Thursday 27 September 2018

The Interoceptive Mind

Helena De Preester is assistant professor and researcher at University College Ghent, as well as a visiting research professor at the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at the University of Ghent. Her research focuses on the connection between the human mind, embodiment, technology, and wider society. 

Manos Tsakiris is professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he leads the lab of Action & Body and the INtheSELF ERC-funded project. His research focuses on the link between body and self and how we become aware of ourselves and others. In this blog post they introduce their new co-edited, interdisciplinary volume on interoception.

Interoception is the body-to-brain axis of signals originating from the internal body and visceral organs (such as gastrointestinal, respiratory, hormonal and circulatory systems), and plays a unique role in ensuring homeostasis. Interoception therefore refers to the sensing of the state of the inner body and its homeostatic needs, that is, to the ever-fluctuating state of the body beneath its sensory (exteroceptive) and musculoskeletal sheath.

By bringing together the perspectives of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychiatry, clinical psychology, and philosophy, this volume aims to go beyond the known role of interoception for homeostasis in order to ask, and hopefully provide, important insights on the role that interoception plays for our mental life and lived experience, for awareness, affect and cognition.

The perspectives in the 17 chapters largely fall within the embodied cognition approach that attempted to ground cognition and the self in the body. Over the last three decades, modern psychology and cognitive neurosciences have focused on the importance of the body as the starting point for a science of the self and the subject. Notwithstanding the influential research that accumulated in this area, it is clear that our fields have neglected another important dimension of the body, namely the interoceptive body, which is the body as perceived from the inside.

There is consensus that interoception research must develop psychologically-relevant and philosophically-sound theoretical foundations, a wider and more grounded measurement model and a fuller characterization of the links between different interoceptive dimensions and systems, if it is to achieve its appropriate place within the life and mind sciences.

The contributions collected in this multidisciplinary volume represent an attempt to provide a reference for the conceptualization of this excitingly deep connection between our body and mind. As such it offers an overview of the state-of-art in psychologcial and neuroscience research, of recent developments in clinical-psychological models for normal and pathological functioning, and of new theories that frame interoception at the intersection between philosophy of mind and the broader context of embodied cognition. To that end, its scope ranges from the psychology and neuroscience of interoception (Part I), to clinical implications of recent research taking into account interoception (Part II), and to theoretical-philosophical frameworks and models of interoception (Part III).

The different chapters included across the three parts are inter-related in various ways, and the synergy between the chapters crosses the boundaries of the disciplines, opening up opportunities for fruitful dialogue between fields that otherwise remain too often separate. The chapters thus share a common concern for what it means to experience oneself, for the crucial role of emotions, and for issues of health and wellbeing, discussed on the joint basis of our bodily existence and interoception, resulting in a more than usual attention for the phenomenology of subjective experience in disciplines outside philosophy.

We hope that the scholarly research presented in this volume will further motivate the much-anticipated coming of age of interoceptive research in psychology, cognitive neurosciences and philosophy.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Hypnosis and Automatic Behaviours

Vince Polito is is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, and member of the Belief Formation Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. His work investigates alterations of agency and body representation associated with hypnosis, virtual reality, flow, meditation, and psychoactive drugs. You can find him on twitter here.

Hypnosis is used clinically as a treatment for conditions such as chronic pain, and is also becoming more commonly used as a research tool in cognitive science. Despite growing levels of interest in hypnosis, the mechanisms that underlie hypnotic effects are still not agreed upon. A common view amongst researchers is that hypnosis can profoundly influence the way that individuals monitor and evaluate their experiences but that it is not able to influence behaviours that are normally outside of conscious control.

A recent study we completed provides evidence that, in certain contexts, hypnosis may actually be able to inhibit typically automatic responses.

Our study adapted an intriguing experimental paradigm developed by Daniel Wegner: the Clever Hands task.

