Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY FOR DAILY LIFE: Disorder of attention: The only disorder of attention is attention deficit. Persons suffering from from generalised anxiety disorder often complain that they c...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Curse of knowledge and other cognitive biases that lead to wrong decision making

A person may be consciously biased towards or against an ideology, a political party, a religion, a creed, a caste, a country, an ethnic group etc. But a cognitive bias is different from such conscious partisanship. Cognitive bias is an unconscious psychological process which guides the individual in decision making without the individual’s conscious awareness. It is the result of perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation of facts. A conglomeration of these is called irrationality.
Cognitive biases are the result of distortions in the human mind that always lead to the same pattern of poor judgment, often triggered by a particular situation. But how can one person decide the judgment of another person poor? In order to decide the judgment to be poor there should a standard of “good judgment”.  In scientific investigations of cognitive bias, the source of “good judgment” is that of people outside the situation which is presumed to cause the poor judgment or a set of independently verifiable facts.
Positive side of cognitive biases
According to the evolutionary psychology some cognitive biases are adaptive and beneficial because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions when faster decisions are of greater value for survival or reproduction.  
Some common cognitive biases
This common cognitive bias is also called focalism. It refers to a common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor” on one piece of information when making decisions. During normal decision making anchoring occurs when individuals overly rely on a specific piece of information to govern their thought-process. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the “anchored” information. Through this cognitive bias, the first information about a subject can affect future decision making and analysis of new information. For example when a person looks to buy a used car he/she may focus attention excessively on the distance travelled by it as indicated by the odometer rather than considering how well the engine or the transmission is maintained.
Focusing effect
Daniel Kahneman 
It is also called focusing illusion. This cognitive bias occurs when people place too much importance to an event, causing an error in accurately predicting the utility of future outcome.  In economics utility means a measure of satisfaction. People focus on notable differences, excluding those that are less conspicuous, when making predictions about happiness or convenience. For example, a rise in income has only a small and transient effect on happiness and well-being, but people consistently overestimate this effect. Nobel laureate Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman and associates proposed that this is as a result of a focusing illusion, with which people focusing on conventional measured of achievement rather than on everyday routine. Kahneman writes: “Surveys in many countries conducted over decades indicate that, on average, reported global judgments of life satisfaction or happiness have not changed much over the last four decades, in spite of large increase in real income per capita. While reported life satisfaction and household income are positively correlated in a cross-section of people at a given time, increase in income has found to have mainly transitory effect on individuals’ reported life satisfaction.” (Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? By Daniel Kahneman et. al. CEPS Working Paper No. 125 May 2006)
Confirmation Bias
The confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one's beliefs.
Examples: A student who is going to write a research paper may primarily search for information that would confirm his or her beliefs.  The student may fail to search for or fully consider information that is inconsistent with his or her beliefs.
A reporter who is writing an article on an important issue may only interview experts that support her or his views on the issue.
An employer who believes that a job applicant is highly intelligent may pay attention to only information that is consistent with the belief that the job applicant is highly intelligent.
Curse of knowledge
Robin Hogarth 
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias according to which better-informed individuals may have the disadvantage that they lose some ability to understand properly the lesser-informed individuals. As such added information may convey some disutility. The term “curse of knowledge” was coined by the film and TV music composer Robin Hogarth. In one experiment, one group of participants "tapped" a well-known song on a table while another group listened and tried to identify the song. Some "tappers" described a rich sensory experience in their heads as they tapped out the melody. Tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify the specific tune; in reality only 2.5% were able to. This means that the better informed individuals failed to understand properly the lesser informed individuals.  It has been argued that the curse of knowledge could contribute to the difficulty of teaching.
It is a cognitive bias. In 1973 British psychologist Glenn Wilson published an influential book providing evidence that a general factor underlying conservative beliefs is “fear of uncertainty.” An analysis of research papers in 2003 established that not only fear of uncertainty but many other psychological factors like intolerance of ambiguity and need for “cognitive closure” contribute to the degree of one’s political conservatism. The term cognitive closure has been defined as “a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and eschewal of confusion and ambiguity.” (European Review of Social Psychology No. 18 pps. 133-173)
Availability bias
Availability bias is a cognitive bias that causes many to overestimate probabilities of events associated with memorable or dramatic occurrences. More than a bias, it is a “cognitive illusion.” Since, memorable events are further magnified by coverage in the media; the bias is compounded on the society level. Two well-known examples would be estimations of the probability of plane accidents and the kidnap of children. Both events are quite rare, but the huge majority of the population outrageously overestimates their probability, and behaves accordingly. In reality, one is more likely to die from an automobile accident than from a plane accident, and a child has a higher risk of dying in an accident than the risk of getting kidnapped. Availability bias is at the root of many other human biases.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Prodigies and idiot savants: Wonders of human intelligence

