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Mental perturbance: An integrative design-oriented concept for understanding repetitive thought, emotions and related phenomena involving a loss of control of executive functions


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Understanding intrusive mentation, rumination, obsession, and worry, known also as "repetitive thought" (RT), is important for understanding cognitive and affective processes in general. RT is of transdiagnostic significance—for example obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and addictions involve counterproductive RT. It is also a key but under-acknowledged feature of emotional episodes. We argue that RT cannot be understood in isolation but must rather be considered within models of whole minds and for this purpose we suggest an integrative design-oriented (IDO) approach. This approach involves the design stance of theoretical Artificial Intelligence (the central discipline of cognitive science), augmented by systematic conceptual analysis, aimed at explaining how autonomous agency is possible. This requires developing, exploring and implementing cognitive-affective-conative information-processing architectures. Empirical research on RT and emotions needs to be driven by such theories, and theorizing about RT needs to consider such data. Mental perturbance is an IDO concept that, we argue, can help characterize, explain, and theoretically ground the concept of RT. Briefly, perturbance is a mental state in which motivators tend to disrupt, or otherwise influence, executive processes even if reflective processes were to try to prevent or minimize the motivators’ influence. We draw attention to an IDO architecture of mind, H-CogAff, to illustrate the IDO approach to perturbance. We claim, further, that the intrusive mentation of some affective states— including grief and limerence (the attraction phase of romantic love) — should be conceptualized in terms of perturbance and the IDO architectures that support perturbance. We call for new taxonomies of RT and emotion in terms of IDO architectures such as H-CogAff. We point to areas of research in psychology that would benefit from the concept of perturbance.
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Simon Fraser University
University of Warsaw
University College London
Understanding intrusive mentation, rumination, obsession, and worry, known also as "repetitive
thought" (RT), is important for understanding cognitive and affective processes in general. RT is
of transdiagnostic significancefor example obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and
addictions involve counterproductive RT. It is also a key but under-acknowledged feature of
emotional episodes. We argue that RT cannot be understood in isolation but must rather be
considered within models of whole minds and for this purpose we suggest an integrative design-
oriented (IDO) approach. This approach involves the design stance of theoretical Artificial
Intelligence (the central discipline of cognitive science), augmented by systematic conceptual
analysis, aimed at explaining how autonomous agency is possible. This requires developing,
exploring and implementing cognitive-affective-conative information-processing architectures.
Empirical research on RT and emotions needs to be driven by such theories, and theorizing
about RT needs to consider such data. Mental perturbance is an IDO concept that, we argue,
can help characterize, explain, and theoretically ground the concept of RT. Briefly, perturbance
is a mental state in which motivators tend to disrupt, or otherwise influence, executive processes
even if reflective processes were to try to prevent or minimize the motivators’ influence. We draw
attention to an IDO architecture of mind, H-CogAff, to illustrate the IDO approach to
perturbance. We claim, further, that the intrusive mentation of some affective states including
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grief and limerence (the attraction phase of romantic love) should be conceptualized in terms
of perturbance and the IDO architectures that support perturbance. We call for new taxonomies
of RT and emotion in terms of IDO architectures such as H-CogAff. We point to areas of
research in psychology that would benefit from the concept of perturbance.
Keywords: repetitive thought, emotions, executive functions, cognitive architectures,
autonomous agents, affective computing
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Mental Perturbance: An Integrative Design-Oriented Concept for Understanding
Repetitive Thought, Emotions and Related Phenomena Involving a Loss of Control of
Executive Functions
I hope that moving toward a general theory of motivation will help psychology as a
whole acknowledge and embrace the fundamental importance of motivation in the grand
scheme of integrative psychological theory. (Baumeister, 2015, p. 9)
This paper discusses an important type of human mental state, dubbed perturbance
(Beaudoin, 1994), which is defined in integrative design-oriented (IDO) terms. Perturbance is a
mental state in which insistent motivators or alarms distract or otherwise influence executive
processes in a manner that is difficult for reflective processes to suppress or control. The concept
of perturbance provides a rich, design-oriented way of understanding some of the attentional
aspects of emotion-like states, wherein an autonomous agent, with a certain type of
computational architecture, is subject to loss of control of its deliberative processes. We claim
that the concept of perturbance can theoretically unify many important mental phenomena that
are characterized by repetitive thought (RT), such as worry (Watkins, 2008), obsessions
(Macatee et al., 2015), and emotional episodes involving intrusive mentation (Sloman, 1987).
This paper also claims and subsequently illustrates our claim that the IDO approach can shed
light on multiple phenomena, which is indeed that necessary for a complete understanding of the
minds of autonomous agents, be they natural or artificial.
Sloman and Croucher (1981a, 1981b) claimed that future robots will exhibit human-like
emotional mentation not because emotional mechanisms were explicitly implemented in them,
but as a necessary emergent biproduct of interacting information-processing mechanisms that are
designed to meet requirements that would later be referred to as requirements of autonomous
agents (Beaudoin & Sloman, 1993; Beaudoin, 1994; Thrisson & Helgasson, 2012). The
Cognition and Affect (CogAff) project was launched in 1991 to better understand the
requirements of autonomous agents, and the space of real and possible minds that meet, or would
meet, these requirements. See Sloman (2008a) for a review. This paper builds on that project,
extending and adapting its methodology and theory.
The concept of perturbance does not stand alone. It is grounded in the specification of
information-processing architectures resulting from an IDO approach to understanding possible
and actual minds. This means that one cannot specify the concept of perturbance, or adequately
study it empirically, without familiarity with IDO. This approach, as we shall see, contrasts with
what Watkins (2008) claims is the scientific allure of the concept of repetitive thought, namely
that it is an atheoretical concept. Physicists acknowledge that even empirical constructs are
deeply theoretical (Lakatos, 1980) even speed is a theoretical concept specified in relation to
other concepts. The theoretical richness of the concept of perturbance, the difficulty of the IDO
methodology, and the fact that few researchers pursue the IDO approach might explain why the
concept of perturbance has largely been overlooked in psychology.
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One of the main objectives of this paper is to whet its readers’ appetite for the IDO
approach by making them curious about its potential for unifying many literatures with the
concept of perturbance and the theory on which it depends. However, the ambitiousness of the
IDO approach also presents the chief difficulty of this paper: to concisely explain a complex, old
(in relation to the history of computational psychology) yet still nascent, computational research
Accordingly, we begin by describing the IDO approach and a class of IDO agent
architectures (H-CogAff) that were developed with the aim of supporting the requirements of
autonomous agency. We then summarize an argument according to which certain classes of
agents, natural or robotic, will necessarily be subject to perturbance as an emergent phenomenon.
We then describe two major classes of ‘emotional’ phenomena that may be understood as
involving perturbance, namely grief and limerence. We then do a quick survey of other
psychological phenomena which, we argue, need to be understood in terms of perturbance.
The integrative design-oriented (IDO) Research approach
The IDO approach recognizes Artificial General Intelligence as the general science of
intelligence, proceeding primarily from the ‘designer stance’ (McCarthy, 2008; Sloman, 2008b;
Sloman, 1993). From the designer stance, one seeks to understand the environmental niches in
which the systems one seeks to explain will operate. One specifies the requirements said systems
will satisfy. Then, one explores a set of possible designs that are intended to satisfy the
requirements. One then seeks to implement the designs in working systems (simulated and real
environments), minding the possibility of different implementations. The result of each stage
should be analysed in relation to the previous stage, such as the extent to which the
implementations matches the design. The entire procedure is iterative. The designer stance is
more concerned with the specification and explanation of competence than with prediction. One
should resist the urge to jump prematurely to predictions. IDO theories can be more or less
agentic, i.e., deal more or less specifically with the requirements of autonomous agency. For
instance, the theory presented here is quite agentic. The somnolent information processing
theory (Beaudoin, 2014c; Beaudoin et al. 2019; Lemyre, Belzile, Landry, Bastien, & Beaudoin,
2020), while addressing the sleep onset control system in an IDO manner is less agentic: it deals
with specific functions which, while grounded in a broader, agentic IDO theory, are essential to
autonomous agency (adaptively controlling the onset of sleep).
