What Cognitive Rule Has the Power for Conflict Resolution?

6 min read

Clinical observations and research have revealed that all people must use their cognition (mental representations of rule-governed, evolving human reality) to guide their evaluations, explanations, decision-making, and predictions of validation and invalidation in both the mental and interpersonal domains. This relies on the belief that conformity to the perceived rules creates and sustains success, whereas deviance from them explains failure and conflict (e.g., Sun, 2009, 2019).

All individuals operate as beings with a developing awareness of reality.

However, individuals vary in believing what psychological rules or norms are objectively and universally valid with the power to transcend invalidation from interacting entities (the self, others, and different contexts). Subjectively valid beliefs are often objectively invalid and contradictory to reality because all individuals operate as beings of developing awareness of reality with varying degrees of cognitive sagacity about the interactions among one another’s mental systems and contexts. Thus, they can only generate choices within but not beyond their cognitive spectrum regarding reality.

The inability to recognize and rectify the discrepancy between the mind and reality may generate and sustain conflict.

The following three examples show how:

First, there is a pervasive tendency for individuals to make generalized evaluations, assumptions, and predictions about others’ attributes, attitudes, and behavior based on their memberships in some ascribed groups, categories, or labels. Both research (e.g., Fiske & Taylor, 2008) and examples of group conflicts suggest that projecting assumed group characteristics onto individuals is inaccurate, incomplete, or false in explaining the psychological source of the differences.

To begin with, one’s particular group membership is unable to characterize how the individual mind interacts with multiple systems, such as social, cultural, biological, economic, and cognitive learning environments, which may either restrict individual choices and growth or expand the potential beyond the assigned category. Additionally, the perceivers’ cognitions about the characteristics of a “group,” which are deduced from their limited exposure to the world, tend to reflect their inadequate learning experiences, tribalistic beliefs, and political and cultural biases rather than the reality of group characteristics. (See “Can Race Take the Responsibility for Racially-Motivated Crime?” and Sun, 2008).

Second, clinical observations show that depressed individuals tend to misattribute their experience of misfortune in human interaction to certain attributes of theirs that deviate from socially desirable categories (e.g., youthfulness, physical perfection, wealth), thus viewing having breached some value-based standards as the cause of their experienced invalidation. However, their efforts to modify those qualities fail to alleviate their mental sufferings by meeting their needs because their predicaments do not result from their violation of some value-based criteria but from avoiding auspicious opportunities and embracing incompatible persons and events or inability to accurately discern and respond to the changing reality (e.g., Sun, 2014).

Third, the parents of a 12-year-old boy referred to a children’s service center complained that he failed in all classes last year, got involved with delinquent kids on the street, and was defiant to their requests to change his behavior and friends. However, in conversations with his therapists, the boy revealed some troubling issues: He was struggling with class materials and could not understand what was taught after weeks of illness. His paternal grandma treated him differently from the way she treated his two sisters based on her false beliefs. The boy tried to tell his parents about his mental strains but was met with dismissive responses.

This case shows that the interpersonal conflicts persisted because the parents viewed their misrepresentation of interpersonal reality as being accurate. They misattributed their son’s poor performance to a lack of motivation to push or control his behavior in several domains, and they didn’t know how to recognize and rectify their own misbeliefs by learning the truth from their son.

The commonality of the above examples indicates the use of subjectively valid but objectively mismatched cognitions about reality—that is, viewing incomplete or false cognition as being true—represents the underlying cause for the experienced invalidation and conflicts, regardless of how the perceivers explain the encounters. This is because we depend upon accurate knowledge of rule-governed, evolving human reality (including the mental systems of others, their needs, and perspectives about interpersonal truth and evidence) to correctly process communications, make decisions, and respond to reality accordingly. Other psychological activities, such as motivations, value judgments, and decision-making, become meaningless if the perceptions are judged as being false.

Two reasons for ignorance about the issue of matched vs. mismatched interaction between the mind and reality

This research postulates that there are at least two reasons that the issue of matched interaction and mismatched interaction between the mind and reality for understanding conflict is neglected.

Cognition Essential Reads

First, there is a common confusion about the differences between cognition and motivation. For example, Bandura (e.g., 1997) regards efficacy beliefs as part of social cognition that shapes individuals’ optimistic or pessimistic thoughts in self-enhancing or self-debilitating ways. However, the efficacy belief may be best called motivation because it has not admitted a necessary association between the belief and accurate mental representations of others and situations. Additionally, our cognitive spectrum restricts our available operations in that we cannot transcend and rectify our distorted cognition by motivation or willpower alone (see “Two Errors When Using Motivation to Explain Human Behavior”).

Second, individuals view their limited perceptions as representing complete, permanent, and accurate knowledge of the world. This occurs because of the misbelief that there is only an age-related cognitive development. Many people are unaware that interactions-based cognitive development, with individual variations, occurs continuously, advancing one’s understanding of human reality through education as one encounters and interacts with new realities about others, events, cultures, and the process of falsification of distorted cognitions. Active learning and just knowing new facts are necessary but insufficient to create a higher cognition, which entails identifying how the same rule-governed reality shapes the cognitions of different people in different ways and can better explain complicated human behavior.

The above discussions have two implications:

1. At the societal level, safeguarding academic freedoms and open inquiry and debates is the best way to rectify distorted cognitions about human reality.

2. At the interpersonal level, there is an interpersonal dependence in human interactions. You are part of others’ perceived reality, just as others’ actions and mental activities are part of your cognition. Namely, individuals may validate or invalidate one another’s cognitive distortions through interactions.

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours