A Question for my Readers
Working to develop my cognitive empathy, and this is something I don't understand
I have been thinking about this a lot in the last week or so. I initially planned on writing about the emotional responses that people have to ideas or information that challenge their belief system, regardless of what it is. The more immediate, and the stronger your reaction, the more you may need to consider what that person is saying.
That’s what I was going to write about. Then I had a really interesting discussion in the comments section with Doso Carpedro regarding the nature of that reaction. He informed me that this is not so simple of a thing to counteract. Here is the beginning of that exchange;
I've been reading a book I chanced across by Joe Dispenza called "Evolve your Brain" that does a surprisingly good job at undoing such entanglement by using neuroscience to explain why people get addicted to their beliefs. It elaborates on my previous assertion in rather fascinating ways.
The gist of his hypothesis is that when a person is conditioned (by others or themselves) to keep thinking the same thought patterns, this establishes a negative feedback loop by creating and reinforcing neural pathways wherein their experienced feelings consistently overflow the body with specific neuropeptides and hormones (matching the feelings experienced) that make the cells throughout the body progressively develop more receptors for those specific neurotransmitters (this is probably when attitudes set it); after a while, the body effectively starts actually demanding those substances very much as if it was an addiction, which creates intrusive thoughts or otherwise crystallizes existing thought patterns. (this is probably where beliefs set in).
The result is readily apparent:
Any new external idea that disrupts that balance, irrespective of whether it's true or even if it's better for the person than their existing ideas will therefore disrupt homeostasis and create huge psychophysiological discomfort - since at the time it's the body (feelings) that begin to drive the thoughts, not the other way around.
This suggests that people are then slaves to their own neural networks (aka beliefs), and their bodies are addicted to the thoughts they've been thinking, the matching feelings, and the corresponding neurotransmitters which is probably why humans (and other animals) are therefore creatures of habit. It clarifies many phenomena, from bad habits that die hard to people who seem to love creating drama, to abusive relationships that people can't escape from and also sheds light on how dogma turns a person into a zombie-like self junkie.
I'm really impressed by this book. It looks on the surface like typical self-help crap, except the author (who began as chiropractor) actually went on to get a neuroscience degree so he could adequately substantiate is slightly esoteric ideas.
Simply put, beliefs can be seen as biochemical additions to specific neurotransmitters. When people get to this point ( and I suspect a majority of the population has thus been conditioned ), people are effectively and literally - ideologic junkies. Dissident thoughts will at such point make such a person physically uncomfortable.
You can find the rest of the exchange here;
The emotional ties to a belief behaves like an addiction of sorts. It makes a lot of sense however, based on the nearly hysterical responses (in some cases literally hysterical) on the things I write on Quora, and it leaves me to ponder this in a way that I ponder low functioning psychopaths, (LFP).
I have said many times in my answers that people are responsible for their behaviors and their choices. People have agency, and being psychopathic is not an excuse for bad behavior. I stand by this, with a caveat, and that is low functioning psychopaths. They tend to get themselves in the same trouble again and again. I would like to be able to say with confidence that they do so, despite having the ability to choose to do something different.
However, I am not so sure that is the case. Maybe they really aren’t capable of choosing better. Perhaps their impulse control, and ability to predict the consequences is so poor that they really aren’t able to do better than what they do. I tend to steer clear of speaking for them, as I have never met one, and even if I did, I am not certain that I could believe anything that they tell me. I have seen a lot of people that claim psychopathy, not LFP, but people who claim to be moderate or high functioning psychopaths say that they “can’t help themselves”. That’s BS, but maybe with LFP, that isn’t so much the case.
Back to the point, hysterical responses to things that challenge beliefs. I have an excellent example of this happening in the wild for you all. This occurred on one of my Quora answers;
their whole life depends on it.. if they can't manipulate people they can't function.
Ask them to be upfront and honest about anything in their life and out come the lies.. mysterious they arnt. subtly say no to them and watch the mask drop!
*edited* you do see the irony of not agreeing with them ?
You do realize the irony or writing this on an answer written by a psychopath speaking openly about her life, correct? If you would like to learn about psychopaths past your assumptions, by all means, read what I write. However, don’t come onto my answers with the express purpose of rudeness. It is unbecoming of polite discord.
Quora has a policy of BNBR, in other words, manners are required.
and don't come on mine shouting the odds!
I don't want to learn about them.
you see the irony in disagreeing with them ? Case closed!
Nothing in this answer was argumentative, or particularly challenging, nor had I ever interacted with this particular person prior. The person had an emotional response to what I had to say. That response grew, and the person felt an impulse to reply, even when they were talking to themselves. I get these a lot, and it is this sort of response that isn’t very good for the mental health of someone.
The person obviously has a very negative view of psychopathy. Understandable, a lot of people do. I write to give counter evidence to the beliefs that many have worked up in their heads, but there is no requirement of agreement, or even reading of what I write. That decision is solely on the part of the reader. You would think, if something upsets me I have things I can choose to do.