The definition and requirements specification of autonomous agency are themselves
theoretical. Following Sloman and Croucher (1981a, b), Beaudoin (1994) and Hawes (2011), we
posit that autonomous agents have multiple top level complex motives; they operate under real-
time and (physical and processing) resource constraints in a rapidly changing and partially
unpredictable world that they cannot fully control, and which is not necessarily friendly to their
motives. They can generate their own top-level and derivative motives, and are capable of
pursuing them. From these abstract specifications of autonomous agency many implications
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follow, such as limited parallelism of high level ‘management’ functions (Beaudoin,1994;
Simon, 1967) and the possibility of perturbance, the main topic of this paper.
IDO theories are integrative in two main ways. First, fundamental IDO theories must
specify a broad collection of information processing functions, towards the design of relatively
complete agents. This means that the theories will specify many ‘cognitive’, ‘conative’
(motivational), ‘affective’, ‘executive’ and ancillary functions. Whereas it is often assumed that
there is a sharp boundary between cognitive and affective functions, which at most interact, in
IDO systems mechanisms can be both cognitive and affective (Beaudoin, 1994, 2014a; Pessoa,
2008, 2013; Sloman & Croucher, 1981; Sloman, 1989; Todd, 2020). It is noteworthy that recent
arguments in favor of modularity of vision (Firestone & Scholl, 2016) is based largely on
criticisms of ‘top down’ theories of perception and criticizing empirical paradigms that were
purported to produce illusions, biases and errors that do not replicate. We would agree with those
criticisms. However, a third design class of designs (apart from sharp ‘top down’ vs. ‘bottom up’
modular designs) is possible: Sloman (1989) argues that perception is not modular but
labyrinthine, with many inputs and outputs. Beaudoin (1994) discusses several types of valenced
perception and knowledge, including the perception of threats and opportunities as such. The
perception and computation of valence may be blended.
This type of integration, which we call functional integration, typically calls for
information processing (computational) architectures. The expression ‘computational
architecture’ seems to have been introduced in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) literature by
Sloman (1978). The computational architectures proposed in cognitive science are typically
cognitive architectures (Cooper, 2007; Newell, 1990; Rosenbloom, Demski, & Ustun, 2016),
which are not concerned with the requirements of autonomous agency. For example, they do not
necessarily deal with affective considerations and multiple sources of motivation with real-time
constraints. While purely cognitive architectures are not truly IDO models, they are an important
starting point in understanding computational architectures, particularly since their simpler
requirements facilitate computational implementation and analysis. Below we briefly present H-
CogAff, which is an IDO architecture developed by Sloman and colleagues (Sloman, 2003,
Secondly, IDO theories will typically be integrative in the more traditional sense that they
combine multiple theories. Moors (2017) presents such an integrative theory, which combines
theories and proposes a simple architecture. Not fully an IDO theory as it is exclusively
developed from an empirical perspective rather than from the design-stance, it is nevertheless
relevant to agentic IDO research.
In the IDO approach one aims to understand real and possible minds in an authentically
interdisciplinary manner. This involves the disciplines traditionally associated with cognitive
science (computer science and AI, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, biology, linguistics,
anthropology and education). The IDO approach aligns with the grand program of cognitive
science as “the interdisciplinary study of mind, informed by theoretical concepts drawn from
computer science and control theory” (Boden, 2008, p. 12).
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It is important to emphasize a particularly important set of techniques drawn from
philosophy, namely conceptual analysis, that aim to make explicit and exploit the rich
knowledge built into human language and conception. Conceptual analysis is not to be confused
with the factor analytic approach (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957) which is central to many
empirical theories of affect, such as the component process model (Fontaine, Scherer, & Soriano,
2013) and core affect psychological construction theory (Russell, 2003). Those theories capture
some of the actual usage of terms, i.e., the logical geography of conceptual space, whereas
conceptual analysis may go beyond actual usage to explore the space of possible concepts, i.e.,
logical topology (Sloman, 2010). As Ortony, Clore and Foss (1987) suggest, conceptual analysis
should be done before factor analysis is performed; but it often is not; and in fact, conceptual
analysis is not traditionally taught in education or psychology programs. Albert Einstein used
conceptual analysis of space and time in developing the theory of relativity (Disalle, 2006). We
claim he could not have produced his theory based on factor analysis. Several authors have
articulated the need for conceptual analysis in understanding actual and possible minds, and
provided tips for this process (Sloman, 1978; Ortony, Clore, & Foss, 1987; Beaudoin, 1994,
2014). A conceptual analysis of motivators and goals presented by Beaudoin (1994) underpins
our theory of autonomous agency and perturbance. That analysis, which to our knowledge is the
most detailed theoretical specification of goals and motives, illustrates that the lines between
engineering, philosophy and science are blurred the conception of goals presented there
includes insights from all three approaches. For other specifications of the concept of goal, see
Boden (1978), Moors & Fischer (2018), Pervin (1989), Higgins (2011), Huang & Bargh (2015),
and Toomey (1992).
The IDO approach ultimately requires specifying its models in terms of virtual machinery
(Sloman, 2002). However, this paper does not delve into that aspect of mind. Readers who do not
understand or are not convinced by the relevance of a design-oriented approach to understanding
real and possible minds might not be sufficiently illuminated by the brief defense of this
approach that this paper provide. We would like at least to single out one of the purposes of this
approach, which is also an argument for the pertinence of AI to psychology, namely that “The
problem is not that we do not know which theory is correct, but rather that we cannot construct
any theory at all which explains the basic facts” (Power, 1979 pp. 109). For instance, one can
select a random theory of emotion and ask oneself: can this theory be used as a design for a
working system that explains behavior? If the answer is ‘no’, then the theory is incomplete or
incorrect. To answer the essential question requires taking the design stance. One of the earliest
and still pertinent books on the relevance of AI to explaining autonomous agency is Boden
(1978). The approach is also helpfully explained and justified in Boden (1987, 1988, 1989,
2006), Dennett (1994), Marcus & Davis (2019), Minksy (1985) and Sloman (1978, 1993).
H-CogAff: An Autonomous Agent Architecture
The concept of perturbance emanated from a design-oriented research program that
proposed a class of mental architectures (CogAff schema) whose subclass, H-CogAff, is the
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backdrop of this paper (Sloman, 2008a). H-CogAff is designed to meet the human autonomous
agency requirements as specified above. In Figure 2, the CogAff schema is depicted based on
(Sloman, 2008a).
Figure 1. CogAff schema adapted from Sloman (2008a).
In Figure 2, a sketch of H-CogAff is presented, again based on Sloman (2008a). The
middle layer in this diagram is dubbed ‘management processes’, in line with Beaudoin (1994)
and Wright, Sloman & Beaudoin (1996), and its functions are slightly generalized compared to
Sloman (2008a).
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Figure 2. H-CogAff architecture diagram adapted from (Sloman, 2008a).
The highly internally connected H-CogAff architecture includes reactive mechanisms for
perceiving and affecting the environment, creating and activating motivators in real-time, and
generating alarms, all of which happens asynchronously from executive processes. The
simplified architecture diagram is neither meant to imply sharp discontinuities between functions
nor correspondence between function and biological layers.
We define motivators as an extension of Sloman (1992) definition of affective states,
namely as (a) dispositional control states (long term and short term) that: (b) exist at various
levels in a control hierarchy, (c) include positive or negative evaluations of something, (d) have
at least a tendency to distract executive functions, (e) produce or trigger explicit motives, which
in turn, (f) have a tendency to influence behaviour. We view the three forms of subjective value
discussed in Ortony, Clore & Collins (1988) (goals, standards, and attitudes) as motivators. Here
we use goals and motives interchangeably. In this paper motivators are states of a virtual
machine (Sloman, 2002), rather than the external objects (such as foods) that may indirectly
trigger them and to which they might refer. We realize these recursive concepts make
communication difficult, but software can produce and process recursive representations, and so
can the minds we are trying to understand.
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In this article, we are chiefly concerned with motives, which specify or imply states
towards which the agent has a motivational attitude (to make true, make false; make true faster,
etc.), which are described in more detail below and great detail in Beaudoin (1994). Still, more
precise and numerous concepts implemented in software will be required.
