Exploring Metacognitive Discourse Within Social Intuition Theory: Mind Mindedness as Self-Regulation and Mental Health

Exploring Metacognitive Discourse Within Social Intuition Theory: Mind Mindedness as Self-Regulation and Mental Health

Robert Bruce Thompson (University of Southern Maine, USA) and Charles Bernacchio (University of Southern Maine, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7439-3.ch005
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Research from psycholinguistics, developmental social-cognition, and neuroscience, together with key insights from clinical psychology, are used to frame the discussion of metacognitive language as an intra- and interpersonal form of self-regulation, social discourse, and behavior. The relevance of metacognition for social intuition theory (SIT) is profound because features of social intuition reflect metacognitive resilience and deep vulnerabilities that are part of our evolution and natural history. Language as discourse and as internal self-regulation are analysed within SIT to describe processes behind how we communicate with one another, and ourselves, both fast and slow.
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In this chapter the authors explore the recent research from developmental cognition and neuroscience, together with key insights from clinical psychology to help frame the discussion of communication as an intra- and interpersonal form of psychological regulation and decision-making. A key focus is the role of metacognition as a uniquely human ability to reflect on thought itself. The links between metacognition as a facet of human evolution and individual developmental, and Social Intuition Theory are profound, because so many features of social intuition reflect suspension of metacognitive reasoning that is part of our natural history. The authors explore language as social discourse and as internal self-regulation through the lens of SIT with the hope of better understanding underlying processes behind how we talk to one another, and how we communicate with ourselves, both fast and slow.

Although truthful and authentic discourse is a fruitful focus of research, it is evasion, obfuscation and outright deceit within discourse (even when directed inwards) that has most often captured the attention of psychologists, political scientists and scholars of communication. Shedletsky is one of the few scholars who have taken the concept of “bullshit” seriously as a form of rapid, intuitive communication that can reveal profound, latent biases and ideological anchor points. The study of bullshit fits very well into contemporary Social Intuition Theory because its production can be both a reflection of slow communication-- deliberate, manipulative or misleading rhetoric, whereas the defiant impulse of “calling bullshit” is often an emotion-laden, fast reaction to information that threatens our perspective or ideology. However, it is fascinating to learn that social cognition research, dating from the late 1970s and 1980s, had already established evidence that non-human primates may operate within a dual system of fast and slow thinking too, and are certainly capable of bullshitting each other. Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten’s 1988 book, Machiavellian Intelligence, documented lying, cheating and stealing among primates such as baboons and chimpanzees when they are threatened or perceive opportunities (mating or food) that otherwise would not be available, due to competition. One example used is of a subordinate male baboon’s behavior when chased by an alpha male, who feigned the species-specific posture and gaze to alert others of predators. The aggressor in this case was observed to respond to the deception and discontinue the chase. In another study primatologists documented cases where a chimp, again a low-ranking individual, was able to suppress its visual attention and approach towards a high value food source (bananas) when in the presence of other foraging chimps. In one variation of the experiment, the researchers first habituated the group to repeated empty boxes, which they collectively learned to ignore, then carefully allowed only a low-ranking chimp to see bananas in the box when it was presented once again. The chimp remained silent about her knowledge and clearly behaved in a nonchalant manner, made no attempt to alert others about the food, and opened the box to eat the bananas once others had wandered out of sight. The behavior, though very sophisticated, might be described as a rapid, intuitive response to a perceived opportunity. Other researchers (e.g. Hall et al. 2017) have later replicated many of these early observations.

Primate intuitions are not always manipulative and self-serving. Other researchers (e.g. de Waal, 2008) have documented impulses for empathic and altruistic behavior in primates; but what is clear is that under duress (both defensive and opportunistic), primates will actively deceive and emotionally manipulate their friends and enemies. What has emerged from both human and non-human primate research is that stress, fear and neediness are emotional ingredients for what contemporary cognitive psychologists call “hot cognition,” a state of emotional arousal, marked by intuitive and heuristic reasoning that, while fundamentally self-serving or self-protective, in humans is often self-destructive or antisocial. Moreover, a growing body of clinical research addressing mental illness and brain trauma, discussed here, has established the efficacy of psychiatric interventions that recognize cognitive self-reappraisal as the key to interrupting many forms of painful, debilitating patterns of thought, including self-deception.

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