Sunday, 31 August 2008

How Causal is Causal Modelling in Cognitive Psychology?


Understanding Developmental Disorders: A Causal Modelling ApproachPsychologists such as Uta Frith and John Morton have recently attempted to clarify the, or at least a, framework constraining the reasoning deployed in certain of the models and theories found at the psychological end of today's cognitive neurosciences. They are interested, in particular, in cognitive development and developmental disorders. My interest here is, however, more epistemological than developmental or psychological. What I want to do is to start to elucidate a distinction between two types of explanation in psychology, and then suggest that what goes by the name of 'causal modelling' typically conflates these two types of explanation. (Personal background: irritation with the way in which psychologists mistake their ability to conceptually distinguish between cause and correlation as the resting point for the requisite reflective understanding of causation...)

Two Types of Explanation

Type 1

We are looking out of a small window. We see a branch break off the tree in front of us. But we don't see what caused this to happen. Perhaps it was the wind; perhaps it was someone sawing out of sight near the trunk; perhaps it was a woodpecker; perhaps it was a big fat squirrel sitting out of sight on the end away from the trunk. Perhaps it was all of these at once. Let's call the search for the reason for the branch breaking: "looking for the efficient cause of a happening".

Type 2

We are looking out of another small window. And we see some letters from the end of a banner moving past. We can't see the whole of the banner; just the end of it. The letters are:


And we wonder what the banner is saying. What is the pattern that completes? What will we see when we go outside? In a Robert Graves moment, stuck in our room, we have two hypnagogic hallucinations. The first reads:


The second reads:


Unlike Graves, we don't have to base our hypothesis on the strength of the imagery: We go outside and discover a large processional advert for Morton's book. So, let's call the search for the particular type of explanation required here the search for the "pattern that completes".

The Differences

So what are the differences between these two types of explanation?

Here are some things I find myself wanting to say about the first sort of explanation. It provides us with a cause of what happens (say: the branch snapped under the weight of the squirrel). We see how it came about, how it originated. We explain one thing (the branch breaking) in terms of some other thing (the jumping squirrel).

And here is what I want to say about the second: It tells us more about what it is that we are seeing. We come to an understanding of what it is, an understanding that makes sense of something in terms of something which already makes sense to us. We might not know why someone is carrying this banner, why it happened that the banner went past the window, or how the letters got printed on it. There is then at least one sense in which coming to see what else is on the banner does not explain why the letters went past the window. We are told more about the phenomenon itself, and not more about its origination. The phenomenon is now one which we find intelligible: we now find the particular letters intelligible in terms of the kinds of things we already have experience of. If it had turned out that there was just nonsense written on the banner, with these letters at the end of the nonsense words, our finding out this extra information would not have made what we saw intelligible in the way that our finding out that it was part of an advert for Morton's book made it intelligible.

I hope this is enough to be getting on with for now. The one makes an event intelligible by informing us of its precipitants or 'efficient causes'. Call this clearly 'causal'. The other makes for intelligibility by situating a particular within an intelligible context. We now 'see what' it was that was there. In the first, we know how something happened; in the latter, we understand better what it was that happened. (Of course, events may be redescribed in terms of their causes, and I am relying on your not finding it just obvious that this is just what an intelligibility-conferring, pattern-completing, type two, explanation amounts to.)

And I hope now that others will find it acceptable enough when I claim that to be told that it was 'explaining developmental disorders' rather than 'campaigning animal protesters' that went past the window is not to be given a causal explanation of the occurrence of the letters I saw. In this latter case, my puzzlement and my inquiry just was not such as to inspire the provision of a cause by way of an answer. What I needed was more phenomenology, and not more aetiology.

Causal Modelling in Psychology

So what I shall be claiming is that 'causal models' in psychology can sometimes run these two senses together. That is, they portray different sorts of explanation as causal. And this can lead to epistemological confusion. Morton tells us that his own strategy is a 'causal modelling approach'. He is interested in the way in which developmental disorders develop, and his general strategy is to posit cognitive processes as causal intermediaries between biological abnormalities and phenotypic behavioural expressions.

So let's look at an example from his book (well worth a read by the way, and in many ways a model of clarity).

Here are my objections. First, the model is presented as if the relation between the 'biological' and the 'cognitive' were the same kind of relation as that between the 'cognitive' and the 'behavioural'. Second, and relatedly: the suggestion is made that the cognitive factors are 'inferred entities', and that the form of our understanding here is, accordingly, inference to the best causal explanation.

Here is what Morton says regarding his three levels of description (p. 22):

The one substantive assumption in the framework that I will present to you is that what I call the cognitive level has a major role to play in the causal chains of interest to us. This is implicit in many of the diagnostic descriptions that we see. In the framework, the cognitive is made explicit. The reality of cognition makes it clear why people get so confused when they try to map biology straight on to behaviour.
And this is what I am objecting to: That the significance of the cognitive level, and the confusions that result when we try to map biology straight onto behaviour, are a function of the cognitive factors occupying a 'causal intermediary' function between, in this case, brain and behaviour.

For this is how things seem to me: When I want to understand relations between cognitive factors, or when I want to understand 'the reason for' some bit of behaviour, what I am searching for is far more akin to a Type 2 explanation than a Type 1. Morton tells us that a cognitive factor is (p. 21) 'far more than a redescription of the behaviour from which the idea (of the cognitive factor in question) sprang.' This seems doubtful to me, although much will turn on what we mean by 'redescription'.

Consider the genetics to brain relations in Figure 3.14. They are surely causal, Type 1, relations. So too, I would say, are the effects of the brain differences on the resulting cognitive structures. It is not that the inner intelligibility of the cognitive factors is elucidated by the brain dysfunctions. Rather, we see how they originated, what the efficient causes of the cognitive factors are, when we appreciate their putative biological origins. But the relations between theory of mind and unlearned social conventions, or between theory of mind deficits and imaginative deficits, is to my mind quite different. So too are the relations between, say, lack of imagination and no pretend play.

