A THERAPEUTIC BLOG of Mark S Schwartz, Ph.D.

Why and What


Why did I start this blog? At age 80, I have more time available and love writing. I am very grateful that my health has been stable for many years and that potentially serious medical conditions appear dormant. I am still actively providing psychotherapy via telehealth but this is intentionally less than half-time. I am still actively doing some yard work every week but much less than in years past. I finished the 4th Edition of my book “Biofeedback: A Practitioner’s Guide” a few years ago and do not intend to do another edition. I am nearly done with my lengthy memoir and slides that I have been working on for years and I intend mainly for my grandchildren. I still have a lot to write about and thus I started blogging to share many other topics with others.


Defend yourself.

Defend your innocence.

Stop prosecuting yourself.

Stop bolstering your prosecutor.

Act "as if" there is a real case to make about yourself because there is!

A Blog by

Mark Stephen Schwartz, Ph.D.

Create a balance for your impressions and facts about yourself.

Stand up for yourself.

Become more positive and realistic about yourself.

Argue against deceptions about yourself.

I encourage you to fact check errors and lies about yourself.

Counter the prosecutor in your head.

Among the many common themes that permeate my patients' problems are variations of self-criticism and believing the negative opinions of them and criticisms by other people. Of course, some self-criticism and criticism by others are accurate and can be constructive. It is the excess criticism that is often part of the problem, the lack of balance, and the lack of an adequate defense.

As is known about me by many, I adore similes and metaphors, and use them very often with patients, in writing, and other communications. One that I very often use with patients involves asking patients to think of themselves in a courtroom with a prosecutor, a judge, a jury, and a defense attorney representing the patient. However, in this situation, the prosecutor, jury, judge, defense attorney, and you are all in themselves, in their brain. In this scenario, in this simile, the prosecutor is vicious, and your defense attorney is meek and inefficient.

Another application is for patients who explicitly or implicitly resist cognitive restructuring and revising their beliefs about themselves, and that contributes to emitting or increasing or prolonging the depression. They sometimes seem "oblivious" or "blinded" to the idea that they are engaged in "self-deception" that is maladaptive for themselves. I use this simile to attempt to convince patients to develop counterstatements or a "defense" of themselves against their own deceptive and maladaptive views. This simile also can help convince patients that their interpretations of themselves may be contributing to their depression.

So, here is the simile in more detail. Beliefs about ourselves, our relationships, our interpretations of other people's statements are like people making statements that we know are completely false or mostly inaccurate. However, most people cling to misleading or mistaken beliefs that became habitual and seem to make sense. They are often simplistic and logical explanations and interpretations of themselves, their relationships, and their impressions of other people.

Imagine that you are a defendant in a courtroom but without a defense attorney or with an inadequate attorney. How would that feel? Thus, imagine that you are a defendant in a courtroom with an attorney who has not prepared, reviewed, and rehearsed your defense. How would you feel? Of course, you would not like this; in fact, you would detest it. You would not do it.

So, the bottom line is this. It would be best if you acquired a new internal persona within yourself. An adequate or supportive defense attorney persona. A part of yourself who views the events in your life, the verbal statements and behaviors of others in your life, and other experiences now from very different perspectives. The revised attitudes result in forgiving yourself, being correct, being redeemable, being innocent, having a justification, feeling neutral, calm, non-anxious, and other desirable thoughts and feelings. This attorney can negate or neutralize or discredit the prosecutor and convince the jury and judge that you have many positive, redeemable features. In other words, a defense that results in a better life and outcomes.

A significant part of being a competent defense attorney is the written preparation and rehearsals for the courtroom events. In the cases involving preparing oneself to deal with negative self-appraisals, the prosecution case effectively requires rapid, competent, compelling counterarguments. This writing and rehearsals are accomplished best with written preparation. Skilled and capable defense attorneys use written development that is well-rehearsed. The script applies to people with depression, anxiety, or anger related cognitions. One primary goal is to revise cognitions and behaviors and to facilitate them to become predominant, take precedence, and become more likely to occur and do so much sooner in a person's thought processes.

Most people do not want to prepare written materials for cognitive restructuring and revised cognitive preparation to improve their maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. Even when preparing written documents, many, perhaps most, people may be hesitant or resistant to repeated reviewing and rehearsing the preparation. However, for the revised cognitions to be remembered, to become habitual and prepotent, and thus useful, they must nearly always be repeatedly reviewed, rehearsed, and implemented.