The H-CogAff architecture supposes two layers of higher-order mental processes which,
to more closely align this model with psychology, we refer to as executive processes (Diamond,
2013). In so doing, we provide a way to understand some executive functions in terms of H-
CogAff in particular and autonomous agent architectures more generally. The two executive
layers are (1) management processes for interpreting situations and deliberating (e.g., evaluating
motives, planning, scheduling, deciding, reasoning, problem solving, etc.), dealing with
ambiguity, and various forms of motor control; and (2) meta-management processes (reflection
and control of management processes). The meta-management layer could, for instance,
postpone the consideration of a newly activated goal till some juncture, an example of
deliberation scheduling. The reactive layer is more closely coupled to the environment than
executive layers are; the latter can reason with contents of sensory memory, working-memory,
short-term memory and long-term memory (Donald, 2001). The reactive layer is also more
modular and more capable of parallel processing than the executive layer. Some reactive
processes, however, can also respond to working memory contents.
Insistence Assignment and Motive Filtering
Given their limited parallelism, not every activated motive can be considered
simultaneously by deliberative processes. Therefore, when a motive is generated or re-activated,
there must be mechanisms, with similar computational constraints as reactive mechanisms have,
that determine whether the deliberative processes may be interrupted (or otherwise influenced)
by the motive. Therefore, H-CogAff architecture includes (a) insistence assignment mechanisms
that heuristically assess the importance and urgency of motives as they are activated; (b) variable
threshold filtering mechanisms which only allow a motive to surface (i.e., be considered by
deliberative processes) if they are sufficiently insistent. For example, if a hungry autonomous
agent that implements this architecture detects a rare opportunity to consume an energy source, a
new motive to approach the source may be triggered. This motive will be assigned an insistence
value that heuristically reflects its importance and urgency. However, for this motive to even be
considered, it needs to be sufficiently insistent to penetrate the attention filter and interrupt
current executive processing (and potentially behaviour). If the agent is under attack, its
executive processes might not even notice its motive to approach the source of energy because
the filter threshold will have been raised higher than the insistence level of the motive to
approach the source of energy. Designing complex systems always involves trade-offs. Thus, it
is impossible to design perfect insistence and filtering mechanisms. Because the purpose of
insistence assignment is to protect the precious, resource-limited, deliberative processes,
insistence mechanisms use rough and ready heuristics that do not involve deliberation.
Sometimes, the agent will tend to be distracted by its own insistent motives even though it has
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previously rejected them (e.g., to approach an appealing agent the pursuit of whom would violate
its norms or other motivesconflicted robot or natural love.)
Whereas for simplicity the foregoing described insistence as a quantitative value and
interrupt filtering as simply doing a numeric comparison between an insistence value and a
global filter threshold, different forms of motivator filtering and attention switching or allocation
are possible; insistence may be implicit rather than explicitly represented (Beaudoin, 1994).
There could be different filtering criteria or rules for different objects and situations. For
instance, one might learn to perceive certain situations as inherently dangerous to one’s child,
and implicitly perceived threats to one’s child might become inherently capable of garnering
management resources. Moreover, as discussed in the next section, interruption is not the only
way in which motivators may influence executive functions; for instance motivators may
consume executive resources, which some refer to as “attentional resources” (Pessoa 2013, Todd
et al, 2020).
Computational Alarm Systems
Further addressing requirements of autonomous agency, and further accounting for
psychological phenomena (such as aspects of ‘emotional’ and stress reactions), H-CogAff
assumes mechanisms for generating and processing alarms. Alarms are control information-
processing signals that have global effects in the architecture. At a physiological level, alarms
can activate the sympathetic nervous system (Buck, 2014). We assume they can parameterize
executive processes, such as leading to more vigilance, changing the level of abstraction of
thinking, or make deliberation more or less careful. They may have other effects on management
processes and “action readiness” that more precise formulations of the theory may specify.
The H-CogAff architecture distinguishes between 1) alarms triggered by perceptual
information, such as an angry glare or the unexpected appearance of the object of one’s
infatuation; and 2) alarms triggered by noticing significant issues in executive layer content e.g.,
suddenly realizing a plan of action may have a disastrous side-effect (Sloman, 2003; Sloman,
Chrisley & Scheutz, 2005).
Selye originally described stress as an alarm reaction (1936)an idea that before the
current paper had not been linked to computational alarms. Alarms have also (briefly) been
posited in theories of consciousness (Baars & Franklin, 2009), emotion (Oatley, 1992) and pain
(Eisenberger & Lieberman, 2004). We believe the IDO conception of alarms, modernizing
Selye’s concept (1936), is worthy of future IDO and empirical research.
Before specifying the concept of perturbance, it is relevant to consider its historical
background. The term perturbance was introduced to the literature on emotion by Beaudoin
(1994) to refer to the concept of emotion that was introduced by Sloman and Croucher (1981a,
1981b) and Sloman (1987, 1992. There was so much confusion and fruitless debate in emotion
research about the proper meaning of ‘emotion’, Beaudoin proposed the term perturbance so that
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researchers could focus not on what the term ‘emotion’ ought to mean in psychology and AI, but
on the concept of perturbance and the theory that makes the concept relevant (Sloman, Beaudoin
& Wright, 1994).
Sloman and Beaudoin used the term ‘perturbance’ in several publications (Sloman,
Beaudoin & Wright, 1994; Wright, Sloman & Beaudoin, 1996; Beaudoin, 1994). But after
Beaudoin left the field for a period of time, Sloman defined two new types of control states
(named ‘primary emotions and ‘secondary emotions’) and labeled ‘perturbance’ as ‘tertiary
emotion’. We are reintroducing the term ‘perturbance’ for the same reasons as before: a technical
term better suites this unique and important concept. Similarly, we reject parlance of ‘primary
emotions’ in favor of ‘alarms’. Names do matter.
We are not alone to express concern about the plethora of concepts of emotion and to
propose solutions. For instance, Izard (2010) survey of 34 emotion researchers found a wide
variety of definitions of emotion. He suggested that "the topic of an abstract information-
processing architecture for all mental functions [...] may be quite appealing to the growing
number of scientists who postulate continuous interaction of emotion and cognition" (p. 368).
The key idea of the concept of perturbance is that even if the reflective layer were to postpone
consideration of an insistent motivator, the motivator still tends to penetrate the filter, consume
some management resources, potentially distract management processes and or otherwise
maintain control of executive processes. Perturbance is an emergent phenomenon. In fact,
Sloman & Croucher (1981a, 1981b) claimed perturbance (which they called ‘emotion’) will
emerge as side-effects in minds designed to meet the requirements of autonomous agency. They
drew an analogy with thrashing in a computer operating system. One does not design a computer
operating system to thrash. Thrashing is something that can emerge as a side-effect of needing to
handle too many tasks with insufficient computational resources. Adaptiveness and function are
attributes of the architecture and its constituent mechanisms. What does need to be designed into
the system (by evolution, learning and or a designer) are mechanisms specified in the
architecture (motive generators, insistence determiners, filters, executive processes, etc.) In that
respect, perturbance is different from most concepts of emotion which assume that emotions
serve a function.
The Component Process Model (Scherer, 2009) is another major computationally
inspired model that claims emotion-like episodes are emergent. Its concept of emotion episodes
differ from perturbance in several ways, one of which is that it necessarily involves a functional
synchronization of major components (motivation, cognition, communication, experience, and
physiological). Perturbance, in contrast, is an afunctional concept. Moreover, like Moors (2017),
the CogAff model does not assume that in emotions (which we call ‘perturbance’) the agent
enters in a stimulus-driven mode. Perturbance is a state in which executive functions are biased
by and towards particular insistent motivators, though we allow for the possibility of alarms,
discussed below, to be generated before a motivator is activated.
However, while perturbance is emergent and afunctional, it is of considerable adaptive
significance because it is a modulation of executive processes. That which controls executive
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functions controls the agent. Our focus as researchers and designers of autonomous agents
interested in perturbance needs to be on the IDO of the mechanisms that give rise to adaptively
meeting requirements of autonomous agents, how they may lead to perturbance, and how
perturbance can be detected and dealt with. .