Sergei Karjakin -The youngest Grand Master 

Comedy screen writer Andrew Marshall wrote in TIME magazine: “When he was nearly three years old, Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son would watch his mother and father playing chess in the family's ramshackle home in the Mekong Delta, and, like any toddler, pester them to let him play, too. Eventually they relented, assuming the pieces would soon wind up strewn around the kitchen, a plastic bishop stuffed into a teapot. To his parents' astonishment, Son did not treat the chess set as a plaything. He not only knew how to set up the board, which was crudely fashioned with a piece of plywood and a felt-tipped pen. He had, by careful observation, learned many of the complex rules of the game. Within a month, he was defeating his parents with ease. By age 4, Son was competing in national tournaments against kids many years older. By age 7, he was winning them. Now 12, he is Vietnam's youngest champion and a grand master in the making.” ("Small Wonders": TIME Monday, Feb. 17, 2003)
Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son is, no doubt a child prodigy. In the game of chess the youngest grandmaster is Sergei Karjakin of Ukraine. The standard definition of a prodigy is a child who by age 10 displays a mastery of a field usually undertaken only by adults. Prodigies are, by this definition, extraordinary ones whose standout accomplishments are obvious. Ellen Winner, a psychologist in Boston and author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities says: "I always say to parents, 'If you have to ask whether your child is a prodigy, then your child isn't one.'"
Brains of prodigies
American psychologist Michael O'Boyle in Melbourne has been scanning the brains of young people gifted in mathematics. O'Boyle found that, compared with average kids, children with an aptitude for numbers show six to seven times more metabolic activity in the right side of their brains, an area known to mediate pattern recognition and spatial awareness—key abilities for mathematics and music. Scans also showed heightened activity in the frontal lobes, believed to play a crucial "executive" role in coordinating thought and improving concentration. This region of the brain is virtually inactive in average children when doing the same tasks.
O'Boyle believes prodigies also can switch very efficiently between the brain's left and right hemispheres, utilizing other mental resources and perhaps even shutting down areas that produce random distractions. In short, while their brains aren't physically different from ordinary children's, prodigies seem to be able to focus better—to muster the mental resources necessary to solve problems and learn. O'Boyle says: "For the longest time, these kids' brains were considered the same as everyone else's; they just did twice as much, twice as fast. It turns out those quantitative explanations don't fit. They're doing something qualitatively different."
Neuro-cognitive basis
What is the neuro-cognitive basis of this extraordinary brilliance? Are prodigies born different, gifted by genetic accident to be mentally more efficient? Or is the management of mental resources something that can be developed? Scientists aren't sure. Studies have shown that raw intelligence, as measured through IQ tests, is highly (though not completely) inheritable. But the connection between high intelligence and prodigious behavior is far from absolute. So-called idiot savants, for example, show unusual mastery of specific skills—they could even be described as prodigies were it not for their overall low intelligence. And many very creative children don't necessarily register high IQs because they don't test well on standardized intelligence tests and examinations, says McCann, the education specialist at Flinders University. Creative kids "are looking for different ways to answer the questions," she says. "They're looking for the trick questions."
Unlimited storage capacity of memory
Mauro Pesenti
In a pioneering study in this issue, neuroscientist Mauro Pesenti and colleagues have now used functional brain imaging to examine the calculating prodigy RĂ¼diger Gamm, and to compare his brain activity with that of normal control subjects as they perform mental arithmetical calculations. Gamm is remarkable in that he is able to calculate 9th powers and 5th roots with great accuracy and he can find the quotient of 2 primes to 60 decimal places. The authors found that Gamm’s calculation processes recruited a system of brain areas implicated in episodic memory, including right medial frontal and parahippocampal gyri, whereas those of control subjects did not. They suggest that experts develop a way of exploiting the unlimited storage capacity of long-term memory to maintain task relevant information, such as the sequence of steps and intermediate results needed for complex calculation, whereas the rest of us rely on the very limited span of working memory.
No more idiot-savants
Human Calculator: RĂ¼diger Gamm   
Savant syndrome was first recognized by Dr. J. Langdon Down. He also originated the term Down’s syndrome. In 1887, he coined the term "idiot savant" to describe someone who had "extraordinary memory but with a great defect in reasoning power." Idiot is a person with low intelligence. Savant is derived from the French, savoir, meaning wise. The term idiot-savant is now little used because of its inappropriate connotations, and the term savant syndrome has now been more or less adopted. Another term, autistic savant, is also widely used, but this can be somewhat misleading. Although there is a strong association with autism, it is certainly not the case that all savants are autistic. It is estimated that about 50% of the cases of savant syndrome are from the autistic population, and the other 50% from the population of developmental disabilities and CNS injuries.
Savant talents usually appear spontaneously, without warning. The first encounter with a savant is often very charged. Perhaps because the gift is so extraordinary and so at odds with assumptions about the disability itself, it can sometimes seem as if the talent is being revealed, for the very first time, to a viewer's eyes. 
Although savants often take an immediate interest in their instrument or special skill, their fully-formed talents do not necessarily blossom overnight, contrary to the Hollywood notion of a savant. Musical progress is often non-linear. Some aspects of the talent may emerge before others (such as memory or technical ability); although, when the skills come together, there is a quantum leap in overall ability. Once that happens, savant talents can progress quite rapidly.
Nadia’s drawings
 One of Nadia’s drawings
“Nadia” was an autistic savant artist who, by her sixth year, demonstrated an astonishing ability to draw in what was described as ‘Renaissance-style’ perspective. Nadia was the subject of a widely-quoted 1977 book by British psychologist Lorna Selfe. As Nadia gained communicative speech later in childhood, she apparently lost her artistic talent. Selfe suggested a trade-off between language and artistic skills: that as language skills were refined, special artistic skills waned or disappeared. 
In fact, Nadia's loss of interest in drawing came in a shift in her care environment, and mostly in the wake of her mother's death. It is possible that Nadia simply lost her main source of encouragement, and that her artistic gift withered for a lack of praise and reinforcement. Fortunately, such trade-offs are rare. Savant skills are a very useful ‘conduit toward normalization’ in and of themselves, and when they exist, can be helpful in developing many other skills that allow the savant to communicate with the larger world.
A new explanation
The Indian born American neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran writes: “Consider the possibility that savants suffer brain damage before or shortly after birth. Is it possible that their brains undergo some form of remapping as seen in phantom limb patients? Does prenatal or neonatal injury lead to unusual rewiring? In savants, one part of the brain may for some obscure reasons receive a greater than average input or some other equivalent impetus to become denser and larger—a huge angular gyrus, for example. What would be the consequence of mathematical ability? Would this produce a child who can generate eight-digit prime numbers? In truth, we know so little about how neurons perform such abstract operations that it’s difficult to predict what the effect of such change might be. An angular gyrus double in size could lead not to a mere doubling of mathematical ability but to a logarithmic or hundred fold increase. You can imagine an explosion of talent resulting form this simple but “anomalous” increase in brain volume. The same argument might hold for drawing, music, language, indeed any human trait.”
He continues: “a similar argument can be put forth to explain the occasional emergence of genius or extraordinary talent in the normal population, or to answer the especially vexing question of how such abilities cropped up in evolution in the first place.” (PHANTOMS IN THE BRAIN by Sandra Blakeslee & V. S. Ramachandran p. 192)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Human intelligence: one or many?