Consider this latter example. We see a child who is not pretend playing, in a situation which we might otherwise expect a child to be pretend playing, and we wonder why. Perhaps they are very anxious. Perhaps they have no imagination. Perhaps they are glued to their seat, or are lazy. According to Morton, these are to be considered 'causal explanations' of the lack of pretend play. But to my mind, they are far more analogous to Type 2 explanations. We discover what is going on for someone, for example, not when we independently identify a lack of imagination quite independently from all of its alleged manifestations. Rather, we discover it when we come to see the pattern which obtains in their life; when we see a whole host of their behaviours under the aspect of 'imaginal impoverishment'. When we see that they are otherwise acting without anxiety or boredom or glue. This is no straightforward redescription of the one particular behaviour to be sure. It tells us a lot more. It provides a pattern which explains through the particular kind of intelligibility - and not efficient causality - which pertains to the cognitive. We see similarities, aspects, instantiations, immanence. What we don't see are relations between isolable causes and isolable effects. The 'inference' to lack of imagination is not an inference to something which completely transcends the behavioural data (lack of pretend play) confronting us, nor of course is it simply reducible to it. What we see is rather the meaningful pattern which connects.

The case is surely even more obvious when we consider the relation between 'low general ability' and 'low IQ'. In what way could a low IQ be said to be 'caused by' a 'low general ability'? The concept of an 'ability' is obviously dispositional - obviously logically and not merely empirically related to the behavioural. If someone has a low general ability then it follows deductively that they will have a low IQ (or am I missing something?). Now this deductive character cannot be said to obtain for most psychological phenomena (to the behaviourist's dismay, no doubt) - and if this were not the case it wouldn't really be obvious why we would even have a psychological vocabulary in the first place.


A pecularity of Morton's book - of pretty much his entire approach - as it seems to me is the purely 'downward arrow' trajectory from biology, to cognition, to behaviour. Leaving aside my above epistemological qualms, I'm surprised by the lack of a dynamic systems perspective, given the way in which such theories have typically displaced the linear approach in the last few years (but cf ch. 11). Furthermore, development does not normally occur in social isolation from others (it is not simply maturation). Building these two factors in will lead us to models which are dynamic (i.e. with feedback loops within them, within and between levels) and systemic (involving interaction back and forth with the environment), rather than static and linear. Morton's approach would only seem to work for disorders which stem in an isolable way from biologically generated disturbances in cognitive function. (cf Stuart Shanker (2004) Autism and the Dynamic Developmental Model of Emotions, Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 11, 3, 219-233 as an example of a different approach).

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Mind-Body Dualism

I want to start this post with a disclaimer. I am not claiming, in what I'm about to write, to provide an aetiological theory of CFS. I have no special knowledge beyond what can be read in journals and books; I am not an 'expert', self-proclaimed or otherwise, on this condition. I have no very decided opinion about causes or maintaining factors.

But here's the thing. I've been reading up on CFS and what I'm most struck by right now is the character of the controversy around the diagnosis, its meaning and its validity. More struck by the way that the claims are made, than the content of the claims themselves. It is, I believe, my countertransference to the character of these controversies which has made me feel the need to issue the above disclaimer. At any rate, here are some of the key rhetorical details I've noticed in what I've been reading:

  • CFS may be said to be either a 'real' or an 'unreal' condition.

  • When people deny the 'reality' of the condition, they are taken by others to be denying the 'reality' of the experience of the people who are described as suffering from CFS. However they do not tend to take themselves to be denying the experience of those whose condition they claim is 'unreal'.

  • When people assert the 'reality' of CFS, they are tacitly taken by others, and often by themselves, to be making a claim about the kind of reality CFS enjoys. That is, they are taken either to be making an assertion that it has organic causes (e.g. a pathogen), or to be making an assertion that it is a biological or physiological condition. Where what it is to be a biological or physiological condition is for it to just be that abnormal (e.g. diseased) state of the body which is creating the symptoms experienced by people who are described as suffering from CFS.

  • Next, when people make positive assertions about the reality of CFS, they are often taken, or often take themselves, to be saying something which is in contradiction with the idea that CFS is either caused by, or is itself, a 'psychological condition'.

  • When the idea that CFS is a 'psychological condition' is mooted, this tends to be associated, sometimes by the people making or often by the people responding to the mooted idea, with the following ideas: It is not 'real'. It is 'all in the mind' (taken to mean: 'it's all just been imagined'). It does not involve changes in the body of a sort which constitute it.

  • These claims are often taken by those involved in these debates to be substantive rather than rhetorical.

  • Sometimes people who experience CFS seem to believe that the phenomenology of CFS can be used to establish its non-psychological character. As if the fact of its sometimes sudden onset, or of its bodily presentation (extreme tiredness, pains, etc.), was evidence of its being 'real' (i.e. 'biological') and not 'all in the mind' (i.e. 'psychological').

  • Finally, when attempts at theoretical clarification are made, we tend only to be offered platitudes about the need to avoid dualism, or about the benefits of a biopsychosocial model - and then the thinking seems just to stop.

Let me reiterate: I am not for one moment denying the painfulness, the life-disrupting-ness (er...), or the severity of the impairment, of the symptoms of CFS. Please don't read me with that idea in mind! It could be that CFS is the most dangerous and debilitating condition on the planet, for all that the argument here would be affected. And I'm not putting forward an opinion as to whether CFS is organic or psychological in either causation or constitution.

But what strikes me is the following: Why are the above rhetorical details so common in the literature? Where does the assumption come from that psychological conditions are not real (if they do not enjoy the kind of reality enjoyed by biological conditions), do not involve profound changes in the body, are not profoundly debilitating, are being 'put on' or are somehow 'imagined'?

For what we know, after goodness knows how much medical observation, is that psychological disorders are profoundly disabling, are certainly not contrived by their sufferers, can involve serious bodily alterations, etc. etc. People can be paralysed for years from psychological conditions. They can die from fear. They can cause people to lead the most restricted, debilitated, unrewarding lives. Psychological factors can cause parts of the body to swell up, become incredibly painful, or painfree, become paralysed. They can cause the sufferer to temporarily go blind, lose their hearing. There is nothing 'all in the mind' (in the sense of imaginary) about the most common psychological disorders - depression and the anxiety disorders (phobias, OCD, extreme shyness, agoraphobia, panic attacks, etc.) Yet this makes them no less psychological.

And what many of us take ourselves to know too, after goodness knows how much philosophy and neuropsychology, is that psychological states (e.g. happiness, sadness, melancholy, fear) do not somehow float free of the physiological body. Rather they are instantiated in the body, in its muscular, endocrine, and neurological substance, in the way the body is moved and is postured. We pretty much take such understandings for granted today.

What does it mean to call a condition 'psychological'? I would suggest that it implies that either the causes and maintaining factors of the condition are psychological (i.e. are a function of the person's understanding of their world, relationships, selves, futures, pasts - including that understanding manifest primarily in our affective responses, micro-dispositions, etc., as well as that manifest in our cognitive reflections), or that what is being referred to is a disturbance of the person's understanding (in the broadest sense - more technically, a disturbance in their being-in-the-world, in their 'intentionality').

