Delusions as epistemic hypervigilance
March 8, 2023
Drawing on the literature on epistemic vigilance, NOMIS researcher Ryan McKay and Hugo Mercier have published a paper illuminating a conundrum related to delusions: Deluded individuals seem to display both excessive credulity (being too willing to adopt unusual beliefs on minimal evidence) and excessive rigidity (being unwilling to relinquish them in the face of strong counterevidence). Their research appears in Current Directions in Psychological Science.
Delusions are distressing and disabling symptoms of various clinical disorders. Delusions are associated with an aberrant and apparently contradictory treatment of evidence, characterized by both excessive credulity (adopting unusual beliefs on minimal evidence) and excessive rigidity (holding steadfast to these beliefs in the face of strong counterevidence). Here we attempt to make sense of this contradiction by considering the literature on epistemic vigilance. Although there is little evolutionary advantage to scrutinizing the evidence our senses provide, it pays to be vigilant toward ostensive evidence—information communicated by others. This asymmetry is generally adaptive, but in deluded individuals the scales tip too far in the direction of the sensory and perceptual, producing an apparently paradoxical combination of credulity (with respect to one’s own perception) and skepticism (with respect to the testimony of others).
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Royal Holloway University of London
Collective Delusions: Social Identity and Scientific Misbeliefs
NOMIS RESEARCH PROJECT