Intelligence is most widely studied in humans. Animals and plants also are endowed with intelligence. Yes, plants do have intelligence. A botanist may vouchsafe that plant intelligence is the ability of plants to sense the environment and adjust their morphology, physiology, and phenotype accordingly. “Ability” is the phenomenal aspect of the intelligence. Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence in machines. 

What really is intelligence?
The definition of intelligence is controversial. In 1994 the Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray published a book The Bell Curve which soon became controversial and best-selling. The book's title comes from the bell-shaped normal distribution of intelligence quotient (IQ) scores in a population. The central argument in the book is that intelligence is influenced by both inherited and environmental factors. The book also argues that those with high intelligence, the “cognitive elite”, are becoming separated from those of average and below-average intelligence, and that this is a dangerous social trend with the United States moving toward a more divided society similar to that in Latin America.
Much of the controversy concerned the parts of the book in which the authors wrote about racial differences in intelligence and discuss the implications of those differences. The authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic; however, they wrote in chapter 13: "It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences."  The introduction to the chapter more cautiously states, "The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved."  Shortly after publication, many people rallied both in criticism and defense of the book.

Mainstream Science on Intelligence  was a public statement issued by a group of 52 academic researchers in the fields allied to intelligence testing. It was originally published in the Wall Street Journal in December 13, 1994. The statement says: “intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—catching on, making sense of things, or figuring out what to do.”