So where does the belief that, if CFS is psychological, it must be somehow 'unreal' or 'imaginary' come from? It seems to me that there are three possible related sources, one philosophical and the other two psychological. I shall discuss these in turn.

Philosophical: A reductive form of scientific naturalism may have a role to play. So, we start to believe, under the pressures of implicit or explicit philosophical pressures, that the word 'real' is only to be sanctioned of conditions or entities or states or dispositions or processes which can be shown to be, to consist in, physical conditions (or entities, or...).

Psychological: This is just that equation of 'mind' with 'imagination' which I mentioned above. It seems to go along with a kind of blitheness about the unconscious, and a view of mind as fundamentally to do with representation. Either our representations are veridical (and so supposedly wouldn't lead to any kind of disorder), or they are false (imaginary, out of kilter with reality, mad). I don't imagine anyone would really reflectively hold to this bizarre view of the nature of the mind, but it does seem to take hold of people in unreflective moments.

Psychological 2: Here I want to moot a more controversial suggestion. This is that there may be something in our culture - a prevalent mind-body dualism of the sort described above - which shapes our being-in-the-world in such a way that both: i) a CFS diagnosis is far more likely to be both socially constructed (which is not a statement about causality!!!) and also socially contested; ii) CFS arises in the lives of individuals (which is a causal statement!!!). Now I'm just mooting this, working out what can be said for it at the level of intelligibility, rather than at the level of empirical evidence. I've no more evidence than anyone else, nor do I have an opinion about it.

What might this clinical dualism look like for the CFS sufferer? One idea is that it might manifest primarily as alexithymia. Here is what to my mind is a plausible theory of certain forms of CFS at the level of initial intelligibility, whether or not it is empirically true. Someone is experiencing profound unconscious affective stress. The stress remains unconscious because it cannot be worked through, understood, connected up with other aspects of the mind, etc. If it could, then they would feel the appropriate extreme emotion such as anger or grief. Conscious understanding, working through, and adjustment could take place. But this does not happen, and instead they suffer a profound bodily breakdown. Energy is massively withdrawn from the body. The somatic aspects of extreme emotions are constantly felt without their meaning being disclosed to the sufferer. Immunological functioning and other aspects of their neurological and physiological functioning are greatly altered and perhaps damaged, as is usually the case with such profound unconscious emotional reactions. Mental, emotional, and social life becomes greatly restricted. Life becomes a field of symptoms. Appropriate despair can be allowed about the symptoms, but not about the original stressors or conflicts which remains unconscious.

Does this happen or not? Well, I have no idea! It doesn't strike me as implausible, given what I take myself to know about the functioning of the human organism. But my suspicion is that it does strike some of those who experience, care for someone suffering, or are sceptical about, CFS, as deeply implausible. And what I'm trying to do is to discover the reason for this apparent face implausibility to others. The only reason I can think of for this deep scepticism regarding a psychological view of the aetiology of CFS, barring knowledge that the rest of us just don't have, is the kind of philosophical and psychological confusions (psychological = imaginary = unreal; the unconscious does not exist; etc.) detailed above.


On dualism. Something else I've noticed in my reading is that sometimes people seem to think that they are doing enough to refute accusations that their thinking about the mind and body is dualistic by stating that they do not believe in dualism. (A bit like denying that one could be suffering from polio because one doesn't believe that one is suffering from polio - clearly daft, but we get the picture.) So I thought it might be worthwhile putting down an understanding of what it is to be dualistic which would refer to what is implicit in a text, rather than explicit in someome's mind:

i) Assume that all nouns work by referring to objects.
ii) Assume that therefore mental nouns (thoughts, feelings, beliefs) refer to mental objects. Call this position 'mentalism'. Perhaps these mental objects are what something called 'consciousness' is to be directed towards.
iii) So you have two types of objects: mental and physical objects. This is 'metaphysical dualism'.
iv) Look around (conceptually, as it were) and see if you can find these mental objects. If you think you can, then you can be a 'substance dualist'. Two types of things: minds and bodies. If you think you can't, then you say that mental things are physical things 'under a different (mental) description'. Call this 'property dualism'.

Now it seems to me that when people deny that their position regarding CFS is dualist, they are denying that they explicitly hold to substance dualism. Whereas it seems to me that what the accusation of dualism usually amounts to in this context is the broader one of metaphysical dualism and the mentalism it typically involves.

How not to be a metaphysical dualist:

i) Don't suppose that psychological nouns refer to things.
ii) Instead ask what adjectives and adverbs these nouns are derived from, and see them accordingly as dispositions and capacities and characteristics of human beings and human actions.
iii) As a result find no tension in the idea that a psychological disturbance might involve profoudn physiological changes. Different reactive dispositions will obviously be instantiated in different physiological mechanisms.
iv) See an unconscious emotion as one which manifests behaviourally (including the kinds of micro-behaviours associated with ) , but which the subject cannot verbally, directly, avow.

Appendix 2

Here is an extremely large working paper devoted to promoting an understanding that CFS 'is biological' in nature:

It quotes the psychology professor, Leonard Jason, as saying that

there has been an ignoring of “a large body of medical research demonstrating biological abnormalities in individuals with ME/CFS. For years, investigators have noted numerous biomedical abnormalities among ME/CFS patients, including over-activated immune systems, biochemical dysregulation in the 2-5A synthetase / RNASE L pathway, muscle abnormalities, cardiac dysfunction, abnormal EEG profiles, abnormalities in cerebral white matter, decreases in blood flow throughout the brain, and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Unfortunately, some uninformed physicians continue to believe that (ME)CFS and other disorders like it are primarily psychiatric in nature. Some confuse (ME)CFS with neurasthenia. Biases such as these have been filtered through to the media, which portrays ME/CFS in an overly simplistic and stereotyped way (which) compromises patient-doctor relationships and medical care for patients”

What is so striking about this, to me, is that we all now know that both placebo interventions and psychological therapies can deliver highly significant impact on biochemical, immunological, muscular, cardiac, ANS, CNS, etc. structure and function. Look in any relevant journal! (A place to start online might be or Doesn't this in itself cast doubt on the use of such evidence to discount a psychogenic hypothesis? And doesn't it force on us the question as to what the philosophical and psychological currents are that inspire the use of biochemical evidence of the sort mooted to argue against a psychogenic hypothesis? Again, to reiterate a final time: I am not saying that any of this shows that CFS is not, or is not caused by, a biological agent. I am just commenting on the reasoning manifest in the controversies surrounding the diagnosis.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

dialectics of psychological therapy

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelDialectical Behavior Therapy - DBT - is said to be 'dialectical' because it moves back and forth between i) a stance of acceptance or validation of the client and their experience as they are on the one hand, and ii) a stance of helping them to change on the other. I don't really see that this is 'dialectical' in any particularly interesting theoretical way, but perhaps I'm missing the point -and I should say, I don't have Linehan's original book... (This in any case isn't a critique of DBT, only a question about the pertinence of its name.)

