Inhibition

We have touched on the concept of inhibition at various points in the book. In our discussion of networks in Chapter 3 we noted the importance of both inhibitory and facilitatory connections between nodes in a network. We also noted that some of an individual's extant goals will be in an inhibitory relationship with other goals (Martin & Tesser, 1996). So, for example, Sally cannot fulfil the goal of staying in and revising for her exams and of going out and seeing her partner. This inhibition between goals, as we noted above, applies both within the same level of representation and across different levels of representation.

There are a large number of other phenomena in the psychology of emotion, especially in the clinical domain, which point to the existence of one or more processes of inhibition. These include, for example: the psychodynamic concept of defence processes such as repression and suppression (see Erdelyi, 2006); the experience of emotional numbing; psychogenic amnesia; dissociative states; hysterical blindness; fugue states; alexythymia; psychosomatic conditions; and many others (e.g., Dalgleish et al., 1999). If one considers defence processes alone, Horowitz (1988) lists some 25 phenomena which he argues can be viewed as distinctive psychological states (see Table 5.4).

Furthermore, as well as the importance of inhibition at the level of cognitive architecture (e.g., connectionism) and at the psychological level (e.g., repression) (although see MacLeod et al., 2003, for a critique of psychological-level notions of inhibition), it also operates culturally. So, for example, in certain Malay and other societies it is seen as inappropriate to express anger (see Chapter 8) and there is "social" inhibition of anger expression. In this section we shall try to draw together a number of ideas concerning inhibition and present them in the context of the SPAARS framework.

First, it is important to distinguish between two uses of the term inhibition in the psychological literature (Bjork, 1989; Dalgleish, 1991; Dalgleish et al., 1999). One usage, the term passive inhibition, is a description of the strengthening or activating of incompatible or alternative representations to the one that is being inhibited. So, for example, Fiona, who is having a bad time at work, might wish to forget about her job while on holiday. As a result, whenever anybody mentions work or whenever she finds herself thinking about work, she changes the subject or distracts herself by thinking about something else. Information about work is passively inhibited by virtue of Fiona attending to other things. A more controversial formulation of the inhibition process is what might be called active inhibition. In this case representations are again rendered less accessible; however, this lack of processing is not the result of attending to incompatible or alternative information but is a function of some direct inhibitory

Table 5.4 List of defence mechanisms

Altruism Conversion of passive to active Denial Devaluation Disavowal Displacement Dissociation Distortion Exaggeration

Humour Idealisation Intellectualisation Generalisation

Isolation Minimisation Omnipotent control Passive aggression Projection Projective identification Rationalisation Reaction formation Regression Repression Somatisation

Splitting Sublimation Turning against the self Undoing

Based on Horowitz, 1988.

process (Davies & Dalgleish, 2001). So, for example, John may have been abused as a child but have no memory of the abuse. One analysis of this situation utilises the concept of direct active inhibition of the abuse memories which prevents their entry into awareness.

Passive inhibition is an accepted phenomenon in the clinical and cognitive literature (e.g., Bower, 1990). In contrast, the process of active inhibition has so far gained little currency (although some of the literature on directed forgetting and negative priming is an exception, e.g., Geiselman, Bjork, & Fishman, 1983). Bjork (1989) offers several explanations for this lack of enthusiasm for active inhibition. He argues that the standard computer metaphor, which has motivated cognitive research since the late 1950s, is incompatible with notions such as inhibition and suppression. He also states that: "notions of inhibition or suppression in human memory have an unappealing association to certain poorly understood clinical phenomena, such as repression" (p. 310). Despite the paucity of theoretical debate within cognitive psychology concerning the existence and role of inhibitory processes in memory, we propose that there is a clear role for both active and passive inhibitory processes within SPAARS, and in this section we embroider upon this initial distinction.

The pattern of inhibition within SPAARS is dictated by the individual's dominant schematic models (see above) which are mirrored in their active goal structures. So, for example, an individual could have dominant schematic models representing the world as a safe place {WORLD - SAFE}, themselves as reasonably successful likeable people {LIKEABLE - SELF - SUCCESSFUL}, their friends as loyal dependable people {LOYAL - FRIENDS - DEPENDABLE} and so on. All incoming information will be interpreted in terms of the dominant models of the world, self, and others such as these that the individual holds. The system as a whole will seek to integrate new information with the existing models. This process of bringing the old and the new into some kind of harmony has been termed the completion process by Horowitz (e.g., 1986), or achieving Gestalt, without which the system would tend towards chaos. Information that is incompatible with an individual's dominant schematic models and thus resists such integration can either be ignored or reinterpreted. For example, most of us have experienced the truth of the saying "love is blind" when we have ignored or explained away faults in those with whom we are besotted. These faults are incompatible with our schematic model of that person as perfect for us. Some information, however, cannot be ignored or explained away in this fashion because it is too significant. For example, somebody who suffered the trauma of being raped by a friend would have experienced too serious a challenge to her abstracted schematic models such as {WORLD - SAFE} or {FRIENDS -DEPENDABLE} to "ignore" the new incompatible information concerning the rape. In this case something must give; either the models will be rejected or "shattered" (Janoff-Bulman, 1985), or the new information might be inhibited both passively and actively in order to try and preserve the extant models (see Chapter 6).

