By David Joel Miller.
People with delusions and delusion like thinking have been linked to fast thinking.
There is a body of research which links jumping to conclusions with having delusional thinking.
This has me concerned for several reasons. I have read a number of these studies recently and while they seem to have been rigorously done, I think there are flaws in their logic. I am also concerned that if we define one reasoning pattern as “normal” and another way of thinking as “delusion” there may be implications for the way these people get treated.
There are two problems with this research. Who gets labeled delusional and how that gets measured. I am suspicious that both are biased.
Who gets called delusional?
One study reports that a constant finding in the research is that the younger you are the more “delusional” you are. Presumably this definition of delusional has to do with looking at a set of facts and circumstances and coming up with the “wrong” answer. In these studies the wrong or “delusional” answer was anything the researcher did not agree with.
Another group that has higher than expected rates of “delusional” diagnosis is urban residents. This is disconcerting as this century is reported to be the first time in the history of the world that the majority of people on earth now live in urban settings. From this line of reasoning moving to the city makes you delusional.
Having a lower-income, living alone and being unemployed also result in receiving a label of delusional. Men and non-English speaking immigrants also get labeled delusional more often as do those who are never married or divorced.
One other factor that increases the likelihood of being given a designation of delusional is a history of alcohol abuse and drug abuse, especially marijuana use.
All in all it would appear that minorities and lower socioeconomic status groups are more likely to be labeled delusional.
The tests for delusions.
Groups of research subjects were given a test to assess their thinking process and its relationship to delusions. The thing being studied is a way of thinking called “jumping to conclusions.”
For now I will accept the tests or screening devices and focus on the connection between the “delusion prone group” and the Jumping to conclusion experiment.
The marbles (or bead) test.
Participants in this experiment were shown two jars of beads, one jar contain 85 white beads and 15 black ones. The other jar contains 85 black beads and 15 white ones.
The researcher then hides the jars and begins drawing beads from one of the jars. They wanted to see how many beads you will need to make a decision on which jar they are coming from. They also compared the “delusion prone group.” to an apparently normal control group.
Most psychology experiments are conducted on rats. When rats are not available the researchers use the next best thing, college undergraduate students. Most “Jumping to conclusions” experiments are conducted on college undergraduates, a group not known for its rationality.
One thing that I do not see mentioned is the significance of being right or wrong on your estimate of which jar the beds come from. This may be invalidating the whole jumping to conclusions research paradigm.
What are the advantages of being right and the disadvantages of being wrong in this experiment? Would those intangible payoffs overpower the Jumping to conclusion effects?
What if your life or the life of someone you loved depended on getting the right answer? How sure would you need to be then?
Say the first bead is white. There is an 85% chance that the jar is mostly white and a 15% chance the jar is mostly black. Let’s say, to keep the math simple, you make a hypothesis that this bead came from the white jar, are you willing to bet your life? The second bead is also white. There is now a .025 % chance two white beads in a row are coming from the black jar. By the fourth white bead we are down to about 4 chances out of 10,000 that these are coming from the black jar.
Now are you willing to bet your life?
Since there is no gain to be had for risking my life in this scenario I would hold out until there have been 16 white beads drawn. This could require as many as 36 draws. At that point all the low occurrence beads should have been drawn and whichever color has 16 has to tell me the jar. So if my life depended on it I would hold out till the very last draw needed to be absolutely certain.
What if you could win money?
What if the experimenter offered me $100 if I could guess correctly on the first bead and the amount I would win declined by half after each draw? Assume the risk of death is off the table now.
Some of us would take a shot after one draw and go for the whole $100. Some of you more cautious types would want the second bead to increase you chances even though you now get only $50. A very few of you would wait for the third bead and play it safe to improve your chances even at the risk of only getting $12.50. My guess is that how long you wait will not be anywhere near as long as if your life was at stake.
Let’s say the money was on a table behind a door. There are a whole string of doors. But behind one door there is a hungry lion that would eat you. To see the jar in this room you need to enter the room and then find the light switch to turn on the light. If you opened the door a crack and heard a lion roar would you go ahead and go in there and see if the lion was really there? Or would you try another door?
I would slam that door fast and then open the next one a crack to see if I got the roar again even if I was not sure which door the roar had come from.
Now back to the whole jumping to conclusions test. Would a group of accounting students tend to be more conservative and wait longer to make choices? Would a group of day traders make quicker decisions?
So while making quick decisions may increase the risk of making errors and some of these errors could be seen as delusions. At some point in our human history the ability to make quick decisions could have strong advantages. If you live in a poor, crime ridden, neighborhood today, those quick decisions could save your life.
I am a lot suspicions that the researchers have proved that those people who make quick decisions, they term that jumping to conclusions, have established a connection between their jar of beads and delusions.
I might try to guess after the first draw just to try to beat their game and they being more conservative and needing lots of evidence before they can conclude anything, would wait as long as possible before concluding anything.
More to come on delusions and how they may be affecting your life.
But the take away from all this, I remain unconvinced that making quick decisions even when you will make more wrong things is a bad thing or that we should call this delusional. Creative people try more things, some of these efforts work out and some do not. That does not equal delusional or mentally ill in my book.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books