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Showing posts with label Delusions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Delusions. Show all posts

Monday, April 8, 2024

Delusions shape our reality

Lisa Bortolotti
Originally posted 12 March 24

Here is an excerpt:

But what makes it the case that a delusion disqualifies the speaker from further engagement? When we call a person’s belief “delusional”, we assume that that person’s capacity to exercise agency is compromised. So, we may recognise that the person has a unique perspective on the world, but it won’t seem to us as a valuable perspective. We may realise that the person has concerns, but we won’t think of those concerns as legitimate and worth addressing. We may come to the conviction that, due to the delusional belief, the person is not in a position to affect change or participate in decision making because their grasp on reality is tenuous. If they were simply mistaken about something, we could correct them. If Laura thought that a latte at the local coffee shop costed £2.50 when it costs £3.50, we could show her the price list and set her straight. But her belief that her partner is unfaithful because the lamp post is unlit cannot be corrected that way, because what Laura considers evidence for the claim is not likely to overlap with what we consider evidence for it. When this happens, and we feel that there is no sufficient common ground for a fruitful exchange, we may see Laura as a problem to be fixed or a patient to be diagnosed and treated, as opposed to an agent with a multiplicity of needs and interests, and a person worth interacting with.

I challenge the assumption that delusional beliefs are marks of compromised agency by default and I do so based on two main arguments. First, there is nothing in the way in which delusional beliefs are developed, maintained, or defended that can be legitimately described as a dysfunctional process. Some cognitive biases may help explain why a delusional explanation is preferred to alternative explanations, or why it is not discarded after a challenge. For instance, people who report delusional beliefs often jump to conclusions. Rashid might have the belief that the US government strives to manipulate citizens’ behaviour and concludes that the tornadoes are created for this purpose, without considering arguments against the feasibility of a machine that controls the weather with that precision. Also, people who report delusional beliefs tend to see meaningful connections between independent events—as Laura who takes the lamp post being unlit as evidence for her partner’s unfaithfulness. But these cognitive biases are a common feature of human cognition and not a dysfunction giving rise to a pathology: they tend to be accentuated at stressful times when we may be strongly motivated to come up with a quick causal explanation for a distressing event.

Here is my summary:

The article argues that delusions, though often seen as simply false beliefs, can significantly impact a person's experience of the world. It highlights that delusions can be complex and offer a kind of internal logic, even if it doesn't match objective reality.

Bortolotti also points out that the term "delusion" can be judgmental and may overlook the reasons behind the belief. Delusions can sometimes provide comfort or a sense of control in a confusing situation.

Overall, the article suggests a more nuanced view of delusions, acknowledging their role in shaping a person's reality while still recognizing the importance of distinguishing them from objective reality.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Teleological thinking is driven by aberrant associations

Corlett, P. R. (2023, June 17).
PsyArXiv preprints


Teleological thought — the tendency to ascribe purpose to objects and events — is useful in some cases (encouraging explanation-seeking), but harmful in others (fueling delusions and conspiracy theories). What drives maladaptive teleological thinking? A fundamental distinction in how we learn causal relationships between events is whether it can be best explained via associations versus via propositional thought. Here, we propose that directly contrasting the contributions of these two pathways can elucidate where teleological thinking goes wrong. We modified a causal learning task such that we could encourage one pathway over another in different instances. Across experiments (total N=600), teleological tendencies were correlated with delusion-like ideas and uniquely explained by aberrant associative learning, but not by learning via propositional rules. Computational modeling suggested that the relationship between associative learning and teleological thinking can be explained by spurious prediction errors that imbue random events with more significance — providing a new understanding for how humans make meaning of lived events.

From the Discussion section

Teleological thinking, in previous work, has been defined in terms of “beliefs”, “social-cognitive biases”, and indeed carries “reasoning” in its very name (as it is used interchangeably with teleological or ‘purpose-based’ reasoning)—which is why it might be surprising to learn of the relationship between teleological thinking and low-level associative learning, and not learning via propositional reasoning.  The key result across experiments can be summarized as such: aberrant prediction errors augured weaker non-additive blocking, which predicted tendencies to engage in teleological thinking, which was consistently correlated with distress from delusional thinking.  This pattern of results was demonstrated in both behavioral and computational modeling data, and withstood even more conservative regression models, 

accounting for the variance explained by other variables.  In other words, the same people who learn more from irrelevant cues or overpredict relationships in the non-additive blocking task (by predicting that cues [that should have been“blocked”] might also cause allergic reactions) tend to also ascribe more purpose to random events —and to experience more distress from delusional beliefs (and thus hold their delusional beliefs in a more patient-like way).

Some thoughts:

The saying "Life is a projective test" suggests that we all see the world through our own unique lens, shaped by our experiences, beliefs, and values. This lens (read as biases) can cause us to make aberrant associations, or to see patterns and connections that are not actually there.

The authors of the paper found that people who are more likely to engage in teleological thinking are also more likely to make aberrant associations. This suggests that our tendency to see the world in a teleological way may be driven by our own biases and assumptions.

In other words, the way we see the world is not always accurate or objective. It is shaped by our own personal experiences and perspectives. This can lead us to make mistakes, or to see things that are not really there.

The next time you are trying to make sense of something, it is important to be aware of your own biases and assumptions, which may help make better choices. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Checked by reality, some QAnon supporters seek a way out

David Klepper
Associated Press
Originally posted 28 January 21

Here are two excerpts:

It's not clear exactly how many people believe some or all of the narrative, but backers of the movement were vocal in their support for Trump and helped fuel the insurrectionists who overran the U.S. Capitol this month. QAnon is also growing in popularity overseas.

