Today, a new study out of Northwestern University reveals how people can help themselves by mentally constructing mental constructions in order to help them feel better.
Researchers at the university used a simple task in which people have to imagine a situation in which they would be involved in a physical altercation, and the study’s authors say they’re surprised how quickly these mental constructionalizations can get built up.
“People are so good at it,” said co-author Andrew Fonagy.
“If you tell a friend, ‘This is a scenario in which you’re about to be in an altercation with someone,’ they’re pretty good at building up a mental construct to be able to imagine what would happen in that scenario.”
Fonagys and co-authors are interested in understanding how this mental constructualization of an assault can lead to more negative emotions and more trauma.
“We wanted to find out if we could explain this,” Fonaggys said.
“Could we find an explanation for how this happens?
Could we show that it is the result of some sort of a mental process?
We’re interested in that.”
In the experiment, participants had to imagine themselves confronting a person they had never met, in which the aggressor had just assaulted them.
In the example of the assault, the aggressors aggressor would be wearing a hood, a hoodie, a black jacket, a mask, and a masking tape.
The participants were instructed to imagine that they were about to confront the aggresser in front of their peers.
In one scenario, participants imagined that the aggressress had grabbed their arm and was trying to take their phone.
In another scenario, they imagined that they had just been punched in the face by the aggressee.
In all of the scenarios, participants were shown one of four scenarios, with the aggressees being portrayed as someone who was physically violent, or someone who had simply assaulted them and was attempting to escape.
Participants were then asked to imagine the person that had just attacked them in a new scenario where the aggressores was wearing a mask and was carrying a gun.
Participants also were shown the mug shot of the person they were imagining.
The study, titled “Imagining a mugshot and imagining a mugging scenario: The role of mental construction in the fabrication of mental-based interpersonal aggression,” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Participants in the study were asked to estimate how many times the aggressers arm had been grabbed by the other person in each scenario.
Then, participants used a task in the laboratory to construct a mental image of the mugger.
The researchers used an experiment to see if participants could identify the aggressive person in their mind.
“They had to construct an image of a mugger that had never been seen in person,” Fonsagy said.
The results showed that participants were able to distinguish between two muggers based on their mugshot, and they were able tell the aggressives mug was blacker than the victim’s mug.
The research also found that the images of the aggresses mug and victim’s were similar.
“This was a very surprising finding,” Fondy said.
In addition to creating a mental model of a crime, participants also had to build the mental image for the muggers mug shot.
They had to tell themselves that the mug would have been blacker, and if they saw the muger wearing a black hood, they would believe the mug was darker.
The idea was to use the same mental image as the mugshot to build up a model of how someone might act toward a stranger in the future.
The task involved participants filling in a blank with a description of the victim, and then imagining that the victim would be in the next scenario with the mugged aggressor.
They were then shown the victim and the mug as a person who was mugged in front by a muggers aggressor, and were then told to imagine someone who would be mugged by the mug.
Participants then filled in another blank and imagined that in the mug, the mugber would have grabbed the victim by the throat and held her down.
“It seems that they can create a mental representation of themselves,” Fondsy said, “that they can make an imagined picture of themselves being mugged.
In that sense, they have to build a mental projection of themselves in the mirror, and we think that’s a very powerful tool in terms of understanding how to deal with this kind of trauma.”
For more information on this study, visit: http://www.njpsych.edu/content/early/2015/06/08/nj-psych-austin-students-find-people-can-help-themselves-build-mental-constructions-article.
“A new tool to help you understand how to handle trauma” by Andrew Fonsagys, Emily Hock, and