Intelligence tests
Intelligence tests are widely used in educational, business, and military settings due to their efficacy in predicting behavior. Intelligence quotient (IQ) is the number arrived at by dividing the mental age with chronological age and then multiplying with 100. The mental age is assessed through intelligence tests. Average IQ is 100. The IQ is correlated with many important social outcomes—individuals with low IQs are more likely to be divorced, have a child out of marriage, be incarcerated, and need long-term welfare support, while individuals with high IQs are associated with more years of education, higher status jobs and higher income. Intelligence is significantly correlated with successful training and performance outcomes, and IQ is the single best predictor of successful job performance.

Core of human intelligence or g
Charles Edward Spearman 
Specific abilities and G factor
There are many different kinds of IQ tests using a wide variety of test tasks. Some tests consist of a single type of task, others rely on a broad collection of tasks with different contents including visual-spatial, verbal, numerical tasks and asking for different cognitive processes such as reasoning, memory, rapid decisions, visual comparisons, spatial imagery, reading, and retrieval of general knowledge. The British psychologist Charles Edward Spearman found that a single common factor explained the positive correlations among different tasks of an intelligence test. Spearman named it g or "general intelligence factor". He interpreted it as the core of human intelligence that, to a larger or smaller degree, influences success in all cognitive tasks and thereby creates the positive manifold. This interpretation of g as a common cause of test performance is still dominant in intelligence tests.
Multiple intelligences
The American developmental psychologist Howard Earl Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences based on studies not only of normal children and adults but also of gifted individuals called savants and prodigies and of persons who have suffered brain damage. This led Gardner to break intelligence down into at least eight different components: logical, linguistic, spatial, musical, kinesthetic pertaining to body-movements, interpersonal, naturalist pertaining to environment, and existential. 
Howard Earl Gardner 
1. Logical/Mathematical intelligence: This area has to do with logic, abstractions, reasoning and numbers and critical thinking. While it is often assumed that those with this intelligence naturally excel in mathematics, chess, computer programming and other logical or numerical activities. Logical reasoning is closely linked to fluid intelligence and to general ability.
2. Spatial intelligence: This area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind's eye. Careers which suit those with this type of intelligence include artists, designers and architects. A spatial person is also good with puzzles.
3. Verbal/Linguistic intelligence: This area has to do with words, spoken or written. People with high verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words along with dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and by discussing and debating about what they have learned. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure. Verbal ability is one of the most g-loaded abilities.
4. Kinesthetic/Bodily intelligence: The core elements of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are control of one's bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects skillfully. Gardner elaborates to say that this intelligence also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses so they become like reflexes. In theory, people who have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence should learn better by involving muscular movement. They are generally good at physical activities such as sports or dance. They may enjoy acting or performing, and in general they are good at building and making things.
5. Musical intelligence: This area has to do with sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. People with a high musical intelligence normally have good pitch and are able to sing, play musical instruments, and compose music. Since there is a strong auditory component to this intelligence, those who are strongest in it may learn best via lecture. Language skills are typically highly developed in those whose base intelligence is musical. In addition, they will sometimes use songs or rhythms to learn. They have sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody or timbre.
6. a. Interpersonal intelligence:  Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand others. In theory, individuals who have high interpersonal intelligence are characterized by their sensitivity to others' moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group.
6. b. Intrapersonal intelligence: This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. This refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what your strengths/ weaknesses are, what makes you unique, being able to predict your own reactions/emotions. Philosophical and critical thinking is common with this intelligence. Many people with this intelligence are authors, philosophers, and members of clergy.
7. Naturalistic intelligence: This area to do with nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings. They become naturalists, farmers and gardeners.
8. Existential intelligence: Some proponents of multiple intelligence theory proposed spiritual or religious intelligence as a possible additional type. Gardner did not want to commit to a spiritual intelligence, but suggested that an “existential” intelligence may be a useful construct.

It seems that Gardner crystallized and categorized different facets of human intelligence into distinct types of intelligence. In individual with high general intelligence different abilities may develop in appropriate circumstances if properly motivated, supported and persevered. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

How a criminal mind evolves?