Simon (1967) developed the first influential computational (nearly IDO) theory of
emotion known as the ‘interrupt theory of emotion’. Noting the similarities and differences
between perturbance and Simon’s theory may help one to better understand Simon’s theory and
the concept of perturbance. This is particularly relevant because some emotion theorists, such as
Scherer (1984), have summarily rejected Simon’s interrupt theory without discussing the richer
perturbance theory that improves upon Simon’s theory. Simon’s theory, like the perturbance
theory, is based upon an analysis of the requirements of autonomous agency. They both
emphasize the ability to activate, prioritize and pursue multiple motives. Simon (1967) assumes a
highly serial central processor, whereas H-CogAff assumes more parallelism (e.g., between
reflective and management processes). Simon’s theory identifies emotions with interrupts of a
central processor, whereas interruption is just one of the forms of perturbance. We envision that
a CogAff design could be specified that includes continuously varying resources (Kruglanski et
al, 2012; Pessoa, 2013), where deliberative and reflective processes could independently be
consumed by different motivators. This means there are forms of perturbance (modulation of
executive processes) that do not entail interruption. For instance, deliberation may be directed
towards a certain goal, G, while another asynchronously activated motivator may consume some
of the executive resources. This may affect deliberation about G without outright interrupting it.
Insistent motivators may cause executive processes to proceed in a careful mode, more slowly or
more quickly, as discussed in Sloman & Croucher (1981 a, b), or thinking may become more
concrete or abstract. More generally, in perturbance a motive may parameterize executive
functions. For instance, an asynchronously activated ‘off task’ motive may cause the agent to
engage in social signaling (for instance to impress a potential mate or express sadness in grief).
Simon’s theory did not include the notion of insistence or dispositional control states. In
comparing and contrasting Simon’s work on motivation and emotion with ours, it is also worth
noting that Simon (1967) was not explicit about computational architecture; moreover, his theory
was focused on human information processing, rather than examining the space of possible
Our characterization of perturbance has emphasized insistent motivators. However, there
are two special cases that need to be considered with respect to perturbance. First, a motivator
may be very insistent without being objectively or subjectively important, urgent (temporally
pressing) or intense (driving behaviour). At the limit, a motivator could have zero importance,
zero urgency and zero intensity and yet still be insistent. These dimensions are specified by
Beaudoin (1994). An earworm would be an extreme example of this. This illustrates our claim
that the distinction between cognition, emotion and affect is not sharp. Secondly, the concept of
perturbance can be extended to apply to ‘tertiary alarms’ (Sloman, 2003), i.e., control signals that
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disturb executive processes but unlike motivators do not necessarily contain semantic content
(Oatley, 1992).
Moors (2017) described two sets of theories (psychological constructionism and
dimensional appraisal) and her own, each of which deny the usefulness of the concept of emotion
as a control mechanism while maintaining the concept of emotional episodes. She proposes that
to understand emotional episodes one must provide an architecture-based theory of all kinds of
behavior that involves both motivated and stimulus-driven mechanisms, where the architecture is
biased towards goal-directed behavior, and where emotional episodes involve a goal-directed
mechanism. Whereas Moors (2017) did not mention the CoffAff project, those postulates were
also central to the theory of perturbance Sloman, 1981, 1987, 1992; Sloman, Beaudoin &
Wright, 1994; Wright, Sloman & Beaudoin, 1996). For instance, the theory of perturbance also
originates in an attempt to explain behavior. Mental perturbance, also, is not a mechanism but an
emergent (episodic) state of a mental architecture involving insistent motivators. Reactive
mechanisms in H-CogAff parallel ‘stimulus’ driven ones in her model. In addition to other
similarities that space precludes us discussing here there are also several differences between
Moors (2017) and the theory of perturbance. Moors (2017) has related her theory in more detail
to psychology with a focus on experimentation and prediction, whereas work on perturbance and
CogAff more generally has been more concerned with accounting for a broad spectrum of
motivated competence.
The potential of a theory of perturbance for psychology derives partly from the IDO
research approach that gave rise to it. This stance can help address a deep issue that surrounds
psychology’s “replication crisis” (Maxwell, Lau & Howard, 2015; Muthukrishna & Henrich,
2019), which is focusing too narrowly on predicting behaviour rather than explaining
competence (Sloman, 2008; McCarthy, 2008). We call for (1) a better explicit characterization of
human capabilities (competence), an exploration of mental architectures (designs), and
implementations (Sloman, 1993); and (2) empirical research driven by unified theories of mind
(Newell, 1990; Wells & Mathews, 1994). Cognitive architectures, still not prominent enough in
psychology, require more attention, while motivational and affective processes require more
consideration in computational architectures in psychology.
Two Common Classes of Perturbance
Let us briefly consider two types of perturbance that can, even without pathology, last for
long periods of time and that have been overlooked by leading general theories of affect (Russell,
2009 ; Scherer, 2005 ; Moors, 2017), namely grief and limerence. These two states do not fit
neatly in psychological theories that assume emotions are brief, lasting at most a few hours
(Scherer, 2005; Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2014; Verduyn et al, 2015). In contrast, grief and
limerence (like many other perturbances) can last for weeks and months, without being
pathological. As these examples illustrate (and the specification of the concept makes clear),
perturbances are not moods, affect dispositions, preferences or interpersonal stances (the other
categories described in emotion theories (Scherer, 2005). They involve insistent mental content
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that tends to come to mind, even without proximal evaluations assumed by appraisal theories
(activation and triggering of prior motives is often a better conceptualization than appraisal),
regardless of our decisions to postpone their consideration.
Grief. When grieving, one tends to be assailed by memories and motives pertaining to the lost
one. Wright, Sloman and Beaudoin (1996) offered a design-oriented reinterpretation of
experienced episodes in terms of perturbance which was illustrated by a case study of grief. They
claimed grief is (often) “an extended process of cognitive reorganization characterized by the
occurrence of negatively valenced perturbant states caused by an attachment structure reacting to
news of the death.” (Wright, Sloman & Beaudoin, 1996, pp. 31). That theory addresses important
questions such as: Why does grief consume the mourner? Reasons could be that executive
processes have limited capacity and become swamped by highly insistent motives generated by a
structure of attachment to a highly valued individual; in addition, re-learning and detachment
require extensive rumination, which can maintain perturbance.
Limerence. The nearly universal attraction phase of romantic love is technically known as
limerence (Reynolds, 1983; Tennov, 1979). It is noteworthy that whereas psychologists, as
mentioned above, cannot agree on how emotion should be construed scientifically (Moors,
2017), let alone that it involves perturbance, those who study romantic love seem to agree that a
necessary and defining feature of limerence is repetitive and intrusive thinking about the limerent
object (Fisher, 1998; Reynolds, 1983; Tennov, 1979).
Limerence is of evolutionary significance as it enhances the likelihood of matingand,
in m dost cultures, of attaching to the limerent object, which helps offspring survive (Fisher,
1998). While it may be tempting to cast limerence as a pathological form of romantic love
(Reynaud, Karila, Blecha & Benyamina, 2010; Wakin & Vo, 2008), this would distort the
original and common academic conception of limerence (van Steenbergen, Langeslag, Band &
Hommel, 2013). This would also overlook the near universality and evolutionary significance of
the experience. Like other long-term affective states, limerence involves several continua,
including intensity (Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986), and may or may not be pathological. We believe
the casting of limerence as pathological should be resisted by scholars; instead other terms
should be used to describe pathological limerence. We also recommend that scientific literature
on the intrusive mentation aspect of attraction converge on the term ‘limerence’, to help focus
research attention, and conceptualization, and to help shape popular psychology.
Perturbance, more generally, is diminishment of the already limited human capacity to
control one’s own attention with respect to a particular cluster of motives. Consider a limerent’s
diary entry “This obsession has infected my brain. I cannot shake those constantly intruding
thoughts of you. Every thought winds back to you no matter how hard I try to direct its course in
other directions.” (Tennov, 1979 p. 49). Thus, a key feature of limerence is that meta-
management processes cannot easily suppress motives nor prevent them from holding one’s
attention once they surface. Deliberation scheduling fails systematically in perturbance. Many,
perhaps most, limerent minds are aware of this lack of self-control. This awareness is only
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possible because (unlike most species) humans can, to a limited extent, monitor and voluntarily
control their management processes (i.e., execute meta-management functions).
