Monday, 17 September 2012

P or not-P: the lack of a characteristic cognitive style in low trait Psychoticism?


High trait Psychoticism is in bold font; Low trait Psychoticism is normal font.

1. Cold - versus warm, charming
2. Aggressive - versus submissive
3. Egocentric - versus follows groups expectations
4. Unempathic - versus socially-expressed agreeableness, empathy, sympathetic
5. Tough-minded (i.e. impervious to events) - versus tender-minded, strongly affected by experience/ people
6. Antisocial - versus gregarious, needs other people
7. Impersonal - versus life consists of intense, direct relationships
8. Impulsive (behaviour dominated by current emotions) - versus conscientious.
9. Creative - versus applies peer approved, learned rules and traditions 


My assumption is that ancestral humans were high Psychoticism on average - for example, anthroplogical accounts of recent hunter gatherers show that they exhibited extremely high trait Psychoticism behaviours. 

Therefore high P is the baseline, and low P is something that evolved more recently - probably due to multiple generations of selection in complex/ agricultural/ high latitude societies. 

So - high P is the original and natural state for humans.


But what unifies all the behaviours characterized as high Psychoticism?

My answer is that the specific behaviours of high P are all products of a characteristic mode of thinking or cognitive style. 

And this high P cognitive style is similar in form to the mode of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states - except that it may occur in an adult, alert, aware and fully-orientated person.

Also - this high P cognitive style is that which is characteristic of creative genius - a fluid, multiply-valenced, widely-associated style of thinking with direct links to behaviour. 


It is the cognitive style of High-P which leads to the apparently self-contained, self-confident person, of high self-esteem; interested-by, absorbed-by, motivated by their own vivid and emotionally-engaged subjective, imaginative experiences - thus not easily influenced, nor easily-deflected from their chosen course of action. 


This leads onto the question of what is the characteristic cognitive style of 'Not-P', or low trait psychoticism?

The answer is that there is no single characteristic style of low-Pychoticism; instead it encompasses a variety of cognitive style, which are united not by similarity but by the fact they are not-P. 


This can be clarified by an analogy of Poetry versus Prose: Poetry represents high-P while Prose represents low-P. 

Poetry can be defined in terms of characteristics like rhythm, rhyme, alliteration; by prose is merely defined as Not-poetry: there are innumerable styles of prose.

So we get Poetry versus Not-Poetry: P versus Not-P: 

Thus Poetry has a positive definition in terms of what is is; but Prose has only a negative definition: as being something other than poetry. 

There is therefore no characteristic form of Prose, its forms are unbounded, you cannot say prose is 'like this' in the way that can be done with poetry.


So, non-Psychoticism, or low-Psychoticism forms of thought are not like the cognitive style of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states... but what there are like cannot be briefly stated, and will vary according to circumstance. 


Another, and psychologically-related, example is comparing the characteristically natural, spontaneous way that people behave (for example as young children) can be contrasted with formal manners, etiquette, courtesy or social protocols. 

There are innumerable different systems of manners - there is not a characteristic style of manner. And manners must be learned for each specific human society and typically for specific niches within society (e.g. different manners for the two sexes, ages, classes, or occupations).


I believe that it is precisely because high Psychoticism is natural and spontaneous that it is the mode of thinking which drives creative genius - which offers least friction, and harnesses the primary motivations; while by comparison other modes of low-P thinking are learned, artificial, shallow, and less driven. 

NOTE: Regarding Psychoticism as original, primary and spontaneous entails a re-framing of the Big Five traits of Agreeableness (essentially same as Baron Cohen's Empathizing) and Conscientiousness. these become outcomes of an evolved reduction in Psychoticism, rather than positive things in their own right. In particular, there would not be a specific mode of thought characteristic either of Agreeableness/ Empathizing or Conscientiousness; rather they would be the outcomes of learned forms of thinking.



collapseofman said...

I wrote a comment disagreeing with you, but realized I agree more than I thought. Still, I am curious. The heritability of IQ is beyond debate. With high psychoticism as the natural state of man, though, what evidence do you have that it is heritable as well and capable of being weeded out of the gene pool over generations (as opposed to being culturally suppressed in the interest of a system of production that has no use for it?) Or: low-IQ people have greater difficulty learning to operate rationally. What is the evidence that suggests high-IQ people have difficulty learning to operate emotionally/spontaneously/creatively? I know I've been able to, and I shift between the two modes of thought freely.

So why could European creative genius not be explained by -intellectual- contact between the somewhat aspergoid Northern Europeans and the somewhat psychotic Southern Europeans? The renaissance began in Northern Italy, the quintessential fault line between cultures of high and low psychoticism. You seem to imply that this was made possible by the interaction of two gene pools. What is the argument against the possibility that it occurred when rational brains were exposed to an irrational operating system? Like Steve Jobs and LSD. I think the burden of proof is on the HBD argument. I do look forward to hearing your answer, if you find the time. Thanks for writing this, as well.

bgc said...

@c - the high heritability of P was established by Eysenck back in the 1960s and 70s - and confirmed by numerous studies of its Big Five components Agreeableness and Conscientiousness.

It is also a matter of common observation that personality is highly heritable (or rather it used to be obvious, when families were large).

Eysenck also makes the point that people can artificially increase P with alcohol and some drugs - I've discussed this elsewhere on this blog.

Your point about other possible genetic trajectories is reasonable, such as admixture between two populations one high g the other high P - but my argument is much more broad brush than this. And I think it would be more obvious from the history of genius, if geniuses were 'hybrids' as it were.

As for irrationality... I think the question may need to be reframed. I suspect that high P high g people are the most rational - indeed low P people (e.g obedient bureaucrats) are often very irrational, since they simply follow social norms.

chris_3721 said...

Are there any ways to, at least temporarily, decrease P/increase conscientiousness?

bgc said...

@3741 - Strictly speaking, a personality trait is stable. The high level of heritability implies that personality differences are mostly innate.

However, conscientiousness is lowest in teenagers and then increases with age up to about 40.

Measured C could also be effects by various drugs - for example, presumably Ritalin would increase C measured in some people, and drunkeness would reduce C.

Also, it woudl vary according to environment - so that somebody in a structured environment with clear incentives would display higher C than the same person would in an unstructured and choatic environment where the behaviour had variable consequences.

Probably, training in conscientious habits would increase C - but this might work only in the training environment, and the gain might 'wear off' when taken away from this.