A few days ago a boy aged 15 studying in the tenth standard of a High School in the Indian state of Kerala cold-bloodedly murdered one of his classmates by first stunning the victim with a stone-blow and then cutting the throat with a knife. The murderer led the victim to the toilet of the school by telling him to show a secret object. The murderer-boy admitted to the police that he murdered his classmate in vengeance to the defeat he met in the altercation which took place between him and the victim some months back.
Juvenile delinquency
Psychologically the act of the boy is juvenile delinquency or in simple terms youth crime. By legal definition it is participation in illegal behavior by minors under 18 years.According to Laurence Steinberg, department of psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, in recent years the average for first arrest has dropped significantly, and younger boys and girls are committing crimes. Between 60 and 80 percent of adolescents engage in some form of juvenile offense. These can range from status offenses such as underage smoking to property crimes such as theft, robbery and violent crimes. The number of teens who offend is so high that it would seem to be a cause for worry. But Laurence Steinberg considers juvenile offending as normative adolescent behavior. This is because most teens tend to do offend by committing non-violent crimes, only once or a few times, and these offenses are confined to adolescence. When the adolescents offend repeatedly or violently their offending is likely to continue beyond adolescence. In such cases offenses become increasingly violent. According to psychologist Terrie Moffitt it is likely that such individuals begin offending and displaying antisocial behavior even before reaching adolescence.
Evolution of a delinquent mind
Laurence Steinberg
Adolescence is a transition phase from childhood to adulthood. In the early periods of industrialization and in the ages before industrial era there was no transition phase. A child spontaneously develop into an adult and start working and living adult life. According to Laurence Steinberg, who wrote the noted book The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, the new drawn out transition from childhood to adulthood, that is now common in western and developing words, has left many adolescents in a limbo where they must seek to define their identity and place in the world. Sometimes delinquency may provide a way to get an identity.
Contrary to popular belief it is highly rare for teenagers to become spontaneously aggressive, antisocial or violent simply with the onset of adolescence. Only about 5 to 10 per cent commit violent crimes. In the United States, according to criminologist Alex R. Piquero, one third of all of suspects arrested for violent crimes are under eighteen. (Piquero et al. (2003):The Criminal Career Paradigm: Background and Recent Developments)
Different types of juvenile delinquents
Terrie Moffitt 
Lifelong studies of offenders conducted by psychologist Terrie Moffitt have established that there are two different types of offenders that emerge in adolescence. One is the repeat offender, referred to as the life-course-persistent offender who begins showing antisocial and aggressive behavior in late childhood and continues into adulthood. The second category of offenders are age specific referred to as the adolescence-limited offender. In this category delinquency begins and ends during their adolescence. Therefore a careful childhood history of the juvenile delinquents is essential to determine whether they will be lifelong persistent offenders, or just adolescent-limited offenders. Although most of the adolescent-limited delinquents drop all criminal activities once they enter adulthood, psychological studies have established that they still show more mental health problems, substance abuse, and finance problems, both in adolescence and adulthood, than those who were never delinquent.
Masculinity and delinquency
It is a fact that more young men commit offenses than young women. One suggestion is that the ideas of masculinity may make young men more likely to offend. Being tough, powerful, aggressive, daring and competitive becomes a way for young men to assert and express their masculinity.  Acting out these ideals may make young men more likely to engage in antisocial and criminal behavior. Also, the way young men are treated by others, because of their masculinity, may reinforce aggressive traits and behaviors, and make them more susceptible to offending.
Alternatively, young men may actually be naturally more aggressive, daring and prone to risk-taking. According to a study led by Florida State University criminologist Kevin M. Beaver, adolescent males who possess a certain type of variation in a specific gene are more likely to group together with delinquent peers. The study, which appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Genetic Psychology, is the first to establish a statistically significant association between an affinity for antisocial peer groups and a genetic factor.
Risk factors
Two important risk factors that lead to juvenile delinquency are parenting style and peer group association. Following parenting styles are undoubtedly at fault causing juvenile delinquency:
"Permissive" parenting is characterized by a lack of discipline. It encompasses the following subtypes:
§  "neglectful" parenting, characterized by a lack of monitoring and thus of knowledge of the child's activities,
§  "indulgent" parenting, characterized by enablement of misbehavior,
§  "authoritarian" parenting, characterized by harsh discipline and refusal to justify discipline on any basis other than "because I said so".
Peer group association with antisocial peer groups is also very important causative factor of juvenile delinquency. This occurs as a result of faulty parenting where the child is left unsupervised.
Other factors that may mislead a teenager into juvenile delinquency include low socio-economic status, poor school performance and failures, peer rejection and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with low intelligence and those suffering from ADHD are more likely to do badly in school. This may increase the chances of offending. Low educational attainment, low attachment to school, and low educational aspirations are all risk factors for offending in themselves. Most of these tend to be influenced by a mix of both genetic and environmental factors.  
Criticism of risk factor researches
Two UK academics, Stephen Case and Kevin Haines, among others, criticized risk factor research in their academic papers and a comprehensive polemic text, Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice. The validity of risk factor research is criticized for:
Reductionism - over-simplifying complex experiences and circumstances by converting them to simple quantities, relying on a psychosocial focus whilst neglecting potential socio-structural and political influences;
Determinism - characterizing young people as passive victims of risk experiences with no ability to construct negotiates or resist risk;
Imputation - assuming that risk factors and definitions of offending are homogenous across countries and cultures and assuming that statistical correlations between risk factors and offending actually represent causal relationships.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Perfectionism is manifestation of personality disorder

