Friday, March 22, 2013

The Other Minds Problem

In my first post, I referred to a Psychology Today blog article about Theory-of-MindOne of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote about the concept in "What the Dog Saw".  He referred to it as the "other minds" problem.

He writes, “one-year-olds think that if they like Goldfish Crackers, then Mommy and Daddy must like Goldfish Crackers, too.” He goes on to explain that infants can’t work out that what is inside their head is different from what is inside everyone else’s head.  “What is the first thing we want to know when we meet a doctor at a social occasion?  We know, sort of what a doctor does. Instead, we want to know what it means to be with sick people all day long. We want to know what it feels like to be a doctor, because we’re quite sure that it doesn’t feel at all like sitting on a computer all day long, or teach school, or sell cars.”  He says that is because, "Curiosity about the interior life of other people's day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses."

When I read that I remember feeling surprised and confused.  Do most people really want to know what it feels like to be someone else?  That might explain why my mother keeps boring me with the details of the lives of people I've never met and have no interest in knowing.   I have a great curiosity about the world, and my curiosity about people arises from people being a part of the world around me.  An interest in things is often listed as an autistic characteristic, while I guess an interest in people and their feelings would be a neuro-typical trait.

When you meet a doctor, are you like me and want to know what she does, what kind of equipment she uses, and what field she specializes in?  Or are you more interested in knowing what it feels like to be a doctor?  Leave a comment.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Social Instincts

Aspies are often described as lacking "common sense".  A more technical definition of common sense is social instinct.  Social instincts are inherited knowlege; things that you "know" without having learned them.

A simple example of a social instinct is flirting.  While a neurotypical person will get a feeling when someone is flirting with them, an Aspie will have a hard time telling if someone is interested unless they are directly told.  Aspies also have difficulty communicating non-verbally, so even when they can tell someone is interested in them, they can't respond in the subtle indirect ways that is socially expected.  That means the Aspie either doesn't communicate their lack of interest (what might be misinterpreted as leading the other person on), or they respond directly, "I'm not attracted to you."  Unfortunately, direct communication is sometimes misinterpreted as rude or hurtful.

Another example of a social instinct is deference to authority; the feeling people get that motivates them to obey an authority, even if it is not logical or beneficial to obey.  This instinct is why most people would obey a police officer who orders them to step aside when walking down the street, but they are not likely to obey a panhandler that does the same thing.  As an Aspie it makes no difference; I'm not going to obey either.  From reading Malcolm Gladwell (my favorite author), I learned how obedience to authority can be bad.  I feel fortunate that I'm not influenced by the irrational instincts of a neurotypical person.  I think the late Pierre Trudeau realized the burden emotional instincts can be in his famous quote, "reason over passion".

Social instinct is the knowledge of previous generations being passed on genetically (most likely epigenetically).  So instead of using instinct, Aspies can learn some social behaviors.  For instance I have learned to flirt from reading The Game.  Now I can enjoy the innocent fun that can be had from flirting.  I've also realized that when I'm trying to cash a cheque outside my home branch a little flirting with the teller is much more productive than demanding compliance with the Bills of Exchange Act.  And for those who don't know me, yes, I've actually cited the Bills of Exchange Act  to bank tellers.  More than once.  As Homer Simpson would say, "Doh!"