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Psychological Health And Self Deception

define_normal“Many mental health professionals promote the idea that depression and other emotional disorders stem in large measure from irrational thinking. Depressives, they claim, believe false ideas about themselves and others. They are self-deceived and out of touch with reality. Irrational, self-deceptive thinking is alleged to be a factor distinguishing depressed people from “normal” ones, but this psychiatric homily turns out to be badly mistaken. Scientific research leads to the opposite conclusion that depressives seem to have a better grasp of reality than the “normal” psychiatrists treating them. Lauren Alloy of Temple University in Philadelphia and Lyn Abramson of the University of Wisconsin designed an experiment in which one of the investigators secretly manipulated the outcome of a series of games. Both depressed and nondepressed subjects took part in these fixed games. Psychologists have long known that “normal” thinking involves an element of grandiosity: we tend to give ourselves credit when events work in our favor, but dish out the blame to others when they pan out to our disadvantage. True to form, the non-depressed subjects overestimated the degree to which they had personally influenced the outcome when the game was rigged so that they did well, and underestimated their own contribution to the outcome when they did poorly. Turning to the depressed subjects, Alloy and Abramson found that depressed individuals assessed both situations far more realistically. The rather startling conclusion is that depressives may suffer from a deficit in self-deception. Similar results were obtained by the distinguished behavioral psychologist Peter Lewinsohn, who found that depressed people are often able to judge others’ impressions of them more accurately than non-depressed subjects are. In fact, these people’s ability to make accurate interpersonal judgements degenerated as their depressive symptoms diminished in response to treatment. Others have found that high levels of self-deception are strongly correlated with conventional notions of mental health, and that subjects with so-called mental disorders evidence lower levels of self-deception than “normal” people. This research suggests (although, of course, does not conclusively prove) that “normality”—whatever that word means—may rest on a foundation of self-deception. Remove or undermine the foundation, and depression or other forms of emotional difficulty may emerge. If mental health depends upon a liberal dose of self-deception then perhaps, as the philosopher David Nyberg wryly remarks, “Self knowledge isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”-Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith

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