There is however a dialectic that seems important to me to cultivate in any therapy. This is between i) engaging with 'the part of' the client that is an agent, desiring change, can feel hopeful, and ii) engaging with 'the part of' the client that is a patient, fears change, feels hopeless. Managing this dialectical encounter appears important. And this is because if I just engage empathically and acceptingly with the hopeless part of my client, then they will feel accepted and cared for, but ultimately remain helpless and powerless. If, on the other hand, I just engage with the part of my client that feels hope, wants to change, dares to be brave, then I risk losing them when they don't feel brave, are scared, hopeless, powerless. I risk too not hearing their distress and coming across as unempathic.

In my work I am experimenting with being as honest about these two parts of the client as I can be. Discussing the dialectic (not usually in those terms!) with the client themselves. Wondering with them where they are at, whether they feel heard and which part of them is doing this hearing. I have the idea that the tension between these parts is what keeps the therapy itself alive. I also have the idea that the agent can be recruited as a reconditioner (in the sense of behaviour therapy) for the patient parts of the client. I mean to say that, if there is a need to change habitual patterns of feeling, activity, and thought, then the way to do this may not be directly (cognitively or affectively), but from the ground up (behavioural conditioning), and the (agentive part of the) client can be recruited as the self-directing provider of this therapy in their daily lives. (You know, like practicing the violin: you make yourself do it and eventually the requisite neural pathways get layed down for spontaneous expressive access in the future.) I am suspicious that this is too active a model of successful therapy, since it focuses far more on what I do than on who I am. But that is a topic for another day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Smail's Canards

David SmailCraig NewnesTwo days of teaching from my clinical training stick firmly in my mind above all others. The first was provided by Craig Newnes, the second by David Smail (click on their images for information about their work). Both are champions of the (to my mind on target) views that psychological therapies are often at best a poor and pretentious substitute for a client having a decent friend and a decent job. Both have found a home within the movement known as 'critical psychology' that they helped to develop in the UK. I don't want to engage here with their general critique of the psychotherapy industry, and their alternative focus on malign social forces. In many ways I'm persuaded; but, suffice it to say, whatever one thinks of their critique, clinical psychology desperately needs critical voices such as these, to keep the critical intellectual tempo up (off the floor). (Newnes also taught me two of the most valuable personal lessons of the whole of my training, for which I am eternally grateful, so I oughtn't to be grumbling...)

What I do want to focus on is what I believe are certain fairly evident straw men in certain of their arguments (in what follows I shall however just focus on Smail's contribution). To call them straw men is not to say that they never obtain - sometimes one's opponents (or their self-understandings at least) really are made of straw. But I do think that on the whole these reallly do involve fairly obviously false characterisations of much of the mainstream they question. I also think that Smail himself would agree that his own best understanding of his opponents' beliefs would contradict what he says they believe when he provides his critique. This is of a piece with my belief that there is often something rather uncritical about critical psychology despite its many criticisms of the mainstream. (For example, the fact that genetics has a partly dodgy history is taken to mean that it has a dodgy present, or that its theories are theoretically dodgy. Or the fact that psychiatric classification can be used for social oppression is taken to mean that psychiatric classification has no straightforwardly valid, phenomenological, non-oppressive use. More generally, I am sure I am not alone in believing that critical psychologists often throw out valuable theoretical babies with the bathwater of pretentious psychobabble they rightly wish to dispose of.) Here, at any rate, are some claims made by critical psychology about which I have my suspicions:

1. Psychological problems are really just, a la Szasz, 'problems in living'. Terms like 'neurosis' are pretentious pseudo-science; there's no difference between feeling down and being depressed, feeling anxious and having an anxiety neurosis. Or, if there is a difference, it is just one of degree - i.e. a merely quantitative difference. The psychoanalysts in particular are wrong to imagine that there is a special class of psychological problems (neuroses), which have their maintaining factors located in the 'inner world' (i.e. in the habitual and distorted pre-understandings that we bring to the situations we find ourselves in). Instead there is just anxiety, or depression, maintained by shit relationships and shit jobs (or loneliness or unemployment).

2. Psychotherapy theorists take psychotherapy to depend on insight, where what 'insight' means is as follow. It is either a coldly intellectual realisation, or perhaps an emotionally charged realisation, of the nature of one's difficulties. That is, insight amounts to either the client's agreeing with the therapist's correct formulation, or their coming themselves to a correct formulation, of their difficulties. Having got this insight they can now work to resolve their difficulties.

3. Psychotherapies tacitly depend upon the idea that, after you have your insight (understood as in 2), you can use something called your will power to resolve your difficulties. This Smail calls the 'myth of magical voluntarism'.

4. Psychotherapies depend on the bizarre idea that material causes can be undone by psychological solutions. And this is just 'magic'.

Let me take these one at a time, in reverse order:

4. Here is what Smail says:

When ... we move from 'analysis' to 'therapy', we quickly become aware that there is no way the activities of the therapist can impinge directly on the social world in which the person exists. Though the causes of distress may lie in events in the outside world, the 'cure' can be effected only by working on the person him or herself. This is not, when you think about it, terribly coherent from a logical point of view, and trying to present it as such has led us into a variety of intellectual contortions which are in my view still far from satisfactory.

For what we are trying to do in the 'therapeutic' part of psychotherapy is reverse the influence of solidly material environmental causes through the psychological processes of the individuals who have been affected by them. People have of course tried to do this throughout recorded time. It used to be called 'magic'.

This, to my mind, is not a good piece of reasoning.

First, the kinds of causes from the 'outside world' which we may take an interest in, in therapy, are usually from the past. They therefore cannot be changed for the person in question, even by directly working on the outside world. All that could be worked on is the relationship that the person now has with these past events.

