This project is funded by a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (ERC-2013-Co-G) awarded to Professor Lisa Bortolotti in order to explore the Pragmatic and Epistemic Role of Factually Erroneous Cognitions and Thoughts (PERFECT). The project started in October 2014 and will run for five years. The project will feature three post-doctoral fellows, two PhD students, and the participation of Dr Michael Larkin from the School of Psychology.
PERFECT aims to establish whether cognitions that are inaccurate in some important respect can ever be good from a pragmatic or an epistemic point of view. Can delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations, which are frequent in the non-clinical population and also listed as symptoms of psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and dementia, have redeeming features?
- Challenge current frameworks of epistemic evaluation in order to acknowledge that cognitions can contribute to knowledge and self-knowledge without meeting the standards of truth and accuracy, and to take into account constraints on cognitive capacities (perception, reasoning, and memory).
- Challenge current accounts of delusions, memory distortions, and confabulations in the psychological literature in order to move towards accounts which are sensitive to the potential epistemic benefits of such cognitions and to their role in supporting a unified and coherent sense of agency.
- Inform clinical interventions on people with psychiatric disorders on the basis of the role of delusions, memory distortions, and confabulations in the preservation and acquisition of relevant knowledge and in the development of a self-narrative which supports agency.
- Provide strong theoretical reasons to challenge the perceived discontinuity between normal and abnormal cognition and show that a demarcation between normal and pathological cannot be meaningfully based on the epistemic features of delusions, memory distortions and confabulations.
Mid-term review of the project (March 2017)
PERFECT asks whether there are any benefits in adopting beliefs that are either inaccurate or irrationally formed. The project is interested in a range of beliefs and in a range of benefits. Beliefs can describe the past, account for the present, or predict the future, and can be either widespread in the non-clinical population (such as stereotypes and optimistically biased beliefs) or more unusual and symptomatic of mental health issues (such as delusions in schizophrenia and distorted memories in dementia). Benefits can be psychological (related to wellbeing or good functioning), pragmatic (related to success), or epistemic (related to knowledge and understanding).
By drawing attention to both costs and benefits of inaccurate or irrational beliefs, the project produced outputs that: (1) acknowledge and examine the contributions of such beliefs to the way people engage with the surrounding environment, widening the scope of epistemic evaluation in philosophy; (2) enhance our understanding of how beliefs are formed and why they are resistant to change, informing theories in cognitive science; and (3) emphasise the continuity between so-called "normal" and "abnormal" cognition, showing how beliefs in the clinical and non-clinical population can be at the same time false and useful.
The project has developed a unique approach to challenging mental health stigma and divisive "us and them" attitudes by shaping public perceptions of cognition, rationality, and mental health. In the first half of the project, PERFECT has achieved all that it promised to and more, delivering more research outputs and taking advantage of more dissemination opportunities than expected, and exercising considerable influence on both academia and policy.
Project PERFECT is compliant with the BPA/SWIP Good Practice Scheme and has policies and procedures in place that encourage the representation of women in philosophy.
In November 2015 Dr Michael Larkin, Professor Lisa Bortolotti, and Dr Ema Sullivan-Bissett were featured in the Birmingham Heroes Campaign on research that matters. Posters, banners, and web content focussed on PERFECT's aim to challenge the stigma associated with mental illness.
On 15 October 2017 Lisa Bortolotti participated in a TEDxBrum event on the theme of Perspectives and presented the aims of the project to an audience of 1,300 people at the Birmingham Hippodrome.