Friday, June 11, 2004

The stigma of lung cancer and the nature of human reason

BBC NEWS | Health | Lung cancer carries severe stigma
The stigma attached to lung cancer can have far reaching consequences for patients, research suggests.

Oxford University researchers found many patients felt people blamed them for their illness because it is so strongly associated with smoking.

Any campaign claiming a particular outcome is sometimes the consequence of a undesired behavior will cause most humans to reason that the converse is true -- that the outcome very strongly implies the undesired behavior. Humans do not understand correlation.

Lung cancer and smoking. HIV infection and unprotected anal intercourse. Adolescent misbehavior and neglectful parenting.

Having made this inference, humans will further infer that the person, having "caused" the bad outcome, is themself bad. Not only are they unworthy of comfort, they are deserving of shame.

This is how human cognition works. As noted in a prior post, our cognition is not so different from that of our fellow mammals (dogs). It evolved, it "suffices", it is profoundly imperfect. Logic and reason can adapt or modify our intuitive thinking, but that takes training and education. Reason and logic are often uncomfortable precisely because they contradict common human cognitive structures. Hence the strong preference for evangelical conservatives for teaching obedience, discipline, doctrine and memorization rather than reason and logic.

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