Aside from this being like one's own "defense attorney," it would be like being a football coach preparing plays and teaching them to the players. Imagine that without written preparation and practice scrimmages for the matches. How competent would you be a player?

Or imagine being a military leader or strategist preparing for a battle, without written strategies and options for varying contingencies, or avoiding or minimizing the risks.

Or imagine preparing a presentation for a proposed company merger.

In none of these examples and many more, one would not consider any of these without extensive written preparations, reviewing, and rehearsing. You cannot do it entirely "in your head." You cannot do it without written preparation and rehearsal.

Imagine that the detectives investigating crimes against you or your family did not write down the information about the crime and potential suspects. How would you feel?

Thus, not writing down your restructured, rational, and more adaptive thoughts about yourself, others, and situations is like having no defense attorney, no prepared defense, rehearsing plays, or military strategies.


BLOG 2  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uWpvQZUn7tyER61TPwsoCz02AR6oFnAW/edit 




Mark Stephen Schwartz, Ph.D.

June 16, 2020

I experienced bitter cold exposure to my lips and tongue while stuck on a ski-lift.  I became convinced that my speech became distorted and that my mouth movements had become substantially affected. However, I was 100% mistaken.

       Hyper focusing our attention on our bodily sensations and symptoms, and misinterpreting the meaning of the perceptions, can make them seem like something that they are not. Such focusing makes them seem worse.  They worry us unnecessarily and even perpetuate the symptoms. This hyper-focus is like magnifying specks that look horrific when viewed as enormous. The hyper-focus is also like sitting close to a large screen gory movie scenes in contrast to seeing them from a distance and a transformed perspective.

        We humans commonly and understandably focus on our body parts in which symptoms appear. We focus on our body sensations and symptoms. We focus on our anticipated worrisome thoughts about the symptoms occurring, reoccurring, and worsening. And, we focus on the impact on our lives. We understandably and commonly talk about our symptoms to family, friends, strangers, health care professionals, and ourselves. Some people unconsciously believe that focusing on the sensations and symptoms might give them some small degree of control and somehow help them manage them better. Talking about symptoms also can be reinforced by the attention and sentiments from others that can sometimes result in undesirable “secondary gain.” However, focusing, and especially hyper-focusing, does not accomplish desirable outcomes. In contrast, the focus can increase the perceived intensity and negative impact. An exception is when treatment requires focusing, but that is not the focus of this paper. 

      Hyper-focusing is like high power magnification[1] or like being close to a huge movie screen showing very gory scenes[2].  I am not encouraging readers to necessarily view very horrific movie scenes, as presented via these links. I include them only for some readers to consider in testing their reactivity to seeing such scenes close up and as large versus distant and small. View them at your own risk.

       This hyper-focus on bodily sensations and bodily parts, in essence, magnifies details that appear very real to the person experiencing them. They are real in the sense that they are in the brain. However, as we will soon learn, the hyper-focus creates sensations and experiences that are far greater in “size” and “perceptions” than in “reality.”

       So, here is a true story that happened to me, and the noteworthy lessons learned. Before 1988 I lived in Rochester, MN, and went skiing in Colorado 2 or 3 times every winter. I recall sitting on a stuck chair lift for at least 20 minutes in bitterly cold temperatures in the single digits and with some wind, thus a colder wind-chill. My lips and parts of my face were the only exposed areas. I tried keeping them covered, but it felt like I experienced some frostbite on my lips and tongue.

         I returned to work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Every day I perceived that my lips and tongue were different and that my speech sounded different. It felt like there was numbness, and that I spoke with distorted pronunciation. That happened all day with my colleagues and patients. I asked some of my patients, whether I sounded different, but none heard any changes. Well, I thought, they just don’t want to tell me, or they do not understand subtle differences. My colleagues also were unaware. However, it was clear to me.

       After 2 or 3 days of no improvement, I called the Chairperson of Speech Pathology, Arnold Aronson, Ph.D. He was a world-famous speech pathologist, friend, and colleague, whose office was one floor below mine. I asked whether he would see me, and I explained the cold events and my perceptions. He listened. He looked. He asked me to repeat a few sounds and phrases.