Second, let us for the sake of argument take it that we are interested instead in current 'external' causes and maintaining factors. If these are sufficiently traumatic or distressing, they may of course hijack any therapy whatsoever. It may be therapeutically advisable to wait until one is in an externally better situation, before working to undo the ways in which one's neurotic character elements aim to protect against but actually exacerbate everyday miseries (see below). But in any case, I know of no psychotherapy school which would say that everyday miseries are not best addressed through everyday solutions, or that it is only by a person's working on him or herself that they can be addressed. And Smail doesn't name one.

Third, we are not, in therapy, trying to reverse the physical processes themselves which caused psychological distress, but rather to undo their influence through engaging with the way this influence is kept alive in the mind. (Examples: the way that trauma are kept alive in PTSD; the way that complex bereavement issues are maintained.) What would be illogical or magic would be the belief that we can somehow undo the physical processes that have already occurred (the accident; the death).

At any rate, if it is magic to work on these maintaining factors, then so is the following: You are caused to go into a psychological state (believing there is a cat in the garden) by a purely physical phenomenon (my trompe d'oeil painting of a cat in the garden, sitting in the window of your room). Later I tell you that I've left this picture in your room, and you (psychologically) come to revise your belief. Is this magic? If it is, then magic is good enough for me.

(In brief: Smail's distinction between what is physical and what is psychological seems both unargued and unmotivated. He talks about 'solidly material environmental causes' but neglects to mention that he is not talking about, say, bacteria which might cause brain disease, but rather, the various things we see, hear, interpret, have an emotional reaction to, etc. And why on earth shouldn't we try to help someone with their emotional reactions to events through psychological means? We know that learning occurs through teaching, that opinions change through discussion, that emotional breakthroughs occur now and then in our own lives, that our habits sometimes change, that in some ways some aspects of our psyches are immature compared to other aspects but that growth can occur in the right circumstances. These are the kinds of 'common sense' bits of knowledge so prized by the critical psychology movement, not arcane bits of putative psychotherapeutic science. So what is the problem with the very idea of a psychological solution to a problem which arose out of the impact of the environment upon the mind? To put it another way: isn't the therapist's consulting room, the verbal and non-verbal interactions, part of the environment too?)

3. On the myth of 'magical voluntarism': Smail says:

in much psychotherapeutic thinking, 'insight' has a silent conceptual partner which is assumed but never directly referred to: will power. At the back of our minds, I believe, we are fully paid up subscribers to what one might call the popular philosophy of action, which goes something along the lines that, to do something, first the alternatives are considered (the pros and cons weighed), then a decision is made, and finally the appropriate course of action is willed. We tend to regard the important part of this process as the weighing of pros and cons, somehow expecting that the rest follows on more or less automatically ...

Although this notion seems to provide the motive power for turning insight into action, as far as therapeutic theory is concerned it is, as I say, silent, and this because therapists know perfectly well that appealing directly to the application of 'will' is absolutely fruitless. ... Therapy, on this kind of view, would be aimed at clearing the path to the person's unencumbered application of will.

... But there is a much more serious objection to what I suggest is our silent subscription to the notion of will, and that is an empirical one: there really does not seem to be any such thing as will power.

Now I take it that Smail and Newnes' empirical critique of certain versions of what the will consists in is perfectly well founded. (I particularly enjoyed, too, Newnes' calculation that his mother had lost just over 2 tonnes of weight during her life from diet programs - and put on just slightly more than 2 tonnes.)

But, first: We do need to be a bit more nuanced about what we mean by 'will' and 'freedom'. Smail aptly criticises a pop-philosophical view of what intentional action consists in (decision followed by act of volition). But we may need to remind ourselves not to fall into pop-philosophical views of what conation (the will) consists in too.

So let's begin by sorting out some notions of 'will power'. On the one hand, there are applications where we are happy to say: "I willed myself to mark the tedious exam papers", "I struggled but overcame my desire to run away from the spider", or what have you. These do not presuppose a dubious philosophical notion of 'the will', but instead provide us with an everyday, meaningful, use of 'will' against which any theory ought to be tested. What we mean is that we felt a desire to avoid the task, but did it anyway. This happens, sometimes, and it would not be clear what someone would be meaning if they denied that it happened. To be sure, it is not to be explained in terms of some already understood notion of will; rather, any attempt to articulate such a meaning must itself be responsive to such primary non-theory-driven uses of the term.

But rather than continue to urge that we can rehabilitate a perfectly non-problematic sense of 'will power', I want to urge that today's psychotherapies are, by and large, perfectly in agreement with Smail on this issue. That is, they do not tend to accept that 'will power' is part of the solution; instead they may usually see it as part of the problem. Let's consider some in turn:

a. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy - ACT - urges precisely that we come to accept the thoughts or feelings that course through our minds and bodies, and give up our previous hopeless control agendas. It points to the ways in which attempts to control what goes on in our mind, overcome our desires, will ourselves not to have certain thoughts, etc., usually result in poorer rather than better outcomes.

b. Behaviour Therapy holds that therapeutic change occurs not through thought nor through will, but through the direct (re-)conditioning of our behaviour. The common idea that therapeutic change (in, e.g., depression) occurs partly through 'behavioural activation' is another example. Here the direction of putative causality (I say putative because I don't believe the relations are aptly framed as causal) from the mental to the behavioural is reversed. Desire and positive affect are constructed through activity, not the other way round.

c. Whilst some Psychodynamic Therapies claim to work by 'building up ego structure', and whilst that claim could be interpreted in a way consistent with Smail's critique, others claim to work by 'reducing the harshness of the superego'. And this I believe runs counter to his critique.

I don't want to get caught up in a theoretical debate for which Smail (and Newnes) would have no patience (although I just don't share their avowed lack of patience for such debates). So let's try and put the matter in simple terms. I may be someone who is caught up in a lot of internal battles. I tell myself I ought to be doing what I am not doing. Perhaps these 'oughts' take the form of an internalised parental prohibition, but perhaps they don't. Because I end up in internal battles, the energy is sapped from my life. I get less and less done, and am less and less satisfied with myself, and tell myself that I 'must' change. I punish myself, internally or externally, to get myself to do what I believe I am supposed to be doing.

Rather than build up my will power to enable me to win these internal battles, I take it that psychoanalysis, like ACT, aims to encourage self-acceptance. Through an engagement with a therapist who confounds one's projections (doesn't act like the harsh father one expects him to be, for example), and if all goes well, the edge is taken off the harshness. The idea that wishing one's (sometimes very irritating) child dead may be perfectly natural, a passing thought and not a sign of deep malevolence, can be taken on board. Does it need 'will power' to take this on board? I doubt it; what it probably needs is a therapist who, through their continued loving attention despite being acquainted with what one feels are unacceptable thoughts and impulses, demonstrates an alternative, accepting, way with vulgar thoughts, angry impulses, disposition to laziness, or what-have-you.

