The PSI-Theory offers reliable explanations and points us in the right direction.
20+ years of validation
The PSI-Theory was founded by Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl as a meta-theory which integrates various valid results from experimental psychology (Kuhl, 2001) and was confirmed by the findings of modern neuropsychology.
PSI-introduces an additional function-analytical perspective (in addition to the personal, empathic one) that focuses on the functions and interactions of neuropsychic systems, regardless of the content of subjective experience.
Functional analysis means understanding how different personal systems interact with the affects and cognitive processes associated with them. From this understanding, additional creative ideas for a sustainable change and development process can be derived. These functions are even more important for the change process than disorder-oriented diagnoses, because development blockades or disorders can have a variety of functional causes.
Baumann et. al. (2017), offers a good overview of the different fields of application in “Why People Do the Things they Do: Building on Julius Kuhl`s Contribution to Motivation and Volition Psychology” Göttingen: Hogrefe. It deals with sports coaching, educational science, education, therapy, counselling and training and human resources management.
Ever since psychology has been a science, many approaches to personality psychology have developed, primarily from the field of psychotherapy. Very often a certain personality theory depicts a specific view of human beings, e.g. the behaviouristic, the cognitivistic, the psychoanalytical etc. These concepts include implicit values as well as assumptions about how development processes can be supported, how change processes take place and how an individual personality or personal differences develop.
Very often these conceptual human images contradict each other in their basic assumptions, so that they appear useless for the complexity of everyday life. Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl (2001) developed a meta-theory of personality, which integrates many contradictory theories that are also compatible with modern neuropsychological findings as well as the findings of modern personality psychology and, last but not least, can be applied extremely well in a practical context. As Lewin (1935) remarked, nothing is more practical than a good theory.
The PSI-Theory, the Personality Systems Interaction Theory (PSI-Theory), is about the use of a functional-analytical perspective on personality. Functional analysis means understanding that a person’s certain state is not only based on content (e.g. experiencing a disease), but also on the way that certain systems within a personality act and interact with each other.
Cervone et al (2004, 2006) postulate that theories based on personality architecture can provide an integrative theoretical framework for self-management research. Spatial models are good metaphors for imagining complex relationships and dynamics. The PSI-Theory makes use of this spatial metaphor of personality architecture by means of a hierarchically structured model that depicts personality with its various systems on seven levels.
Fig.1: Legend: OES: Object recognition system; IVS: Intuitive behavioural system; IG: Intentional memory; EG: Experience memory, extension memory
In this personality architecture, it is less a matter of the individual, distinguishable levels and systems, but of their own dynamics and their flexible interaction. People differ according to the way the systems function; they can prefer or disregard the interaction of certain systems. The advantage of this model is that even people who are not personality psychologists can understand and apply its basic features without having to go into the depths of scientific psychology.
We are regarding a topological model leading from the simple (shown below in the hierarchy) to complex systems (shown above in the hierarchy) and describes a phylo- and ontogenetic line of development leading to more freedom and self-determination at the highest and, at the same time, most complex level. Self-management, which is on the 7th level of the model, is a human achievement which depends closely on the formation of the prefrontal cortex. Self-management competences are important protective factors that play a central role in the health sciences of various disciplines, e.g. nursing science, medicine and psychology, as they are precisely those competences that can minimise risk factors and verifiably lead to a faster recovery, better quality of life and better well-being (Ritz-Schulte, 2011; Ritz-Schulte & Huckebrink, 2011).
The four macro-systems of personality are located both on the elementary level and on the sixth level. We recognize two elementary systems and two intelligent systems that interact with each other on the one hand and are connected antagonistically on the other.
Julius Kuhl, University of Osnabrück
On the elementary level “at the bottom” of the personality architecture, namely on level 1, are the elementary systems. In humans, these systems are designed and shaped by early learning experiences, e.g. the emotional climate in which a person grows up. Kuhl (2001) calls these elementary systems the object recognition system (OES) and the intuitive behaviour system (IVS).
The colour blue stands for the negative affect, the colour green marks the course of action initiation.
What are these elementary systems good for? They help people to orient themselves in different environments or contexts (Kuhl, 2010, Strehlau & Kuhl, 2011, Ritz-Schulte, 2011).
The OES helps people to orient themselves in threatening environments and to move carefully. It is called an object recognition system because it enables (threatening) objects to be detached from their backgrounds and quickly recognized based on the differentiation in data and details. This is for reacting quickly to details, to discrepancies, to things that are different than expected. And the more a person pays attention to discrepancies, the more important details and discrepancies they perceive.
The IVS helps people to enjoy things that are “like paradise” or other pleasant states and to react spontaneously to external or internal stimuli (needs). It is an important source of energy, because what people experience as rewarding also activates them and thus stimulates activities. Consequently, this IVS is associated with positive affect (dopaminergic reward system), has an action-initiating effect and triggers approach behaviour.
Therefore, a different elementary system is functional for each context: If it is about enjoying being together with other people and being able to enjoy a remaining quality of life despite impairments, then it is important to be able to facilitate IVS. When it comes to coping with losses and threatening situations, it is important to pay attention to everything that is different than expected in order to be prepared for unpleasant surprises and, if necessary, to be able to protect oneself from them.