The H-CogAff framework seems to be at least as promising for limerence as it is for
grieftwo types of perturbance that normally involve attachment structures changing in
opposite ways. Limerence, the attraction phase of romance (Fisher, 2004; Fisher, Aron & Brown,
2006), involves establishing attachment structures: motives, motive generators, insistence
assignment rules, other reactive processes, plans, etc. Grief is an extended process of dismantling
attachment structures. Limerence and grief overlap in heartbreak and lovelornness, which all
require the dismantling of attachment structures. Also, like grief, limerence can loosen prior
attachment (facilitating the abandonment of one’s current partner for a new one, or forgetting a
prior love). Accounting for attachment processes is important given that emotions seem to have
evolved in large part to enable individuals to indirectly manage each other via commitments and
attachments (Aubé, 2009). Perturbance has been examined in relation to attachment (Petters,
2016; Petters & Beaudoin, 2017).
Understanding limerence as perturbance allows the obsessive nature of limerence to be
characterized in IDO terms, in a way that can account for similar (potentially long lasting) states.
It encourages questions to be raised progressively about mental states in terms of whole-mind
design (motive generators, attachment structures, etc.), leading to further requirement and design
The perturbance theory of limerence can also be used to extend, in IDO terms, Miller’s
(2001) influential theory of human evolution through sexual selection. Producing limerence qua
perturbance in a desired mate is an advantageous strategy. That is, it is advantageous to trigger
the creation and activation of motive generators in the other mate that produce insistent
attraction-related motivators towards oneself. Whether the mating motivators are triggered in the
other is by one’s socially signaling intelligence (Miller, 2001) or other forms of fitness (wealth,
pro-social attitudes, etc., Simler & Hanson, 2017), the motivators in limerence hijack the other
person’s mind. Conversely, signaling that one is in a limerent state (which may be hard to fake)
implicitly tells the potential mate that she or he is so valuable, because it indicates that one is
dedicating (and, crucially, perhaps committing, Aubé, 2009) to him or her one’s most precious
resources: one’s executive resources. For these and other reasons, the ability to signal and
interpret perturbance in others is of evolutionary significance, whether the perturbance underpins
limerence, grief or other conditions.
Emotion theorists in psychology have not considered loss of control of executive
functions, and related attentional processes, as centrally pertinent to emotion, let alone from the
designer stance. For instance, while it flirts with concepts of attention and is integrative, the
Component Process Model (Scherer, 2005, 2009) does not deal with perturbance. This might
partly be because this model views emotion as a special reactive mode of functioning, as argued
by Moors (2017), which is relatively short term. Ironically, it is in a biological theory of emotion
that a related disturbance is highlighted, in what Panksepp and Biven (2012), as well as Sloman
(2003), call tertiary emotions. If the concept of emotional episode is to be retained in
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psychology, we suggest that theoretical psychologists inquire as to why and how perturbance is
possible in emotion (not simply whether they empirically tend to co-occur).
Repetitive and Intrusive Mentation Involve Perturbance
Watkins suggested that an important attentional phenomenon should be conceptualized as
“repetitive thought” (RT). He echoed a definition of RT as a “process of thinking attentively,
repetitively or frequently about one’s self and one’s world [forming] the core of a number of
different models of adjustment and maladjustment” (Watkins, 2008, p. 163). Under the banner of
RT, Watkins included such varied phenomena as cognitive and emotional processing of
persistent intrusions, depressive rumination, perseverative cognition, rumination, worry,
planning, problem solving, and mental simulation, mind wandering, counterfactual thinking,
post-event rumination, defensive pessimism, positive rumination, reflection, habitual negative
self-thinking. To this list we would add obsessive and compulsive mentation, cravings and
preoccupation. Watkins (2008) notes that worry, for instance, was defined as “a chain of
thoughts and images, negatively affect-laden and relatively uncontrollable” and as “an attempt to
engage in mental problem-solving on an issue whose outcome is uncertain but contains the
possibility of one or more negative outcomes” (p. 164). Watkins’s reasons for favouring RT as
the overarching concept were that it is more inclusive than the alternatives, atheoretical, clearer,
highly correlated with measures of worry and rumination, and non-evaluative (constructive or
We agree that RT phenomena are scientifically significant. RT is a feature of normal self-
regulationeveryone experiences intrusive mentation. Furthermore, some forms of RT are
transdiagnostic (Harvey, Watkins, Mansell, & Shafran, 2004). In other words, they represent a
common feature across a number of diagnostic categories of mental health dysfunction. For
instance, high levels of rumination are associated with depression and anxiety (Nolen-Hoeksema,
Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008). Below, we briefly discuss insomnia which often involves
bedtime RT and is itself of transdiagnostic significance (Dolsen, Asarnow, & Harvey, 2014).
However, there is room for amelioration in Watkins’ (2008) conceptualization of RT.
Firstly, whereas the expression “RT” suggests that the repetitive content is cognitive in the
traditional sense (thinking and imagining), it often involves affectively charged motives and it
often triggers motive-processing (e.g., assessing and deciding.) ‘Repetitive mentation’ would be
a more inclusive expression. Further, the criterion of being atheoretical is unrealistic and
counterproductive (as suggested in the discussion of IDO above); it also runs against Watkins’s
other criterion of being conceptually clear. One needs a general theory, beyond folk psychology,
in relation to which intrusions and the executive processes that respond to them are specified.
Whether or not authors are explicit and clear about their theory, the concepts at play
when RT is discussed scientifically require grounding in a functional architecture. Something
must be generating motives; something must be interrupting when there are intrusions;
something must be considering motives; something must be prioritizing them; etc. These
mechanisms need to be named and specified in relation to an architecture. The theory ought to
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“cut nature at its joints” and be amenable to a progressive research program of simulation,
further theoretical development and cumulative empirical research (Cooper, 2007). Furthermore,
the all-inclusive RT conceptualization comes at the cost of papering over significant differences,
for instance between reflection and rumination. The farrago of RT concepts requires conceptual
analysis and functional specification, which we expect will lead to much pruning and
reclassification. In addition, the phenomena of RT are too global, involving too many diverse
wide-ranging mechanisms of mind, to be understood without reference to a computational
architecture. Moreover, one must understand the how of normal information processing (IP) to
assess mentation as constructive or unconstructive.
Unfortunately, the RT literature has failed to adopt or develop architectural models of
mind. For instance, in describing a highly studied phenomenon of RM, affective biases,
Mathews, Mackintosh & Fulcher (1997) invoke interrupt signals, attentional vigilance, effortful
suppression and intrusions. The concepts of cognitive and attentional ‘biases’ are currently cast
mainly in terms of ‘external and internal stimuli’ (Mathews et al., 1997; Todd, Cunningham,
Anderson & Thompson, 2012) and ‘affective salience’ (Schweizer et al., 2019) rather than in
terms of motivators, insistence or motive processing, i.e., the mechanisms that are being ‘biased’
and that process them. The attentional bias and RT literatures fail to invoke an overall model of
mind which, for instance generates motives, filters them, prioritizes, them and acts upon them,
i.e., that addresses the types of capabilities with which H-CogAff is concerned.
Watkins (2008) and others point to control theory as an explanatory framework for RT
and self-regulation. While some of these models are promising (Nafcha, Higgins & Eitam,
2016), they too need to be integrated within an IDO approach. They need to address rich
qualitative control states and mechanisms that follow from the requirements of autonomous
agency (Sloman, 1995).
H-CogAff provides a theoretical framework in relation to which classification and
modelling of RT may proceed. This framework has the advantage of being constructed to
explore how human minds might solve real world problems of autonomous agency. It is by no
means a complete or detailed specification; but it has proven to be useful for generating and
exploring models, many of which have already been implemented (Sloman, 2008a).
H-CogAff offers a path towards a deeper conceptualization of RT. According to Watkins
(2008), intrusive thought (IT) is not considered a category of RT, likely because it is an essential
aspect of RT. IT is better, and more generally, conceived as intrusive mentation (IM), and more
deeply as perturbance. The concept of perturbance is based on the dispositional concept of
insistence of mental content: a motive may be insistent and yet not disrupt processing. To
understand IM as perturbance we must specify in terms of an architecture (like H-CogAff) the
ways in which insistence assignment, interrupt filtering and attention switching are effected.