2. On what 'insight' might mean. Ok, so lets bite the bullet: some therapies really have seemed to suppose that change is supposed to occur through intellectual insight. Versions of CBT with their unashamedly Noddy and Big Ears style of psychology (disguised by their dressing up of terms like 'thought' or 'idea' in pseudo-scientific garb ('cognitions' etc.)) are clear candidates. Early psychoanalysis (cathartic 'chimney sweeping' as Anna O. called it) is another. But, hey, these therapies have in enlightened corners long since been abandoned - haven't they? (Well, ok, probably not everywhere and always...)

Complete alternatives to insight & will driven therapy models have already been canvassed in a-c above. But let's pause to consider what 'insight' might mean if not simply the patient's intellectual awareness of their difficulties. Here is Smail being critical of the very:

idea that people can act on insight. Various attempts have been made to get round the fact that they obviously can't, the most familiar perhaps being the idea that the important thing is not 'intellectual insight', but 'emotional insight'. However, as I've suggested in the past, there is no obvious reason to suppose that changes of heart are any more potent than changes of mind, and it is far from clear why feeling that something needs to be done should be any more effective than thinking that it should.
I think a good case could be made for suggesting that Smail is quite simply just wrong in what he says here, and that this could be demonstrated simply by looking at what is commonly meant by a 'change of heart'. So let us accept that someone may carry on engaging in a behaviour they find distressing even after they have come to 'intellectually understand' why they are doing it. (I am however a little suspicious of this idea of what 'intellectual understanding' is, since I think it is evident that the criteria for understanding, even of an intellectual sort, do not reside simply in, say, being able to uninhibitedly parrot, or sincerely avow, what we have been informed is, and what really is, the truth about ourselves. To put it in psychoanalytical terminology: are we entirely confident as clinicians when we say, as we ordinarily do, that someone may still predominantly operate under the influence of a phantasy even when they have perfect insight into the role of this phantasy in their lives? That however is an issue for another post.)

The question, however, is whether we find it even coherent that someone may carry on engaging in the same behaviour after what we would consider a genuine 'change of heart'. Doesn't a change of heart however, just mean here that one is no longer so disposed? If someone said they had a change of heart but carried on in the same way, wouldn't this itself be logical grounds to question their affective self-ascription?

(To avoid red herrings, let us imagine the following case: James comes to therapy because he can't get on with his work. During the therapy we discover he is often very harsh on himself. Because of the therapy he has a change of heart and stops being so harsh on himself. (This is what is meant by saying that he is now not so 'internally divided'. Super-ego and ego become, to some degree, united, and to that extent the superego ceases to exist as a separate 'intrapsychic entity'.) Sometimes he now gets on with his work better (since he's now not spending his time in rebellion against a harsh superego); sometimes he doesn't (but doesn't care about it so much).

The issue is not whether he has a change of belief over whether it matters him not getting on with his work, but whether he has a change of heart about it. If he avows a change of heart, but we see no evidence of this changed self-relation in his behaviour, then we don't take this supposed change of heart to be genuine. Similarly, to offer a comparison case: if we are dealing with intellectual insight into non-personal matters (e.g. into probability theory), and someone says they have the insight, but then constantly get the sums wrong, we say they are wrong about having the insight.)

Some insights are hard to hold on to. Emotional insights may stay with us a while, but we may then lose them. I am not denying this - although I would deny (on logical grounds) that one could have an emotional insight for, say, just one second. (The grammar of 'emotional insight' shows it to be constitutively woven into the fabric of our affective and behavioural lives, not to consist in something that could be captured by a photograph.) (The relevant philosophical discussion here is Wittgenstein's on how understanding can be something that can obtain in a flash, but which nevertheless consists in distributed and extended behavioural dispositions.) What I am denying is that it is just obvious that we may keep the emotional insight intact, yet still engage in the behaviour.

I do here, and now, wish to make a partial rapprochment with Smail. For whilst it seems to me that insight is important, it is not, I believe, best understood as instrumentally important. And perhaps a more charitable way of reading Smail would be as not criticising the importance of insight per se, but only criticising a certain theoretical view of why it is important. To the extent that we can identify a form of insight that can be ontologically hived off from (individuated without reference to) our behavioural dispositions, to this extent this form of insight is largely therapeutically irrelevant. But to the extent that we can identify a form of insight that is simply of a piece with changed behavioural dispositions, and so much therefore to the very essence of therapeutic change, it is clearly not instrumentally effective. (If we do not have to do with two separate things in the first place, then we can't think in terms of one thing having an effect on something else.)

1. This is the idea that there is no valid qualitative distinction between anxiety neuroses and regular psychological distress. I am not entirely confident in ascribing it to Smail. It is an impression that I get from reading his writings, and it is of a piece with what in critical and community circles is a worthy attempt to destigmatise and normalise psychological problems. (I personally would rather we pursued this destigmatisation campaign through admitting that we all suffere from some degree of neurotic as well as non-neurotic difficulties, rather than making out that neurotic difficulties are just the same as non-neurotic difficulties, since this way we wouldn't have to swap ethical gains for clinical losses.) Here is something that he writes:

Freud's view that the point of his procedures was to replace 'hysterical misery' with 'common unhappiness' is frequently quoted. What he actually said, in the form of an imaginary dialogue between a patient and himself, was as follows:

Why, you tell me yourself that my illness is probably connected with my circumstances and the events of my life. You cannot alter these in any way. How do you propose to help me, then?' And I have been able to make this reply: 'No doubt fate would find it easier than I do to relieve you of your illness. But you will be able to convince yourself that much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health you will be better armed against that unhappiness.1

Now this is about as direct and frank a statement of our problem as one could wish to find. 'Illness' is 'connected with' the 'circumstances and events' in the sufferer's life, and it is acknowledged that fate would relieve it better than therapy. Even so, with the kind of charming sleight of hand which is so characteristic of Freud's style, it turns out that the 'illness' can be relieved through a 'transformation' into common unhappiness.

But let's not quibble. Let's accept that Freud could reasonably claim to be altering the person's perception of his or her predicament such that a neurotically distorted view of it becomes simply the experience of an unavoidable unhappiness.

Now I confess I really don't understand this - and my suspicion is that this is because it is not truly intelligible. First, why should it be described as a 'sleight of hand' for Freud both to admit that fate or circumstances may do better at removing neurotic distress than he himself, and that if a patient came to see him, they could hope to do the (perhaps albeit slower, more painful) psychological work needed to transform neurosis into ordinary misery? Aren't there several different ways to skin a cat? And if we don't have access to the effective big skinning knife of fate, then we can at least work away with the slower little scalpel of analysis.