In this task participants are given a series of trivia quiz questions. These are all binary choice, yes/no questions. Most of the questions are incredibly easy (e.g., ‘Is the sky blue?’) but a small number of questions are extremely difficult (e.g., ‘Are there 7107 islands in the Philippines?’ There are not. The correct answer is 7641, in case you were interested). But there is a catch: participants are instructed to answer all the questions randomly. It turns out people are terrible at this task.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Working With Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling

Duncan Law is a consultant clinical psychologist at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and University College London. He is interested in quality improvement across child mental health systems, better collaborative practice, Goals Based Outcomes (GBOs), better use of evidence informed practice, and authentic participation.

Mick Cooper is a professor of Counselling Psychology at Roehampton University. He is the author of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling (Sage, 2015).

In this blog post, Duncan talks about their new co-edited volume Working with Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Recent evidence suggests that working with goals in counselling and psychotherapy can support positive therapeutic change. Goals can empower clients and give them hope: helping them feel that they have the capacity to act towards achieving their desired futures. Goals can help focus, and direct, clients’ and therapists’ attention, building a better therapeutic alliance.  Goal-setting and goal-tracking can help to ensure that therapy is personalised to the individual client: so that they are working towards objectives that are of genuine importance to them.

The different motivations for seeking, and offering, counselling and psychotherapy link with the debate around the use and usefulness of goals in therapy.  The best kind of therapy is the one that fits the needs and wishes and preferences and context of the client. But here is the crux of the matter: before therapists can offer the right kind of help or guidance or facilitation, they need to ask the client (perhaps not so bluntly): ‘What do you want?’

‘What do you want?’ is a deceptively simple question that draws on complex psychological processes and requires great therapeutic skills to help a client answer. From the perspective developed in this book, the client’s answer to this question should set the over-arching direction for the therapeutic process itself. Unless we know the client’s reasons for embarking on a therapeutic journey we cannot be as helpful as they or we might wish. 

How we help and how we understand the question, how we support and facilitate the client to find the answer that is right for them and the myriad potential answers to it, is the starting point for how we help and how we go on being helpful. This is about how we help the client start, and how we remain flexible and open to changes in the directions and reasons for travel, and how we seek to work to be as helpful as we can in joining the client on their journey.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Vaccine Hesitancy and Trust

This post is by Elisabetta Lalumera (University of Bicocca, Milan). In this post she summarises a paper forthcoming in Rivista di Estetica, entitled: "Trust in healthcare systems and vaccine hesitancy."

Healthcare systems can positively influence our personal decision-making and health-related behavior only if we trust them. What does it take for the public to trust a healthcare system? I propose that the trust relation is based on an epistemic component, epistemic authority, and on a value component, the benevolence of the healthcare system. I argue that it is also affected by the vulnerability of the pubblic on healthcare matters, and by the system’s credibility.

My proposed analysis of public trust in health care systems can be used to better understand the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, the tendency to question vaccine policies, and to seek alternative vaccine schedules or refuse vaccination.


Trust in health care is a three-place relation, involving an institution (a community’s health care system), a collective entity (the public), and a field of application, which is what the public trusts a health care system for. The public is the varied group of consumers, seekers and providers of health to which a health care system addresses its services, which in national health care systems virtually coincides with the whole population. Examples of fields of application are information (about, for example, the risks of smoking), prevention (as in immunization campaigns, and screening tests), diagnosis, therapy, hospitalization, but also organ and blood donation.

Public trust in health care involves vulnerability in two respects: (1) we trust someone because we cannot personally take care of all our material and immaterial goods and in particular, we trust an institution because we are unable to manage some area of our life by ourselves, as individuals; (2) we trust healthcare systems with our personal health, and the health of our families and our communities. 

When is it appropriate to trust? First, public trust in health care is grounded on the epistemic authority of health care practitioners, and of the system collectively taken. We can’t expect the health care system to promote, maintain or restore our health unless we assume that it embodies sufficient knowledge, competence, and skills to do so. Second, public trust in health care depends on the confidence that healthcare practitioners will act on the knowledge, competence and skills they possess in order to promote, maintain or restore our health, and not with other goals in view.