This may also help address the need in the RT literature for a design-oriented taxonomy
of patterns of executive processes. Beaudoin (1994) and Wright (1997) put forth several
categories, such as oscillation between decisions, manifest perturbance, digressions and
maundering. Several other patterns have been identified in the CogAffect project (e.g., Petters,
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2014 ; Wright, 1997). These, and several types of phenomena labelled by Watkins as RT (such
as worry and rumination) need to be systematically characterized in terms of patterns of
interaction between management, reflective and reactive processes in H-CogAff
Various forms of repetitive thought at bedtime (such as “racing thoughts” and worry)
seem to delay sleep onset (Lemyre et al., 2020). In a review of the literature on pre-sleep
cognition, Lemyre et al. (2020) concluded “Importantly, better characterizing cognitive activity
in insomnia might help to develop more effective pre-sleep cognitive strategies to facilitate sleep
onset. While research on such strategies is still scarce, it remains a promising avenue to help
patients who are resistant to the conventional cognitive and behavioral therapy for insomnia” (p.
10). Dominant cognitive theories of insomnia (Espie, 2007; Harvey, 2005) invoke affective
terminology, such as ‘arousal’, without commitment to theories to interpret the terms (e.g.,
Russell, 2003), and do not appeal to fundamental IDO theories. Beaudoin (2014) and Beaudoin
et al. (2019) have put forth a prolegomenon towards an IDO theory of sleep onset and insomnia
based on H-CogAff, dubbed the somnolent information processing (SIP) theory, which attempts
to reverse engineer the human sleep-onset control system. The theory postulates that perturbance
is insomnolent, meaning that it tends to delay sleep onset.
According to SIP theory, insistent motivators can trigger deliberative processing with
respect to the motivators. Controlling one’s deliberative processes in bed can be particularly
difficult: when there are no other distractors, insistent motivators can loom large. Moreover, it
supposes that fatigue (due to homeostatic sleep drive and circadian factors, (Borbély, Daan,
Wirz-Justice & DeBoer, 2016) can make deliberation scheduling more difficult. This can make it
difficult to postpone consider of insistent motivators. In SIP, insistent motivators are deemed to
be insomnolent (a signal to the sleep onset control system to delay the onset of sleep). Executive
processing of motivators can maintain the insistence of motivators. Moreover, the theory
assumes that the imagery rich, diverse, fluid mentation that is characteristic of a successful sleep-
onset period (Nielsen, 2017) is not merely a consequence of sleep onset, it is pro-somnolent (a
signal to the sleep onset control system that progression towards sleep is appropriate). During
perturbance, insistent motivators capture executive processing, and thus prevent such
(presumably) pro-somnolent mentation.
From this theory, Beaudoin (2014c) derived serial diverse imagining, a ‘cognitive
shuffling’ technique, that aims to facilitate sleep onset. This involves deliberate mentation with
features of sleep onset (e.g., imagining diverse scenes and/or oneself moving, drawing on diverse
episodic memory, incoherent mentation). The various forms of cognitive shuffle, including serial
diverse imagining, are meant to work partly by interfering with bedtime perturbance, i.e., being
counter-insomnolent, as proposed by Beaudoin (2014c) and Beaudoin, Digdon, O'Neill, and
Rachor (2016). It is also meant to be pro-somnolent, partly by emulating sleep-onset like
mentation. Whether or not this technique stands the test of thorough experiments, it illustrates the
potential to understand ancillary brain mechanisms (here the sleep-onset control system) that
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integrate motivational information from reactive and deliberative layers, that involve relatively
cognitive processes (such as imagining scenes), and also involve meta-management processes. It
also illustrates how from an IDO theory of mind and theory of perturbance one can derive
techniques for self-help (regarding insomnolence) and clinical concerns (insomnia).
Other Psychological Phenomena
Several research problems need to be reinterpreted specifically with architecture-based
models of autonomous minds that can support perturbance. In this section, we consider a wide
variety of them.
Motivation tends to be conceived in psychology simply as directing and energizing behaviour
(Danziger, 1997) (determining the goals people choose; and when, why, and how intensely they
pursue them), rather than in terms of motive processing (how motives can be processed and
pursued by autonomous agents). For instance, none of the peer responses to the Selfish Goal
theory in Behavior & Brain Sciences (Huang & Bargh, 2015) noted its lack of explicit
architecture nor that its goal specification and processes are bare (e.g., what about motive
generators and insistence?) Higgins (1997, 2011) notes that pleasure and avoidance of pain are
still normally assumed to be the final ends, or more generally that behaviour seeks to maximize
expected value, while the deeper, more subtle and generative possibility of architecture-based
motivation (Beaudoin, 2014b; Sloman, 2009, 2019) is often ignored. In architecture-based
motivation, through innate mechanisms, ontogenesis or learning though not necessarily
through reward-based mechanisms, nor hedonic mechanisms, nor means-ends analysis minds
can produce new motivator generators and new motivators. Hence, many of the ‘hidden motives’
described in Simler & Hanson (2017) as fundamental to human nature, are not, and need not be,
explicitly represented at all, not even unconsciously. The concept of architecture-based
motivation, which follows from H-CogAff and related designs, can help bridge the intentional
stance (Dennett, 1987, where from the outside one ascribes representations that are not
implemented in the observed agent) and the design stance. It also helps to understand the
incommensurability of motivators (Beaudoin, 1994; Sloman, 2009, 2019).
Stanovich (2011) developed a promising theory to explain successes and failure in
rationality, and to improve rationality. It contains a three-level architecture which refers to H-
CogAff. Perturbance theory is also meant to account for apparent breakdowns in rationality
(Sloman & Croucher, 1981). We think there is potential to combine Stanovich’s framework with
H-CogAff to better understand success and failure of rationality. For instance, Stanovich’s
framework could be augmented by affective constructs, such as motive generators and alarms.
Meanwhile, the recent theory of cognitive energetics (Kruglanski et al., 2012), which is meant to
explain all instances of goal-directed thinking in a quantitative way, also lacks an architecture.
The related, quantitative, concept of economy of mind (Wright, 1997) was developed from the
designer stance.
Given that perturbance is an underlying construct to explain RT, and some forms of RT
are transdiagnostic, it stands to reason that the concept of perturbance is relevant to
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transdiagnostic approaches. For instance, addictions involve motives that are both insistent (tend
to capture attention) and intense (control behaviour). Obsessions and compulsions must also
involve perturbance at their core. More generally, a design-oriented approach is required for
transdiagnostic understanding (Hudlicka, 2017). Even more generally, to understand abnormal
psychology and apparent breakdowns in rationality we must understand normal psychology in
design-oriented terms.
Perturbance is also quite relevant to human memory. Following Anderson’s (1991)
adaptive explanation of memory, Beaudoin (2014a) proposed the heuristic relevance-signaling
hypothesis from the designer stance. On a daily basis, humans process enormous amounts of
information. The brain cannot deeply interpret it all, nor store all of its interpretations. Nor can
the cortex explicitly signal relevance as a top down command to the hippocampus. (The direct
command “I shall remember this phone number” does not work.) The brain needs implicitly to
answer the question: what information should be persisted in memory? Testing effects are among
the most well documented findings in empirical psychology: repeatedly recalling information
potentiates memory of it (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006). The heuristic relevance-signaling
hypothesis states that deliberative layer recall attempts are implicit cues to the brain’s heuristic
memory indexing mechanisms to prioritize access to information (memories) related to the
perturbanceinformation (interpretations, narratives, etc.) that the deliberative layer has at least
attempted to recall (reconstruct). Perturbances are hijackings of these mechanisms by insistent
motives, potentiating memories related to the perturbant objects (e.g., the limerent object).
On another note, psychology has struggled with the question: in what respect can the
experience of music in particular and art more generally be affective (Juslin & Vastfjall, 2008).
From the designer stance we might similarly ask how can great art rivet us and reverberate
within us, from catchy ear worms to more? It has been argued that a great story is one that holds
one’s attention (Boyd, 2009). This brings us close to the mark. The architecture-based concepts
of insistence and perturbance suggest ways of deepening such explanations. We speculate that
music and fiction can trigger an illusion of perturbance: the reflective-layer impression that the
agent is experiencing a genuine perturbance (as if self-generated motives were insistently being
activated, captivating management processes). More obviously, art likely often operates by
increasing the insistence of one’s own latent motives (triggering limerence and grief, for
instance). Among the many reasons that limerence and grief are two of the most popular themes
of art is that they are implicitly about perturbance and they trigger perturbance. Furthermore, for
a work of art to have a social impact, it must affect individuals over periods of time, taking hold
of their executive processes, and prompt them to think in its terms and to communicate about it.