Case vignette

Mr. R., working as pharmacist in a Government hospital, experiences ‘mental tension’ whenever he sees things at home or at the pharmacy in a disorderly fashion. He wants everything in orderly way and neat and tidy condition. He often scolds his only son studying in the higher secondary class for not keeping his books in neat and tidy manner. He did his daily exercise to keep himself fit but his son never bothered to do exercise. He couldn’t gather why he is all the time worried and dissatisfied. He was constantly disappointed with his wife and son who, according to him, never rose to his standards. He has been pointing out their faults, lecturing them about their duties and warning them about how their future would be doomed unless they changed their easygoing nature. His wife and son are becoming more and more detached and irresponsible, quite contrary to what he wanted. They seemed to be purposely not following his instructions. They avoided him even to the extent of refusing to sit together to have a meal. Obviously, they found his constant blaming and advising unacceptable.  He concluded: “Doctor, I am a perfectionist. But my wife and son are not. That is why I am worried about them. What should I do to correct them?”

Perfectionism is a personality disorder

Mr. R. was absolutely correct when he said that he was a perfectionist. But perfectionist is, as William Shakespeare said in King Lear, “striving to be better, oft mar what's well”. Perfectionism is the manifestation of a personality disorder called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. In the international classification of diseases it is designated as ‘anancastic personality disorder.’ It is characterized by the following:
  1. feelings of excessive doubt and caution;
  2. preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization or schedule;
  3. perfectionism that interferes with task completion;
  4. excessive conscientiousness, scrupulousness, and undue preoccupation with productivity to the exclusion of pleasure and interpersonal relationships;
  5. excessive pedantry and adherence to social conventions;
  6. rigidity and stubbornness;
  7. unreasonable insistence by the patient that others submit to exactly his or her way of doing things, or unreasonable reluctance to allow others to do things;
  8. intrusion of insistent and unwelcome thoughts or impulses.

Perfectionists may be mistaken for high achievers, but there are some key differences between them. How to identify a perfectionist? Following are the telltale traits of perfectionist:

All-or-nothing thinking:

Perfectionists, like high achievers, tend to set high goals and work hard toward them. However, a high achiever becomes satisfied with doing a great job and achieving excellence or something close to it. They are not tense even if their very high goals aren’t completely met. Perfectionists will accept nothing less than perfection. Even “almost perfect” is considered as failure by perfectionists. This kind of evaluation of achievements is due to their “all-or-nothing thinking’. This type of thinking is a cognitive distortion. They see everything in black or white. Therefore this type of thinking is also called black-and-white thinking.

Harsh self-criticism:

Perfectionists are far more critical of themselves than are high achievers. While high achievers take pride in their accomplishments and tend to be supportive of others, perfectionists tend to spot tiny mistakes and imperfections in their own work, as well as in others work.

Perfectionists are pushed by fear:

High achievers tend to be pulled toward their goals by a desire to achieve them, and are happy with any steps made in the right direction. Perfectionists, on the other hand, tend to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them. They see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.

Unrealistic goals:

A perfectionist’s goals aren’t always reasonable. While high achievers can set their goals high, perhaps enjoying the fun of going a little further once goals are reached, perfectionists often set their initial goals out of reach. Because of this, high achievers tend to be not only happier, but more successful than perfectionists in the pursuit of their goals.

No result orientation:

High achievers can enjoy the process of chasing a goal. Perfectionists see the goal and nothing else. They’re so concerned about meeting the goal and avoiding the dreaded failure that they can’t enjoy the process of growing and striving.

Depressed by unmet goals:

While high achievers are able to bounce back fairly easily from disappointment, perfectionists tend to beat themselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings when their high expectations go unmet. This leads to depression.

