules of grammar and syntax constrain speech, but they by no means determine it there are choices that people are able to make intentionally. The rules of grammar and syntax shape semantics, but they do not limit it. Likewise, rules of logic constrain formal inquiry, but the application of the rules can only occur in certain circumstances. For example, an argument is a formal structure, but that structure does not determine the premise that a particular individual will posit at a given time.

Contexts tend to be social (although individualistic context, as Bhaskar (1993) says, is not impossible). Society, in critical realism, is not an object separate from people, but neither do people at a point in time make society. It both pre-exists the individuals who live right now (to some extent society is given to a person at a point in time) and is shaped by those individuals. He adopts this concept from Aristotle (1946), who writes, "We thus see that the polis exists by its nature and that it is prior to the individual" (1253b). Society comprises many individuals, each acting to some extent intentionally and (although at many times in some substantive purposive agreement) not entirely in concert. Further, society is human and historical (and here Bhaskar exhibits another connection with Husserl) it is a product of what happens now, what has happened, and what future is intended. O'Farrill (2008) acknowledges this complex relationship as it may be applied to information literacy:

The aspect of Bhaskar's thought is quite similar to the relations of being and time that Heidegger defined as part of his take on phenomenology (which, while different from Husserl's in many ways, does include the common feature of existing in time).

To elaborate, in keeping with his idea of the social world, Bhaskar (1997) distinguishes between two distinct objects of knowledge. One he calls transitive objects, which "are Aristotelian material causes. They are the raw materials of science--the artificial objects fashioned into items of knowledge by the science of the day" (p. 21). On the other hand there are intransitive objects which are independent of our existence these are generally material objects or occurrences. A realist believes that physical, material things (granite, rivers, tables, and so on) exist whether we have knowledge of it (or even awareness of it) or not. Bhaskar's claim, though, is based on the historical nature of human knowledge (which is also related to Husserlian phenomenology in the distinct social and physical ontologies). From the ontological point of view, intransitive objects are also necessary the world itself is constituted of transitive and intransitive objects. Bhaskar (1997) says that "to deny the reality of ideas . extrudes or detotalizes them or the idealizer from the rest of the world--producing a split in the world, including an implicit, inconsistent void and compromised ontology" (p. 143).

Method relies on the historical, transitive element. For anyone to be able to ask a new question, one must be cognizant of previous questions and their answers (confirmed and speculative). It also relies on the ontic structure that defines the world. The structural contribution of Bhaskar is very complex, but vital to method. Critical realism, as does phenomenology, relies on apprehension of the relationship of parts and wholes (as was mentioned above) the examination of ontological being depends on the apprehension. Action, for example, comprises parts work within a particular discipline entails framing questions that have multiple parts. Moreover, the act of framing a question entails considering many parts--including some, rejecting others, and treating still others as potentially contingent. Likewise, knowledge has parts consider a set of propositions and accompanying conclusions. One can also consider categories any whole can be analyzed according to a set of categories. The knowledge one has of the whole may depend, as Bhaskar points out, on focusing on the categories that hold the most promise for understanding. The marrying of phenomenology and critical realism enables an inquirer to examine which are constitutive parts of a whole. That is, which parts are not independent of the whole, but rather define the whole. In order to achieve the end of epoche, the entirety of action and subjective conscious ness should be investigated. Conclusions are withheld until such an analysis can be conducted. Husserl (1973) explicates the nature of whole and parts:

Another affinity that phenomenology has with critical realism is negation of the phenomenalist (contrasted with phenomenology) reduction of everything to sense experience. Reality is both more than, and different from, simple sensory experience. So an action such as information behavior is more than simply inserting search terms and retrieving documents there is more to investigate than the mechanical actions. Husserl, as we have seen, critiques the positivistic insistence upon empirical reduction. Any quest for knowledge requires that there be more than sense experience, that one embrace intentionality, perception, and reflection. Researchers must be cognizant of the requirement. The structure needed to seek knowledge, for phenomenology, is a vital component of lebenswelt, or lifeworld. In much qualitative research lifeworld is somewhat misconstrued as an individual's lived experience. Of course that lived experience is a component, but lifeworld is the ontological reality in which one experiences life. It is also the complexity of perception and, even more importantly, the reflection on experience and perception. Phenomenological analysis is not possible unless the totality of lifeworld is examined--objectively and subjectively. The totality of lifeworld entails implicit questioning it entails the judgment of experience. Husserl was clear in later works that this kind of questioning is necessary--in living and in inquiry into the ways people live lives.

