Saturday, January 28, 2006

Intellectual Dishonesty: A Work of Art 2

Narcissists aren't the only intellectually dishonest people. It's just that their intellectual dishonesty readilly crosses the line into the bizzarre about ANYTHING and everything, because everything's always all about them = their ego. But most people have less-than-perfect integrity and will be intellectually dishonest about some things.

In a study by the Emory University Health Sciences Center, functional neuroimaging (fMRI) has been used to map what goes on in the brain of people deluding themselves. Staunch Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate information threatening to their candidate, President Bush or Senator Kerry.

First, each partizan read a statement by their candidate. Then they read a statement clearly documenting a contradiction between those words of the candidate and his deeds, suggesting that the candidate was dishonest or pandering. Then they were asked to consider the discrepancy and rate the extent to which the candidate’s words and deeds contradicted each other.

Next, they were given a statement of exculpatory information that explained away the apparent contradiction. Now they were asked to reconsider the extent to which their candidate’s words and deeds were contradictory.

Then the process was repeated for the opposition’s candidate.

Intellectually honest people would have always found the candidate’s behavior highly contradictory at first and not contradictory in the end. But no one should be surprised that staunch Democrats and Republicans didn’t do that.

Need I say it? Staunch Republicans saw no contradiction in President Bush’s words and deeds, and no exculpatory information could make them unsee contradiction in Senator Kerry’s words and deeds. Staunch Democrats saw no contradiction in Senator Kerry’s words and deeds, and no exculpatory information could make them unsee contradiction in President Bush’s words and deeds.

You can see bizarre examples of this in almost every call-in session about some event just televised on C-SPAN. You won't believe your ears. It goes beyond unreasonableness. Many of these people have to be hallucinating, because they make you wonder if they were watching the same program!

What do the fMRI’s say was going on in the brains of the patrizans tested in the Emory study? Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory, who led the study, says:

We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning, What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.

Dr. Priya Saxena writes:

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions -- essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted -- not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward -- similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," says Westen. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."


The investigators hypothesize that emotionally biased reasoning leads to the "stamping in" or reinforcement of a defensive belief, associating the participant's "revisionist" account of the data with positive emotion or relief and elimination of distress. "The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data," Westen says.

Now I’d like to see them run the same kind of test on three- or –four-year olds. Guess what? I bet the results would be the same. For, this is Magical Thinking, the way a child thinks before he or she reaches the Age of Reason. Truth is of no value to them. It’s all about their vulnerable little egos. If they need a friend, they’re perfectly happy with an imaginary one. They actually prefer fantasy to reality.

But normal children grow out of it.
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At 8:03 PM, Blogger kendra2 said...

This particular post really made me think. This is fascinating stuff. I would love to see further studies done. I wonder if this would apply to many areas (not just politics) where people feel strong emotion, such as religion, child rearing, etc. After thinking about it, I'm sure I have thought with emotions, rather than logic at times. This study has made me try to slow down and attempt to see if I am thinking logically, or "thinking" emotionally. I know the brain works in involuntary ways at times. For instance, when a guy ran a stop sign and slammed into my car when my son was a baby, it scared the heck out of me because I was afraid my baby was injured. I never used to swear at all, and yet my husband told me that I screamed swear words when this incident happened. A very scary (therefore emotional) situation caused me to react with my right brain, rather than the logical left-brain. Certainly in this case it is entirely understandable and forgivable. However, I wonder how many of us react this way in other, more normal circumstances? The narcissist cannot think beyond him/herself, and this kind of information would do them no good. But for the rest of us, it is something to think about.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Kathy K said...

I think there's no doubt that it would apply to other areas, especially religion, though also to any personal or private things we tend to think emotionally about. This, for example, can help explain why it's so hard for the children or spouse of a narcissist to face facts about that person.

Quite understandable in that case, for what child can bear to think badly of a parent? Yet, most who eventually do face facts feel that they had to be driven too hard to face them. Illogic and make-believe are not mentally healthy, however understandable they may be.

Fortunately, normal people get that way only about some things. Narcissists are permamently lost in a whole world that they edit into a work a fiction as they go along.


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