Ratha (papertygre) wrote,

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Asperger's syndrome; specific-to-general thinking

Well, my books on Asperger's Syndrome came, and I looked them over, and I before long became sick and burnt out on vague, dressed-up whining masquerading as psychological writing, and the entire subject of mental dysfunction in general. One of the books is an autobiography, one is a personal account of issues with the author's three children, and the third is an analysis of Thomas Jefferson. I think I could have done a lot better to have choosen books written by people with actual credentials. Two of the books had stuff written by Temple Grandin (a foreword in one book and an afterword in another) and those were *really* interesting, so I think I'll look into her own books next (since I pretty much haven't gotten anywhere so far.)

Grandin's essays were interesting in a large part because they are fact-oriented rather than narrative, and they highlight specific differences that she has found between herself and most others. Grandin claims to have "interviewed" many other people in order to form her opinions about what is different about herself compared to others, and hence what comprises autism. One thing she mentioned was that she and other autistic people primarily use "specific-to-general" thinking. That is, they collect large quantities of raw data and then synthesize it to form generalizations. She claims that neurotypicals tend to utilize "general-to-specific" thinking. As an example, she says that if a person is asked to draw the floor plan of a house, they might draw a square and then fill in the rooms (that is a general-to-specific approach) or you might draw the first room, then the next room that is attached to it, and so on until the floor plan is built up (a specific-to-general approach.) As another example (here, I'm making this one up, because I wanted to apply the distinction to a problem-solving scenario) say a person is trying to investigate a problem - perhaps classify a new kind of microbe. The person might tinker with samples, poke them, expose them to chemicals, and so on, and finally compare all of the data they generated with other recorded information about other microbes, and form an opinion from the pattern that seems to emerge. Alternatively, the person might take an initial stab ("based on what we already know, this microbe appears similar to such-and-such a class of other microbes) and then perform directed experiments to prove or disprove that hypothesis, until you appear to have the answer. Well, maybe that's a bad example because the scientific method is very specific and everyone is supposed to do it the same way. But perhaps you have a choice in how to do things in other kinds of research - like figuring out what autism is, or developing a database system, or inventing a new kind of machine.

I am very interested in this distinction and curious to gather some data of my own to either corroborate or contradict Grandin's theory. So here is a poll: which do you think you rely on most, general-to-specific thinking or specific-to-general thinking?

I know I use specific-to-general, without a doubt, but it is hard for me to believe that that's at all unusual.
Tags: as, cognition

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