Friday, May 8, 2020

Demographic and health factors associated with pandemic anxiety in the context of COVID-19

McElroy, Eoin. 2020. “Demographic and health factors associated with pandemic anxiety in the context of COVID-19.” PsyArXiv. May 8. doi:10.31234/

Objectives: The mental health consequences of COVID-19 are predicted to have a disproportionate impact on certain groups. We aimed to develop a brief measure, the Pandemic Anxiety Scale, to capture the specific aspects of the pandemic that are provoking anxiety, and explore how these vary by health and demographic factors.

Design: Data were from a convenience sample of parents (N=4,793) and adolescents (N=698) recruited in the first 6 weeks of lockdown.

Methods: Factor analytic and IRT methods were used to validate the new measure in both parent and adolescent samples. Associations between scores on the new measure and age, gender, household income, and physical health status were explored using structural equation modelling (SEM).

Results: Two factors were identified in both samples: disease-anxiety (e.g. catching, transmitting the virus) and consequence anxiety (e.g. impact on economic prospects), and unique associations with health and demographic factors were observed.

Conclusions: Anxieties due to the COVID-19 are multifaceted, and the PAS is a short, reliable and valid measure of these concerns. These anxieties are differentially associated with demographic, social and health factors, which should be considered when developing strategies to mitigate the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Capgras and Fregoli syndromes: delusion and misidentification

Capgras and Fregoli syndromes: delusion and misidentification. Antonio Ventriglio et al. International Review of Psychiatry, May 7 2020.

Abstract: Capgras and Fregoli syndromes are two psychotic and complex conditions also known as Delusional Misidentification Syndromes (DMSs). Their description dates back to the beginning of XX century, and many explanatory models have been formulated through myths, psychoanalytical and psychological hypotheses, as well as neurobiological proposals. Even if DMSs are not fully considered in the modern diagnostic manuals, they still remain intriguing phenomena to be clinically observed and explained. Also, the employment of psychotropics and physical techniques in the treatment of such conditions is not supported by robust evidences and this may encourage further studies. We conclude that it would be of great interest to brush up the neglected MDSs in order to improve our knowledge on the underlying mechanisms of delusion and brain functioning.

Keywords: Capgras syndrome, Fregoli syndrome, misidentification syndromes, delusional disorder

A man’s desirability was enhanced in the presence of positive cues (i.e. when he was described as a “good” partner & his former relationship ended mutually); but it diminished in the presence of negative cues

Female Mate Copying: Measuring the Effect of Mate-Relevant Information Provided by Former Partners. Emily Scammell & Ryan C. Anderson. Evolutionary Psychological Science, May 8 2020.

Abstract: One of the most important decisions an individual can make is to invest in a relationship. For women, the process of mate selection can be time-intensive, and fraught with costs and dangers. However, these risks can be minimised by modelling the mate choices of others. The propensity to imitate another’s mate choices is referred to as mate copying. Most research has focused on this behaviour in nonhumans, but evidence of its existence in humans is emerging. In the current study, 750 women evaluated men’s desirability based on vignettes containing information provided by men’s former partners. A man’s desirability was enhanced in the presence of positive cues (i.e. when he was described as a “good” partner and his former relationship ended mutually). In contrast, a man’s desirability diminished in the presence of negative cues (i.e. when he was described as a “bad” partner and/or his former relationship breakup was female initiated). Overall, the current study adds to the existing body of knowledge on mate copying by demonstrating how females incorporate social learning and innate evolutionary drives to facilitate decision-making and behaviour relating to mate selection.

We search for information inside our heads; where does this ability come from, and what does it enable cognitive systems to do? On executive control, goal-directed cognition, self-awareness & deliberation

Foraging in Mind. Peter M. Todd, Thomas T. Hills. Current Directions in Psychological Science, May 7, 2020.

Abstract: People and other animals can search for information inside their heads. Where does this ability come from, and what does it enable cognitive systems to do? In this article, we address the behavioral and cognitive similarities between search in external environments and internal environments (e.g., memory). These require both maplike representations and the means to navigate them, and the latter involves modulation between exploitation and exploration analogous to a foraging process called area-restricted search. These findings have implications for understanding a number of cognitive abilities commonly considered to be hallmarks of the human species, such as well-developed executive control and goal-directed cognition, autonoetic consciousness (i.e., self-awareness), deliberation, and free will. Moreover, this research extends our conception of what organisms may share these abilities and how they evolved.