Afraid to fail:

Perfectionists are also much more afraid to fail than are high achievers. Failure becomes a very scary prospect. And, since anything less than perfection is seen as ‘failure’, this can lead to procrastination.


Procrastination is deferring an action to a later time. Perfectionism and procrastination do tend to go hand in hand. This is because, fearing failure as they do, perfectionists will sometimes worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all! This leads to more feelings of failure, and a vicious cycle is thus perpetuated.


Because a less-than-perfect performance is so painful and scary to perfectionists, they tend to take constructive criticism defensively, while high achievers can see criticism as valuable information to help their future performance.

Low self esteem:

High achievers tend to have high esteem of themselves; not so with perfectionists. They tend to be very self-critical and unhappy, and suffer from low self-esteem. They can also be lonely or isolated, as their critical nature and rigidity can push others away as well. This can lead to lower self-esteem.

Get rid of perfectionism

Perfectionism can rob you of your peace of mind, enjoyment of life, and self esteem. Though it’s a process that may take a little time, shedding the burden of perfectionism can greatly decrease the level of stress you feel on a daily basis.

Recognizing that a change may be needed is a very important first step toward creating a more easygoing nature and achieving the inner peace and real success that comes from overcoming perfectionism and being able to say that ‘almost perfect’ or ‘less than perfect’ is also a job well done.
A restructuring of cognition or mindset and personality is needed to get rid of perfectionism; here are some important steps you can take to maintain a healthier attitude:

Make a cost-benefit analysis:

Take a closer look at your perfectionist traits. You may think you’re more effective because of them. Many researchers have proved that this isn’t true. Perfectionism has many negative consequences, and you may be experiencing several of them right now. Make a list of all the ways perfectionism is hurting you (and those around you), and you’ll be more motivated to shed these tendencies.

Self-awareness of your tendencies:

By becoming more aware of your patterns, you’re in a better position to alter them. It is better to record your perfectionist thoughts as they pop into your mind. If it is impractical for you to write down thoughts as they come, try to go over your day each night and remember the times when you felt you’d failed, and write down what you thought at the time. This will help you become more aware of perfectionist thoughts as they come to you in the future.

See the positive:

Try to stop spotting mistakes. It may be difficult to just stop. But you can soften your tendency to notice the bad by making a conscious effort to notice all that is good with your work and the achievements of others. If you notice something you don’t like about yourself or your work, for example, look for five other qualities that you do like. This will balance out your critical focus and become a positive new habit.

Change your self-talk:

A perfectionist always engages in negative self-talk like ‘my work isn’t good enough’, ‘I am not trying hard enough’, and ‘they are not good enough’. Negative self talk can perpetuate unhealthy behaviors and wreak havoc on your self esteem; by altering your self-talk, you can go a long way toward enjoying life more and gaining an increased appreciation for yourself and your work. 

Set realistic goal

Perfectionists tend to set goals of unreasonable excellence. These goals tend to be unrealistic and cause problems by being so rigidly demanding and leaving little room for error. Instead, you can reduce a lot of stress by changing your goals.

Enjoy the process:

You may be used to focusing on results, and getting depressed if your results are less than perfect. One important way to recover from perfectionism is to begin focusing more on the process of reaching toward a goal, rather than just focusing on the goal itself. You can also enjoy the process of reaching a goal by getting involved with a group who is also trying to achieve the same goal you’re after. If you find you don’t achieve perfection, you can then reflect back and see all that you’ve gained in just working toward a worthy goal, assessing and appreciating the gains you did make in the process.

Learn to handle criticism:

Do not look at criticism as an attack and react defensively. Constructive criticism can give you important clues on how to improve your performance, making your less-than-perfect performances into useful stepping stones that lead to excellence. If the criticism you’re receiving is harsh, just remind others and yourself that mistakes are a great way to learn.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Artificial intelligence and Chinese room argument

