Sunday, May 8, 2005

Delusion of references: Part I

I took my mom and a friend down to China today to have some soup dumplings or juicy bums at this restaurant called Joe’s Shanghais restaurant. They make the best juicy bums I have ever tasted here in the states.

Going outside of the neighborhood provides a good way to evaluate the degree of severity for the delusion of references that I am experiencing.

When I was in the restaurant, there were some Korean guys at the next table. They were going about their own business, talking and laughing. Some part of me started to react with the irrational though that they were talking about me.

Similarly, on our way back, I found some people checking on me on the street, in the subway station, and on the subway. A bunch of these people knew me.

There were some guys at the other side of the train. I heard them talking and laughing. I felt they were talking about me. However, the contents of their conversation are not audible to me.

These are examples of the delusion of references.

Based on the conventional cognitive theory, people constantly assimilate inputs into their mental model. In my interpretation, a mental model is essential a type of knowledge structure resting in one’s long term memory that is readily to be retrieved and utilized in our everyday functioning. It provides us with an understanding of our surrounding by specifying the components, the relationships of the components and, how the components and relationships work together (Hopefully, my advisor would agree with me on this or they might take my doctor back lol).

For me, a delusional system is a mental model developed by the patient in reaction to their everyday experiences, which is no different from that of the greater population.

What would be an example of a delusional system?

During my last psychotic episode, I had this belief that I was telepathic and I could channel with people, God, devils, ghosts, and those otherwise not specified. At some point, I was informed that I was chosen to be a “Buddha” and I was supposed to suffer for the entire world. My nemesis at the point was supposed to be someone between good and evil. Because of her, there came the state of apocalypse. Everybody died, including God, Buddha, Ala, the Pope, and many others, except for me. I would like to join the rest but I could not die. There were volcano eruptions and earthquakes all around the world. I was told that the only thing I could do to save the world is to have a good heart and to do no harm to the others. Eventually, my resilience paid off and life turned back to normal. But, not too much later, the coin flipped and there came the apocalypse again. This time, the deceased turned into energy, molecules, and evaporated.

And, by the way, within this time, I finished collected at least 90% of the data for my dissertation (n=115). Thank God that all data has been captured automatically. Except for the fact that I might have experienced anxiety attack once or twice during data collection, my faulty mental model about the world should not have confounded with the validity of the data that I collected. lol

That was not the end of the story but I think you have gotten a gist of the degree of complexity a delusional system could entail. Therefore, there is no need for me to lay out the entire story.

So what is the role of delusion of references in the whole 9 yards?

Delusions of references are sort of like the Mickey Mouse cases of delusions. Yet, it definitely is the building block of a complicated, unbreakable and robust delusional system.

So how do the delusions of references assert their influences on the development of the delusional system?

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of mental models. Mental models could be perceived as a sub-type of schemata which are rules that direct people’s interpretation about information by helping people make sense of the new information based on what they already know (i.e., prior knowledge). Since the schemata in prior knowledge might not always be a good fit for the new information, the rise of new knowledge requires constant and reiterative processes of model fitting and modification. At the same time, different people might come up with different understanding when they are presented with the same information due to the differences in people's prior knowledge about the specific information.

In one classic study, the authors aimed to examine the impact of introductory passages on people’s recollection about a story. While participants in the experimental group were asked to read an introductory description about an unmarried college student who was having concerns about pregnancy, the participants in the control group were not given the introduction. All participants were then asked to read five boring paragraphs representing events such as making a cup of coffee and going to the doctor. It was found that the introductory passages were able to have a significant impact on participants’ interpretation of the boring texts presented subsequently. This study is known to have demonstrated the impact of the script effect, while script is, in theory, another subtype of schemata.

So can anyone guess what the schema and script theories have to do with the delusions of references?

Essentially, each every time one encounters the phenomenon called the delusions of references, one actually take on the role of a “constructivist learner” and actively engage in the aka “generative learning.” (lol) This encounter requires a person to observe the environment, seek information, conduct hypothesis testing, and provide interpretations. Most importantly, all of these tasks are performed with genuine intrinsic motivations.

This is more or less like the process of working on a dissertation. You start from gathering information night and day looking for a topic. The point you come up with a research question is the point when you find the bias in your frame of references. All the work you continue will be a means to build up a logical system to support your bias. (Please don’t blame me for this opinion. Have you ever heard of bias-free research? lol)

Let’s get back to the issue of delusions of references. Each encounter with the delusions of references is equivalent to a learning process and would result in the changes in the individual’s prior knowledge, which is part of the long term memory.

If you encounter such experiences once or twice, there might not be much change in your knowledge about the world surrounding you. However, if you encounter such experiences on a moment-to-moment basis (60*60*24) for a few days, chances are, there will be a great shift in your understanding about the world surrounding you as well as in your belief system.

Think about it this way, if you overhear from some pedestrian who passed by you that your bank has gone bankrupt, you might not believe it. If you overhear it 3 times, 4 times, and many more times, you would eventually start to believe it.

For an ordinary person, you might call the bank or go to the bank to double check the validity of the information before you take any further action. If you go to the bank and you found out the bank is doing fine, you will attribute it to misinformation.

However, for someone with delusional problem, once he or she develops the delusional belief, even if he or she goes to the bank and found out the bank is still kicking, he or she would still not believe that was the reality. Rather, attempts will be made to develop some kind of conspiracy theory about how the opening of the bank is actually a hoax. Moreover, the intrinsic bias in their belief system results in their propensity to accept only information that confirms their hypotheses. Since it is very rare for the delusional hypotheses to be positively confirmed, people with delusions are stuck with conspiracy theories with greater and greater scale to compensate for the lack of confirmation.

The question now would be, “So what exactly constitutes the experiences of “delusion of references?”

This is the most creative part of my psychotic interpretation. However, it’s past 11:00 and I expect my mom to start bugging me for not getting to bed yet. I will have to leave the grand finale till later: the cognitive theory of multimedia learning- the expansion pack. lol

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