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Chapter 4

PSYB32H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Chief Operating Officer, Behaviorism, Primary Consciousness


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYB32H3
Professor
Letergesse
Chapter
4

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Chapter 4: Self and Consciousness
The ability to identify with others and to distinguish between self and other plays an important role in
inter-subjective relationships. Human adaptation involves an understanding of others, but also an
understanding of the self as different from others. Indeed, the self cannot be viewed in isolation from our
view of others, but relies deeply on how we represent people. Thus the self is perceived in relation to the
other. The development of a concept of self is seen as a pivotal aspect of social development, and is an
important and necessary condition in the identification of others and self as social. The concept of self is a
multifaceted phenomenon. It involves more than recognition of perceptual features of the self and a
differentiation of animate and inanimate objects in the environment. Thus, an understanding of the self
must involve an awareness of the physical, social/mental, and representational aspects of the self. The
concept of self, like other. concepts, may have its roots in early infancy, but a mature concept of self is
constructed with age and increases in complexity throughout childhood. Infants are conscious of their
own emotions and are able to recognize similar emotions in others. This way infants form shared
representations of the emotions of self and others, suggesting that infants represent the other as similar in
some way, as ‘‘like me.’’ Thus there is self – other awareness through the mutual sharing of emotions in
infants. I posit that infants from the beginning of life have ‘‘biases and preferences’’; have a capacity ‘‘to
form and test hypotheses’’ and participate in ‘‘affective and cognitive processes.’’ This cognitive and
affective functioning is unified and is not experienced separately by the child, but it is distinguished from
that of others.
Philosophical reflections
Descartes suggested that he knew that he existed because he thought. Rationalists and empiricist
epistemologists, monistic and dualistic mind– body positions are not really able to address the problem of
self-awareness as long as they do not address the genetic dimension of this problem. These genetic
epistemologists propose that there are several levels of the self – such as the physical, the social, and the
mental – that are internal to the mind (e.g. innate) and of which humans become conscious during their
first year of life. Evidence about the development of a self-concept in infancy has, however, proved
difficult to find, perhaps because of methodological problems, and consequently many theories that have
been developed in this area are speculative. However, in order to interact meaningfully with others, one
has to identify oneself as human and similar to others. Thus, the development of a concept of self is
fundamental for sociality, for social interaction, and consequently for Theory of Mind development.
Perceptual versus conceptual methods
The distinction between perceptual and conceptual awareness refers to the different experimental
paradigms that researchers employ to assess awareness of certain aspects of the self. Some methods only
allow us to infer a perceptual awareness from infant responses, whereas others allow us to interpret that
infants possess a conceptual understanding of self, one that is stable, and provides infants with a sense of
uniqueness. Experimental paradigms that provide information on perceptual self-awareness in infants
often rely on the products of the infant’s perceptions of, or direct experience with, environmental stimuli
that identify the self. For example, mirror studies can only claim that infants are familiar with certain
aspects of the physical self . Such studies provide little direct information about the mental self. Even
studies where 18-month-olds wipe off a rouge spot from their forehead can only talk about self-perception
or self-recognition. These studies usually rely on the emergence of other symbolic types of behaviors at

