Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cognitive dysfunction in the antisocial personality

Quote from
Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 7, 2006, pp. 802-824
“For example, both a psychopathic and non–psychopathic individual (with an antisocial background) might focus their attention on stealing money from a security truck. Such a focus might include external cues (e.g., the location of the truck) and internal cues (e.g., the “rush” associated with the prospect of becoming rich). Suppose other cues exist that are not the current focus of attention, such as the presence of an undercover police officer and thoughts of getting caught and going to jail. According to the RMH, the psychopath’s cognitive vulnerability is characterized by difficulty attending to and processing external or internal non–dominant cues (i.e., cues that are not consistent with their current focus). Thus, in this example, whereas a non–psychopathic individual’s desire to steal money may be moderated by the presence of an undercover police officer or thoughts of going to jail, a psychopathic individual is less likely to process such cues and thus is more likely to attempt the theft.” (end quote)
The point of interest here is that the antisocial personality simply does not think about information that is contrary to what they want. For example the antisocial may think “I want money and can get money by stealing”. A plan is then devised to obtain such money.

Hair woman

Any information that makes the plan look bad or unworkable such as possibly getting caught, going to jail, being on the run, traumatizing other people and so forth is just not thought about. It is not denied because if asked about the possibility of the ‘bad’ things happening the antisocial would acknowledge that they exist. Instead they just do not think about them all that much. And it is this that can be seen as their cognitive dysfunction.
Indeed this could be seen as another type of thought disorder. It is not magical thinking, not grandiosity, nor over detailing and so forth. Instead it is simply not thinking about important information in decision making. Perhaps it could be called wishful thinking
In this instance one sees a kind of child like wishful thinking. The FC has a wish for money and makes a plan to get money but it does not think about those factors which make the plan a bad one. Perhaps the transactions below could highlight the process.

Antisocial thinking style

This could be seen as the type of decision making that a young child would use. They may have a wonderful idea to build a fort, catch rabbits or even fly a kite, but when looked at with a mature Adult ego state it is clear the plan will not succeed. The child has a kind of wishful thinking where the idea is attractive and that makes it achievable. A disordered type of thought takes place.
From the point of view of counselling the antisocial personality this can have some direct implications. Firstly the person can be made aware that they at times engage in this type of disordered thought. They are made aware of their propensity to do the transactions above when planning their crimes. Or even other non criminal activities like planning legitimate business activities, considering marriage or even planning a weekend away with friends.
If they are aware of it then it makes it harder for it to be effective. Of course it can still be over ridden but it makes it harder to do. In addition one could use other ways to make it harder to engage in this dysfunctional thinking. For example a friend or a counsellor can be used write down a list of the relevant factors to be considered. The other party not having similar cognitive problems can highlight the ‘bad’ points of doing what they plan to do. If it is written down in black and white in front of them it makes it that much harder for the Adult ego state to simply not think about.

Childlike thinking allows one to believe the unbelievable.

Regardless of whether they go on to do the crime such simple cognitive exercises could be seen to strengthen the effectiveness of the Adult ego state in the antisocial personality and provide him with a way in the future to consider his planning more effectively. In essence one is doing Adult ego state strengthening exercises as the Adult ego state could be seen to be flawed in this way. There are many other Adult strengthening exercises one could employ with the antisocial personality. However the topic at hand shows specifically the area of Adult ego state strengthening that needs to be done. That is, to counter the child like wishful thinking they can employ. Their propensity to simply not think about ‘bad’ points of their plan.
Indeed one can see how a parts party exercise could be used to highlight to the antisocial how their Child ego state wishful thinking may interfere in mature Adult ego state decision making.
One other point this quote allows us to consider is the idea of risk taking and anxiety.  This list comes from a good article on the antisocial personality except it has one glaring error, point number 2. One simply has to go into a prison and one will find many antisocials who are of a low IQ. Indeed that is one reason why they are in prison. Their low intelligence does not allow them to cover their tracks very well.

Eleven features of the antisocial

However the point about the lack of anxiety is well made and it is necessary for the counsellor to understand that they do not experience the world in the same way as the average citizen does in relation to the experience of anxiety. The quote cited above helps us in our understanding of this. The lack of seeing the bad points in a plan can provide us with one explanation for the lack of anxiety.
Most of us do not engage in high risk behaviour because we experience anxiety and that feels bad so we avoid the danger in the first place. Many people are scared of snakes to some degree and it is that scare or anxiety that keeps us a safe distance from them. The antisocial can engage in high risk behaviour because they don’t see the bad (risky) points of the activity and hence do not experience the anxiety which keeps them away from the danger.

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