Dr. Gudula Ritz
There are great personal differences in the situational circumstances that facilitate the IVS and/or the OES. They can also be visualised as personal preferences (or individual habits) that activate a particular system. Not only personality, but also the situation is an important activator of one or the other system. In threatening situations, it is known to be useful to pay attention to discrepancies in order to be prepared for possible dangers. Then the OES is facilitated and the antagonistic system, which conveys spontaneous vitality and enjoyment, remains inhibited.
According to Kuhl (2001, 2010), the modulation dynamics of elementary systems tend to become independent once they have been facilitated and no counter-regulation takes place. This modulation dynamic could also be described as a vicious circle.
The facilitation of OES can lead to increased pain sensation, fear and further strengthening of the OES to the point of tunnel vision, which irrefutably establishes nothing more than hopelessness and constantly produces more discomfort and pain as well as dissatisfaction. People with permanently facilitated OES find ‘a fly in the ointment’ everywhere: no one can ever please them. Personal preferences to facilitate OES, which have already been mentioned above, reinforce this process. This means that someone who is very sensitive and “turns on” their OES very quickly will get into this vicious circle more easily than someone who is more robustly equipped.
A circular facilitation of IVS, on the other hand, leads to positive mood management with the risk of the overestimation of one’s own capabilities and the associated possible impulsiveness.
A person who naturally prefers IVS has a protective factor, an advantage over sensitive people who are close to their OES. If the situational influence of the elementary systems is consciously exploited, however, “miracles” can also be achieved with sensitive persons by specifically stimulating the IVS. The positive effects of sports activities and exercise and occupational therapy are well known, as they have a positive effect on mood management. Every activity has a positive effect on the mood.
In order to break through the fatal modulation dynamics of the elementary systems described above, in particular the OES, one needs not only incentives and circumstances to be active, but also further self-management competences, e.g. a good self-calming competence. In other words, self-management competences help to counteract the regressive self-dynamics of elementary systems, as it is predetermined by the modulation dynamics, by stimulating the activity of the intelligent systems, e.g. the experiential memory. For, as will be explained below, self-perception and self-awareness are reduced in the case of facilitated OES. It is, therefore, important to look more closely at the intelligent macro- systems.
Analogous to the antagonism of the elementary systems, there are two interacting intelligent systems located in the frontal cortex (level 6 of personality architecture).
Like the OES, the Intention Memory (IG) processes information hierarchically and digitally; the IG is important for goal-oriented action, for the planning and implementation of difficult and long-term intentions, for volitional facilitation and self-control. Here red is the colour for action inhibition. The four macro systems can first of all be detached from the personality architecture and viewed separately:
The Experience Memory (EG) processes information just like the elementary IVS holistically and is also called extension memory because of its enormous dimension. The colour yellow stands for sovereignty and serenity. Since the EG contains all biographically acquired and stored experiences and can therefore fall back on the complete biographical knowledge, its content is highly individual and unique. Since experience knowledge is altogether much too extensive, one cannot name it in detail as it concerns large, interconnected experience networks, whose contents one can feel rather than linguistically express exactly.
While the IG is important for goal-oriented action, the EG stores all life and work experience. In these experience networks, infinite biographical experiences are condensed and largely stored unconsciously. This experience memory is invaluable for self-calming ability and also for the practice of professional therapists and consultants. The EG is the centre of the entire professional and life experience and enables the emotional expression of one’s own state and is thus the basis for self-calming and emotional processing as well as coping. The EG is fundamental for the sense of self and can be equated with the holistically networked self-system (Kuhl 200, 2010). The self-system is important for the integration of loss-laden and painful experiences and is the supporting pillar of self-calming competence. The latter cannot be emphasized enough, because self-expression is required before self-calming. If this is possible in an accepting social environment, the person can calm down. This explains the effect of so-called mourning process, in which loss-laden experiences are told over and over again, before, most cases, calming gradually sets in (not always – this also depends on other factors).
Under the influence of pain and anxiety, the access to the EG (self-system) is inhibited and the access to the OES is facilitated according to the modulation dynamics of the personal systems. People differ greatly in their ability to counteract the system dynamics despite difficult conditions, in threatening situations or under stress. If they succeed in doing this well, this is referred to as a very pronounced self-calming competence. The affective state of the facilitated self is that of sovereign serenity or, expressed functionally analytically, of the down-regulated negative affect. People who have less self-calming competence or who are exposed to extreme pain, strain or threats need social support in order to maintain access to the self-system and thus to their self-calming competence despite these adverse conditions.
There are many factors that can support and facilitate access to the self-system. These include social resources such as high-quality relationships in which the quality characteristics of personal presence, authenticity, appreciation and empathy are implemented. In addition to resource-oriented relationship structures, there are other factors that can support self-access, for example artistic or musical self-expression. The creative authentic expression of the self is, as already mentioned above, the first important stage of self-calming. The self-system is strongly linked to bodily experiences. Physical perception exercises can also improve the sense of self.
Interesting for change processes are the level of motives, the unconscious power sources of a person and their self-management competences that allow a person freedom of will and action (Ritz-Schulte & Huckebrink).