chapter  4
33 Pages

Psychological explanation: intentional interpretation

This chapter, together with Chapter 5, explores the psychological explanation of akrasia and addiction in light of the methodology of Intentional Behaviorism. It is concerned to demonstrate the necessity of a psychological explanation for the behaviors it reviews, and, in addressing the first stage of such an explanation, to propose a possible intentional interpretation for it. Chapter 5 provides the second stage, that of cognitive interpretation, suggesting a cognitive structure and accompanying functions that show how the intentionality proposed at the earlier stage of psychological explanation could be realized. The need for and shape of intentional interpretation are pursued in three contexts: the intertemporal valuation of rewards, the execution of picoeconomic strategies for overcoming akratic behavioral tendencies, and the cognitive distortions that arise in continued addictive behaviors exemplified by slot-machine gambling. The first of these themes is fundamental to understanding the cognitive basis of addiction. It addresses the underlying feature of temporal discounting as well as the capacity to quit the cycle of preference reversal that addiction entails. This is the comparative evaluation of alternative and mutually exclusive reinforcers, and its inclusion is intended to illustrate the inability of a purely behaviorist depiction of such valuation to offer convincing stimulusbased referents for the operant explanation of the behavior. The way in which we understand the mechanisms required to evaluate outcomes that are distant in time will influence our approach to the explanation of addiction in general. This analysis raises the question of why some people escape from a

behavior pattern which consists in the choice of immediate but inferior outcomes in favor of a new pattern characterized by patience and superior outcomes. The second theme is derived from a sophisticated theory of akrasia and addiction, picoeconomics (Ainslie, 1992, 2001), which has both informed discussion generally and inspired empirical research, and which explores in depth the interactions between competing short-and long-range interests in psychological and economic terms. The picoeconomic strategies that have been proposed for the overcoming of temptation, for substituting patience or selfcontrol for impulsivity and rashness, shed light on the cognitive requirements of addiction theory. The third theme is an example of pathological behavior which forms the basis of a widespread addiction, the so-called “near-miss” effect in slotmachine gambling (Schüll, 2012). Pathological gambling is well known to have similar neuronal substrates to those underlying substance addiction (Ross et al., 2008, pp. 32-34). Pathological gambling (PG) is defined here as “A chronic inability to refrain from gambling to an extent that causes serious disruption to core life aspects such as career, health and family” (PG is also used to refer to pathological gamblers); problem gamblers are “people whose gambling behavior is at least a nuisance to them, and is so along the same dimensions as are used to operationalize PG,” and disordered gambling (DG) “denotes the inclusive disjunction of the two ideas above, i.e., gambling that is either PG or problem gambling” (see also Petry, 2005). Section 312.31 of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) speaks of “gambling disorder” rather than pathological gambling. Classifying PG as an addiction requires more than the observation that it is irrational or compulsive at the behavioral level. It requires a convincing degree of continuity of such gambling with substance addiction, especially in the face of serious and costly attempts to desist. Ross et al. (2008) argue that PG should be considered a genuine addiction on biophysical grounds; indeed, they maintain, the paradigm case. This has been supported by research revealing a relationship between PG and a deficiency of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. The psychological explanation of all three of these examples relies on the observation that psychological explanation which, by definition, entails representation, must also be capable of dealing with misrepresentation. This chapter begins, therefore, with a discussion of the model of psychological explanation that it employed. Then, for each of the cases, it describes the phenomenon of interest, discusses the limitations of an operant explanation for the behavior and establishes the need for its psychological explanation, and proposes an intentional interpretation of the behavior. Chapter 5 underpins this intentional interpretation by examining the cognitive structure and functions necessary for its efficacy.