Thursday, 7 August 2014

Self-control and the Person: Interview with Natalie Gold

Natalie Gold
This week we publish an interview with Natalie Gold, Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, and Principal Investigator of a five-year project on self-control and the person funded by the European Research Council (TeamControl). Project team members include: Jurgis Karpus (PhD student), Marcela Herdova (postdoc), and James Thom (postdoc).

Natalie held post-doctoral fellowships in the Probability, Philosophy and Modeling group based at the University of Konstanz, and in the Philosophy Department at Duke University. Before joining King’s College London, she was a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Her interests are in rationality, decision theory, moral psychology, experimental philosophy and collective intentions.

LB: The aim of your project is to explain self-control, defined as the capacity to resist a temptation in order to pursue a long-term goal. How did you become interested in self-control? What problems do you think a philosophical account of self-control should attempt to solve?

NG: "I've always been interested in the challenges posed by self-control for accounts of rational decision-making. As a graduate student I read a lot by both Jon Elster, for whom self-control is a recurring theme, and Walter Mischel, including but not limited to his famous experiments on self-control, where he observed children trying to exert self-control in the face of a tempting marshmallow. (It’s good to see that Mischel is finally publishing a popular book -- 'The Marshmallow Test', which I am reviewing for the Times Educational Supplement and thoroughly enjoying -- so hopefully his name will become as familiar outside of academia as his research.)

The Marshmallow Test
by Walter Mischel

I started working on self-control myself as a natural progression from two topics that I was working on: framing and levels of agency. In decision theory, it is usual to start with a problem that has already been “framed”, with the relevant features of outcomes picked out and evaluated. But there are all manner of ways of framing a problem, including different framings of the agent. Another thing I had been working on is team reasoning, or the idea that there are different modes of reasoning depending on whether an agent frames herself as an individual or as a part of a group. From there, it was a short step to conceiving of problems of self-control as a conflict between framing a problem from the perspective of me-now and framing it from the perspective of the self over time, with the self as a ‘team’ of timeslices.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Rubber-Hand Illusion and Anomalous Experiences

Jason Braithwaite
I am posting this on behalf of Jason Braithwaite, Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience, and head of the Selective Attention and Awareness Laboratory (SAAL), and Hayley Dewe, PhD student in the SAAL, in the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham.

Hayley Dewe
Using modern methods of neuroscience and psychology, we both research the neurocognition of aberrant and anomalous experiences, including (though not restricted to), the out-of-body experience, dissociation, disorders of embodiment, disembodiment, signs of depersonalization / derealization, aberrant emotional salience in hallucinatory experience, cortical hyperexcitability, and multisensory integration, etc.

The rubber-hand illusion (RHI) involves experimentally inducing an anomalous body experience in observers (Botvinick & Cohen, 1998). Typically observers report everything from mild sensations such as their real hand getting cold, to more striking experiences where they 'think' the rubber hand is connected to their actual body. This protocol is a particularly useful way to explore the underlying neurocognitive processes of embodiment with implications for scientific and philosophical theories of self-consciousness.

The RHI protocol has been used to examine populations who are known to be predisposed to aberrant experiences of the bodily self (e.g., patients with schizophrenia / eating disorders: Burrack & Brugger, 2005; Peled et al., 2000; Mussap & Salton, 2006; Thakkar et al., 2011). The aim here has been to assess any apparent biases in multi-sensory integration that may underlie spontaneous breakdowns of embodiment and account for many of the positive hallucinatory experiences reported by such groups. In this discussion we want to focus on two issues; (i) the over-arching metaphorical account for the RHI in certain patient groups and; (ii) the actual empirical evidence recruited in support of that account.