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Clinical Implications of the Transformation Principle

By: , Posted on: February 3, 2015

Warren Tryon AxPrinciple 3, as presented in my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory, concerns how neural networks transform stimulus microfeatures into psychological constructs.

I represented this principle in Blog 19. The link to my full blog archive is here. This crucial principle addresses how psychology emerges from biology; how mind emerges from brain. I did not have space to include the following comments in Blog 19 that ran 755 words so I include them here.

I recognize that a complete explanation of how psychology emerges from biology is probably not possible with a single principle. I also recognize that my factor analysis inspired presentation may not be entirely satisfactory. Here I ask that you make an effort to see past the remaining technical difficulties and take an inspired view of the insight I am trying to share with you about how we can begin to think about psychology and behavior in physical rather than mental terms.

The mind-body problem began when Descartes formulated what the brain does in mental rather than physical terms. The distinction between mind and brain was created out of ignorance; not scientific fact. The mind-brain problem might better be called the mind-brain illusion. We have little difficulty understanding how our sensory organs, such as the eye, works in physical terms. We also have little difficulty tracing neural activations as they leave the eye and propagate through multiple brain layers to and in the visual cortex in physical terms. We may marvel at how the neural network layers that constitute the visual system extract, coordinate, and synthesize physical stimuli into the fully animated, colorful, and dynamic world that we experience but we do not doubt that this is a physical, neurological, process. We are no longer tempted to think that some mystical/mental process is involved. I emphasize here that it is the layers of synapses, not the neurons, are accomplishing these amazing feats of transformation and synthesis. Neural activations are transformed as they traverse the layers of synapses that connect the layers of neurons in the visual system.

With Principle 3, I am simply asking you to generalize the marvelous ability of synapses in neural networks to extract latent constructs, to form psychological states. What is new to us, what I promoted in my book and what I am proposing again here, is that traversing synaptic layers necessarily transforms activations in psychological ways. It is by traversing layers of synapses that neural impulses generate psychological states. This transformative process is how the brain synthesizes mind. The summation based algorithm that I presented on page 212 of my book regarding how factors are extracted from correlation matrices is suggestive of how neural networks might extract latent constructs from stimulus microfeatures because real neural networks excel at summation due to their architecture. Hence, the passage of activations from sensory organs across multiple synaptic layers necessarily extracts latent constructs that constitute psychological states. We subsequently become aware of this entirely physical process courtesy of our language centers, what Gazzaniga (2011) calls our interpreter. These neural networks create the impression that our “self” was involved. I now discuss the clinical implications that stem from this new theoretical perspective.

The first clinical implication of this new theoretical perspective on Principle 3 is that it should change the way that you understand your clients. You might better understand that they are not so much in control of the thoughts and feelings that their brains form out of stimulus microfeatures as you previously might have believed. They are the editors of their thoughts and feelings; not their authors. Hence you can better understand the automatic feelings as well as automatic thoughts that your clients have. This knowledge empowers clinicians to prescribe experiences that are designed to activate therapeutic thoughts and feelings.

The second clinical implication of Principle 3 extends and amplifies the first clinical implication of Principle 2 that I discussed in my previous blog. I refer to the fact that the Bio«Psychology Network (BPN) explanatory system presented in Section 1 of my book, enables psychologists to talk about psychology from a physical, biological, perspective. Principle 2 enabled psychologists to say that they modify synaptic properties by activating experience-dependent plasticity neuroscience mechanisms. The physical brain changes produced by learning-based therapies can be seen on brain images. Curiously, the synaptic modifications produced by learning-based therapies are more long lasting than those produced by medications (DeRubeis et al., 2008). Principle 3 enables psychologists to discuss how neural networks generate psychological constructs. Jointly, these two principles place psychologists on the same conceptual page as physicians and thereby provide parity with physicians.

A third clinical implication of Principle 3 is that it emphasizes the importance of stimulus micro-features in the formation of psychological constructs. The many small things that client’s notice about the therapist and significant others are being woven into psychological constructs by this transformative process. Clinicians should therefore encourage their clients to pay more attention to positive than negative details. Rehearsing these positive details enables them to have an even greater impact on their psychological state. Rumination refers to the opposite situation where negative details and prospections are repeated. Rumination is not problem solving. In fact, there is evidence that rumination exacerbates existing problems (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008). Rumination differs from problem solving in that it is mere castigation.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy coverRead more from Warren Tryon:

Warren’s book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215” at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy.

About the Author

Warren ComputerWarren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy.

In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is

This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage.

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