A site on the future of psychology

Behavioral (BIT) is the joint point between Life and Mind on the ToK System. It provides a comprehensive framework for understanding animal behavior. In a future post, I will explain why we should think about animal behavior as mental behavior and why the concept of mental behavior resolves some long standing issues in the mind-brain-body-behavior problem. But for now, I want to point out how BIT provides a useful heuristic to understand animal behavior.

First, consider the central claim of BIT, which is that the nervous system is a computational control system that coordinates the expenditure of animal action on investment value, cost benefit ratios. BIT consists of six key principles: 1) energy economics (animals must acquire more workable energy than they expend); 2) evolution (inherited tendencies toward action are a function of natural selection operating on genetic systems; 3) heredity (genetic variation produces variation in investment tendencies); 4) computational control (the nervous system is an information processing control system); 5)  learning (association and consequence shape future investments) and 6) development (different investment value tendencies emerge at different life stages). These are all well-known principles in the animal behavioral science literature, but BIT pulls them together in a more coherent way.

Examples of this emerge when reading up on animal behavioral science. For example, check out the following recent article from the NY Times on the sexual behavior of some deep sea squid.


The reason this research caught the attention of the media was because of the same sex-sex behavior. But for our purposes, what is notable is how the framing of the squid’s behavior is consistent with BIT. For example, same-sex behavior gets attention from animal behavioral scientists not because of the human sexual orientation issue, but because of they assume animal behavior will follow along BIT principles. But because same-sex behavior has no initial obvious payoff in terms of survival and reproduction, researchers question why. In the article, the tentative answer is that the cost of releasing the sperm outweights the complexity of determining the sex of the other squid, so there have not been selection pressures resulting in sex-discriminating behaviors. My basic claim is the following…read any research on animal behavioral science and the implicit (or explicit) frame of understanding will be consistent with BIT.


Comments on: "Understanding Behavioral Investment Theory" (6)

  1. jasonbessey said:

    I’m a little confused as to the terminology, “…the expenditure of animal action on investment value, cost benefit ratios.”

    Isn’t that which is being expended in BIT, “animal energy”?

  2. jasonbessey said:

    Isn’t “3) heredity” redundant since it is necessarily implied in “2) evolution”?

    • Gregg Henriques said:

      Evolution refers to species typical elements, heredity refers to individual variation. It is the difference between evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics, which are two different fields.

      • jasonbessey said:

        Evolution requires three “raw ingredients”, (figuratively speaking): variation, heredity, and selection.

        Heredity does not refer to individual variation, nor does it necessarily require it. One could, in principle, “inherit” a gene that is identical to the parent’s gene, (i.e., without variation).

        It is evolution that refers to BOTH heredity and variation and requires both. Indeed, what is often more relevant to evolution are species a-typical elements, (i.e., variations) —- for without those a-typical elements, there would be no evolution.

        It is “adaptations” that refer to species typical elements, which are not synonymous with evolution, but a consequence of evolution.

        Evolutionary psychology primarily focuses on (human) species-typical elements at the level of the human species, (i.e., adaptations), that are a CONSEQUENCE of evolution.

        Behavioral genetics primarily focuses on variation at the level of the individual that is a necessary ANTECEDENT CONDITION of evolution.

  3. Gregg Henriques said:

    Just for clarity, is it the semantics that you are questioning here? That is, do you get that individual variation in genetic systems is a crucial element to understanding an individual’s behavioral investment patterns and that the variation within the gene pool is a different (though related) than the phylogenetic history of the species? In the book, I call it the principle of genetics.

    • jasonbessey said:

      Hi Gregg,

      It may very well be a semantic issue, though I’m not entirely sure. I get the things you listed in your response, so perhaps it is just semantic.

      For example, by (2), do you mean “phylogeny”? By (6), do you mean “ontogeny”?

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