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Case study - Psychology

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We end this section of the book, on case studies, with an area in which

some of the applications of nonlinear dynamical approaches must be

regarded as speculative. We begin with an overview of the appeal of

nonlinear dynamics for psychology, and then discuss in more depth the

dynamics of mood swings and schizophrenia symptoms, and the ability

of humans to predict future values of chaotic sequences. Readers

interested in pursuing this general area further might want to peruse

some recent copies of the journal Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and

Life Sciences, published by the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology

and Life Sciences.

The ideas of nonlinear dynamics and chaos have great appeal for

those attempting to place psychological constructs on a mathematical

foundation. The idea that seemingly complex behavior can be exhibited

by a rather simple system, following deterministic and therefore

explicable rules, provides hope that often convoluted and inexplicable

human behavior might also follow some comprehensible rules. The

dynamical notions of stability, complexity, and especially chaos, are

appealing metaphors for the constant change and apparent self-

organization that are frequently seen in the behavior of individuals and

groups. These behaviors exhibit many of the qualities that we have seen

in chaotic systems: changes in response that are not proportional to

changes in a control variable, uncertainty and unpredictability, and

sensitivity to initial conditions such that repetition of identical stimuli

302

Case Study Psychology 303

is a strong desire for testable quantitative models, in order to aid in the

design of effective strategies for patient treatment.

Guastello (2001) has outlined in general form some of the ways in

which nonlinear dynamical concepts might come into play in the various

subfields of psychology. Among these ideas is the generation of creative

solutions to a given problem through chaotic dynamics - what might

otherwise appear to be randomly generated candidate solutions may

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It is as yet unclear as to how reliable many of the studies in this area

are, especially those in patients which are necessarily limited in data

quality and quantity. To quote from a published abstract: "A review of

how chaos theory is used in psychology reveals two relatively distinct

efforts: chaos as a mathematical model of psychological phenomena and

chaos as a metaphor for psychological phenomena. A discussion of

recent articles reveals that most chaotic analysis fails to respect the

minimum qualifications for data subjected to such analysis. Further, uses

of chaos as an analogy for psychological phenomena are rife with.

misunderstandings of chaos" (Kincanon & Powel 1995).

With this sobering thought in mind, we now discuss two areas in

which nonlinear dynamical approaches have been applied with at least

some semblance of rigor, where the dynamical approach can provide

possibly useful new interpretations of a psychological phenomenon, and

where these interpretations might lead to testable hypotheses.

the time course of different psychological and psychiatric symptoms, so

that appropriate treatments can be based on the underlying causes. Two

prevalent models for mood swings in bipolar disorder suggest either an

inherent periodicity, or a steadily increasing frequency as abnormal

episodes become more spontaneously triggered with disease progression.

304 Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology

bipolar disorder, to see if chaos or other dynamical models would

provide a better explanation for observed mood variations than would

these two existing models. Time series in this study consisted of average

daily mood reports, on a scale of 1 to 100, from seven patients and 28

control subjects. Qualitative observation of these self-report data

suggests that there is neither a dominant periodicity nor a steadily

increasing rate of occurrence of mood swings, although the patients do

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between the patients and the normal control subjects, with more changes

in pattern in the patients. Visual examination of two-dimensional state

space (time-delay plots) also show a difference between normals and

patients. /

There are broadband frequency spectra from the data in both groups,

although the spectra are flatter in normals, indicating long-term

correlations, which might be either chaotic or random (see Chapter 13).

Correlation dimension estimates converged only for six of the seven

patients; that is, the dimension estimate reached a plateau as embedding

dimension increased. This was true for none of the normal control

subjects. Patient dimensions ranged from 1.1 to 4.8. Although this is a

troublingly large range if attempts to model the underlying dynamics are

to be made, at least dimension estimates could be found for the patients.

This is the main result of the study, the implications of which are

discussed below.

A number of procedures were used to validate these findings. The

authors checked for variation in the dimension as a function of the time

delay (L) used in the attractor reconstruction. Although relatively

constant, the dimension in most patients spanned an integer value, which

the authors rightly interpreted to mean that the dynamics are not

necessarily chaotic but might instead reflect noisy periodicities or quasi-

periodicities (see Chapter 1). They also checked the data for stationarity,

visually with recurrence plots, to ascertain that there was not significant

change due to patient treatment over the course of the examined time

series. Three types of surrogates were also tested (see Chapter 6):

random-shuffle, phase-randomization, and amplitude-adjusted Fourier

transform (AAFT). In all cases the surrogates did not yield dimension

Case Study - Psychology 305

dimension.

