Scott (squid314) wrote,

Error avoidance and public service announcement

Today's cognitive construct is error avoidance. It's essentially the effectiveness of punishment (or what is more technically, but less correctly, called "negative reinforcement"). If you have low error-avoidance, then small amounts of punishment will have no effect, and maybe blasting loads of punishment at you will make you change your ways a little. If you have high error avoidance, even a little punishment is sufficient to motivate you to go to great lengths to avoid the error, and a large amount of punishment is just gratuitously traumatic.

I am not a cognitive scientist, but I imagine error avoidance must be a double-edged sword. High error avoidance means you learn quickly, but it also means you're oversensitive to chance fluctuations and excessively afraid of small possibilities of negative outcomes. If you get bitten by a snake, you want high enough error avoidance to stop sticking your hand in the cages at the Reptile House. But you don't want your error avoidance to be so high that you lock yourself in your room in the middle of a protective ring of pet mongooses.

Given the tradeoffs involved, it's probably not surprising that error avoidance varies throughout the human population. Some of the variation is no doubt social or social x biological interaction. But a few very preliminary studies have suggested it might be part genetic, too. In particular, there's a polymorphism in rs1800497 that has been associated in studies with people having increased error avoidance and heightened sensitivity to punishment.

I have high error avoidance. I "know" this "scientifically" because my 23andMe results tell me that I have the mutant GG version of rs1800497 which is associated with the higher error avoidance levels. But less speculatively and more importantly, I know this because I actually have high error avoidance and heightened sensitivity to punishment, in, like, actual life. I have been observing this for twenty eight years. I'm pretty sure I'm right about this one.

If you give me very light constructive criticism, this will be more than sufficient to get me to stop doing whatever you are criticizing me for and reflect strongly on how I can do better. If you yell at me the same amount that you might have to yell at an average person in order to make sure they get the message, this will be incredibly unpleasant to me. By "incredibly unpleasant to me", I mean that absent strong incentives otherwise, I will avoid ever talking to you again in order to prevent the experience from being repeated. If I do have incentives to keep you around, I will "just" lock myself in my room for 24 hours or so, shouting at inanimate objects, speaking in tongues to myself, and plotting ways to get around those incentives and remove you from my life anyway. I will also be completely unproductive during this time, which sucks as my life does not have enough 24 hour periods for me to lose too many of them to stupid conflicts.

I am forced to conclude this is an unusual response, because people keep acting surprised when I do it. People keep telling me I'm "overreacting". It does not seem this way to me, and the overreacting seems to be mostly on their part for keeping on yelling at me well past when I've gotten the message, and when a few curt words would have been more than enough to scare me straight forever.

(sometimes this fails to come through, because I'm so angry at being yelled at that it overrides my horror and humiliation at having caused the problem in the first place. Please be aware that just because the emotion is overpowered by another one doesn't mean it has gone away.)

This is amplified by another problem I have. I'm not depressed (sometimes I think I'm the only person around here who isn't) and I don't think everybody hates me. But I do have a weird mental block preventing me from alieving people ever actively like me, and an inability to imagine that my presence ever benefits other people. Trying to tell me otherwise louder and more insistently doesn't work and just makes me paranoid and upset, and if you do it in the comments to this blog entry, you will annoy me very much.

This is usually fine and does not negatively impact me. It does mean that if I ever do accidentally hurt someone else, that instead of adding it to the balance sheet and deciding the relationship is still positive, I freak out and assume I am constantly hurting other people without giving them anything in return and should completely disengage from them for their own sake as well as mine. You can see how this might synergize with my oversensitivity to criticism and aggression and be really, really bad.

I'm not a genetic determinist. Even if the very speculative genetic results hold up, I don't think it's remotely true that I have to get upset when people get angry at me. But after reflection, I have still decided I don't feel like subjecting myself to that. Ignorance is some excuse; as far as I can tell there really are people who need to be tantrumed-at or else they won't get the message. But it's no longer an excuse for anyone who has read this blog post.

If I offend you, by all means inform me of this nicely and ask me to stop (this post is definitely not a way of saying you can't criticize me or correct me nicely!).

If I cause you trouble, tell me this and let me know how I can make it up to you (pay for anything I've broken? fix anything I've screwed up?).

If you honestly think I acted out of malice, or if I refuse to apologize or to do my best to make right whatever I've done wrong, then go ahead and yell at me; I deserve it (I'll still probably never talk to you again, but at that point you'll probably be happy to be rid of me, and I wouldn't blame you).

If none of those things are the case, and you still yell at me because it's easier than trying to fix the underlying problem and not traumatizing me is less important to you than expressing your rage, well, I have no further desire to know you. Yes, sometimes anger is difficult to control, and I can't hold that against you. But if you haven't learned that skill, you're probably not my best choice for an interaction partner.

alicorn24 has stronger and stranger preferences about everything than you do, and she is still able to interact with me kindly and respectfully. It took a few confusions and misunderstandings and labored explanations and accusations of being silly and oversensitive, but we have indeed reached that point. If she can do it, no one else has any excuses.

I forgive anyone who has hurt me in this way before reading this blog post. You didn't know. On the other hand, if I forgive anyone who hurts me in this way after reading this blog post, I'd be setting the wrong precedent. Consider yourself warned, and thank you for your understanding.

PS: Sometimes I get unnecessarily angry at other people. This is hypocritical of me and wrong. If it happens, let me know and I will catch myself and apologize. If I don't, or if I don't seem to be taking enough care to prevent this, feel free to stop interacting with me and I will consider you completely justified.
Tags: whiny
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