Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception

So, what do we think? Should this get filed under the “things that we already knew the answer to before they researched it” bin or does it provide some novel insight to the phenomenon? How do you think this applies to Religion? To Science? To Semiotics? How are we to distinguish patterns that we create that are real from those that aren’t? Are there real patterns at all?

I haven’t read this full article yet, but so far its very interesting and not all that surprising to me. In Scott Atran’s work and many other cognitive research, people are essentially thought of as being trip-wired for detecting agency (predators, prey and protectors among other things) it makes sense that lacking control, people’s agency detection mechanisms would be on ‘high alert’

to detecting conspiracies and patterns which either do or don’t exist.

I’m going to go back to the article, but thats pretty interesting in light of other research on how people are trip-wired to detect these things to begin with, looking at what situations arouses this trip-wired mental architecture the most, can only be enlightening.

I wonder if its only illusory patterns though. Obviously if you’re seeing patterns out of minimal environmental input because of stress (where patterns don’t exist), it’d suggest that if real patterns were there to see, that they may be picked up upon more readily as the individual is ‘primed’ for finding them.

Like if we have trip-wired agency detection, it seems that in situations where we lack control, this ‘trip-wiring’ is charged even further, to go off on even less environmental information. A trip-wiring of an already trip-wired device.

Normally people see patterns where none exist, like pigeon’s randomly fed food, they start getting the idea that their pecks had some kind of connection to the food being given out to them. they start picking up on agency, where there is none. Its interesting research that shows, that we get even more prone to fake pattern recognition in times of lack of control.

I wonder if it holds up for stresses in general?

Try this to see if you have more control of your mind: :wink:

Well that’s the trick, isn’t it? We do seem to be able to identify real patterns. That is good and useful. But we can also create patterns whole cloth, things that aren’t there. That makes sense, since it is better to read more into a situation and therefore be extra cautious than to not notice a very real pattern that might get you killed.

As for stressed people being more primed to see real patterns as well, that is probably the case. But it is worth noting that there is a large grey area between “real” patterns and “created” patterns. I think that a person who has been so primed would be more inclined to see within that grey realm. This also makes sense if you think about things like conspiracy theories and religion (conspiracy theory is a post-modern religion). They both have a fair deal of truth to them, as in they have a variety of true statements within them. But how these individual truths get organized and the conclusions drawn from them can be quite, errr, reaching. I think most pattern sensing working within this realm, where it isn’t that the facts are wrong, but the manner in which they are presented is not entirely valid so many of the conclusions drawn from it end up being problematic.

Of course, this isn’t limited to just religion. Any theoretical activity can fall prey to this. That’s why self-correction is so vitally important in science.

If you’re really interested in any of the stuff that you’re talking about there, some of Scott Atran’s research is actually heavily envolved in exactly that. The religion bit and other stuff. He goes into a lot of psychological mechanisms behind religion, on top of trip-wired agency detection (and things like existential anxieties which may relate to this lack of control thing. like fear of death making people more religious which research suggest it tends to do) like theres trip-wired agency, and then he explains how violations of certain innate expectations of the natural environment are attention arresting. For example violations to folk psychology, folk biology and folk physics and in certain ways, seem to be more memorable/tranmissable and most religions seem to violate the expectations in certain ways, explaining why people worship gods and not mickey mouse.

anyway, its all pretty interesting stuff though its more specifically about religion, has a lot of research/evidence to back it up.

but you’re right, in science people need to avoid seeing patterns where none exist, which is why I think the heuristics/biases program is largely so important, it shows a huge array of ways in which ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’ make systematic errors in judgements about probability (some of this stuff touching on recognizing patterns or not recognizing patterns). A book I have on the subject actually addresses clinical professionals predictions about patient health in comparison to the eventual reality of what happens to them, for a lot of cases little things seem to be able to massively set-off their judgement calls. Not really inspiring but I guess its good to know.

I may get around to checking out Atran. Until then, I’m just using you as my “go to” with respect to his thought. That’s part of what is so nice about ILP: plenty of posters wandering around as review articles. It makes learning a whole lot easier.

Indeed!! I haven’t read the whole yet either, but am very intrigued by the topic and am quickly running out of free time here… This may sound silly, but is the (perhaps obvious) thought that illusory pattern perception creates a lack of control discussed? Or is it focusing on the one-way? I teach adolescent students with severe autism, and these are very practical matters in my day to day life… many persons with autism have perceptual disorders which confound attempts to provide them with some socially supported sense of control in their life. The need to establish patterns (routines) for persons with autism is fairly well known, but the need to provide a manner of breaking patterns is all the more imperative (given the real world, etc.). Any thoughts?

While the reverse scenario was not discussed in the paper, I do think it is an interesting prospect.

To cross the realm from the scientific to the more theoretical, I do think that the Buddhist notion of attachment is important when addressing situations like this. The patterns that we create serve as a vehicle for creating meaning in our lives. But that meaning does become self-perpetuating and can ultimately rob us of our access to other avenues. Autistic individuals are particularly susceptible to this sort of thing because order is the order of the day. Master system builders, but also unable to deal with violations of that system. I’m inclined to say that neurotypicals have an easier time navigating those extremes, many of them even veering on the opposite extreme and not having any real system built at all.

Most people are between the extremes of the severely autistic individual and the purposeless nihilist. But I would agree that those who err on the autistic side can fall into the trap of becoming too attached to their particular order and unable to function in any other environment. Then again, consider what the world is like from the view of an autistic. The whole world becomes the game described in the study, of trying to see patterns in the static. Sounds like a good candidate to err on the side of creating patterns where ever possible.