The interacting cognitive subsystems (ICS) approach (Barnard, 1985, 2003; Barnard & Teasdale, 1991; Teasdale & Barnard, 1993) is a recent exemplar of one of a class of multi-level, multi-system approaches (see also Leventhal and Scherer's model in Chapter 3) that, in addition to their potential application to emotion, can provide accounts of a wide variety of cognitive skills and processes (cf. Newell, 1990). As we shall see therefore, the link between cognition and emotion is not easily pinned down in such models, because the relationship is seen as complex and interactive.
There are nine cognitive subsystems in Teasdale and Barnard's (1993) ICS approach: the first set of subsystems is sensory-related and includes the Acoustic and Visual subsystems; the second set is Central subsystems and includes the
Morphonolexical, the Propositional, the Implicational, and the Object subsystems; and the third set is Affector subsystems and includes the Articulatory, the Body State, and the Limb subsystems. These subsystems process information partly in parallel and partly sequentially according to the type of task and other requirements acting on the overall system.
In relation to emotion, the key subsystems are the so-called Propositional and Implicational, as illustrated in Figure 4.5. These two systems represent a common distinction made in psycholinguistics because of the need to have both multiple levels and multiple representations in models of the comprehension and production of language (e.g., Johnson-Laird, 1983; Power, 1986). The units of representation in the Propositional subsystem are propositions, which are the smallest semantic units that can have a truth value; thus, the phrases 'Tony Blair' or 'George Bush' do not have truth values in themselves but are merely names about which nothing is asserted. Only when they are included in larger units such as 'Tony Blair is a fine politician' or 'George Bush loves international travel' do the units become propositional because they are either true or false.
In contrast, the higher-level semantic representations at the Implicational level in ICS are referred to as 'schematic models'. Like the 'mental models' approach (e.g., Johnson-Laird, 1983), schematic models combine information from a variety of sources; so within ICS they draw on the whole range of other subsystems feeding information into the Implicational subsystem. In the simplified example shown in Figure 4.5, we have highlighted three possible inputs to the Implicational subsystem from the Object, the Body State, and the Propositional subsystems. These four subsystems together are the most important ones in the production of emotion in the ICS approach. For example, an Object subsystem input of 'Dentist approaching with drill', plus Body State input of being tied down in dentist's chair, and Propositional input of the form 'The anaesthetic isn't working!' or 'The Nazi dentist in the film Marathon Man has nothing on this guy!' may all combine at the Implicational level to produce a schematic model of the form 'Self About To Die By Dental Torture' together with an experience of total panic. In the ICS approach, therefore, emotion is the result of the combination within the Implicational subsystem, of outputs from a number of
cognitive subsystems, rather than simply being the output from a specific cognitive appraisal. Although ICS is not alone in considering emotion to be the result of processing in multiple cognitive systems (see for example Leventhal & Scherer's 1987 model described in Chapter 3), it provides one of the most detailed and elegant multi-system approaches to the understanding of emotion.
In order to illustrate further the application of the ICS framework to the understanding of emotion, Teasdale and Barnard (1993) compare and contrast ICS with Beck's cognitive therapy, presented earlier in this chapter. In Beck's original model (e.g., Beck et al., 1979), it was proposed that emotion was a consequence of thought and that, in particular, the occurrence of negative automatic thoughts caused depression. As shown in Figure 4.6, the two levels of meaning in ICS provide a more complex picture; thus, in ICS negative automatic thoughts may be the consequence rather than the cause of a depressive schematic model at the Implicational level, although in turn these negative thoughts may serve to lock the system in a depression-maintaining loop. As noted above, Teasdale and Barnard (1993) also extend an earlier criticism of cognitive therapy made by Power and Champion (1986); namely that cognitive therapy focuses on a single level of meaning, whereas profit might be had from considering two levels of meaning such as propositions and mental models. Teasdale and Barnard argue that much of the challenging of negative thoughts and beliefs in standard cognitive therapy occurs at the propositional level and may often ignore the higher-level implicational meaning; the net outcome of such a process can be that the individual is browbeaten into rejecting the negative proposition, but becomes more depressed rather than less depressed because, for example, a higher-level model is confirmed in which the individual is always wrong. To give an example of this process, consider the following extract from a therapy session:
CLIENT: You know, I'm really convinced that I'm worthless, that I'm a failure. THERAPIST: Well, let's look at this belief that you're a failure. Do you have any evidence for this?
