Psychological phenomena, to great certainty, emerge from the underlying biology of the brain. The brain is a vastly complex, looped network with many levels of internal closure and external open and closed loops. Therefore, any psychological phenomenon is likely to show the properties of emergent phenomena. It is thus necessary to examine psychological theories regarding their epistemological assumptions, whether they base on category/hierarchy (linear-discrete), probabilistic (linear-continuous), homeostatic (looped-continuous), and morphogenetic (looped-discrete). The following slide illustrates the concept:
The epistemological assumptions of the theory define what it can see and what it ignores.
Maruyama called these epistemological types mindscapes. The majority of psychological phenomena is supposed to require looped-discrete models, emerging as temporary steady states, also called phases. Within this mindscape, patterns that emerge are likely to be those from chaos science (attractors, repulsors, quadratic map and bifurcation scenarios, saddle points, siegel discs, self-similarity, etc.) It is therefore interesting to check which theories may be explained by chaos theory phenomena, because there is a bigger chance to find underlying neurobiological equivalents than for linear theories. Holistic theories are also supposed to be looped-discrete, as they assume autopoiesis. Systems theory based models are supposed to show trajectories and eigenvalues, and build on looped-continuous assumptions. A number of theories may be described within that context. However, if they contain linear-continuous elements or conclusions, they may be seriously flawed.
Linear theories require special considerations. They are either a very coarse view on chaotic phenomena that is only valid within a particularly normalized context of observation. It is then interesting to find the hidden assumptions that define the context. Assuming epistemological ambiguity that is not normally distibuted within societies, flaws in these theories may be discovered more easily. In this case, these models are not generalizable or illegally reductionist theories.
As my thinking has been primed on discrete-looped phenomena, and there appears to be a considerable number of linear theories in psychology, these epistemological considerations are one of my primary interests in psychology. It can, for example, be shown that many of the IPIP personality items may be interpreted ambiguously, assuming different underlying epistemological types of the study participant. This may be the reason for the weak overall correlations when doing large-scale factor analysis based on lexical data.
A Thought Experiment
IPIP items are very short, but brevity only works if the used vocabulary for all participants shares the same meaning. To examine the influence of beliefs, I conducted a short experiment. Hypothesis: The lexical approach at personality neglects meaning. Peterson (1999) argues that objects (terms) and their significance become linked within an underlying, fundamental narrative, influencing psychometric instruments. However, attempts at epistemic belief inventories failed to show consistent factor loading (Teo, 2012; Teo, 2013). IPIP items for the Five-Factor-Model may cluster although their interpretations are ambivalent, due to non-normal distribution of epistemological types (e.g. Pareto-distribution). This mini-study examines how well-defined IPIP items are with regard to their epistemological interpretation.
10 random items were drawn from the IPIP pool. To define different styles of interpretation, Maruyama’s (1980) mindscapes were used. Maruyama’s nomenclature differs between H-type (linear-discrete, hierarchical), I-type (independent-event, linear-continuous), S-type (homeostatic, change-counteracting, looped-continuous), and G-type (morphogenetic, change-amplifying, looped-discrete) thinkers. Typical interpretations of all items have been drafted for these mindscapes by associative writing with prior priming. All items were subsequently checked for ambiguity or judgmental bias within all four interpretations.
It was possible to come up with plausible interpretations of all items for all four mindscapes that substantially differed in meaning. 2 out of 10 items were purely suggestive. Clearly positive or negative evaluation for most items was primarily indicated for H-type interpretation only. All items were ambiguous for at least two of the four mindscapes. 9 out of 10 were ambiguous for I-type evaluation. One item specifically probed for H/I-type dichotomy. 3 items share judgmental directedness for H- and S-types, but differ in judgment of long- or short-term consequences. H-type and G-type judgment correlated negatively for items addressing order, change and opportunity.
The meaningful interpretation of IPIP (2017) pool items depends on the prevalent mindscape. This interpretation influences the rating of items on a Likert-scale. Forming as first style of thinking, H-type thinking is available to almost all humans. Under stress or facing threats people tend to revert to H-type thinking. Epistemic models may thus be Pareto-distributed and fail to factor (cf. Maruyama, 1999). Thought patterns are subject to availability bias and IPIP items ambivalent for non-linear-discrete mindscapes. Therefore, factor analysis of samples of the general population may tend to cluster H-type interpretations of IPIP items. The items may also have an epistemologically priming effect upon each other. These observations suggest that the lexical method measures personality traits in terms of their importance for hierarchical interpretations of societies.
The matrix of interpretations and items can be found here:
- Epistemological ambiguity of IPIP items
10 randomly drawn IPIP personality items interpreted under linear-discrete, linear-continuous, looped-discrete, and looped-continuous epistemological assumptions. The interpretation of the items shows ambiguity. Many of these interpretations do not lead to a non-ambiguous reduction in Likert-scale based assessment, undermining their causal assumptions and validity of the scale. [Download XLS | 0.16 MB]
The trend to use chaos science models in psychology is only starting. It takes time to transfer these ideas. Additionally, looped-discrete thinking is underrepresented in the general public. Masters programs rarely transcend linear statistics and thus ignore phenomena that do not show in linear statistics (cf. Maruyama, 1999). This section is my think-tank on the subject, to sort my thinking.
Thoughts and feed-back are always welcome.
International Personality Item Pool [IPIP]. (2017). A Scientific Collaboratory for the Development of Advanced Measures of Personality and Other Individual Differences. Retrieved January 31, 2017 from http://ipip.ori.org/
Maruyama, M. (1980). Mindscapes and science theories. Current Anthropology 21(5), 589-608.
Maruyama, M. (1999). Heterogram analysis: Where the assumption of normal distribution is illogical. Human Systems Management, 18(1999), 53-60.
Peterson, J. B. (1999). Maps of meaning: The architecture of belief. New York: Routledge.
Teo, T. (2012). A cross-cultural validation of the Epistemic Belief Inventory (EBI). The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 12(3), 618-624.
Teo, T. (2013). Examining the Psychometric Properties of the Epistemic Belief Inventory (EBI). Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 31(1), 72-79.