Keywords: search, foraging, memory, executive function, verbal fluency task, cognitive map, episodic future thinking, self-projection

Deliberation and self-projection

Deliberation can be defined as the ability to consider alternative courses of action. This can be instantiated as a form of internal foraging and is sometimes associated with the capacity for self-projection, imagining oneself adopting each considered course of action (or mental time travel; see Suddendorf, Addis, & Corballis, 2009). Studies with nonhuman animals have demonstrated phenomenological properties of deliberation.  Recordings from hippocampal place cells in rats have shown preemptive internal foraging of choices of directions to take when navigating a maze, with hippocampal activation being followed by activation in striatal reward centers, allowing the valuing of possible future actions (Pezzulo, van der Meer, Lansink, & Pennartz, 2014; see Redish, 2016, for a review). This is called episodic future thinking, and alongside the increasing evidence for episodic memory in nonhuman animals (reviewed by Crystal, 2018), it suggests that internal foraging allows human and nonhuman animals to consider multiple courses of actions before initiating a choice. Perhaps most importantly for establishing humanlike abilities in other species (Suddendorf et al., 2009), internal foraging in nonhuman animals demonstrates the capacity for generativity, producing novel goal-directed solutions that the animal has never experienced before (Gupta, van der Meer, Touretzky, & Redish, 2010; Pfeiffer & Foster, 2013).

Self-awareness and autonoetic consciousness

Internal search requires two closely linked processes ( Jones et al., 2015): (a) a representation of the information to be searched along with some instantiation of nearness and farness, what Tolman (1948) referred to as a cognitive map, and (b) an attentional search process that controls or guides progress through the internal map. The goal-directed search process is associated with executive function and goal maintenance (Hills et al., 2010) and is synonymous with effortful consciousness, the kind of thinking associated with focused attention, one-thing-at-a-time processing, the ability to produce novelty, and self-report (e.g., Baddeley, 2007).

But internal search may also require another kind of consciousness. Any computational system (animal, robotic, or extraterrestrial) that develops an information representation and the capacity to search over it should also be able to tell the difference between internally imagined “experiences” (generated by episodic future thinking) and real experiences, or the individual will likely suffer from false memories and hallucinations.  Hills and Butterfill (2015) argued that the need for this discriminative ability between internal and external foraging provides an evolutionary foothold for selfawareness, similar to what Tulving (1985) described as autonoetic consciousness.

Debates about self-awareness in animals are ongoing and have often relied on mirror self-recognition tasks using the mark test. Researchers have now observed that this task can be solved by primates, dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, corvids, and more recently, fish. The prediction from internal-foraging research is that selfawareness, whether signaled by self-recognition or not, should be found in animals with the capacity to forage in mind as part of the mechanism that distinguishes between internal and external foraging events and thereby prevents memory errors and associated costly behaviors. (The presence of self-recognition could be an indication that a species engages in internal foraging, but this is not necessarily the case given that self-recognition may have evolved for other purposes.)

Free will and generative self-construction

Free will may at first seem beyond the scope of naturalistic accounts of cognitive capacities. But among compatibilists—people allowing for free will in a deterministic universe—standard requirements for free will include the capacity to “do otherwise” (to take alternative courses of action), to maintain goals, to deliberate over alternatives (internal foraging) in pursuit of said goals, and in the end, to be able to say “I did it” (Dennett, 2015). As our arguments above indicate, internal search and its required processes satisfy what many philosophers have characterized as these design features of compatibilist free will.

In particular, capacities for self-projection and generation of novelty in episodic future thinking lead to the possibility of generative self-construction (Hills, 2019). This involves a cognitive system, consciously aware of its own internal foraging, that experiences future versions of itself via constructive memory processes that sample from and recombine past experiences, chooses among them on the basis of the expected values associated with those experiences, and then acts to bring the chosen one about. This generative selfconstruction is a pragmatic and computational conceptualization of free will because it is built from the evolutionarily adaptive components underlying internal foraging mechanisms.