Ulric Neisser, an American psychologist and one of the founders of cognitive psychology died last month. Neisser’s life, including his major contributions to the revolution of the study of the human cognition is well documented; see for instance, the NY Times obituary and the Mind Hacks blog. My intention is not to replicate what has appeared elsewhere but to add to it by focusing on Neisser’s later work in ecological psychology, more specifically, his interdisciplinary research on the self which has guided the content and methodology of my own work. I take this as an opportunity to remember him, with the added hope of sparking the interest of those less familiar with his later work.
Behaviourism dominated the scientific study of the mind in the first half of the 20th century. Behaviourists declared that psychology should not attempt to address internal mental events and mechanisms but should focus on the observable markers of cognition, such as stimuli, responses, and the consequences of these responses. Despite its contribution to the development of rigorous experimental techniques and to the domain of learning, behaviourism was limited in explaining many interesting dimensions of human cognition, such as the development of language.
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the official classification manual developed for use in clinical, educational, and research settings; it is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is regularly revised. The fifth edition (DSM-5) is expected to appear in May 2013. In the DSM’s current edition (DSM-IV), feelings of sadness and associated symptoms (e.g., insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss), following the death of a loved one are excluded from the criteria for a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), but a cautionary clause states that if these symptoms continue beyond two months and impair the individual’s psychological, social and occupational functioning, she may be given an MDD diagnosis.
The DSM-5 Working Group for the Mood Disorders has recently proposed the removal of the bereavement exclusion from the diagnostic criteria for a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), arguing that the available evidence does not support distinguishing bereavement from other stressors that underlie MDD.
This proposal has led to a controversial debate on the advantages and disadvantages of distinguishing between the cases that involve individuals who develop major depression in response to bereavement and those who develop depression following other severe stressors. For instance, Allen Frances, the lead editor of DSM-IV, is concerned that removing the bereavement exclusion will result in over-diagnosing and over-treating non-pathological grief by labelling it MDD.