The mind has a distorted reflection

Image by Flickr user dearoot. Click for sourceOur perception of how mentally sharp we are has more to do with how we’re feeling emotionally than how our cognitive functions are actually working.

In other words when someone says, ‘I think my memory has become much worse recently’, research suggests that this tells us almost nothing about how their memory is working, but reliably indicates that their mood has been low.

It’s quite amazing to think that we have such poor insight into the functioning of our own minds that we ‘mistake’ low mood for a bad memory, poor concentration or impaired problem solving but it’s a finding that has been widely replicated in healthy people, both young and old, in psychiatric patients, and most recently in patients with epilepsy – to mention but a few of the studies.

Anosognosia is a condition that can occur after serious brain injury where the patient is unaware of their disability.

In the most striking cases, a patient may be paralysed, amnesic or even blind, but be completely unaware of the fact.

In these cases, we think that the brain damage has impaired our ability to have insight into our own mental functioning, but these studies suggest that we’re actually not very good at this to start with.

Link to one of the many studies in the area.

2 Comments

  1. Posted January 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I find it disturbing every time it is brought home to me how much of my mind is outside of my conscious awareness.
    On the other hand, it’s reassuring to realise that my memory is probably not as bad as I think!

  2. raptorclaws
    Posted January 20, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if this research could provide some insight into the phenomenon of creative block.
    I remember one semester in college (I was an art student) when I simply couldn’t draw. I could physically put pencil on paper, and draw something roughly approximating, say, a human figure, but it was as though my drawing skills had regressed 10 years.
    Looking back, I realize I was quite clinically depressed at the time. But since my drawing was suffering, my mood got lower, and my drawing got worse. At the time, though, I just sort of thought I was a little sad and numb due to breaking up with a significant other, and didn’t connect it to my crappy drawings.
    I wonder if any creative people suffering from block could benefit from this research, thus preventing the depression/bad work/more depression feedback loop, to take one example.


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