Phenomenology depends on the reconciliation of presence and absence so does critical realism. The reconciliation can be expressed deceptively simply: presence and absence are constitutive parts of a whole. The expression may not be very satisfying, though, so some explication follows. First, let us consider Sokolowski's (2000) description of absence:

In LIS presence is generally the object of attention, but in the richest and most meaningful work absence is not ignored. In a number of fields the role of ideology is important examination of ideological speech and action is not possible unless presence and absence are studied.

PCR should have some meaning for those examining human action for it to be viable. Its meaning, in actuality, is manifold. Both thought and inquiry in the social sciences can be served by PCR in two fundamental ways. The first way that PCR can assist thought, inquiry, and praxis in LIS is general. While the natural attitude is essential to inquiry into any ontological reality, human action, by its nature, necessitates the phenomenological attitude to produce the most fruitful work. Reflection on essences and epoche are more than useful to understanding of the complex intersubjective relations that lead to action. Additionally, Bhaskar's (1975) distinctions between the real, the actual, and the empirical are applicable (p. 13). Action is influenced by things that pertain to specific elements of existence (see Figure 1).

The "real" is the domain that is most limited and removed from human action. It is necessary, since it represents or forms the natural world that can be apprehended, but in itself it is not accompanied by human action. The "actual" includes events that are interactions of humans (individually and/or collectively) with mechanisms, so there is a time and place in which events exist. Experiences constitute the domain empirically accessible actions, customarily through direct observation. The observation, as first-hand or second-hand reporting, is removed from the actual and the real in that both forms report on, but do not literally represent, events and mechanisms. Mechanisms exist, while events (not entirely separate from mechanisms) are unique manifestations. Experiences, building from mechanisms and events, are individual and collective perceptions that can be removed from the "prior to" by means of reflections into causes and effects. Callinicos (2006) comments on Bhaskar's distinctions: "The structure of the real is given by the set of interacting generative mechanisms there is an inherent, ontological difference between the real thus understood and the actual, which Bhaskar conceives as the events (normal and exceptional) produced by interactions among powerful particulars" p. 167). As Callinicos says, events are the interactions among mechanisms and are manifest in the actual world. Events intertwine the manifestations of the real with perceptions of those manifestations in a more complex situating of natural elements and occurrences with reflexive actions of perceivers. For Bhaskar, the real and the actual come to a fuller existence in the experience of individuals and societies that incorporates the lifeworld.

To put this into terms of information seeking, a researcher can examine the practices of individuals as they proceed through formulating a question, translating that question into terms that can be employed in a search, and then evaluating the content that is retrieved. The practices might display what was defined above as natural attitudes--limitation to the world of surfaces, absence of the application of epoche. The examination can also identify individuals' analyses of intentional states, complex perceptions, and so on. There are potentialities for study of libraries' instructional programs as well. The potential presumes that the objectives of the program extend further than the technical ability to manipulate databases and to locate information physically or virtually. If the objectives include students' ability to evaluate ontologies of communication and intransitive objects of knowledge, then the success of the programs can be assessed accordingly. Success would depend, not so much on the retrieval of objects, but on the understanding of the intersubjective relationships that students can obtain through attention to the intentionality of the creators of the content.

The second way that PCR can work is with the study of particular manifestations of human and social action. Study can be aided by the application of, for example, Bhaskar's four planes which illustrate the connection to the later ideas of Husserl. The connection shows intersubjectivity, reflection on self and other, and ontological being manifest through action. The distinctions that Bhaskar emphasizes are connected to phenomenology (and so this is one more means of integration that contributes to PCA). Experiences, Bhaskar says, are located in all three domains it is their pervasiveness that enables the connections of the transitive and intransitive objects of knowledge. Because of the ubiquity of experiences, reflection upon them, applying epoch? to them, must situate them in the three domains.

The study of LIS begs for the application of PCR. Bonna Jones (2008) touches on a component of the challenge in discussing the definition of information. "We talk for example about 'information flows' and thereby forget that this may require an adequate account of the process of narrative-making" (Jones, 2008, p. 492). In short, the analysis must account for the elements being parts of the whole that comprises an idea of questions faced in LIS. Any limitation to specific behaviors without consideration of, say, contextual and epistemological rationales for behavior is likely to be incomplete at best. A searcher has reasons for attempting to find content that is related--in at least a real and an actual sense--to the "idea" of the search. Mingers (2004) echoes Jones's point: "First, the critical realist is never content just with description. Second, [critical realism] recognizes the existence of a variety of objects of knowledge--material, conceptual, social, and psychological--each of which requires difference research methods to come to understand them" (p. 100). The objects of knowledge that can be, and are, examined in library and information studies are varied in just the ways that Mingers suggests. There are ontological creations that can be called informational there are social acts of communicating and there are psychological/cognitive elements of interpretation and assimilation into a body of perception and knowledge.