In addition to this inhibition of salient information that is incompatible with an individual's active schematic representations, it is proposed that within SPAARS whole alternative schematic models of the world, the self, and others can become established which are inhibited most of the time but have the potential to dominate the system, for example in times of stress or in particular emotional states (e.g., Elliott & Lassen, 1997; Power, 1987). The establishment of these alternative models of the self, the world, and others is most likely to occur during childhood when the dominant models are themselves becoming established. The existence of inhibited alternative models of self, world, and others that are incompatible with the dominant models makes such individuals vulnerable (see Chapter 4) to the onset of emotional disorder when events occur that mesh with the normally inhibited models, thus allowing them to dominate the system. To illustrate, let us consider a familiar example from the depression literature:

Joan was always criticised by her parents as a child. However hard she tried, nothing she did ever seemed good enough. Her parents always seemed to think she could do better. Perhaps not surprisingly, Joan did very well at school and won a place at a top university where she excelled. She turned out to be a confident and successful career woman. Joan's parents were exceedingly proud of her achievements and they told her that they had always pushed her as a child for her own good in order that she could realise the success she now had. Inevitably Joan had the odd setback or life event and it was remarkable how even the slightest sign that she had failed in some way could send her tailspin-ning into a depressed state in which everything looked gloomy.

Within SPAARS one would account for Joan's plight by proposing that, as a child, Joan had developed schematic models of herself as a failure and as never being good enough {FAILURE - SELF - NEVER GOOD ENOUGH}. Later, as she grew older, Joan developed healthier models centred on her success and developing confidence— the old models became inhibited. However, as soon as events conspired against her which meshed with these old inhibited models of {FAILURE - SELF - NEVER GOOD ENOUGH} then the models became reactivated and dominated the system. It is as if Joan is putting on the opposite of a pair of rose-tinted spectacles; that is, a pair of spectacles that make everything look black and gloomy, and she suddenly sees everything through these new lenses—these reawakened models of the self (Power, 1987; Power et al., 2002). Similar ideas have been put forward in other theories of emotional disorder. For example in our review of Beck's work in Chapter 4 we discussed his idea of latent schemata which are formed in childhood and reactivated in later life following some form of congruent life event.

It is proposed that groups of active schematic models are organised together within SPAARS in a coherent fashion within the different domains of knowledge that we have discussed. So, for example, models of the self might be organised around a central theme of the self as an individual with many broadly positive aspects. Models of the self that are incompatible with this organising theme are those most likely to be inhibited. Similarly, models of the world are organised in a coherent fashion. A model of the world as a generally safe place is likely to coexist with a model of the world as a just place and so on. Compatible schematic models such as these mutually activate each other and serve to inhibit incompatible models.

The inhibition of alternative incompatible schematic models has a knock-on effect throughout the different levels of SPAARS. At the propositional level, activated representations of past events and the generation of current thoughts will normally be congruent with the dominant schematic models. Thoughts and memories that are incongruent with the dominant models and/or congruent with the inhibited models may either be inhibited from coming into awareness or dismissed if they do enter awareness. Similarly, analogue representations of visual memories that are incompatible with the dominant models will be inhibited. However, if and when inhibited models come to dominate the system, these thoughts and images quickly become available to consciousness.

The extent of the inhibition either of new information that is incompatible with an individual's active models or of alternative schematic models can vary considerably. In the most extreme case the individual might experience dissociative states or even dissociative identity disorder. Consider an example offered by Spiegel and Cardena:

A young man's car broke down on a heavily travelled freeway. As he was trying to examine the car, he was struck by an intoxicated motorcyclist attempting to escape the pursuing highway patrol. He was severely injured, both legs were broken, and one later required amputation. He lay injured on the freeway in the midst of oncoming traffic. His friends were begging him to get off the road, and at first he protested that he could not move, but at the suggestion of a friend he started to think about one of his favourite places, a fishing lodge where he and his father went. He found himself concentrating almost entirely on the experience of fishing, got up, and walked off the freeway on his badly injured legs. He experienced no pain at all until several hours later when his leg was being manipulated for X-ray. (1990, pp. 25-26)

As the authors argue: "This unfortunate young man had clearly separated, or dissociated, himself from the traumatic experience while it was occurring, keeping his shock, pain, and fear out of conscious awareness, even though he at no time lost consciousness" (p. 26). In instances such as these, there seems to be strong active inhibition separating one existential space from another (for discussions see Dalgleish & Power, 2004; Holmes et al., 2005).

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