I can choose not to read it. This isn’t difficult. I can always put something down, turn off a computer, listen to something else. I have several ways to disengage.
I can explore the idea and see if there are aspects to it that I am not understanding, and thus my disagreement is unearned.
I can agree to disagree. Perhaps the person made valid points, I can see their perspective, but I disagree with the way that they arrived at their position. I can respect what they think, and not have to agree with them.
However, I don’t understand the mechanism that is going to provoke the threat response that disagreement, or differing information creates in some people. I would like to think that everyone is capable of slowing down, and intentionally overriding that emotional process, but maybe they don’t. Perhaps it is so ingrained, and I am taking for granted my lack of it, so I simply do not understand.
I come across information that I disagree with a lot. Especially when writing about what I write about. Often it is a simple matter of seeing the logic flaws, and being able to disassemble their argument based on those flaws, and the conclusions drawn based on them. What the information does not do is trigger a threat response.
My question is, if you have this response, can you override it? If you can, do you find yourself in the habit of doing so, or is the threat response to strong to counter it? Do you find yourself to be more logical in your consideration of the world, or do your emotions attach to your beliefs, making them hard to reevaluate?
Let me know, I am genuinely interested.
Just to clarify I am on the autism spectrum and so my emotional experience seems to differ from most neurotypicals. However, I do have a few theories about emotional responses that I've kicked around for the past few years.
I recently helped a friend get clean from methamphetamine and sort through their borderline personality disorder. When I say help, I mostly just mean that I gave them a safe spot to be, connected them with the appropriate resources, and pointed them back on the path to mental health when they got too close to falling off of the wagon.
It was a very long process (roughly 2 years to get to stability/success), and I don't think it's something most neurotypicals would have seen through to the end despite claims of heightened empathy.
What does all this have to do with being a slave to emotional reasoning? My friend's bpd was fascinating and incredibly frustrating to watch. He would loop rapidly throughout the day. Something minor would trigger him, and he'd have an intense meltdown (think a two year old throwing a tantrum in an adults body).
After the episode he felt genuinely awful. He'd resolve not to loop again, and then the next day we'd be right back where we started.
At first, I thought it was chosen behavior, and I was angry. Then I realized that it really wasn't.
I saw his bpd as the extreme of neurotypical emotional reasoning. His feelings and emotions literally dictated his reality. If he felt betrayed then it was because he had been betrayed, if he felt scared then it was because he was in intense danger.
There was no ability to slow the emotional loop, insert logic, and get off the train. But, once he was calm he could explain how he had interpreted things and then his reactions made logical sense in his version of reality.
I suspect that there is a continuum among neurotypicals in there response to emotional stimuli. Most are not as extreme as my friend (who created patently false realities based on his feelings) and couldn't function, but some degree of emotional reasoning is socially functional.
To a psychopath I suspect that neurotypical levels of emotional reasoning look a lot like how neurotypicals would view my friend with bpd's emotional reasoning.
In both cases, I suspect that it isn't within the individuals full control. In my friends case it took years of therapy and practice to change the neurological pathways.
Today, he is still someone I consider to be on the higher end of emotionally reactive/driven by emotional reasoning, but he falls within the range of what neurotypicals would call normal, and he can function in society.
In terms of choice overall, there is a commonly cited study that shows our brain sends a behavioral impulse before we become consciously aware of it. So, instead of the causal chain of events going conscious awareness of choice, brain signal, action, it actually goes brain signal, conscious awareness of choice, action.
My takeaway from that is that we are actually reactionary beings not choice driven beings. Change the upbringing, the genetics, and/or the environment and you will get different reactions over time. My two cents. Hope you found it interesting.
To answer your question, yes, some neurotypicals can. But I've met extremely few. I would label this ability "awareness of cognitive bias". It's also a component of what it means to have little/no ego by my definition. The two people who I know who can do this are my best friends (one is a high-functioning psychopath and the other person is a neurotypical); I find it extremely hard to bond with people who can't.
I have to work hard to do this consistently. My neurotypical friend also shared with me once that he has to as well, during a conversation about it. It is a painful process, as when we are wrong, part our ego dies. But in pursuit of a true, objective worldview, it is necessary.
The rule you defined about considering information more strongly when you have an emotional response to it is very clever. My technique involves being aware of such biases from experience and when in a situation where it will be triggered, to create equal opposite thoughts that challenge the potentially biased belief. I created these habits many years ago when I became aware of how plagued I was by invalid beliefs that were holding me back from navigating the world successfully.
Another interesting bias is the self-serving bias, often manifesting itself in the form of blame. However, any highly rational person knows that shifting focus anywhere outside of your immediate control (e.g blaming) relinquishes their autonomy. So to remain in control, I've made a habit that whenever my subconscious thoughts push up blame, I consciously block it and assess what I could've done better in that situation.
One thing I can share as a neurotypical from experience and also observation of others, is that the stronger the emotion, the harder it is the reevaluate beliefs. However, with great discipline, even in those situations information can be evaluated without bias. Also, I find that while men are ridden with emotionally-driven biases, their more emotional counterparts are even worse.