Posts tagged: cognitive

Zimmerjection

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThe theatrics surrounding the George Zimmerman trial call to mind an oft used psychological term.  The term is called “projection.”  The Freudian notion of projection is that a person rids themselves of unwanted thoughts and emotions by attributing them to another person.  Their ego is unable to cope with the unwanted thoughts, and blames them on others, in an effort to maintain a consistent self-concept.  As with most aspects of Freudian theory, his concept of projection does not readily lend itself to experimental validation.  It has remained an interesting concept that awaits proof.  It should be noted that projection is often used by graduate students of clinical psychology, or rather it is hurled between said students of psychology.  Upon initial exposure to this concept, it becomes addictive to label fellow students as projecting; especially if one does not agree with their viewpoint.

Thankfully, there are scientific underpinnings to the psychological concept of projection.  The famous Rorschach Inkblot Test is based upon the concept of projection.  Perhaps difficult to believe, it is the only test on Earth that can differentiate a psychotic from a normal person.  People will project their inner experience more readily when the stimulus field is ambiguous.  This is a fancy way to state that when unsure, people tend to reveal what is actually on their mind.  People that are confident in their environment may lean on old thoughts to guide their lives.  When faced with situations that are ambiguous or completely novel, one cannot lean on old thoughts to explain the new situation.  A person must generate novel thoughts to explain the new or ambiguous situation.  This generation of novel thoughts to ambiguous stimuli is the  kernel of psychological projection.  These thoughts need not be unwanted or forced upon another, as Freud theorized.  It is a morally neutral cognitive process that helps any person organize their thoughts and master unusual situations.

In a related manner, the recent George Zimmerman trial has draped the public under a pervasive cloak of ambiguity.  The legal details do not, however, appear very ambiguous.  The conservative author of the law readily admitted it was not intended to defend provocation.  The “Stand Your Ground” law was intended to assist in the defense of random victimization.  It is precisely Mr. Zimmerman’s motivation in confronting Mr. Martin that is highly ambiguous.  His stoic appearance during the trial accentuated the ambiguity.  The lack of evidence supporting a personal racist history heightened the confusion over his possible motives.  Furthermore, consider the very day Mr. Martin was killed.  Mr. Zimmerman’s thoughts during his first glance at Mr. Martin are completely unknown, and will remain so.  His thoughts at the moment of killing Mr. Martin will also remain clouded in mystery.  There does not appear to be any evidence for or against a racist agenda in the targeting of Mr. Martin.  The racist motivations of Mr. Zimmerman are, hence, perfectly ambiguous.

Due to this ambiguity, Mr. Zimmerman may be considered a projective test of the populace.  Given the lack of evidence as to his racist motivations, people are free to project their thoughts and emotions onto Mr. Zimmerman.  People are free to project hatred as well as sympathy.  They are free to project anger and sorrow.  They are free to describe their inner experience through the ambiguity of George Zimmerman.  So do not be deceived by experts and pundits who claim to know the racial motivations of Mr. Zimmerman.  What they know is their own beliefs regarding racism, and that is exactly what they are espousing when talking about George Zimmerman.  Perhaps in addressing the law that created this nightmare, some good may be extracted from the bad.  Addressing the competence and motivation of zealous prosecutors may assist in separating the ripe from the rotten.  To address the racial motivations of Mr. Zimmerman is to reveal the racial beliefs of those who address him.  It is Zimmerjection.

Dream a Little Dream

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesIs dream interpretation an important component of psychotherapy?  The answer to this question depends on what school of thought the psychotherapist holds most dear.  Behaviorists of the B. F. Skinner tradition regard dreams as a largely useless substance leaking from the black box of the brain.  Psychotherapists within the Freudian tradition will sit on the edge of their chairs at the mere mention of a dream.  There is a huge chasm of belief that divides the conception of dream content, and its importance within the psychotherapeutic context.  Different schools of psychotherapy regard dreams differently, and all the schools believe they are correct.  The very existence of these “schools” of psychological thought is part of the problem.

Most psychologists are painfully aware that physicists and biologists do not subscribe to different “schools” of thought within their fields.  Thinking within the hard sciences changes in relation to empirical (experimental) evidence.  There is typically a “school” of theoretical belief within the hard sciences, but a belief is not typically accepted as factual without experimental justification.  In clinical psychology, theoretical “schools” of thought are often taken as factual, even if the experimental evidence is not particularly supportive.

Behaviorism is the most empirically driven of all the psychotherapeutic schools of thought.  Its deceptively simple design lends itself well to the experimental process.  While behaviorists may regard dreams as a useless epiphenomenon of the mind, their elegant experiments do not actually disprove the importance of dreams.  On the other hand, behaviorists have proven that human behavior may be modified without the use of dream interpretation.  To their credit, the various offshoots of Freudian psychotherapy have become more empirical in the last twenty years.  Neo-Freudian research has yet to prove that dreams are indispensable to a favorable psychotherapeutic outcome.  Neither “school” of thought has convincingly proved its theoretical stance to be absolute.

Interestingly, neither the behaviorist or Neo-Freudian has been quick to adopt the insights of biological and neuropsychological research.  Dreams appear to be an emergent phenomenon of normal brain function.  The brain cleans away the detritus between the neural synapses at night, after being cluttered with the litter of thought during the day.  The wash and spin cycle of the brain produces images, sensations and emotions as a consequence of its self-care.  It is true that memories appear to consolidate after a nights sleep, but this may be another emergent property of brain housekeeping.  Arousal, attention and memory are reinvigorated after a good night’s sleep.  On the other hand, a person’s cognitive abilities will decline progressively with each episode of REM sleep that is missed.  There is ample hard scientific proof of the cognitive deterioration that ensues from REM deprivation.  The survival of the organism is clearly the most important function of REM sleep, and dreams emerge as a consequence of this survival mechanism.

Psychological assessments of brain function, in general, need to pay more attention to the influence of sleep.  A scientifically informed psychological assessment will measure the patient’s cognitive status.  Next, the factor or factors that have affected cognitive functioning will be examined.  Impoverished dreaming is rarely mentioned as an important factor.  It’s influence on cognition is often under-appreciated by the best of clinicians.  Poor REM sleep may have negative consequences that are within the current scope of psychological treatment.  A person’s job and relationships may be negatively affected by poor attention, arousal and memory.  The content of the dream is of secondary importance to the cognitive status of the patient, and its influence on their waking life.

Perhaps the Neo-Freudians will prove that the interpretation of dream content is essential to psychotherapy.  Perhaps the behaviorists will prove that dreams have no bearing on the modification of human thoughts and behavior, whatsoever.  Current psychological beliefs tend to ignore the evidence before our very faces.  Whether we dream is very important, but the importance of what we dream is still a matter of opinion.

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