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This chapter opens by outlining the basic architecture of interacting cognitive subsystems (Barnard, 1985, 1999) and then briefly summarizes its application to depression (Barnard & Teasdale, 1991; Teasdale & Barnard, 1993). The account of depression relies on the idea that cognitive-affective processes involve two distinct kinds of meaning: propositional meaning and implicational meaning. Propositional meaning is referentially specific while implicational meaning is more abstract and generic in nature. Affect and ideation are linked up in schematic models encoded as implicational meanings. Among other things, these schematic models represent our sense of self. In a context where negative self-schematic models dominate mental processing, feedback from propositional and body state representations acts to regenerate negative self-models and, in doing so, sustains depression.
The chapter then considers how the mechanisms underlying processing exchanges between two types of meaning can be extended to develop accounts of the core symptoms of a broader range of psychopathologies and the individual variation so often seen in symptom expression. The extension postulates four underlying sources of variation that constrain the dynamic processing of meaning. They are: (1) variation in the content of semantic representations; (2) variation in the rate of change in the content of mental images; (3) variation in the mode in which mental processes operate; and (4) variation in the synchronization of the processes that generate meaning. All four sources of variation are needed to account for variation in symptom expression across and within types of psychopathology.
(1) The cognitive mechanisms underlying working memory performance involve multiple processes and types of mental representation.
(2) The detailed properties of performance depend on the configuration of specific processes needed to accomplish the task and the specific types of memory records they access and use in executing the task.
(3) There are no specific capacity limitations on what is stored at any particular level of mental representation. Capacity limitation arises out of restrictions on the interfunctioning of processes within a wider system.
(4) The use of memory records requires the generation or revival of a description of the content to be accessed. This can also functionally constrain performance.
(5) There is no unified “central executive” component; central executive functions are themselves accomplished by processing interactions among subsystems.
The dominant approach to formulating theory within experimental psychology is to develop models of restricted scope and capability. Individual models strive to predict properties of behavior in tasks that are assumed to tap specific mental faculties such as visual perception, language, problem solving, emotion, memory, or motor skills. It is taken for granted that moving toward an understanding of the complete mental mechanism is rather like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Ultimately a complete picture should emerge as local theories become validated and as segments of increasing size emerge and are themselves pieced together. One problem with this approach is the very complexity of the interrelationships between the various mental faculties.
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