       And then he said what profoundly impacted me a few hours later and in the next few days, and, even more importantly, for all the years since then. The impact was and still is in terms of passing on to many patients this knowledge, significant perspectives, and a meaningful lesson. When a person overly focuses on bodily sensations, mainly when those sensations are associated with an unpleasant and worrisome event, then the hypervigilance can result in many unwanted and uncomfortable thoughts.

     These thoughts are disturbing, and at least sometimes. While real at the time, the mere acts of hypervigilance could perpetuate the sensations. This mental process not only magnifies the impressions and results in worry about them; it actually could prolong the feelings. In my anecdotal experience, it disappeared within an hour or two of being reassured by a clear-cut and very credible health professional.  He was very reassuring, did not hear what I heard, and did not see what seemed clear to me existed. Although subjective and relatively brief in my life (i.e., a few days), it was clear to me and persisted all day every day.

      That experience motivated me to try focusing on other sensations (e.g., occasional ear ringing, sometimes mild pain, paresthesia[3], or even the same tongue/lips sensations associated with cold exposure during the chairlift experience and the days after that. I sometimes can reproduce some of these sensations partially. Though I do worry about them and they are usually not intense, they can be there. For example, as I write this, I am focusing on a tinnitus sound of mild chirping or hissing that was not present before I started writing these past few sentences. As I focus on the noise, it gets louder. It has not been present for weeks and only occasionally “returns.” I am confident it will not be present later today. (I paused writing here until the next morning.)  “No” tinnitus last evening nor in bed nor the following day…. at least until I started focusing on it again.

      I will add the perspective that I strongly tend to minimize my focus on bodily sensations and symptoms. I am far from a somatically focused person. I typically defer going to physicians despite their ready availability and little or no cost. So, this focus on my lips, tongue, and speech, indeed hyper-focus, was highly unusual.

      So, one question raised is, what do we do or does anyone do to hopefully substantially reduce, and ideally to eliminate the bodily sensations and other symptoms. Most of that discussion is beyond this paper, but I am feeling obliged to address some of this. In some cases, it might be valuable to know someone like Dr. Aronson, a highly credible health professional and mental health professional to evaluate the “afflicted” person and provide reassurance when appropriate, perspective, and recommendations.

       However, the availability or feasibility of access to such a person is often not present or affordable. If there is a question about the potential seriousness of the sensations, then I recommend considering an evaluation by medical or psychological professionals that are as credible as you can find and see. There often is no substitute for believable reassurance.

       As briefly noted above, hyper-focusing on physical sensations and symptoms is like sitting very close to a huge movie screen showing very gruesome horror movie scenes versus sitting far from a small black and white screen such as on a smartphone. See below for details.

       So, here is the simile scenario. Imagine sitting very close to a large screen in a movie theater displaying very gruesome scenes, e.g., graphic bodily injury. Imagine your physical and emotional reactions. Do you cringe? Do you look away? Do you feel tense? Do you experience increased pulse, breathing changes, muscle tension in your fists, jaw, head, and other areas? The more you watch the gory scenes, the more the symptoms remain or worsen.

       Now, imagine yourself sitting across a room, perhaps 12 or 15 feet away on a smartphone screen. The screen is on a bookshelf or propped up on a table. You watch it, but almost for sure, your reactions would be very subdued or even neutral, especially compared to sitting close to the large screen. Your bodily response will be very different and considerably reduced or non-existent. Many other stimuli surround the screen, and the images of the gory pictures small. Even consider the movie or images in black and white instead of color.

       Thus, looking at, focusing on, and having fearful thoughts about specific bodily sensations and symptoms, are like sitting very close to a large screen with gory and very graphic images. Shrinking the screen or moving it or you far away from the screen can reduce or eliminate your somatic and cognitive distress as would thinking of the pictures as tiny and black and white. 

       Our brain does not entirely distinguish fictional images from real images. Thus, fictional (i.e., movie, slides) elicit real psychophysiological, electrical, biochemical brain reactions that influence emotion, arousal, and discomfort. When the images are small or less realistic, then other parts of our brains react with much less distress or none. It also could be less distressing when the pictures are black and white and distant. Close your eyes and picture your body part, with the sensations/symptoms of concern, on a 5-inch screen 10 to 15 feet away, or even a 36-inch screen 50+ feet away.