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that age (language or the tendency to display self-conscious emotions such as embarrassment when
noticing the red spot) to argue that mirror self-recognition reveals a conceptual awareness of the self. It is
possible that these great apes, just like infants, use contingency (when I move so does the image) to
identify aspects of the physical self. It is more difficult to show when infants’ sense of self is a mental or
conceptual ability. Studies that aim to provide evidence for a conceptual or representational awareness of
the self must show that infants are aware of the self in the absence of immediate sensory experience. In
this case, infants’ identifications of self are products of their mental capacities (e.g. inferences,
representations, etc.). Infants would be able to draw on this knowledge when perceptual stimulation is not
available. It could be argued that infants understand that people show by their gaze direction to what they
are psychologically connected. If true, such awareness would be evidence of a mentalistic conception of
people, and of the self. It is important to distinguish between a perceptual method, e.g. one that can only
assess what the infant sees, hears, e.g. perceives in the environment, and one that relies on what infants
infer from internal representations of the self.
Perceptual versus conceptual – theoretical orientations
Many theorists argue that perceptual self-awareness is a precursor to a conceptual awareness of the self.
These theorists propose that infants go through a period in development where infant awareness of self is
related only to what infants perceive of themselves through external or internal physical stimulation. This
type of self concept is not stable or enduring, because it does not exist in the absence of such stimulation.
With development, these earliest perceptions about the self are overturned and changed into a more
appropriate (realistic), representational awareness of self. During the first stage the infant is a behaviorist
and during the second stage the infant is a psychologist. The problem with the perception/conception
distinction is how one can differentiate between these two cognitive processes (the conceptual or high
functioning mode and the experiential or low-functioning cognitive mode) and at the same time explain
the emergence of both modes of processing from the same origin: as resulting from interactions among
innateness and experience. Many propose that a primitive sort of self-awareness or consciousness exists at
birth, and that with development a more complex consciousness develops. Whereas the
perceptual/conceptual divide proposes that infants develop from an experiential/perceptual-motor to a
qualitatively different mental/conceptual awareness of self, those that argue for a continuum in conscious
awareness propose that infants develop from primary consciousness, which includes primitive
representations of the physical/social as well as the mental aspects of self, to a higher order
consciousness, which entails a fully developed concept of self.
Piaget and the self
Piaget has argued that before infants can understand the self as an independent object, they need to have
an understanding of other objects. Piaget argued that during the first developmental stages (the reflexive,
the primary and secondary circular reactions), the infant is in an adualistic stage and does not differentiate
between self and the environment. Adualistic here means that infants are self-centered; they are not aware
of their sociality and mental states, nor are they aware of the environment. Infants’ actions during this
period are repetitive and always centered on the infant’s own body. Thus when infants pick up a rattle, the
interest of the infant is not focused on the sound the rattle produces, rather infants perceive the rattle
simply as an extension of their own arms and continue the actions in a kind of circular, repetitive way for
their own pleasure. During the stage of secondary circular reactions, the actions are also continued for the
pleasure they bring, but now the infant perceives that the sound is produced by the rattle, and
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consequently continues to shake the rattle in order to continue to be able to hear the sound. Although
self/other differentiation begins around this point, it is not until stage 6 (around 18 months) that infants
become able to represent themselves as different from others and to view themselves as an independent
object in space. This is the onset of conceptual knowledge; infants change their subjective understanding
of the world and their selves to an objective understanding. Thus Piaget proposes that perceptual
awareness precedes and is qualitatively distinct from conceptual awareness and argues for an initial state
of dualistic confusion or of ‘‘normal autism’’ . After the initial adualistic state, infants enter a state of
dualism where a differentiation between self and other social and nonsocial objects are made. Psycho-
analysts such as Mahler argue that at birth the infant is in a symbiotic state (undifferentiated). This state is
maintained by caretakers who respond to every whim of their infants. With maturation (at around 10
months of age) most caretakers begin to introduce a ‘‘delay of gratification’’ into their responsiveness. It
is then that infants begin to become aware of their surroundings and their self-existence (id/ego
differentiation). Mirror studies initially supported the idea that infants progress from a lack of self-
awareness to the existence of one. It was found that infants treated mirrors as objects, playing with them
and patting them, and that only by around 18 months did infants begin to view ‘‘themselves’’ in the
mirrors. Whereas previously they had touched the mirror, infants now began to touch the red spot on their
head that had been surreptitiously put there, or infants became shy (seeing ‘‘a spot’’ on their head) and
turn away or cover their faces. However, as indicated above, mirror selfrecognition can only be
interpreted as perceptual awareness of the self. There are many other ways for infants to identify the self.
Bio-social theories and self-awareness
Whereas mirror recognition at 18 months has been heralded as a conceptual awareness of self, many
authors place this development earlier. For instance, Hobson traces the history of thinking about the
‘‘self-concept’’ and argues for a differentiation between what are variously called the ecological versus
interpersonal self or ‘‘I– It’’ versus ‘‘I– Thou’’ relations. Argues that infants have a biological propensity
to engage in deep emotional (mental) interpersonal relations with others (inter-subjectivity). Hobson
argues that autistic children have an ecological (I– It) self but not an interpersonal (I– Thou) self. Autistic
children lack the biological basis for coherent, affectively patterned experiences and interpersonal
relatedness and consequently fail to engage in subjective interactions. Trevarthen argues that infants have
an innate need to relate to others. These innate intuitions express themselves during social interactions
when infants engage in sensitive and responsive sharing of emotions with their conspecifics. The infants’
innate sense of people allows for an interpretation of the affective states that are exchanged during face-to
face communication in terms of emotions, goals, and intentions. All of this implies an awareness of
emotions/mental states in self and other. Fogel social interactions play a special role in the development
of the self because people not only react, they interact and elaborate on the infant actions. Thus the self is
dialogical; the self is experienced as a function of participatory cognition rather than imaginative
cognition. Tronick argues that infants strongly seek states of interpersonal connectedness, and that failure
to achieve connectedness wreaks profound damage on their emotional, mental, and physical health. This
is because lack of connectedness with others results in a failure to create meaning. Thus, research on the
development of inter-subjectivity in infancy reveals that the roots of a conceptual awareness of the self
can be identified in early infancy. Infants expect others to engage in communication with them. Thus
through interacting with people we experience how we are perceived. It allows us to reflect upon
ourselves, to analyze our own behavior and thinking, and to encourage self-adaptations. Affective
regulation is not only within the infant, or only within the caretaker, it is dyadic, it is co-created. Through
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