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Biological systems are particularly prone to variation, and the authors argue that such variation must be regarded as important data in its own right. The authors describe a method in which individual differences are studied within the framework of a general theory of the population as a whole and illustrate how this method can be used to address three types of issues: the nature of the mechanisms that give rise to a specific ability, such as mental imagery; the role of psychological or biological mediators of environmental challenges, such as the biological bases for differences in dispositional mood; and the existence of processes that have nonadditive effects with behavioral and physiological variables, such as factors that modulate the response to stress and its effects on the immune response.
It is the central hypothesis of this paper that the mental states commonly referred to as altered states of consciousness are principally due to transient prefrontal cortex deregulation. Supportive evidence from psychological and neuroscientific studies of dreaming, endurance running, meditation, daydreaming, hypnosis, and various drug-induced states is presented and integrated. It is proposed that transient hypofrontality is the unifying feature of all altered states and that the phenomenological uniqueness of each state is the result of the differential viability of various frontal circuits. Using an evolutionary approach, consciousness is conceptualized as hierarchically ordered cognitive function. Higher-order structures perform increasingly integrative functions and thus contribute more sophisticated content. Although this implies a holistic approach to consciousness, such a functional hierarchy localizes the most sophisticated layers of consciousness in the zenithal higher-order structure: the prefrontal cortex. The hallmark of altered states of consciousness is the subtle modification of behavioral and cognitive functions that are typically ascribed to the prefrontal cortex. The theoretical framework presented yields a number of testable hypotheses.
In three experiments, participants received nouns or noun phrases for objects and verbally generated their properties ("feature listing"). Several sources of evidence indicated that participants constructed perceptual simulations to generate properties for the noun phrases during conceptual combination. First, the production of object properties for noun phrases depended on occlusion, with unoccluded properties being generated more often than occluded properties. Because a perceptual variable affected conceptual combination, perceptual simulations appeared central to combining the concepts for modifiers and head nouns. Second, neutral participants produced the same distributions of properties as participants instructed to describe images, suggesting that the conceptual representations used by neutral participants were similar to the mental images used by imagery participants. Furthermore, the property distributions for neutral and imagery participants differed from those for participants instructed to produce word associations. Third, participants produced large amounts of information about background situations associated with the object cues, suggesting that the simulations used to generate properties were situated. The experiments ruled out alternative explanations that simulation effects occur only for familiar noun phrases associated with perceptual memories and that rules associated with modifiers produce occlusion effects. A process model of the property generation task grounded in simulation mechanisms is presented. The possibility of integrating the simulation account of conceptual combination with traditional accounts and well-established findings is explored.
This paper reports three studies showing sex differences in EEG asymmetry during self-generated cognitive and affective tasks. In the first experiment, bilateral EEG, quantified for alpha on-line, was recorded from right-handed subjects while they either whistled, sang or recited lyrics of familiar songs. The results revealed significant asymmetry between the whistle and talk conditions only for subjects with no familial left-handedness and, within this group, only for females and not for males. In the second experiment, bilateral EEG was recorded while right-handed subjects (with no familial left-handedness) self-induced covert affective and non-affective states. Results revealed significantly greater relative right-hemisphere activation during emotion versus non-emotion trials only in females; males showed no significant task-dependent shifts in asymmetry between conditions. The third experiment was designed to test the hypothesis that females show greater percent time asymmetry than males during biofeedback training for symmetrical and asymmetrical EEG patterns. Results confirmed this prediction as well as indicating that females show better control of such asymmetrical cortical patterning. These findings provide new neuropsychological support for the hypothesis of greater bilateral flexibility in females during self-generation tasks.