       The use of this simile is for those people who want or need logical and credible techniques for reducing the degree, impact, and duration of their undesirable sensations and symptoms. These similes might not be appropriate or less appropriate for persons who have physical damage to the body area and brain that is sufficient to account for the symptoms and severity.  It also might not be for persons who have watched many gory horror movies and have become desensitized to their distressing physical effects.

               So, the “bottom lines” are: suitable

  • Avoid hyper-focusing on body sensations and symptoms
  • Imagine that such hyper-focus is like hyper magnifying hideous microscopic creatures
  • Imagine that such hyper-focus is like sitting close to very gory movie scenes
  • A shift from hyper-focusing to realistic and even distant views.

[1] https://youtu.be/4lmmed3SEGL0  

[2]https://www.google.com/search?q=gory+movie+scenes&oq=gory+movie+&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.7539j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 ;   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgbUB4s-QTs

[3] Abnormal skin sensations (as tingling or tickling or itching or burning) usually associated with peripheral nerve damage.https://www.synonym.com/synonyms/paresthesia




            Believing and Behaving "As If"

                   Facing "Reality"

                   Understand Oneself Better

                   Manage Many Stressors

                       Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D.

                                           July 11, 2020

                                   (Updated August 16, 2020)


  • People very often behave "as if" their perceptions and impressions of themselves are accurate.
  • People very often behave "as if" their perceptions and impressions of others also are accurate.
  • People hold religious beliefs "as if" they are accurate, and very different views are less so, of less value, even incorrect, or even dangerous.
  • Some main religions encourage and ritualize confessions and asking for forgiveness from others and a deity "as if" doing so will "cleanse" themselves of their wrongdoing.
  • I argue with you "as if" I am correct.
  • I am angry at you "as if" you are wrong.
  • People get married and say their vows "as if" the marriage vows have a good chance of being confirmed and predictive.
  • Millions of people enroll in college and spend vast amounts of time, energy, and money "as if" it will pay off.
  • Millions of people start businesses "as if" the company will be successful.
  • Millions, indeed billions, of people try to lead good and decent lives "as if" this will get them into "heaven."
  • Millions of people invest in stocks "as if" it will make money.
  • Many millions of people invest in houses "as if" it will appreciate.
  • People support sports teams "as if" this year will be a winning year.
  • Many lawyers in court argue for some or many of their clients "as if" they believe in their cases.
  • As a medical patient, I believe my physicians and follow their recommendations "as if" they are correct.
  • Many people drink a lot of alcohol (or take other substances) "as if" this is the only way they can or the best way for them to manage their current situation.   
  • Do you choose clothes to buy "as if" you know what your style is and what looks best on you?  

 The following statements of my beliefs might sound incorrect and even very odd to some readers. There might be a temptation to stop after reading the following assertions. However, I encourage readers to finish this document. 

Our views, our thoughts, our interpretations, are held "as if" they are accurate, either totally or mostly. Still, very often, probably nearly always, they are at least very insufficient and very often even inaccurate.  I believe that we humans hypothesize about our understanding of ourselves, others, and explanations for most events. However, we do not consider our beliefs "as if" they are hypotheses. "We" typically are not comfortable with the idea that we might be incorrect. We are often uncomfortable thinking that we do not understand many of our behaviors. We are uncomfortable with admitting that we just do not know the reasons why we say and do what we say and do. And, further, we are uncomfortable with accepting that we do not understand why others say and do what they do.

I have heard these distortions from many thousands of patients, family members, neighbors, and even professional associates. OMG, you might be saying to yourself. Is Dr. Schwartz saying that people do not know what they are talking about when they try to explain their reasons even for their behaviors?  And, is he saying that people also do not know what they are talking about when they try to explain the actions of other people?

My short answer is "yes." However, the "news" is often not "bad."' It is frequently "good." My message is that we do not know many of the reasons for what we are saying are our reasons. However, we can do fine with plausible hypotheses. We can function with "best guesses" and not necessarily the only truth and only way of explaining ourselves or other people. Consider that there are other reasonable hypotheses. Much of science functioned based on plausible assumptions that were not sufficient or turned out to be incorrect. The learning theory attributed to Dr. B. F. Skinner still works very fine even when though it turned out that it did not explain some behaviors. Examples of inadequacies of this theory include language development in young children and "insight" learning. Nevertheless, Skinner's approach is still very widely accepted and is very functional in many applications.