Figure 2 is a complex illustration of fundamental relationships that inhere in PCR and that apply to information seeking behavior and libraries' instructional programs (among other areas of information studies and librarianship). Question, Inquiry, and State are quasi-independent elements of a process that includes influences and applications of the fundamental critical PCR factors of Intentionality, Self and Other, Transitive and Intransitive Bodies of Knowledge, and Expression. The model is also an illustration of necessary components. That is, if one of the PCR factors is absent, the chance of a breakdown of understating is high. Each is required for the complete experience (the integration of all three domains). The elements on the left side of the figure demonstrate the development of instantiated experience that can occur when all aspects of the model are conjoined. When studying the kinds of phenomena discussed here the key to examination is focus on individuals' application of natural, versus phenomenological, attitudes. People seeking information or students can be asked to reflect, insofar as they are able, on ways their understanding may grow and on the essential elements of phenomenology. Those elements, if present, are indicative of the phenomenological attitude and of people's awareness of the ontological aspects of informational objects. Bhaskar's three domains can be a key part of the analysis of the ways people act.

As Bhaskar (2002) says, "if we leave out social structures, or if we only have social structures and we leave out nature or inter-personal relations, then we are in a situation of absence, dialectically erroneous absence" (p. 74). PCR is an explicit means of integrating the natural and the social worlds, given the grounding in scientific realism melded with reflexive critical consciousness. Bhaskar's words almost seem to have been anticipated by Husserl (1970): "the life-world, for us who wakingly live in it, is always already there, existing in advance for us, the 'ground' of all praxis whether theoretical or extratheoretical. The world is pregiven to us . not occasionally but always and necessarily as the universal field of all actual and possible praxis, as horizon" (p. 142). The reflection that is necessary to PCR replaces squabbles over paradigm, behavior, social fact, and other things. It directs awareness of ontological and epistemological matters to being--including social being--in a natural world. A method is needed that is recursive, that urges the perceiver/analyzer to examine both the thing as it occurs and the act of perceiving and analyzing. In short, there is a necessary outward and inward probing aimed at increasing and enhancing understanding. According to PCR, as outlined here, examination situates the understanding within the directedness of conscious toward things as they exist and within the nature, structure, and working of consciousness itself. PCR could be the method that can help LIS achieve the ends discussed here.

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Phenomenological Psychology

Phenomenological psychology is the use of the phenomenological method to gain insights regarding topics related to psychology. Though researchers and thinkers throughout the history of philosophy have identified their work as contributing to phenomenological psychology, how people understand phenomenological psychology is a matter of some controversy. On the one hand, in light of contemporary philosophy’s affirmation of qualia as non-reducible, some understand phenomenological psychology to be merely a method for understanding subjective experience. When phenomenological psychology is understood this way, clarification is usually sought in terms such as “introspection” and “psychologism.” Put as a question, are the research methods identified as phenomenological and used in psychology ultimately the formalization of methods for gathering and preserving data regarding merely the subjective experience of (subjective and objective) events?

On the other hand, phenomenological psychology refers to the use of phenomenology to study the necessary and universal structures of experience. In this way, phenomenological psychology is grounded in transcendental analysis as a research method which analyzes the necessary conditions for the possibility of human experience. Whereas according to the former understanding, the results of such research supposedly have minimal to no universal generalizability, the latter understanding speaks of a cognitional structure universally generalizable to the human species. This article discusses the nature and history of phenomenological psychology, addressing the above distinct understandings of phenomenology as applied to psychology and the distinction between phenomenological and naturalistic psychology.

Table of Contents


Exploring neural mechanisms behind the perception of control in stressful situations

Image showing a coronal cross-section of a mouse brain and the location of the PVN. The expanded part shows fluorescent CRH neurons (red) and the expression of the calcium reporter protein GCaMP6 (in green). Credit: Daviu et al.

Findings collected during several decades of research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience suggest that the perception of control during stressful events can have striking and long-lasting effects on the behavior of humans and some animals, including rodents. These behavioral consequences sometimes also become apparent when a person or animal is no longer in a stressful or threatening situation, resulting in uncomfortable thoughts or feelings and maladaptive behaviors.

