Models of misbelief

Integrating motivational and deficit theories of delusions

Ryan McKay*, Robyn Langdon, Max Coltheart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

32 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The impact of our desires and preferences upon our ordinary, everyday beliefs is well-documented [Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn't so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York: The Free Press.]. The influence of such motivational factors on delusions, which are instances of pathological misbelief, has tended however to be neglected by certain prevailing models of delusion formation and maintenance. This paper explores a distinction between two general classes of theoretical explanation for delusions; the motivational and the deficit. Motivational approaches view delusions as extreme instances of self-deception; as defensive attempts to relieve pain and distress. Deficit approaches, in contrast, view delusions as the consequence of defects in the normal functioning of belief mechanisms, underpinned by neuroanatomical or neurophysiological abnormalities. It is argued that although there are good reasons to be sceptical of motivational theories (particularly in their more floridly psychodynamic manifestations), recent experiments confirm that motives are important causal forces where delusions are concerned. It is therefore concluded that the most comprehensive account of delusions will involve a theoretical unification of both motivational and deficit approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)932-941
Number of pages10
JournalConsciousness and cognition
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

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