The interesting issue of course lies in the imperviousness of delusions to subsequent empirical input denying the delusion: Cotard’s Delusion being a particular extreme, where they person succumbs to Walking Corpse Syndrome (they look at themselves in a mirror and conclude they are dead, perhaps because of problems in face processing by the brain). Resistance to evidence disconfirming your point of view is of course a pervasive cognitive bias.
Delusions are a common symptom of schizophrenia and were once thought to reflect the poor reasoning abilities of a broken brain. More recently, a growing number of physicians and scientists have opted for a different explanation. According to this model, patients first experience the surprising and mysterious perceptual disturbances that result from their illness. These could be full-blown hallucinations or they could be subtler abnormalities, like the inability to ignore a persistent noise. Patients then adopt delusions in a natural (if misguided) attempt to explain their odd experiences.
An intriguing study from the early 1960s illustrates how rapidly delusions can develop in healthy subjects when expectations and perceptions inexplicably conflict.
The study, run on 20 college students at the University of Copenhagen, involved a version of the trick now known as the rubber hand illusion. Each…
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