Countless past studies have investigated the links behind perceptions during stressful situations and the rise of unhelpful mental or behavioral patterns. However, the exact biological mechanisms through which stressful experiences are linked to subsequent behavioral responses are still poorly understood.

Researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada have recently tried to shed some light on how the brains of rodents, and potentially also of humans, encode stress controllability and regulate the selection of defensive and 'fight or flight'-type behaviors. Their findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, could reveal brain areas involved in the development of trauma-related and severe anxiety disorders, which could in turn lead to the development of more effective treatment strategies.

"Starting from work in rodent models in the 1960s and extending to work on humans, there is now compelling evidence that the impact of stress on subsequent behavior and the development of PTSD-like pathologies is strongly impacted by the perception of control during the stressful event, yet how the brain accomplishes this contextual transfer remains unclear," Jaideep Bains, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told Medical Xpress. "Additionally, the broad applicability of the findings in rodent models is limited by the fact that most work in this field has assessed conditioned responses and rarely linked stress controllability to innate, unlearned behaviors."

Many past studies investigating the links between stressful events and the development of maladaptive behaviors have been carried out on rodents using conditioning techniques, thus monitoring automatic responses to stimuli acquired after experimenters consistently intervened in their environment. The findings gathered in these works may thus not be entirely applicable to humans, who are rarely systematically trained to change their behavior over time, and typically perform innate or unscripted behaviors.

In their study, Bains and his colleagues set out to explore the biological links between stress controllability and subsequent innate/unscripted behavior, which may be more similar to that observed in some humans after traumatic experiences. While they conducted their experiments on rodents, the methods they employed were hence somewhat different from those used by other researchers in the past.

A drawing capturing the main idea behind the recent study. When faced with a threat (a rapidly approaching predator), mice have to make a decision - go or stay? This decision is affected by CRH neurons (the traffic cop in the picture) that has been trained to provide the right signal and help guide their behavior. Credit: Daviu et al.

"We used an ethologically relevant task: a shadow that appears in the sky and then expands in size to mimic an advancing predator," Bains explained. "Rodents execute distinct defensive behaviors not necessarily when they detect a threat, but when the imminence of the threat increases. Using genetically expressed fluorescent calcium indicator in one specific population of neurons (CRH cells in the hypothalamus), combined with fiber photometry, we could detect changes in neural activity in mice during this task."

The researchers decided to focus their investigation on CRH cells, which are known to control the secretion of hormones in the blood when responding to stress. Recent findings suggest that these cells could also be involved in different stress and stress-coping behaviors.

The experiments carried out by Bains and his colleagues yielded a number of interesting results. The researchers found that the activation of CRH neurons in the hypothalamus often predicts an active 'escape behavior'. This is a surprising observation, as this class of neurons has so far never been implicated in the selection of defensive behaviors, neither in humans nor rodents.

Interestingly, the researchers also observed that when a rodent was in a stressful situation but had substantial control over its outcome, CRH cells were activated, and subsequently, the animal tried to escape the situation. If the rodent had little control, however, CRH cells were not activated and the animal remained where it was. These observations could mean that CRH cells play a part in the selection of defensive behavior strategies, contributing to shifts between more active (e.g., escape) and passive (e.g., freeze) strategies.

"We think that CRH cells in the hypothalamus may coordinate physiological responses (i.e., heart rate, blood pressure) with defensive behavior," Bains said. "We also observed that exposure to stressful situations in the absence or presence of control changes the activity of these neurons. These changes appear to be important in modifying innate defensive behaviors."

The recent study carried out by Bains and his colleagues offers new interesting insight about the neural mechanisms that may link stressful situations to maladaptive coping strategies or mental disorders. More specifically, it suggests that CRH neurons in the hypothalamus could play a key role in how rodents and humans encode stress controllability and how they select defensive behaviors. In the future, the findings collected by this team of researchers could inspire further studies focusing on CRH cells, potentially leading to discoveries about their role in regulating coping strategies during or after stressful situations.

"We are now interested in conducting experiments that will allow us to obtain information about the activity of specific CRH cells in the hypothalamus," Bains said. "The idea here is to determine whether there are individual cells that are purposed for particular behaviors, and if so, if they project to particular brain regions. Another direction for future research will be to investigate how information about prior stress is relayed to the hypothalamus."


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