Nav: Home

Modeling human psychology

August 16, 2017

A human being's psychological make-up depends on an array of emotional and motivational parameters, such as desire, suffering or the need for security. In addition, it includes spatial and temporal dimensions that also play a key role in rationalising the decisions we make and planning our actions. A team of researchers from the Universities of Geneva (UNIGE), Texas, Paris and University College London joined forces to create the first mathematical model of embodied consciousness. Their aim? To understand, study and predict human behaviour. The model, which is based on solid mathematical concepts and is demonstrated using simulations, makes it possible to anticipate and explain a host of cognitive phenomena and behavioural reactions. The research -- which you can read in full in the Journal of Theoretical Biology -- also paves the way for a wealth of industrial applications in robotics, artificial intelligence and the health sector.

An international, interdisciplinary team of researchers, headed by David Rudrauf, professor in UNIGE's faculty of psychology and educational science, was keen to produce a psychological theory that operated on the model developed by the hard sciences. The goal was to devise a mathematical model of human psychology for predicting and evaluating (normal and pathological) human behaviour. More than a decade of research -- combining maths, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, computer science and engineering -- was required to construct this theoretical model of consciousness.

Free energy determines choices

We all are constantly faced with a range of choices, some of which are important, some not. But how do we make our decisions? There are many factors at work, conscious and unconscious, which are forever colliding whenever a decision is made. "We built a model to replicate decision-making based on the time, framework and perceptions (real and imaginary) that are linked to it," explains David Rudrauf. "The next step was to analyse the best solution that the mind would naturally opt for." Depending on an individual's personal preferences (such as security), and including different real and imaginary perspectives on the world, the mind calculates the probabilities of obtaining what it wants in the safest possible way. This probability calculation, which is derived from an individual's personal preferences and values, can be expressed as free energy. "Our consciousness uses free energy to actively explore the world and to satisfy its predilections by imagining the anticipated consequences of its actions," says Karl Friston from University College London. Depending on the free energy, the mathematical model can predict the states of consciousness and behaviour adopted by the individual and analyse the mechanisms.

This Projective Consciousness Model analyses possible forms of behaviour according to events: if you spot a cake in a shop window, will you buy it or carry on your way? Based on your preferences -- whether you have a sweet tooth, for example, or are a penny-pincher -- the model will determine what best suits your state of mind: it will then predict your psychological state and behaviour using a combination of projective geometry and free-energy calculation.

Understanding and making a mathematical model of the phenomenology of the mind: projective geometry

As Kenneth Williford, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, explains: "The aim was to understand and model the essential structures of conscious experience." Daniel Bennequin, professor in the mathematics department at the University of Paris 7, adds: "Perception, imagination and action are supported by unconscious mechanisms, we discovered that consciousness integrates them through a specific geometry: projective geometry." The researchers started with a synthesis of psychological phenomena, including basic perceptual phenomena: the illusion, for instance, that train tracks converge in the distance when they are actually parallel. The scientists were able to select the mathematical template for modelling this perception and the imagination associated with it. "It was then a question of understanding how this field of consciousness is related to affect, emotions and motivation as well as memory and intentions," says Rudrauf.

Virtual reality: a space for experimenting and research

"Once the theoretical components were defined," continues Rudrauf, "we implemented them in computer programs. We are now working on connecting them to virtual reality in order to reproduce a spatial, temporal and emotional environment that is as close as possible to our own." The research team is then able to make predictions about behaviour by playing with the model's mechanisms, perfecting it and bringing it closer to human psychology. It was long-term work: "But our aim is also to gradually direct the research towards psychopathological models," points out Rudrauf. "We found, for example, that if we deprive the model of the faculty of imagination, it behaves like a person with autism. This suggests research pathways on the importance of the imagination and its specific mechanisms in managing the illness." The model works on a concept of reciprocity: humans are used to test and reinforce the effectiveness of the model; and the model is used to experiment with different cases and sources of psychological illnesses in humans.

The initial results show that this first mathematical model of embodied consciousness, incorporating temporality, spatialisation and emotions, can predict a vast array of known human behaviours and understand the mechanisms behind them. There is still much work to be done, however, to replicate human consciousness identically, since every possible type of behaviour must be implemented in the mathematical system. The researchers are now working on an extension of the algorithm that will produce machines that can adapt to the reactions of their interlocutors and act according to the principle of empathic reciprocity.
-end-


Université de Genève

Related Psychology Articles:

More than one cognition: A call for change in the field of comparative psychology
In a paper published in the Journal of Intelligence, researchers argue that cognitive studies in comparative psychology often wrongly take an anthropocentric approach, resulting in an over-valuation of human-like abilities and the assumption that cognitive skills cluster in animals as they do in humans.
Psychology research: Antivaxxers actually think differently than other people
As vaccine skepticism has become increasingly widespread, two researchers in the Texas Tech University Department of Psychological Sciences have suggested a possible explanation.
In court, far-reaching psychology tests are unquestioned
Psychological tests are important instruments used in courts to aid legal decisions that profoundly affect people's lives.
Psychology program for refugee children improves wellbeing
A positive psychology program created by researchers at Queen Mary University of London focuses on promoting wellbeing in refugee children.
Psychology can help prevent deadly childhood accidents
Injuries have overtaken infectious disease as the leading cause of death for children worldwide, and psychologists have the research needed to help predict and prevent deadly childhood mishaps, according to a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
Raising the standard for psychology research
Researchers from Stanford University, Arizona State University, and Dartmouth College used Texas Advanced Computing Center supercomputers to apply more rigorous statistical methods to psychological studies of self-regulation.
Psychology: Robot saved, people take the hit
To what extent are people prepared to show consideration for robots?
Researchers help to bridge the gap between psychology and gamification
A multi-disciplinary research team is bridging the gap between psychology and gamification that could significantly impact learning efforts in user experience design, healthcare, and government.
Virtual reality at the service of psychology
Our environment is composed according to certain rules and characteristics which are so obvious to us that we are scarcely aware of them.
Modeling human psychology
A human being's psychological make-up depends on an array of emotional and motivational parameters.
More Psychology News and Psychology Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.