Though normatively public trust is founded on epistemic authority and value sharing, in fact it correlates with the credibility of the trusted part. Credibility in this context is the capacity to produce in others the impression that one is epistemically authoritative and benevolent. The public is willing to grant trust if the health care system is credible enough.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process

Jens Brockmeier is a Professor in the Psychology department at the American University of Paris. With a background in philosophy, psychology, and language studies, he is concerned with the cultural fabric of mind and language - language understood as a form of life and central dimension of human development.

He is the author of Culture and Narrative (Mimesis, 2014) and a co-editor (with L.-C Hyden and H. Lindemann Nelson) of Beyond Loss: Dementia, Memory, and Identity (OUP, 2014). In this blog post he talks about his latest book Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process

In recent work, Brockmeier has been investigating narrative as psychological, linguistic, and cultural practice. His main interest is in the function of narrative for autobiographical memory, personal identity, and the understanding of time, issues he has explored both empirically and philosophically – empirically, in various languages and sociocultural contexts, and under conditions of health and illness; philosophically, in terms of a narrative hermeneutics.

Brockmeier has summarized much of his recent work in his book Beyond the Archive: Narrative, Memory, and the Autobiographical Process (Oxford University Press, 2015, paperback version 2018). The book’s basic assumption is that our longstanding view of memory and remembering is in the midst of a profound transformation. This transformation does not only affect our concept of memory or a particular idea of how we remember and forget; it is a wider cultural process. In order to understand it we need to step back and consider what is meant when we say “memory.”

Building on a number of far-ranging studies, Beyond the Archive offers such a perspective. It synthesizes our understanding of remembering in various fields (that most of the time work independently from each other): the neurosciences, social, historical, and digital memory studies, and the humanities. This spectrum of studies also includes analyses of key works of life-writing, specifically of autobiographical literature – by Marcel Proust, Walter Benjamin, Samuel Beckett, W.G. Sebald, and others. What’s more, there even is a memory sculpture/installation by the artist Anselm Kiefer, analyzed as meticulously as neuroscientific experimental data. (In a different work, Brockmeier deals with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as incorporating both individual and collective memories).

The aim of all this is to radically rethink our very notion of memory as a storage, an archive of the past. In a long history of scientific, philosophical, and cultural reflections, this notion has gained an undisputed solidity, suggesting the natural existence of a distinctive human capacity (or a set of neuronal systems) enabling us to “encode,” “store,” and “recall” (or “reconstruct”) past experiences, as the universal mantra of  neuro(cognitive) psychology goes.

However, this is only half of the story and, in fact, half of Brockmeier’s book. The other half presents a new picture emerging out of this transitional phase. There are, in fact, many cultural forms of remembering and forgetting that are different from the traditional archival model, forms and practices embedded not only in the brain or some of its parts, but in a wide range of human activities and artifacts. They now come to the fore, turning into subjects of inquiry. The emerging picture is more complex than any notion of memory as storage of the past would allow.

That is to say, there now are a number of alternatives to the archival memory. One of them is elaborated in this book under the name of the narrative approach (Brockmeier has outlined a slightly different approach shifting the focus to the conversational structure of much of human remembering in another recent publication).

The narrative approach, as Brockmeier demonstrates in Beyond the Archive, via several case studies of autobiographical narratives, not only permits us to explore the storied weave of our most personal, namely, autobiographical form of remembering. It also sheds new light on the interrelations among memory, culture, and self – which opens to a further field of research (and literature), that of “narrative identity.”

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Ageing Stereotypes and False Memories

Today's post is provided by Katya Numbers. She discusses her recent paper "Ageing stereotypes influence the transmission of false memories in the social contagion paradigm", which is forthcoming in Memory.

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of New South Wales as well as the Coordinator of the Sydney Memoryand Ageing Study. My research focuses on metamemory (our beliefs about our own and others’ memories) and ageing. Specifically, I am interested in whether peoples’ subjective beliefs about memory and age can predict and/or influence actual memory performance, both in younger and older adults.

If two people are recalling a shared event, and one person misremembers that event, it is very easy for their false memory to change the other person’s memory of what occurred. We call this the social contagion of memory.