The problem occurs, the "bad news," is when we believe that the hypotheses are the only truth. The problem arises when we "cherry-pick" the options and data and thus distort the evidence we use to support the beliefs. I will return to discussing this later and give examples.

The concept involving not knowing reasons for our behaviors is akin to a variety of theories that have been around for a long time. These include some psychodynamic concepts such as denial, displacement, suppression, and others. These are also similar and linked to some cognitive-behavioral theories such as overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, all-or-nothing thinking, and others.

However, the point of the present document is not to discuss or support any prior theories and concepts, although I subscribe to and agree with many of them. The point here is to point out and review my firm belief that, for whatever reasons, people do not know why they say and do what they say and do.  And, that they do not understand and consider the multiple reasons why others say and do. Furthermore, there is at least one distinct advantage of this "fact," and I take the literary license to call it a "fact," although it is admittedly a hypothesis. This advantage is that it gives us options for self-statements, for perceiving and explaining ourselves, and explaining behaviors of others. Briefly, let us consider being aware of two types of beliefs about myself or two types of views about another person. One type results in adding to my anxiety, depression, or anger, and the other type results in feeling calmer, not depressed or much less depressed, or not angry. And suppose in this general case, that I recognize that these two hypotheses are just that and that I have no way of ever knowing which are correct. Thus, my choice is between one belief that results in feeling very uncomfortable versus the other that results in feeling much better.

 Examples are endless, but a few will hopefully suffice to illustrate. (refer to here but put in a different blog document.)  Examples:

  • Why mom & dad ask their daughter to calm down, speak in a lower tone, ….. What daughter hears…. "shut up", ……

 I believe that most people will admit to themselves and others that there are a lot of topics for which they do not understand. However, I think that these topics are often not many of the essential issues in our lives. Consider topics such as religion, politics, marital and similar partner relationships, business, financial disagreements, parent-child disagreements, and even professional disagreements. 

And, of course, there are topics for which we are well educated, highly experienced, very knowledgeable, and are typically correct. But, those are not the topics for which I am primarily referring. However, I have often heard people argue with real experts. These people understand and have far more education, training, and experience. Examples include a non-mental health professional arguing with a highly credentialed and highly experienced mental health professional. It often just does not seem to matter to many people whether the other person is genuinely highly credible and trustworthy. Religion, politics, and health are prime examples. Another recent example is COVID19 risks. Another example is a layman, a politician, disagreeing with the long term medical head of a federal governmental agency about face masks and social distancing.

Examples of problem topics include:

  • Why am I angry?
  • Why is s/he angry?
  • Why did s/he do what s/he do?
  • Why did I do what I did?
  • Is my religious belief about ____ more ____?
  • Will people who have certain religious beliefs ____?
  • Can an atheist lead a moral life?
  • Are people of specific races inferior in ____ to people in a different race?  

 Now I come to a unique part of this Blog. This part is a simile to help readers who are skeptical and resistant to accepting new cognitions, self-statements, and hypotheses about themselves and others. It is also to help readers reduce or eliminate their resistance to new hypotheses about themselves and other people.

One of my favorite creations is the simile of trying a new style and color of a suit. The new style and color contrasted with a prior incorrect belief. In other words, the prior belief was that this new color and style was not for me. In other words, accepting changes in cognitions, interpretations, and lifestyle is like trying and getting used to new clothes. 

Looking at clothes on a rack often do not appear the same nor as good as when a person tries them on looks at themselves in a 3-way mirror. Similarly, new attitudes, attributions, and behaviors often do not appear the same when one first hears or reads them. "It's not me!" people say. Compliments by others can increase the likelihood that the new clothes become better accepted and worn more often. Similarly, better reactions from other people in response to our revised behaviors and attitudes and beliefs, reinforce our revised hypotheses,  ideas, and actions.

Thus, accepting and getting used to a new self-dialogue, new cognitions, new behaviors, is like trying on, buying, and wearing a very different color or style of suit.  New attitudes about yourself and others are as comfortable as a new and different style of clothes for which you grew to like.

 So, here is a more extended version of the simile. Have you experienced going into a clothing store and looking at some clothes hanging on a rack and thinking that they really wouldn't look good on you? The salesperson is someone you know or someone you have bought something you liked from before. You trust them. He or she encourages you to at least try on the outfit. The salesperson tells you that he or she thinks that you would look good in it. That suit or dress looks better on you than on the rack. He or she believes that the style and color are right for you. You're doubtful, but for a few reasons, you agree to at least try it on.

