As from all scientific fields, a number of practical applications flow from cognitive psychophysiology, perhaps the most important being principles for self-regulation. As one continuously meets the stresses of life, there often eventuates some bodily malfunction. The primitive reaction of the body to stress is characterized as the startle reflex, a major component of which is the tensing of the skeletal musculature for fight or flight. Chronic states of excess tension throughout the skeletal musculature can result in two classes of bodily malfunctions: (1) psychiatric difficulties such as anxiety states, phobias, and depression; and (2) psychosomatic maladies such as ulcers, headaches, spastic colon, and elevated blood pressure. The original and apparently most effective method for alleviating these tension maladies is progressive relaxation, developed by Edmund Jacobson from 1908 on. In progressive relaxation one relaxes the skeletal muscle system, which in turn produces a state of tranquility throughout the central and autonomic nervous systems. Jacobson has shown that habitual relaxation can thereby alleviate many psychiatric and psychosomatic maladies such as those mentioned previously. However, perhaps the prophylactic application of progressive relaxation has even greater beneficial consequences. For this purpose Jacobson has advocated that tension control be universally taught to children while in the primary grades.
Another prominent method aimed at the development of self-regulation is biofeedback, in which internal processes are transduced to make them publicly observable. The strategy is to monitor and thus control such internal events as brain waves, muscle signals, and electrodermal responses by visually observing them as on a cathode ray oscilloscope or by hearing them through an external speaker. Biofeedback holds considerable promise for helping us to better understand our internal world; much research is currently in progress in this important area. There are, however, difficulties in its clinical application, such as the dependency of the learner on a biofeedback signal. Consequently, if the desired changes in behavior occur in the clinic, they may not be lasting and generalized to the patient's everyday world. Nevertheless, a revolutionary consequence of biofeedback and progressive relaxation is that they provide the opportunity to study a person's internal world, just as classical psychology has concentrated on our relationship with the external environment.
Another application has been in the understanding of reading and of the teaching of silent reading. It is a common myth that subvocalization—or, more technically, covert speech behavior—retards reading proficiency. Popular speed-reading courses, for instance, seek to increase reading rate by short-circuiting the speech musculature. Some teachers have attempted to prevent subvocalization by taping lips or filling the mouths of pupils with marbles, by wrapping the tongue around a pencil, and so forth. However, such efforts to inhibit subvocalization are futile, for the speech musculature still responds during silent reading even when so inhibited. The empirical generalization is that covert speech behavior occurs in all silent readers and is necessary for comprehending what is being read. Actually, as the reading rate becomes faster, the amount of covert speech behavior does not decrease, but increases. However, if speech muscles are well relaxed during reading through progressive relaxation, the reader fails to understand the meaning of the text. The implication for teachers, therefore, is that they should not tamper with the child's subvocaliza-tion, for the child needs to subvocalize while reading. Actually, subvocalization becomes naturally reduced over time, although it still persists in the adult at a very reduced level.
Lie detection, or more precisely the detection of deception, is a widespread application for espionage purposes, for the identification of criminals, and even as a criterion for employment. The polygraph, which relies heavily on cardiovascular measures, is the most widely used instrument for these purposes. Unfortunately the traditional polygraph, like newer variations of lie detectors such as the psychological stress evaluator and the voice stress analyzer, does not have sufficient validity to justify its standard use. However, techniques and principles are available within the field of cognitive psychophysiology to develop successful deception detection systems, and these systems will undoubtedly be made.
F. J. McGuigan
Was this article helpful?