It has been well established that the social contagion effect is influenced by how credible a person is seen to be. That is, people are more likely to adopt false memories from someone they view as a credible memory source compared to someone they see as less credible. The logic behind this is simple: if we think someone is credible, there is not much reason to pay close attention to what they are saying. This allows false suggestions to sort of seep into our memory without us noticing. Alternatively, if we don’t see someone as credible, then we are motivated to pay closer attention to what they are telling us. This makes it easier to first detect, and then later reject, any false information they might suggest.

In Western cultures, one way that a person’s credibility is challenged centres on stereotypes of memory and ageing. If you ask someone to describe a “typical old person”, words like forgetful, feeble and confused readily come to mind. Importantly, though, stereotypes of ageing are multidimensional. So, it’s possible that you may doubt the memory of an old person while at the same time appreciating the wisdom that comes with age. In this way, on older person can be viewed as either “feeble and forgetful” or “experienced and wise” depending on the type of information we have about them.

In a recent paper, myself and my co-authors examined whether manipulating stereotypes associated with an older person would influence the social contagion effect. To do this, we paired college-aged students with an older “partner” who was actually a confederate (someone who is in on the experiment). Next, we manipulated the type of age stereotype associated with her by providing participants with bogus background information about her.

For our negative stereotype condition, participants were told our confederate was retired, living in an aged care facility, and partook in sedentary activities (e.g., knitting). For our positive stereotype condition, participants were told the confederate was completing her Bachelor’s degree, living independently, and enjoyed challenging activities like learning German (all things that were true, by the way!).

Thursday 6 September 2018

The Natural and the Human

This post is by Stephen Gaukroger, Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney.

In the course of the eighteenth century, philosophers, physicians, political economists and others began to think about how the study of human behaviour might be taken out of the hands of metaphysicians and theologians, and transformed into an evidence-based scientific enterprise. These projects fall under the general rubric of ‘naturalization’.

The Natural and the Human looks at late eighteenth and early nineteenth century attempts to naturalize the study of human behaviour, and at the way in which this general programmes lead to the naturalization of religion.

Four forms of naturalization of the human are explored. The first is anthropological medicine, in which traditional philosophical understanding of the human condition is replaced with a medical understanding, not least on the grounds that whereas philosophy confines itself to healthy minds and bodies, what is needed is an understanding of the mind and the body in healthy and unhealthy states. In particular, healing the mind becomes, like healing the body, an empirical matter.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Emotions, Practical Rationality and the Self

This post is by Tyler Flanagan, and in this post he briefly introduces and outlines his recent publication in Res Cogitans entitled “Emotions, Practical Rationality, and the Self.” He is a first year Master’s student in Philosophy at Virginia Tech.

What I am attempting to do in my paper is defend the view that our emotions are quite amenable to the view of ourselves as rational beings. Rather than throw out the picture of the emotional human, I argue that we should embrace the view instead. Our emotions do not in any way stop us from reasoning properly, and in fact provide us with reasons for action that seem to outweigh even our most thoughtful contemplation (Arpaly, 2002; Jones 2004)

With this view in tow, I suggest that the emotions we have about ourselves, such as regret or shame, act as a guide to how well or how poorly we are attending to our goals and what we care about, and in some instances can show us when we are valuing what we should not. In these ways our emotions are an integral part of our rational agency.

Let me begin by explaining that emotions occur for reasons. When a loved one gets angry or holds a grudge towards us, we do not simply throw our hands up and accept it. We ask why they are angry; we ask them to give us reasons for their emotion, suggesting that emotions are in fact beholden to standards of justification and explanation in just the same way as we justify or explain our beliefs and actions.

Ultimately, our emotions are explained (though not necessarily justified) based on what we value. Whether I become angry or sad, joyful or remorseful, it is because I believe something good or bad has either happened or will happen to something or someone I value. If I see a crocodile rushing towards me and I become fearful, it is not only because I value my life, but also because I think the crocodile will in some way harm my life if he catches up to me. If I become sad over my mother’s death, it is because I valued my mother in many ways, and believe that I have experienced a great loss of what I value with her passing.