(Recall the oft-quoted statistics for factors efficacious in 'successful' therapeutic outcomes (I put in the scare quotes because clearly there may be many different criteria for success, and it may well be too that different criteria would result in different factors being found important): the largest part being factors external to therapy in the life of the patient, then alliance and allegiance factors, finally technical factors. Recall too the other oft-quoted statistics to the effect that therapy of whatever modality tends to 'work', compared with none at all.)

Next, what does Smail mean by:
Let's accept that Freud could reasonably claim to be altering the person's perception of his or her predicament such that a neurotically distorted view of it becomes simply the experience of an unavoidable unhappiness.

For one thing, why the 'unavoidable'? Let's recall some of the basic characteristics of, say, anxiety neuroses. James doesn't want to go to his boring job, and doesn't want to confront his miserable boss about her behaviour. But he is terrified of the consequences of leaving the job or of talking to his boss. Maybe she reminds him of his mother who always terrified him. So (according to a typical Freudian account, which is what we are talking about here) his anxiety gets displaced onto something else at work. Perhaps instead, by 'symbolic substitution', he becomes agoraphobic or acrophobic about the lift to get to the office. Or let's make up another example: Anna struggles with the natural human dilemma of feeling cross with her partner but feeling terrified of him leaving her if she expresses this (as her father left her and her mother). Perhaps much of this struggle remains unconscious; who knows. Anyway, she ends up becoming depressed: it becomes safer to not have feelings at all than to risk having angry ones which might have catastrophic consequences.

James or Anna's therapy would, we might imagine, involve two aspects. On the one hand, they develop insight into the real objects of their fears, together with an understanding - insight - arrived at through the experience of a new relationship with a therapist who is highly attentive to (and hence able to resist) their transferences - of their origin. On the other hand, once aware of their real fears, and once these have been understood and discussed in a way which feels tolerably safe, they can be addressed. These real fears are still real. We all fear being left; people are left by their partners, and this does hurt. But, yet, they may have been exacerbated by their anxiety neuroses.

Or perhaps we work with a broader, less Freudian, more existential, notion of neurosis. So we accept that our mood and sense of meaning is sustained by our direct, praxical, meaningful, future-directed, engagements with our environments and with others. And sometimes the going gets tough in these environments. And so we turn inwards, develop strategies to deflect painful emotions, develop avoidance strategies. We ruminate to try and solve our problems. We cut ourselves off from others in order to prevent being hurt by losses. We cut ourselves off from our own feelings (and so get left in emotional limbo) to avoid experiencing 'unbearable' affects. And in the process we unwittingly cut ourselves off from whatever sources of meaning there were in our lives. (Better to have loved and lost, than... etc.) Defence mechanisms (like drug use) may work in the short term, but in the medium term, they suck. They sap the life from us worse than ever. (People who tell us glibly that 'we all need our defences' are, to my mind, to be treated with suspicion (by the way, Smail doesn't say this!). Do they realise how much more damage these defences can do to the soul than can the problems they were set up to help us avoid?)


I hope I have made my case; please let me know if I have done an injustice to Smail's arguments. I want to conclude by commenting on one final thought that I believe is implicit in much critical psychological thinking (including other broadly Marxist strands, e.g. community psychology). This can be approached by tackling the idea that psychological disorders are overwhelmingly caused by environmental factors.

I don't want to deny that; that would just be empirically dumb. (Although let's all recall the (admittedly relatively smaller number of) psychologically well ordered, happy or miserable as they may be, people who work in shit jobs, and the miserable neurotic people who have all the wealth we could have dreamed of.) I want to comment instead on the way the discussion gets framed. The point I want to make is, I believe, easily misunderstood. And it comes out of a rather ad hominem observation I have made - about the apparent underlying depression of some of the community and critical psychologists I have met. So, well, don't take me too seriously here...

Martin BuberMartin Buber wrote, in I and Thou, and in his admittedly fanciful way, that
So long as the heaven of Thou is spread out over me, the winds of causality cower at my heels and the whirlpool of fate stays its course.
What I take it Buber was getting at was the way in which treating people just as if they were objects on which material or social or economic forces act, as merely causal nexi, prompts a particular and limited vision of the human, and a particular response from the recipient of such treatment. I am not saying, of course, that human beings and their feelings are not subject to causal forces; that that vision is wrong. Nor am I saying that I believe that human beings can somehow magically intervene 'from the outside' in the causal order of things. There are of course, and in fact, a lot of things that I am not saying. What I am saying, however, is that there is more to be said than the Marxist psychologist seems prepared to say. To think of oneself as only a recipient of forces, rather than as an agent or as a subject, is to risk submitting to powerlessness and helplessness, to risk creating rather than being an active force resisting depression. To see ourselves under the aspect of causality is to risk seeing ourselves as a puppet of unstoppable fate. To see ourselves under the aspect of intentionality is to situate ourselves, instead, in an order of meaning, purpose, agency, subjectivity. Neither aspect is, it seems to me, the 'right' description. It is no more 'right' or 'wrong' to see what is in the back of our wallet as a single rectangle of flattened out wood pulp, or as an exchangeable bill worth one dollar. But if we are to figure out how to go about this business of getting by in the human world, it will be worth our while reminding ourselves of the latter meanings lest they get lost from view.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Two Forms of Psychological Understanding

Charles Taylor, amongst others, has tried hard to articulate the different forms of understanding that all exist within the umbrella discipline of 'psychology'. The aim of this is to promote a 'peaceful coexistence'. The idea is that, once we recognise that our colleagues are set about doing different jobs with different (conceptual, theoretical) tools, we will not accuse them of doing our own job badly with the wrong tools.

I would like to add my own tuppenceworth. Here are the two forms of understanding I frequently see confused in psychology:

1. The first aims to provide forms of understanding. It uses examples - case studies for example - to illustrate the intelligible possibilities it discerns. The aim of the enquiry is the discernment, the elucidation, of these possibilities. It hardly matters to this form of understanding whether there is more than one instance of the intelligible mode of personal being that it uncovers, although it would as a matter of fact often be pretty pointless in broadcasting the understanding if it were not one one suspected was encounterable elsewhere.