CLIENT: My whole life feels wasted. I'm never going to get anywhere.
THERAPIST: Perhaps we could take a specific area of your life and have a look at it. How about your work? Do you think you are a failure in your work?
CLIENT: Hm [thinks . . .] The picture is mixed. There are so many things that I'm never going to achieve.
THERAPIST: But what about the things you have achieved. You went to university—
THERAPIST: —Was it a failure to get to university?
[There are several more exchanges in which further specific achievements are discussed]
CLIENT: I guess you're right, you're right that I'm not a failure in my work. But why couldn't I think of that? I feel worse now rather than better.
According to Teasdale and Barnard, this example would illustrate the therapist's focus on the Propositional level of meaning because of the attempt to show that the proposition 'I'm a failure' is false. Indeed, by the end of the exchange the client has been persuaded that the proposition is false, but has become more depressed in the process. However, a focus on the Implicational level of meaning would suggest that an important issue for this client might be a need to discover things for himself and that a focus on the therapeutic relationship in relation to this and other issues might well be warranted (cf. Beach & Power, 1996).
Teasdale and Barnard also offer the interesting analysis of the difference between 'intellectual' beliefs and 'emotional' beliefs, as in 'I tell myself that I'm a worthwhile person, but underneath I still feel worthless'. They propose that intellectual beliefs are meanings at the Propositional level whereas emotional beliefs are propositional articulations of schematic models at the Implicational level. Moreover, the information held at the two levels need not be consistent but can be discrepant (see also the discussion in Chapter 2 of Descartes' ideas about primary and secondary emotions).
Overall, it is too soon to judge the ICS approach because of its recent development. ICS is of course a general cognitive model that will stand or fall on how useful an account it provides of a wide range of cognitive processes, not just its account of emotion. Because it is in part a framework and in part a theory, there is a degree to which it is not falsifiable; thus, as we discussed in relation to semantic networks in Chapter 3, there is some flexibility about which particular theory a framework can instantiate. For example, the low-level cognitive architecture for ICS could be based on connectionist networks, but it could be based on a viable alternative; the subsystems could be treated as functional modules within a modular processing system, or, if the modular approach goes out of fashion, it could be argued that the cognitive subsystems were simply a functional description of a set of processes that were instantiated in the brain in a radically different fashion (see Gazzaniga, 1988, for an excellent discussion of this issue in relation to modularity).
In relation to emotion, it remains to be seen how useful the ICS approach is from both the empirical point of view and the clinical point of view. However, some interesting preliminary supporting data have been presented by Teasdale, Taylor, Cooper, Hayhurst, and Paykel (1995) who found that depressed patients completed sentence stems with positive words or phrases consistent with high-level schematic models rather than simply offering negative sentence completions as predicted by theories such as Bower's. Sheppard and Teasdale (1996) have replicated this finding and have also shown that at 2 months follow-up, mood-improved patients presented completed sentence stems in a more functional, less positive way. We might note, however, that the central distinction between the Propositional and the Implicational levels of meaning may not be as clear-cut in practice as it appears, while not disputing that it is advantageous to make some distinctions between different levels of meaning. In the extract from the therapy session presented above, Teasdale and Barnard would argue that the focus on the 'I'm a failure' statement occurs at the Propositional level of meaning and that the client became more depressed because the Implicational-level meaning was ignored. An alternative account is that 'I'm a failure' is a proposition derived from a mental model of similar content, which is embedded in a higher-level mental model along the lines 'I must decide things for myself'. This alternative retains the importance of different levels of meaning, but it demonstrates that these levels could also be at the Implicational or mental model level and not simply occur between the Implicational and Propositional levels. Teasdale and Barnard do not discuss the possibility of hierarchical organisation of models within the Implicational subsystem.
Ultimately, of course, emotion is generated in ICS via a pattern-matching process, albeit a sophisticated set of such processes. In this manner therefore, ICS appears to swim against the tide of current goal-based appraisal theories of emotion that we highlighted in Chapters 2 and 3. Swimming against the tide is obviously not a criticism in itself and may, indeed, prove to be remarkably percipient. For the present, however, we believe that the tide is running in the right direction and will provide the direction that we intend to take.
Was this article helpful?
Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.