While the exact dimension values may be questionable due to the data

acquisition methodology (daily self-reporting) and the small data sets

(several hundred points), there nevertheless appears to be a clear

difference between the patients and the control subjects in this study. In

particular, there is a more organized temporal structure in the bipolar

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coupling between internal oscillators, or between internal processes

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of chaotic dynamics in this disorder raises the enticing prospect that

nonlinear forecasting and chaos control strategies could be useful as

assessment and treatment strategies.

This appealing result was later called into question by Krystal and

Greenside (1998), who cited a theoretical study that suggests that a truly

chaotic system should exhibit a region of exponential (rather than power-

law) spectral decay. The original authors' response was that variability in

the spectral estimates did not allow the acceptance or rejection of either

spectral model.

Roughly similar results have been found in schizophrenia patients

(Tschacher et al. 1997). In this study of 14 patients, the data consist of

daily staff ratings of symptom levels on a 7-pont scale. Each time series

is 200 to 770 points. Since the data are limited in amount and resolution,

the authors purposefully avoided dimension estimation and instead used

nonlinear forecasting methods (modified versions of the methods

presented in Chapter 7). They also forecast randomized surrogate data,

phase-shuffled surrogate data, and data from a linear autoregressive

model fit to each time series. Of the 14 patients, eight had evidence of

nonlinear dynamics, four of linear dynamics (ability to forecast data from

the corresponding linear model), and two of randomness (near-constant

poor forecasting). Nonlinearity, when present, was suggestive of chaotic

dynamics: short-term forecasting ability that decayed rapidly. In

supporting work, the authors showed that forecasting could indeed be

carried out on such small discretized data sets. They did not, however,

examine the decay rate of forecasting quality as a means to distinguish

between chaos and randomness (section 7.6 in Chapter 7), nor

306 Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology

the type that they analyzed.

In apparent contrast with this result, which suggests a lower

"complexity" (better forecasting), and hence possibly lower dimensions,

in schizophrenics relative to normals, Koukkou et al. (1993) found

increased dimensionality of the EEG in schizophrenics. This lower-level

phenomenon (recording of neural activity) may reflect activation and

separation of different neuronal assemblies, leading to difficulty in

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consequent inability to respond coherently to stress or other external

stimuli (Tschacher et al. 1997).

Other studies have noted impaired temporal processing in

schizophrenia (see Paulus & Braff 2003), which might reflect either

chaotic or random dynamics, but nevertheless indicates impaired

temporal structure as a feature of the disease process.

known that humans cannot generate random sequences reliably

(Wagenaar 1972). This apparent reluctance to deal with true randomness

is also evidenced by the well-known "gambler's fallacy": humans expect

that a long losing series "should be" shortly followed by a win in order to

maintain randomness, while in fact for a truly random game of chance

the past history has no effect on the outcome of subsequent trials (Ward

& West 1998). This raises the question of whether or not apparently

unpredictable human behavior might arise from chaotic dynamics in

neural and psychological processes. This in turn leads to the question: are

humans "sensitive to chaos"? Specifically, can they reproduce or forecast

a chaotic sequence, better than an appropriate random control sequence?

A number of recent studies have examined the ability of humans to

forecast or generate chaotic sequences. As we will see, even if subjects

do not always match the desired chaotic process, they often produce a

sequence that has nonlinear deterministic structure. A low-dimensional

Case Study Psychology 307

unpredictable behavior, which can have such advantages as engendering

creativity, aiding in problem-solving by generating non-obvious

solutions, and avoiding enemies through evasive actions (Neuringer &

Voss 1993).

In one of the first studies in this area (Neuringer & Voss 1993),

subjects were asked to predict the future locations of a point along a line

segment; the locations were governed by the chaotic logistic map

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difference between predicted and actual locations) was provided on each

trial. Subject performance in this task was improved in a second set of

trials, evincing a possible learning of the chaotic dynamics during the

first set. Furthermore, the one-step-ahead predictions made by the

subjects matched the general form of the logistic equation or map (see

Fig. 12.2.1 for a depiction of this equation, which maps values from one

time step to the next). The simplest interpretation of this result is that

subjects could learn simple chaotic dynamics.