One way to explore these hypotheses would be to model responses to high-caliber, multi-modal
art depicting limerence and grief that uses repetition in provocative ways, as is common in
musical theatre.
We also believe a design-oriented theory of autonomous agency whose architectures can
support perturbance can be applied to positive psychology and self-help. For example, focusing
and flow are arguably essential to cognitive productivity and hence to knowledge economies.
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Distraction is largely a motivational phenomenon i.e., executive functions are captured not just
by facts, but motives. Yet theories of attention and knowledge translation on the subject
(Gallagher, 2009; Levitin, 2014) do not deal with motive processing and fail to consider, let
alone account for, perturbance. Theories of learning, expertise and productive practice need to
explain how humans can deliberately develop their mental architectures, e.g., creating new
motive generators (Beaudoin, 2014a, 2014b).
In short, a broad range of previously studied phenomena and problems can systematically be
revisited from the designer stance as involving perturbance.
In this paper, we have argued that perturbance is a major feature of the human mind that
deserves to be thoroughly investigated. This concept has the advantage of being firmly rooted in
AI and of involving a flexible, extensible architectural framework meant to account for
requirements of autonomous agency. This enables research problems to be considered in terms of
models of entire minds.
Many areas of interdisciplinary research on perturbance and autonomous agency more
generally can fruitfully be pursued. Some have already been alluded to in this document. The
concept of perturbance has the potential to unify several areas of study, including attention,
emotional episodes and self-regulation, repetitive mentation, and psychopathological conditions
such as depressive rumination, obsessive worrying and addictions. There is a rapidly growing
number of instruments to automatically recognize emotions and to measure emotion perception
(Adolphs, R., 2017). It is no surprise that there has yet to be research on whether or how humans
tacitly perceive perturbance or how machines could do so, both of which would be challenging
tasks that could advance theory. It may be helpful to integrate Moors’ (2017) two-level
architecture with H-CogAff, drawing on their respective strengths. There is a need for detailed
modeling of mental processing in insomnia, for which the somnolent information processing
theory provides a framework. Beaudoin (2014a) has argued in detail that the important concept
of ‘effectance’, proposed by White (1959), which roughly means motivation for competence,
needs to be modernized in terms of architecture-based motivation. Detailed IDO models of
grieving and limerence as prolonged perturbance could be developed.
We urge resisting the temptation of assimilating the concept of perturbance to related
concepts, such as obsession, rumination, infatuation, repetitive thought, or even emotion.
Perturbance is not a phenomenological or descriptive concept, though the theory behind it is
meant to also account for experience. What ultimately makes perturbance of interest are the IDO
theories and approach in relation to which perturbance is to be understood.
The IDO approach is directly relevant to the education of educators, psychologists and
cognitive scientists. In this paragraph we focus on psychology since it is, or should be, a
requirement for the training of educators and cognitive scientists. There was a day when
psychology students were virtually guaranteed to graduate knowing an overall model of the
human mind, though they did not tend to believe it or use it. That model was based on the wrong
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metaphor, hydraulic systems, as computers had not yet been invented. We are referring of course
to Freud’s id, ego, superego model of mind. In rejecting the model, psychology threw out the
baby with the bathwater (Minsky, 2013). Fortunately, psychology students are trained to apply
many theories to the same phenomena. Unfortunately, they are not yet typically trained to think
about themselves, other humans and possible (AI) minds in terms of an IDO information-
processing architecture with multiple interacting virtual machines let alone, as they should,
multiple such theories. Yet this is teachable and important (Borsboom et al., in press; Sloman,
1993; Beaudoin, 1994). Here we have focused on H-CogAff, but there are other relevant IDO
models, such as Baars & Franklin (2009). We also recommend students be trained in conceptual
analysis (Ortony, Clore, & Foss, 1987; Sloman, 1978), which is part of the IDO approach, as
they are in empirical research methods. We are not suggesting a one-way flow of influence from
a design-oriented perspective to phenomena-based methods. Instead, we advocate a progressive
theory-driven research program to propose and improve IDO models. There is a need for more
AI researchers to consider broad, integrative, multi-layered, affective autonomous agency. We
believe psychology and AI researchers need to work more closely together, not only on purely
cognitive problems but affective ones as well. AI and psychology must blend more (Reisenzein
et al., 2013).
We would like to thank Dr. Eva Hudlicka for her contributions to an earlier draft of this paper.
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... Empirically oriented researchers might proceed in a 'lean' fashion, treating designs as hypotheses to be induced from and tested by data. Instead, in my talk I will show ways in which an integrative design-oriented (IDO) approach to understanding humans as autonomous agents [3] might help design hypertext apps. The approach suggests important problems to address and original ways to think about them. ...
... My colleagues and I have used the IDO approach in characterizing aspects of 'emotion', repetitive thought, obsession, addiction and mental alarms as mental perturbance [3]. Mental perturbance, by specification, involves the asynchronous generation and activation of motivators, which tend to consume executive functions (attention, deliberation, meta-management), influencing motives, goals and behavior [3,11,12]. ...
... My colleagues and I have used the IDO approach in characterizing aspects of 'emotion', repetitive thought, obsession, addiction and mental alarms as mental perturbance [3]. Mental perturbance, by specification, involves the asynchronous generation and activation of motivators, which tend to consume executive functions (attention, deliberation, meta-management), influencing motives, goals and behavior [3,11,12]. Mental perturbance is thus inherently an IDO concept. ...
Conference Paper
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Keynote presented on 2022-06-28 to the Human 22 workshop of Hypertext 2022 conference. See
The Cambridge Handbook of Computational Cognitive Sciences is a comprehensive reference for this rapidly developing and highly interdisciplinary field. Written with both newcomers and experts in mind, it provides an accessible introduction of paradigms, methodologies, approaches, and models, with ample detail and illustrated by examples. It should appeal to researchers and students working within the computational cognitive sciences, as well as those working in adjacent fields including philosophy, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, education, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, computer science, and more.
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This systematic review focuses on three themes: 1) the nature of pre-sleep cognitive activity in good sleepers and individuals with insomnia, 2) the links between measures of pre-sleep cognitive activity and sleep onset latency (SOL) or insomnia, and 3) the effect of manipulating pre-sleep cognitive activity on SOL or insomnia. Regarding the first theme, mentation reports have been collected in a sleep laboratory, with an ambulatory monitoring device, or using a voice-activated tape-recorder. Normal transition to sleep is characterized by sensorial imagery, deactivation of higher cognitive processes, and hallucinations. Moreover, pre-sleep thoughts in individuals with insomnia frequently relate to planning or problem-solving, and are more unpleasant than in good sleepers. Regarding the second theme, twelve questionnaires and three interviews were identified. Insomnia is associated with more thoughts interfering with sleep, counterfactual processing, worries, maladaptive thought control strategies, covert monitoring, and cognitive arousal. Regarding the third theme, several strategies have been tested: mental imagery, hypnosis, paradoxical intention, articulatory suppression, ordinary suppression, and distraction. Their effect is either beneficial, negligible, or detrimental. Future research should focus on the mechanisms through which some forms of cognitive activity affect sleep onset latency.
