Levels of Perceptual Control

Loss of control as a transdiagnostic factor

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Author(s): Eva de Hullu, PhD

Poster presented September 2021 @Conference on Transdiagnostic Approaches to Mental Health. Hosted by University of Manchester online 23-24th September: Interdisciplinary and International. https://twitter.com/conference_2021

Perceptual Control Theory (1) is a cybernetic theory that explains behaviour as control of perception: organisms strive to bring their current perception towards their reference perception through action or change within the system. The hierarchical structure of perceptual control systems in our neural architecture explains a wide range of experiences related to mental health.

Fear of losing control plays a role in many psychological disorders but what exactly is losing control? While dominant current literature (e.g. DSM-5) views control as control over behavior, Perceptual Control Theory explains behavior as control of perception, making clear how control could be understood as a transdiagnostic factor in mental health. Psychological suffering and recovery is related to loss and gain of control over perceptions. (2). 

This poster will show how control works in both a single control loop as well as in a hierarchical, interconnected network of control loops. Experiences related to loss and gain of control in mental health will be highlighted at different levels of control. For example, the experience of being stuck and not feeling able to choose between being authentic and conforming to norms can be explained as a conflict at the program level of control. 

While the levels within this theory are still mainly hypothetical, looking through the lens of levels of control allows us to make sense of our experiences and provides a new way to study and understand mental health. 

1 Powers WT. Behavior: The control of perception. Aldine Chicago; 1973.

2 Mansell W. The perceptual control model of psychopathology. Curr Opin Psychol. 2021 Oct;41:15–20.

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