4.5 Four basic states of mind

This section is based on section 4.4 of “Learning Autonomy in Two or Three Steps: Linking Motivation, Authority, and Agency, with Open-ended Development”

It is possible to separate four different basic mind states as a synthesis of conclusions from a wide range of scientific domains. The table Mood, motivation, and mind-states below contains contributions from emotion research [Russell, 2003], motivation research [Ryan, 1989], human machine interfacing [Malhotra, 2008], computational development and learning [Baldassarre, 2011], soundscape research [Andringa, 2013], personal development [Maslow:1962], cognitive psychology [Kaplan:1995], and general cognitive science and culture studies [McGilchrist, 2010]. This is an impressive range that is suggestive of the fundamental nature of these concepts.

Mood, motivation, and mind-states
Motivations Extrinsic

Affect-state: Unpleasant
PLOC : external
Autonomy: low
Cognition type: deficiency/problem solving
Dominant hemisphere: left
Motivation: extrinsic, deficiency driven
Objective: direct fitness benefit
Environment: not safe,
Behavior: reactive

Affect-state: pleasant
PLOC: internal,
Autonomy: high
Cognition type: pervasive optimization (B-Cognition)
Dominant hemisphere: right
Motivation: intrinsic
Objective: future fitness benefit
Environment: safe
Behavior: pro-active

Mind-state: highly activated
Driven by external stimuli

World: challenging
Motivation: introjected (internal or esteem-based pressures to avoid harm)
Objective: usefulness/utility
Concern: retaining or regaining control
Environment: highly complex
Mind-state: directed attention and fixed on problem

World: interesting
Motivation: intrinsic motivation, completely self-determined activity
Objective: hedonistic (fun, enjoyment)
Concern: learning and playing in safety
Environment: high on affordances
Mind-state: flow (directed attention but flexible)

Mind-state: Minimally activated
Driven by internal needs/drives

World: dominating
Motivation: external (authority enforced, fear of punishment, rule compliance)
Objective: proper guidance (to external regulation)
Concern: no sense of safety or control
Environment: low on affordances
Mind-state: boredom (in fruitless search)

World: safe
Motivation identified (personal importance) or integrated (personal goals)
Objective: self-development, self-enhancement, self-growth
Concern: restoring resources and caring
Environment: low complexity
Mind-state: fascination (unfocused, freely wandering)

The entries reflect descriptive words originating from the different authors. The upper row and leftmost column reflect descriptions that pertain to the whole row or column respectively. The two rightmost columns, titled extrinsic and intrinsic, reflect modes of being that are directly associated with the two ways to approach complexity, the role of the left and right hemisphere, Maslow’s D- and B-cognition, the role of safety in environmental appraisal, and the diverse descriptions of ex- and intrinsic motivations. The two lower rows reflect whether behavior is exogenous and highly activated or endogenous and less activated. The four remaining cells reflect descriptions that pertain to each of the different combination of in-/extrinsic and exo-/endogenous motivation. They also refer to a more general interpretation of the quadrants as depicted in Figure 3. These cells/quadrants have a descriptive name in bold.

Control quadrant

The control quadrant reflects a combination of external motivating stimuli with the external perceived locus of causality characteristic of a challenging world. This quadrant reflects a motivational state in which an agent primarily aims to avoid immediate or future injury, harm, or disadvantage. Another name for this quadrant would be the problem-solving quadrant. An agent in this highly complex situation (in terms of behavior selection) is interested in any utility instrumental to avoid negative consequences and to retain or regain control. The associated mind-state is stably focused on the problem as long as the problem exists and is a form of prolonged effortful directed attention [Kaplan, 1995].

Exploration quadrant

The exploration quadrant combines external stimuli with an internal PLOC leading to self-chosen overt behavior that is perceived as fun and enjoyed for its own sake; all characteristic of an interesting world. Aimless but definitely unforced exploration and creation is only possible in apparent safety and requires environmental affordances at a level of complexity that the agent can handle without being taxed too much or too little. The associated mind-state is flexibly focusing on the most interesting aspects of the world, while remaining completely absorbed without lapses and pauses. Flow [Nakamura,2002] is a fitting description for this pleasurable mind-state.

Consolidation quadrant

The consolidation quadrant combines individual-need-driven activities with an internal PLOC. This is also only possible in a safe world. This may or may not lead to overt behavior, but is in all situations aimed at unforced self-development, growth, or other forms of psychological and physical recuperation and development. In this quadrant the associated mental activities are free to digress or to wander aimlessly without purpose or goal. One associated mind-state is fascination [Kaplan, 1995] which allows a prolonged, uninterrupted, and effortless immersion in an environment that is pleasant, self-selected to address personal needs proactively. This does not involve directed attention and therefore restores the capacity for directed attention. It is in this mind-state that the mind/brain can address its own needs.

Submission quadrant

The last quadrant is described with the term submission (to external forces), characteristic of a dominating world. This quadrant is characterized by an external locus of perceived causality in combination with unfulfilled internal needs that offer no other options than to accept guidance, to be subjected to external control (through threat, punishment, or fear), or to do nothing due to cognitive inadequacy given the current environment. In this quadrant the mind is never at rest, but fruitlessly in search of ways to cope. One associated mind-state is boredom, which is described [Martin, 2006] as “Not being in control of life; agitated, yet at the same time, lethargic.” In addition boredom is associated with restlessness, stress, the feeling of being trapped, frustration, fatigue, lack of concentration, guilt, meaninglessness, and even depression.


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  • Ryan, Richard M, and James P Connell. 1989. “Perceived Locus of Causality and Internalization: Examining Reasons for Acting in Two Domains..” Journal of Personnel Psychology 57 (5): 749–761. doi:10.1037/0022–3514.57.5.749.

  • Malhotra, Yogesh, Dennis F Galletta, and Laurie J Kirsch. 2008. “How Endogenous Motivations Influence User Intentions: Beyond the Dichotomy of Extrinsic and Intrinsic User Motivations.” Journal of Management Information Systems 25 (1): 267–300.

  • Baldassarre, Gianluca. 2011. “What Are Intrinsic Motivations? a Biological Perspective.” In, 2:1–8. IEEE. doi:10.1109/DEVLRN.2011.6037367.

  • Andringa, Tjeerd C, and Jolie JL Lanser. 2013. “How Pleasant Sounds Promote and Annoying Sounds Impede Health: a Cognitive Approach.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10 (4) (April): 1439–1461. doi:10.3390/ijerph10041439. [Source](http://www.mdpi.com/1660–4601/10/4/1439

  • Maslow, Abraham H. 1962. Toward a Psychology of Being. D. van Nostrand company inc.

  • Kaplan, S. 1995. “The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 15: 169–182.

  • McGilchrist, Iain. 2010. The Master and His Emissary : the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. http://www.iainmcgilchrist.com/TMAHE/biblio/Bibliography_The_Master_and_his_Emissary.pdf.

  • Nakamura, J, and M Csikszentmihalyi. 2002. “The Concept of Flow.” Handbook of Positive Psychology: 89–105.

  • Martin, Marion, Gaynor Sadlo, and Graham Stew. 2006. “The Phenomenon of Boredom.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3 (3): 193–211. doi:10.1191/1478088706qrp066oa.