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We present progress towards an integrative design-oriented (IDO) theory of sleep onset and insomnolence: the somnolent information-processing theory (SIPt; Beaudoin, 2013, 2014). We define “insomnolence” as difficulty falling (back) asleep — a key feature of insomnia (DSM-V). We argue that theories of human sleep onset and propensity require an IDO approach. By “design-oriented” we mean adopting the design stance (Dennett, 1982; Poggio, 2012; McCarthy, 2008) which is universally known in theoretical Artificial Intelligence and cognitive science but unused in theories of sleep onset and insomnolence, SIPt aside. Like other cognitive science, IDO involves interdisciplinary information-processing theories; but it is also integrative, aiming to specify how requirements of autonomous agency (competence) are realized by the interaction of diverse component processes (subsuming motivational, cognitive, executive and ancillary functions). The IDO approach requires that any appeal to key psychological constructs (“consciousness”, “arousal”, “emotion”, “attention”, “goals”, “intention”, etc.) be grounded in specific IDO theories. This approach is meant to contribute to a paradigm shift in research in insomnia, “emotion” and psychology more generally, in response to what Beaudoin, Hyniewska & Hudlicka (2017) and Muthukrishna & Henrich (2019) identified as the root of psychology’s replication crisis: lack of rigorous, ambitious, progressive, evolutionarily grounded theoretical integration. We claim control of human somnolence posed a significant evolutionary challenge particularly due to their abundant cortex. Leading theories of insomnia tend to explain insomnolence in terms of cognitive and/or physiological activity (Perlis, 2011) or “arousal” (Harvey, 2005). Cognitive theories of insomnia assume that attention, intention and effort to sleep are insomnolent (e.g., inhibiting “de-arousal”, Espie, 2006). Rejecting these assumptions, we argue that arousal is a problematically polymorphic concept unsuitable for IDO explanations of somnolence. In contrast, SIPt grounds its major concepts in specific IDO theories. In accordance with Moors' (2017) skepticism, SIPt replaces “emotion” with computational architectures of motivation. More precisely, we leverage the H-CogAff (Sloman, 2003) and LIDA (Franklin et al, 2013) architectures. We replace the concept of “emotion” and “arousal” with IDO concepts of perturbance and alarms. Perturbance is an emergent state in which an insistent motivator tends to control executive functions (Beaudoin, 1994; Wright, Sloman & Beaudoin, 1996). Perturbance is theoretical grounding for repetitive thought (Watkins, 2008). Alarms (Oatley, 1992; Sloman, 2003; Baars & Franklin, 2009) are urgent global control signals which, we claim, also underlie the alarm reaction (Selye 1936). SIPt postulates that (1) chronobiological processes (Borbély, 2016) are the principal contributors to somnolence; (2) sleep-onset-like information-processing is pro-somnolent (increases sleep propensity); (3) perturbance is insomnolent; (4) alarms are insomnolent; (5) some perceptual states affect sleep propensity: sensing supineness, rocking (Bayer et al, 2011) or skin temperature, Romeijn et al (2011). We describe an effortful form of cognitive shuffling, serial diverse kinesthetic imagining (SDKI). It is suitable for an experiment pitting SIPt against other theories (eg, Espie, 2006 and Havey, 2005) since only according to SIPt should SDKI be both counter-insomnolent (per postulates 3 and 4) and pro-somnolent (per postulates 2 and 5). Yet more theoretical work is required towards an IDO theory of somnolence.
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Everyday life is defined by goal states that are continuously reprioritized based on available, often affective information. To pursue these goals, individuals need to process and maintain goal-relevant information, while ignoring potentially salient information that distracts resources from these goals. Empirically, this ability has typically been operationalized as working memory (WM) capacity. A growing body of research is investigating the impact of information's affective salience on WM capacity. In the present review we address this question by exploring the potential differential impact of affective compared with neutral information on WM, and the underlying neural substrates. One-hundred and 65 studies (N = 7,433) were included in the meta-analysis. Results showed negligible to small (d̂ = -.07-.20) effects of affective information on behavioral measures of WM in healthy individuals (n = 4,936) that varied as a function of valence and task-relevance. Heterogeneity analyses were significant, demonstrating the need to identify further study-specific factors and individual differences that moderate affective WM. At the neural level (33 studies; n = 683), processing affective versus neutral material during WM tasks was associated with more frequent recruitment of the vlPFC, the amygdala, and the temporo-occipital cortex. In contrast to healthy individuals, across behavioral studies those suffering from mental health problems (n = 2,041) showed impaired WM accuracy (d̂ = -0.21) in the presence of affective material. These findings highlight the importance of integrating behavioral and neural levels of analysis. Finally, these findings suggest that affective WM capacity may be a transdiagnostic mechanism associated with poor mental health. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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At the heart of emotion, mood, and any other emotionally charged event are states experienced as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. These states - called core affect - influence reflexes, perception, cognition, and behavior and are influenced by many causes internal and external, but people have no direct access to these causal connections. Core affect can therefore be experienced as free-floating (mood) or can be attributed to some cause (and thereby begin an emotional episode). These basic processes spawn a broad framework that includes perception of the core-affect-altering properties of stimuli, motives, empathy, emotional meta-experience, and affect versus emotion regulation; it accounts for prototypical emotional episodes, such as fear and anger, as core affect attributed to something plus various nonemotional processes.
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Recent years have witnessed an increasing interest in developing computational models of emotion and emotion–cognition interaction, within the emerging area of computational affective science. At the same time, emotion theorists and clinical psychologists have begun to recognize the importance of moving beyond descriptive characterizations of psychopathology, and identifying the underlying mechanisms that mediate both the etiology of affective disorders, and their treatment: the transdiagnostic approach to psychopathology. Computational models of cognition–emotion interactions have the potential to facilitate more accurate assessment and diagnosis of affective disorders, and to provide a basis for more efficient and targeted approaches to their treatment, through an improved understanding of the underlying mechanisms. This chapter discusses the state-of-the-art in modeling emotion–cognition interaction and the relevance of these models for understanding the mechanisms mediating psychopathology and therapeutic action. The discussion is limited to symbolic models and theories defined at the psychological, versus neural, level. The chapter also outlines how these models can support the development of serious therapeutic games, to enhance assessment and treatment methods in behavioral healthcare.
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People approach pleasure and avoid pain. To discover the true nature of approach–avoidance motivation, psychologists need to move beyond this hedonic principle to the principles that underlie the different ways that it operates. One such principle is regulatory focus, which distinguishes self-regulation with a promotion focus (accomplishments and aspirations) from self-regulation with a prevention focus (safety and responsibilities). This principle is used to reconsider the fundamental nature of approach–avoidance, expectancy–value relations, and emotional and evaluative sensitivities. Both types of regulatory focus are applied to phenonomena that have been treated in terms of either promotion (e.g., well-being) or prevention (e.g., cognitive dissonance). Then, regulatory focus is distinguished from regulatory anticipation and regulatory reference, 2 other principles underlying the different ways that people approach pleasure and avoid pain.
Recent advances in our understanding of information states in the human brain have opened a new window into the brain's representation of emotion. While emotion was once thought to constitute a separate domain from cognition, current evidence suggests that all events are filtered through the lens of whether they are good or bad for us. Focusing on new methods of decoding information states from brain activation, we review growing evidence that emotion is represented at multiple levels of our sensory systems and infuses perception, attention, learning, and memory. We provide evidence that the primary function of emotional representations is to produce unified emotion, perception, and thought (e.g., “That is a good thing”) rather than discrete and isolated psychological events (e.g., “That is a thing. I feel good”). The emergent view suggests ways in which emotion operates as a fundamental feature of cognition, by design ensuring that emotional outcomes are the central object of perception, thought, and action. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 71 is January 4, 2020. Please see for revised estimates.
The paper sketches the historical development from emotion as a mysterious entity and the source of maladaptive behaviour, to emotion as a collection of ingredients and the source of also adaptive behaviour. We argue, however, that the underlying mechanism proposed to take care of this adaptive behaviour is not entirely up for its task. We outline an alternative view that explains so-called emotional behaviour with the same mechanism as non-emotional behaviour, but that is at the same time more likely to produce adaptive behaviour. The phenomena that were initially seen as requiring a separate emotional mechanism to influence and cause behaviour can also be explained by a goal-directed mechanism provided that more goals and other complexities inherent in the goal-directed process are taken into account.
Historically, research on emotion perception has focused on facial expressions, and findings from this modality have come to dominate our thinking about other modalities. Here we examine emotion perception through a wider lens by comparing facial with vocal and tactile processing. We review stimulus characteristics and ensuing behavioral and brain responses and show that audition and touch do not simply duplicate visual mechanisms. Each modality provides a distinct input channel and engages partly nonoverlapping neuroanatomical systems with different processing specializations (e.g., specific emotions versus affect). Moreover, processing of signals across the different modalities converges, first into multi- and later into amodal representations that enable holistic emotion judgments.