Friday, February 06, 2015


This is the fourth “Domain” in the provisional five groups being addressed by the RDoC in an effort to reconcile the clinical assumptions defined in the Diagnostic Manual with the organic neurological pathways of the brain now being traced with instruments like fMRI.  I addressed the first three this week and will probably write about the fifth one next Monday.  It’s about the domains of arousal, but not sex.  I need to read a bit more.  

This fourth set of topics strikes me as being the most superficial of the five “Domains” and the most politically confined, but what else should we expect from a nation of sit-coms that can’t grasp post-modern thought.  (Not that I have such a firm grip on it myself.)  And yet there is a urgent need to get some new theoretical grip on a crowded world that still has paleolithic hunting instincts. 

Presumably, this Domain description-- like the others -- will grow and change.  Our American social Puritanism has dropped away taboos only in the most superficial and childish ways -- leaving screenwriters to depict extreme political violence, abusive men, women who fancy themselves special, both expressed constantly in both fictional and actual violence and sex.  We’re treated to people in the bathroom doing the biologically necessary.  We see constant fictional beheadings and immolations, but are horrified to be presented the real thing.  The news reporters comment on the “professional skill” with which a terrorist video shows a pilot in a cage being burned.  They say maybe it wasn’t real.  They said that about walking on the moon: it was just CGI.  There are lines to be drawn.  Cover your ears.  But it is prudish to exclude repulsive social problems and voyeuristic to take pretty movie stars to walk on shacktown garbage.  It is self-destructive to commodify life.  What kills others will get us in the end.  Maybe both ends.

Vivid media systems for delivering vicarious social interactions have been around for a little more than a century.  It is more important than ever to distinguish them from reality, a duty of the brain.  That’s not considered here.  Nor is there anything about stigma, shunning, permission to kill, ingroup/outgroup.  Best to view this criticism as “potential” rather than shortfall, but sooner or later the relationship between psychology and sociology is going to have to undergo the same cross-discipline reconciliation as psychoanalysis and neurology.  When will anyone be able to talk about religion without risking attack? 

But I’m way too critical.  Too iconoclastic.  Too wary.  In retreat.  Cloistered. 

Trans-gender, or trans-species?  Merging with the Other.

Systems for Social Processes: 
Systems that mediate responses to interpersonal settings of various types, including perception and interpretation of others’ actions.

Affiliation and Attachment: 
Affiliation is engagement in positive social interactions with other individuals. 
Attachment is selective affiliation as a consequence of the development of a social bond.

Affiliation and Attachment are moderated by social information processing (processing of social cues) and social motivation. 

Affiliation is a behavioral consequence of social motivation and can manifest itself in social approach behaviors. Affiliation and Attachment require detection of and attention to social cues, as well as social learning and memory associated with the formation of relationships. Affiliation and Attachment include both the positive physiological consequences of social interactions and the behavioral and physiological consequences of disruptions to social relationships. Clinical manifestations of disruptions in Affiliation and Attachment include social withdrawal, social indifference and anhedonia, and over-attachment.

Social Communication: A dynamic process that includes both receptive and productive aspects used for exchange of socially relevant information. Social communication is essential for the integration and maintenance of the individual in the social environment. This construct is reciprocal and interactive, and social communication abilities may appear very early in life. 

Social communication is distinguishable from other cognitive systems (e.g., perception, cognitive control, memory, attention) in that it particularly involves interactions with conspecifics. (People who are like ourselves An elastic category.) 

The underlying neural substrates of social communication evolved to support both automatic/reflexive and volitional control, including the motivation and ability to engage in social communication. 

Receptive aspects may be implicit or explicit; examples include affect recognition, facial recognition and characterization

Productive aspects include eye contact, expressive reciprocation, and gaze following. Although facial communication was set aside as a separate sub-construct for the purposes of identifying matrix elements, social communication typically utilizes information from several modalities, including facial, vocal, gestural, postural, and olfactory processing. 

Painting by Simon Combes

Social Communication was organized into the following sub-constructs:

Reception of Facial Communication: The capacity to perceive someone’s emotional state non-verbally based on facial expressions.

Production of Facial Communication: The capacity to convey one’s emotional state non-verbally via facial expression.

Reception of Non-Facial Communication: The capacity to perceive social and emotional information based on modalities other than facial expression, including non-verbal gestures, affective prosody, distress calling, cooing, etc.

Production of Non-Facial Communication: The capacity to express social and emotional information based on modalities other than facial expression, including non-verbal gestures, affective prosody, distress calling, cooing, etc.

Perception and Understanding of Self: The processes and/or representations involved in being aware of, accessing knowledge about, and/or making judgments about the self. These processes/representations can include current cognitive or emotional internal states, traits, and/or abilities, either in isolation or in relationship to others, as well as the mechanisms that support self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-knowledge. 

Perception and Understanding of Self was organized into the following sub-constructs:

Agency: The ability to recognize one’s self as the agent of one’s actions and thoughts, including the recognition of one’s own body/body parts.

Self-Knowledge: The ability to make judgments about one’s current cognitive or emotional internal states, traits, and/or abilities.

Perception and Understanding of Others: The processes and/or representations involved in being aware of, accessing knowledge about, reasoning about, and/or making judgments about other animate entities, including information about cognitive or emotional states, traits or abilities. 

"I Am What I Am: a sea leopard, VERY dangerous."

"Got it?"

Perception and Understanding of Others was organized into the following sub-constructs:

Animacy Perception: The ability to appropriately perceive that another entity is an agent (i.e., has a face, interacts contingently, and exhibits biological motion).  [My fav.]

Action Perception: The ability to perceive the purpose of an action being performed by an animate entity.

Understanding Mental States: The ability to make judgments and/or attributions about the mental state of other animate entities that allows one to predict or interpret their behaviors. Mental state refers to intentions, beliefs, desires, and emotions.

These constructs seem to derive more from observation and the kind of experiments psych profs do on undergrad students.  The careful tracing of wiring and hormone influences are not talked about -- which doesn’t mean the studies aren’t there.  Maybe I’ve just ignored the information.  So much of it seems like pop stuff.  

Or maybe there is such a strong influence from morality and politics, let alone religion, that it’s hard to winnow out the purely individual/social brain interactions among “conspecifics.”  In fact, it begins to seem as though there really IS a physiological brain-based difference between the polarities of liberal/progressive and conservative/
traditionalist.  Maybe something about trust or risk or toleration of change.

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