Attenuating Limited Cognitive Resources vs Expanding Cognitive Resources

Part I

A study by Cohen, Morrison, Brown, and Minor (2012) demonstrated that increasing cognitive load on individual with schizotypy and diminished expression (blunted affect, etc.) showed expressive deficits. The clinical application would be that our negative symptom individuals (specifically, those with blunted affect) do worse when exposed to unacceptable stress, for example, demands regarding hygiene, etc. This has been explained as a depletion of cognitive resources. On the other hand, we have observed that these individuals may flourish when exposed to meaningful or enjoyable stimuli, which according to this view, increases access to cognitive resources. What this means is that the worsening of the individual’s condition under unacceptable stress has a direct effect on their level of functioning, due to depletion of cognitive resources. On the contrary, positive stimulation increases the availability of cognitive resources, which then can increase the level of functioning. I believe that the mechanism in the first case is not that the cognitive resources are depleted, but rather that they are shutdown as a form of self-preservation, whereas in the second case, more cognitive resources are made available. You might wonder about what the cognitive resources actually are; it seems to be a hypothetical construct, which is not really defined in the literature. The take home message seems to be that the withdrawal and retreat of these individuals under pressure may not be simply a voluntary escape, but may be due, at least in part, to an automatic shutdown on functioning.

Part 2

We have already found that the expressive/communication deficits are correlated with dysfunctional attitudes. As per a suggestion, by Arron Brinen, we can speculate the following: the individuals with strong defeatist attitudes are more likely to perceive themselves as incapable of dealing with an aversive event, for example, demands to do something. This triggers the defeatist attitudes (“I can’t do anything about this.”), which then leads to a shutdown of the expressive functions and, perhaps, other functions, as well. We can test this out, clinically, by observing when the expressive deficits become a) more prominent, say under stress, and b) when they tend to diminish. The take-home message on this is: if we want to get a long-term result with these individuals, it is crucial to erode the defeatist attitudes. Of course, we are attempting to do this through scheduled activities, followed by overt reframing or framing of the meaning of the success.

While the defeatist attitudes are conscious, it is probable that they are simply the tip of the iceberg and that there are non-conscious processes. Also, in operation, I presume that these non-conscious processes are linked up with the automatic expressive deficits, such as the flat affect. One can use a computer metaphor to illustrate this. The activation of the defeatist mode depends on a series of calculations, evaluating whether there is a payoff from retreating to the regressive mode, mainly, safety from external intrusions. On the other hand, if the payoff is perceived as being substantially greater than the cost, then the expansive mode is triggered and, consequently, resources are freed up. Clinically, we can observe the activation of the expansive mode, not only in the reduction of flatness, etc. but also in the increased activity and engagement in the environment, including other individuals. I presume that the defeatist/regressive mode represent the default condition since it becomes prominent as soon as the positive activation disappears.