Monday 23 September 2013

Understanding Delusions: The Belief Learning and Memory Lab

Phil Corlett
I’m interested in beliefs. Specifically, how the brain is involved in normal and abnormal belief formation. For example, I study delusions, the often bizarre and fixed false beliefs that characterize serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. I’m a cognitive neuroscientist, which means I use data from brains to make inferences about minds. 
I take what many consider to be a radically reductionist approach to beliefs. I think they might be related to simple behaviors like Pavlovian and instrumental learning. These processes can be observed in very simple organisms and I try to apply what we know about them to study beliefs.

Central to our understanding of learning, and I argue belief formation, is the concept of salience or importance. We learn and remember information about important events so we can respond appropriately if the same circumstances recur in the future. I think beliefs are one way that such learning and memory is manifest. If beliefs are so central to our comportment in the world, it is clear that there may be disastrous consequences when they are mis-specified.

How the Brain Constructs the Past and the Future

Reece Roberts, Aleea Devitt, Donna Rose Addis 
We’re a group of researchers in the Memory Lab at The University of Auckland. Our research interests are broad, ranging from autobiographical memory to false memory to imagination and creativity, and we approach these topics from both cognitive and neural perspectives. But the strand that threads all this research together is the constructive nature of memory.

It is well established that episodic memory is a constructive process. Seminal work from Bartlett (1932) demonstrated the fallibility of memory, and also highlighted the ways in which it can be distorted. Building on this earlier work on false memory, Schacter and colleagues proposed a framework for the cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory in the early 1990s that has proved influential. Since that time, advances in neuroimaging have provided evidence to support three key ideas: (1) that features or elemental parts comprising an episode must be linked together, probably by the hippocampus, to form a memory trace that we encode; (2) that these elements are stored in a distributed fashion across the brain in the regions that originally processed the information (e.g., face information in fusiform gyrus); and (3) that these elements must be reactivated (and re-integrated) upon retrieval.

Friday 20 September 2013

Guilt and Self-deceptive Narratives

Zoë Boden
I am Zoë Boden, a post-doctoral scholar working in the field of mental health. Much of my work focuses on emotional and intersubjective experiences, and how we make sense of these, especially when they’re complex or distressing. In thinking about distortions in beliefs and memories, in my research, I have focused on the stories we tell to help make sense of our experiences. My PhD research looked at experiences of feeling guilty and explored the relationship between our lived, bodily experiences and our narrative accounts.
A large part of feeling guilty is an experience of unfamiliarity – a feeling that your behaviour is out of character, and that you are unfamiliar to yourself. Who is this person who did this thing? How can it be the same me that is here now, knowing that thing to be wrong? This unfamiliarity can be understood as a distorted belief. It feels incongruous to acknowledge and accept that whatever was done, was done by you.
So how did my research participants make sense of their experiences? They told themselves, and others, stories about their behaviour in order to make sense of it. 

Thursday 12 September 2013

Relationism, Rationalism, and the Teleological Account of Belief

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
In my last blog post I wrote about mine and Paul Noordhof’s work on relationist accounts of experience and delusional belief formation. The conclusion from that post was that the relationist who denies phenomenal character to hallucinatory experience could not accept any empiricist account (an account which gives anomalous experience a role in the explanation of delusion formation) of what we called ‘positive delusions’ (delusions involving hallucinatory experience). This meant that the relationist must adopt a rationalist account of delusion formation, an account which refuses ‘to ground the delusion in an abnormal experience’ (Bayne and Pacherie 2004: 81). 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Thought Insertion and the Adaptive Role of Delusions

Pablo López-Silva
I am a current PhD student at the University of Manchester Philosophy Department (Mind Group). I’m working on different philosophical problems raised by schizophrenia under the supervision of Dr Joel Smith and Prof Tim Bayne.

I became interested in the philosophical discussions surrounding schizophrenia while I was taking my clinical courses for my psychology professional degree in Chile. While attending some patients, I realized that delusions seemed to have a strong adaptive function. Although this is a matter that needs further argumentation, I think that systematic research on the structure of certain delusions can facilitate better understandings of their role (Roberts, 1992) and, quite importantly, to improve therapeutic intervention (Guidano, 1991). An example of this can be offered by looking at the structure of thought insertion, an abnormal conscious experience commonly regarded as suggestive of schizophrenia (Mullins & Spence, 2003).