Marvin Lee Minsky

American cognitive scientist Marvin Lee Minsky once wrote: “Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be our children.”
Robots are machines run by artificial intelligence.  Artificial intelligence is a product of human intelligence.
But, what is intelligence?
 Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees of intelligence occur in people, many animals and some machines.
Computation and calculation
Computation is a type of calculation. A calculation is a process for transforming one or more inputs into one or more results, with variable change.
The term is used in a variety of senses, from the very definite arithmetical calculation of using an algorithm to logically calculating a strategy in a competition or the chance of a successful relationship between two people.
For example, multiplying 7 by 8 is a simple algorithmic calculation. Estimating the fair price for financial instruments using the Black–Scholes model is a complex
algorithmic calculation.
To calculate means to ascertain by computing. The English word derives from the Latin calculus, which originally meant a small stone in the gall-bladder (from Latin calx). It also meant a pebble used for calculating, or a small stone used as a counter in an abacus. The abacus was an instrument used by Greeks and Romans for arithmetic calculations, preceding the slide-rule and the electronic calculator. It consisted of perforated pebbles sliding on an iron bars.
What is artificial intelligence?
John McCarthy
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence of machines. Generally, the term is applied to the branch of computer science that aims to create AI. The text books dealing with the subject define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system or machine that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. John McCarthy was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. He coined the term "artificial intelligence". He defines AI as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines." AI research is highly technical and specialized, divided into subfields. Machine implementation of human cognitive ability is an ambitious and challenging objective. Its ultimate goal includes total integration, understanding, and representation of animal behavours and cognitive processes of humans—namely, thinking, feeling, speaking, symbolic processing, remembering, learning, knowing, consciousness, problem solving, planning, and decision making. These processes compose a broad cognitive and behavioural spectrum of living systems.
Human mind consists of modules
Many cognitive scientists depict the mind as “modular”—consisting of different parts that interact to produce both external behaviors and internal phenomena such as introspection. Such compartmental paradigms make it possible to create models of mind and build machines that based on such modular concepts. This paradigm provides for emulating the human brain. Such forms of emulation are the very essence of artificial intelligence. Naturally the AI has different branches or subspecialties performing different functions.
Subspecialties or programs of artificial intelligence:
Logical AI
This program decides what to do by inferring that certain actions are appropriate for achieving its goals. Cognitive scientist Robert C. Moore distinguishes three uses of logic in AI; as a tool of analysis, as a basis for knowledge representation, and as a programming language.
AI programs often examine large numbers of possibilities, e.g. moves in a chess game or inferences by a theorem-proving program.
Pattern recognition
When a program makes observations of some kind, it is often programmed to compare what it sees with a pattern. For example, a vision program may try to match a pattern of eyes and a nose in a scene in order to find a face.
Facts about the world have to be represented in some way. Usually languages of mathematical logic are used.
From some facts, others can be inferred. This is emulation of human reasoning. The simplest kind of non-monotonic reasoning is default reasoning in which a conclusion is to be inferred by default, but the conclusion can be withdrawn if there is evidence to the contrary. For example, when we hear of a bird, we may infer that it can fly, but this conclusion can be reversed when we hear that it is a penguin. It is the possibility that a conclusion may have to be withdrawn that constitutes the non-monotonic character of the reasoning.
Commonsense knowledge and reasoning
This is the area in which AI is farthest from human-level, in spite of the fact that it has been an active research area since the 1950s.
Learning from experience
Programs do that. Such programs are made imitating the neural networks of human brain.
Planning programs start with general facts about the world (especially facts about the effects of actions), facts about the particular situation and a statement of a goal. From these, they generate a strategy for achieving the goal. In the most common cases, the strategy is just a sequence of actions.
The list of programs is incomplete. Some of these may be regarded as concepts or topics rather than full branches.
Chinese room argument
Cognitive scientists Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig wrote in the third edition (2009) of the book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach: “Once we have a complete, comprehensive theory of mind, it becomes possible to express the model in machine form.”  But some philosophers think this is over confidence and they believe the “Chinese-room-argument” is valid for ever.
The Chinese Room argument was put forward by American philosopher John Rogers Searle. It is an argument against the possibility of artificial intelligence which is true replica of human mind. The argument centers on a thought experiment in which someone who knows only English sits alone in a room following English instructions for manipulating strings of Chinese characters. To those outside the room watching the performer it appears as if someone in the room understands Chinese. Searle summarized the Chinese Room argument concisely:
Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese without understand a word of Chinese.
Searle goes on to say, 
The point of the argument is this: if the man in the room does not understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the appropriate program for understanding Chinese then neither does any other digital computer solely on that basis because no computer, qua computer, has anything the man does not have.
John Rogers Searle 

Searle develops broader implications of his argument. Searle also aims to refute the functionalist approach to understanding minds, especially that form of functionalism known as the Computational Theory of Mind that treats minds as information processing systems. As a result of its scope, as well as Searle's clear and forceful writing style, the Chinese Room argument has probably been the most widely discussed philosophical argument in cognitive science to appear in the in the past 25 years. By 1991 computer scientist Pat Hayes had defined Cognitive Science as the ongoing research project of refuting Searle's argument.