Former believers interviewed by The Associated Press liken the process of leaving QAnon to kicking a drug addiction. QAnon, they say, offers simple explanations for a complicated world and creates an online community that provides escape and even friendship.

Smith's then-boyfriend introduced her to QAnon. It was all he could talk about, she said. At first she was skeptical, but she became convinced after the death of financier Jeffrey Epstein while in federal custody facing pedophilia charges. Officials debunked theories that he was murdered, but to Smith and other QAnon supporters, his suicide while facing child sex charges was too much to accept.

Soon, Smith was spending more time on fringe websites and on social media, reading and posting about the conspiracy theory. She said she fell for QAnon content that presented no evidence, no counter arguments, and yet was all too convincing.


“This isn't about critical thinking, of having a hypothesis and using facts to support it," Cohen said of QAnon believers. “They have a need for these beliefs, and if you take that away, because the storm did not happen, they could just move the goal posts.”

Some now say Trump's loss was always part of the plan, or that he secretly remains president, or even that Joe Biden's inauguration was created using special effects or body doubles. They insist that Trump will prevail, and powerful figures in politics, business and the media will be tried and possibly executed on live television, according to recent social media posts.

“Everyone will be arrested soon. Confirmed information,” read a post viewed 130,000 times this week on Great Awakening, a popular QAnon channel on Telegram. “From the very beginning I said it would happen.”

But a different tone is emerging in the spaces created for those who have heard enough.

“Hi my name is Joe,” one man wrote on a Q recovery channel in Telegram. “And I’m a recovering QAnoner.”

Monday, January 18, 2021

We Decoded The Symbols From The Storming Of The Capitol

We looked through hours of footage from the Capitol riot to decode the symbols that Trump supporters brought with them, revealing some ongoing threats to US democracy.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Deluded, with reason

Huw Green
Originally published 31 Aug 20

Here is an excerpt:

Of course, beliefs don’t exist only in a private mental context, but can also be held in place by our relationships and social commitments. Consider how political identities often involve a cluster of commitments to various beliefs, even where there is no logical connection between them – for instance, how a person who advocates for say, trans rights, is also more likely to endorse Left-wing economic policies. As the British clinical psychologist Vaughan Bell and his colleagues note in their preprint, ‘De-rationalising Delusions’ (2019), beliefs facilitate affiliation and intragroup trust. They cite earlier philosophical work by others that suggests ‘reasoning is not for the refinement of personal knowledge … but for argumentation, social communication and persuasion’. Indeed, our relationships usually ground our beliefs in a beneficial way, preventing us from developing ideas too disparate from those of our peers, and helping us to maintain a set of ‘healthy’ beliefs that promote our basic wellbeing and continuity in our sense of self.

Given the social function of beliefs, it’s little surprise that delusions usually contain social themes. Might delusion then be a problem of social affiliation, rather than a purely cognitive issue? Bell’s team make just this claim, proposing that there is a broader dysfunction to what they call ‘coalitional cognition’ (important for handling social relationships) involved in the generation of delusions. Harmful social relationships and experiences could play a role here. It is now widely acknowledged that there is a connection between traumatic experiences and symptoms of psychosis. It’s easy to see how trauma could have a pervasive impact on a person’s sense of how safe and trustworthy the world feels, in turn affecting their belief systems.

The British philosopher Matthew Ratcliffe and his colleagues made this point in their 2014 paper, observing how ‘traumatic events are often said to “shatter” a way of experiencing the world and other people that was previously taken for granted’. They add that a ‘loss of trust in the world involves a pronounced and widespread sense of unpredictability’ that could make people liable to delusions because the ideas we entertain are likely to be shaped by what feels plausible in the context of our subjective experience. Loss of trust is not the same as the absence of a grounding belief, but I would argue that it bears an important similarity. When we lose trust in something, we might say that we find it hard to believe in it. Perhaps loss of certain forms of ordinary belief, especially around close social relationships, makes it possible to acquire beliefs of a different sort altogether.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Beliefs have a social purpose. Does this explain delusions?

Anna Greenburgh
Originally published 

Here is an excerpt:

Of course, just because a delusion has logical roots doesn’t mean it’s helpful for the person once it takes hold. Indeed, this is why delusions are an important clinical issue. Delusions are often conceptualised as sitting at the extreme end of a continuum of belief, but how can they be distinguished from other beliefs? If not irrationality, then what demarcates a delusion?

Delusions are fixed, unchanging in the face of contrary evidence, and not shared by the person’s peers. In light of the social function of beliefs, these preconditions have added significance. The coalitional model underlines that beliefs arising from adaptive cognitive processes should show some sensitivity to social context and enable successful social coordination. Delusions lack this social function and adaptability. Clinical psychologists have documented the fixity of delusional beliefs: they are more resistant to change than other types of belief, and are intensely preoccupying, regardless of the social context or interpersonal consequences. In both ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the novel Don Quixote (1605-15) by Miguel de Cervantes, the protagonists’ beliefs about their surroundings are unchangeable and, if anything, become increasingly intense and disruptive. It is this inflexibility to social context, once they take hold, that sets delusions apart from other beliefs.

Across the field of mental health, research showing the importance of the social environment has spurred a great shift in the way that clinicians interact with patients. For example, research exposing the link between trauma and psychosis has resulted in more compassionate, person-centred approaches. The coalitional model of delusions can now contribute to this movement. It opens up promising new avenues of research, which integrate our fundamental social nature and the social function of belief formation. It can also deepen how people experiencing delusions are understood – instead of contributing to stigma by dismissing delusions as irrational, it considers the social conditions that gave rise to such intensely distressing beliefs.