Metzger (1994) questioned this interpretation, suggesting instead that

the results could be due to paired-associate learning, in which subjects

learned approximate stimulus-response pairs, without any need to

approximate or detect an underlying set of dynamics. Could the human

prediction results, in other words, simply reflect a heuristic learning

approach?

To address this question, in a subsequent study (Ward & West 1998),

subjects were again asked to forecast position along a line, controlled by

the one-step-ahead logistic map, with errdY feedback on each trial. After

a set of learning trials, subjects were given a starting value and asked to

iterate several steps ahead without feedback, in an attempt to reproduce

the learned map. Delay-time plots show that subjects could produce

maps that resembled the logistic function, but not exactly. Equations fit

to the reproduced maps yielded values for the logistic equation parameter

/u that correspond to a limit cycle (periodic behavior), rather than to the

actual chaotic dynamics asked for in the learning sessions. A

computational forecasting method due to Casdagli (1992), and described

in section 11.5, was applied to the subjects' iterated predictions, and

308 Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology

component and is not completely random. Although a noisy logistic

model reproduced some of the subject results, a fuzzy memory-pair

model was even better. In this latter model, learned memory pairs (a

given value and the subsequent predicted value) were modified by

adding noise, in effect suggesting that subjects learned fuzzy groupings

of sets of data rather than precise pairs. Thus, the learning of chaotic

dynamics per se was likely not an explanation for the results, given the

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suggest that there is a nonlinear deterministic process operating during

the task, and that this process might be chaotic and could even be the

source of the noise terms. Overall, the results suggest that the learning of

a chaotic map can be accomplished at least in part with a heuristic

approach.

More recently, Heath (2002) showed subjects eight values from a

Henon system, and had them predict the subsequent four values, with no

error feedback. (These data were, however, heavily processed: rescaled

and truncated.) Prediction ability was compared to that from an AAFT

surrogate (Chapter 6), to see if human prediction ability is based on

linear stochastic correlations in the data. Prediction of the chaotic data

was better than that of the surrogate, indicating that the human prediction

is "sensitive to chaos," although a heuristic learning pattern could not be

ruled out.

A similar study by Smithson (1997) is interesting because of its

implications for human decision making. Subjects were asked to

forecast, one step ahead, both persistent and anti-persistent (see Chapter

13) nonlinear deterministic processes (chaotic), and random processes

with the same distributions (created by shuffling the order of the values

in each sequence). Prediction performance with the chaotic sequences

was better, with greater accuracy and less under-dispersion. "Less under-

dispersion is important because it indicates that subjects are less likely to

under-estimate the extreme fluctuations in a chaotic process than they are

in a random one, thereby rendering them better prepared for extreme

outcomes.... these results suggest that our judgmental heuristics may

have been shaped by nonlinear dynamical processes rather than

Case Study - Psychology 309

that humans have in generating random sequences, and in erroneously

believing the gambler's fallacy, may result from inexperience with truly

random processes, which have independent trials. Rather, heuristic rules

may have developed through exposure to natural processes that do

exhibit correlations, either persistent or anti-persistent, and possibly

deterministic and chaotic.

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estimating spatial or temporal intervals has a 1// form. This does not

necessarily indicate the presence of chaos but is related to concepts in

Chapter 13 on temporal structure and long-term correlations.

In closing, recall from Chapter 4 that an attractor can be reconstructed

from discrete-event spike-train data, which will reflect the underlying

continuous dynamics that trigger the spikes (with some reasonable

assumptions on the integrate-to-fire mechanism). Thus it might be better

to examine patient and other psychological data, which has been highly

discretized (into a small number of categories), as discrete events, the

times of which coincide with the rating exceeding a certain critical value.

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cognition. Science 267:1837-1839.

A Gottschalk, MS Bauer, PC Whybrow (1995) Evidence of chaotic

mood variation in bipolar disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry

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SJ Guastello (2001) Nonlinear dynamics in psychology. Discrete

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RA Heath (2000). Nonlinear Dynamics: Techniques and Applications in

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RA Heath (2002) Can people predict chaotic sequences? Nonlinear

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E Kincanon, W Powel (1995) Chaotic analysis in psychology and

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Dimensional complexity of EEG brain mechanisms in untreated

schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry 33:397-407.

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MA Metzger (1994) Have subjects been shown to generate chaotic

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