2. The second does not aim to elucidate new forms of understanding, does not intend to render intelligible or comprehensible what was previously barely visible or, if visible, not understood. Instead it aims to chart whether what is already understood actually happens, and if so, with what frequency, and in what circumstances. Psychoepidemiology is one way to understand it, with the populations in question being fairly restricted.

1. The first form of understanding has much obviously closer links with its philosophical forefathers. It is exemplified by both phenomenological and psychoanalytical approaches. A completely inappropriate reaction to an enquiry carried out in its spirit would be 'But what is your actual evidence for saying that?!'. Yet that is the reaction that is often unwittingly solicited from the pundits of (2.) empiricist psychology. (A case of general irrelevance may of course stick, depending on the case.) Misunderstanding itself, it may also offer empirical generalisations for which it has no evidence (e.g., Freud: Paranoia is due to repressed homosexuality. He should have said: I will show you how paranoia can intelligibly be understood as due to repressed homosexuality.)

2. The second form of understanding has much obviously closer links with the natural sciences. Its procedures and products may sometimes be unhelpfully criticised as unenlightening by pundits of an intelligibility-demonstrating psychology (1). Unhelpfully, because the research is not best understood as aiming at illumination, at the finding of meaning - but only at, say, the cataloguing of such meanings as are already understood. (A charge of boringness may still stick of course, depending on the case.)

In what follows I want to consider the question of the viability of causal explanation in psychology. I think it is often taken for granted that we can have causal explanation so long as we see it only as a type (2) understanding. But this, it seems to me, is a mistake; not because it can operate more widely, but because it is often not properly applicable in either case. Attempts at causal explanation in psychology seeem to me to be frequently born out of a particular conflation of the two forms of understanding.

Let me be clear, there do seem to be some good instances of causal explanation in the ambit of psychology. Certain neuropsychological explanations for example are clearly, and to my mind unproblematically, causal in nature. (The reason John can no longer respond to visual stimuli is because of this cerebral insult which damaged this part of his brain which prevents 'information' from getting from the retinae to the striate cortex, etc.) I don't feel I have any securer grip on the notion of causality than I do on the idea that these kinds of explanations are paradigmatically causal. (It is however interesting to consider whether the causality doesn't belong primarily to the neurological, rather than the psychological, side of the explanation.)

Consider the kind of ethological aetiologies provided to us by attachment theory. John has personality (problems) X in adulthood because when he was an infant and toddler he developed a certain attachment style Z to a mother who provoked this attachment style by her own personality style Y. Is X causally related to Z? Is Z causally related to Y? These may seem obviously truistic, but I wonder.

To take them in order: Z seems to be primarily related to X through its sharing of X's structure. The pattern is an intelligible development. Take a small spiral shape which is oval in general shape. Now take a larger oval spiral with further loops to it. We see how the latter embodies the form of the former. But do we say that the former shape caused the latter shape? Imagine that it had not changed - that the person had remained with an undeveloped, identical, personality. Would we say that the former small spiral (to pursue the analogy) has caused the later small spiral? To take an analogy from Roger Squires, would we say that the curtains' being red today causes the curtains' being red tomorrow? (Er, the answer is: No we (I at least) wouldn't.) Causation has to do with change, not with stasis, and what caused the change is the developmental millieu.

Is Z (child's attachment style) causally related to the mother's personality (Y)? Here I think we need to distinguish two different factors. On the one hand, what is important is just the sheer comprehensible intelligibility (1) of one given the other. But as well as this, there is surely a causal story. The causal story has to do with whatever it is that makes responses sediment into the personality. A causal story in terms of conditioning may be appropriate here.

So the moral is not that causal explanation is irrelevant, only that it comes in at certain junctures as does not by any means provide the typical form of understanding offered to us in psychological contexts. Now I want to turn briefly to some assumptions that seem to come along all too readily in discussions of linear regression analysis.

Such analyses, often used in empirical psychology, enable us to examine correlation between two or more variables (e.g. smoking behaviour and lung cancer) by random sampling from a population. The warranted criticism that correlation does not necessarily indicate causality is well known, and I shan't be making it here. Instead I want to suggest that (a typical maker of) that criticism often (him- or herself) buys into further assumptions which are not warranted. For example, we do of course do well to avoid (what is nevertheless prevalent) talking prematurely of 'dependent' and 'independent' variables, since this just inclines us to presuppose what, from the statistics alone, is completely unwarranted, that the independent variable is a cause of the dependent ones. But we must also, I believe, be wary of the implicit idea lying behind the making of the criticism: that the suggested assignment of causes and effects is not the only one, since either we may have them the wrong way round, or they may both be effects of a common cause.

What seems misguided to me about this is just the implicit idea that the relationship we are considering must be considered in causal terms at all. Let me give what is hopefully a sufficiently ridiculous example. Consider the relationship between smiling and reports of happiness. Bigger smiles, it is discovered, tend (albeit with fairly large so-called 'estimated error' values) to correlate with greater amounts of self-reported happiness. It would clearly be a mistake to suggest that this necessarily shows that happiness causes smiling, or (in a James-Langian moment) that smiling causes happiness. The two variables here are not 'smiling' and 'happiness', but 'smiling' and certain 'self reports'. And these, we may imagine, do not seem to cause one another.

The temptation I wish to diagnose, however, is that of saying that 'smiling' and 'self reports of glee' are therefore to be understood as effects of a common cause: happiness itself. Happiness is thereby reified, denatured by being hived off from its constituting behaviours and expressions, and posited as a cause of what is now seen as extrinsic to it (smiling etc.).

What might explain the correlation between smiling and the self-reports, though, if not a common cause? Well first I have not denied that they have a common cause (perhaps there is a neurological one); only denied that they have a psychological common cause ('happiness'). Second, that such expressive behaviours fall together as they do is a condition of the possibility of the meaningful deployment of terms such as 'happy'. This, however, is a logical, not a causal, condition!

I said above that I felt that attempts at causal explanation in psychology were often the product of conflating and misunderstanding two types of psychological understanding. Regression and factor analytic treatments of psychological topics often seem to perpetrate just such conflations and misunderstandings. There is of course nothing wrong with the techniques, just something wrong with the interpretation of their findings. Such interpretation seems to suggest that correlations are to be understood in terms of causality - either immediate or derived (from a common cause). A psychoepidemiological-style investigation (2) shows the frequencies of certain behaviours as they occur in certain situations. An intelligibility-finding-style investigation (1) shows, say, how one psychological phenomenon can be understood as an intelligible (not a causal!) function of another. Mistake the latter as providing causal explanation, and take the former as correlation, merge them together, and it seems as if we have causal psychological explanation.