            When you looked at the outfit on you, it did look better. The more you looked at, from different angles, the better it looked. Sure it needed some alterations to fit your particular shape, but that wasn't so hard. When you picked up the altered outfit and tried it on at home again, it looked great on you. Then when a few people complimented you on the new outfit, you felt good. You were pleased with yourself. You had taken a chance. You trusted the salesperson, an honest salesperson who genuinely believed that you would look good. Sure he or she wanted to sell you the outfit but wouldn't steer you wrong.

When you develop new attitudes and beliefs about yourself, about others, about events can be like developing new perspectives and opinions about new clothes. The new clothes might not look beautiful to you at first when you see them on you. But try wearing them, look at yourself with them and from different angles. Try them out for a while, and you might well be pleasantly surprised at how well they work. See how good you feel with them and how others see you differently and better. See how they seem to grow on you.                

     The above has happened to me several times, so I know it happens. I have heard about this happening many times with others. It is prevalent. Hasn't this happened to you?

The origins of the "as if" ideas incorporated into my writings and psychotherapy sessions have multiple roots. These origins include the philosopher Hans Vaihinger whose "as if" philosophy influenced psychologist George Kelly[i], theory and therapy. Another significant influence on my thinking is the theory of Effectance Motivation (White, 1959). My interpretation of Effectance Motivation is the fundamental need to understand.

A detailed discussion of the theories of Valhinger, Kelly, White, and other related approaches is far beyond the scope of this paper. Perhaps I will address these in another document. At this point, I will briefly summarize some of my interpretations of their core thoughts that influenced my thinking. Humans assume and adopt many false and unrealistic beliefs about themselves, other people, humanity, life, and more. These assumptions are not subject to sufficient study and thus cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed. Firmly believing these fictions help the persons justify their behaviors and feel more knowledgeable, more powerful, more justified, and in control.

            The Psychiatrist Alfred Adler extended Valhinger's ideas by proposing that people's motivation includes expectations of the future. One example is behaving in ways that are consistent with their beliefs in heaven and hell that are fictional but assumed by many people to be true. Thus, they live their lives "as if" there are heaven and hell. Adler referred to this type of thinking as "Fictional Finalism," behaving from perceived truths that are, in fact, fictional. This idea is certainly not surprising, including the recent and current political world.

The less than conscious mind accepts much as real that is fictional. Checking with reality can help balance this for some people some of the time.  However, sadly a large segment of the population avoids or does not have access to the facts and reality to counter the fictions.

Another influence on this theme in my ideas is the work by Robert White (1959), referred to as Effectance Motivation. Briefly, this is the need by humans to experience competence, thus believing that they understand and are correct. According to this line of reasoning, we humans strive to think that we know and are right in our beliefs.

From one perspective, it does not matter whether the ideas are accurate and correct. It only matters that the person has enough knowledge, even fictional knowledge that makes sense to them, to believe that they are right.

It is "as if" they are saying to themselves, "I know; therefore, I am." "I am correct; therefore, I am okay." "I have enough information; therefore, I am okay." "My knowledge makes sense to me; therefore, I am okay." "Do not confuse me or complicate matters with information that I might not be able to understand." "Keep it simple." "Don't create inconsistencies or other information, including your "facts," that could negate or contradict my knowledge and my understanding."

Intolerance of Uncertainty (I.U.)

Related to the need to understand is the research on people's intolerance for uncertainty (I.U.). A definition of I.U. is a human personality characteristic that results from a set of negative beliefs about ambiguity, i.e., uncertainty. The implications involve the tendency to react with negative emotions, cognitions, and behaviors to uncertain situations and events (Buhr & Dugas, 2009). People vary in this tolerance for uncertainty (Lauriola, Mosca, Trentini, Foschi, Tambelli, & Carleton, 2018; Morriss, 2019; Gosselin, Ladouceur, Evers, Laverdière,  Routhier, & Tremblay-Picard, 2008).

Among the consequences of being intolerant of uncertainty is overestimating threat, worrying, harboring a need to control uncertain situations, and seeking reassurance. Uncertainty can contribute to significant stress and can result in inefficient coping. Examples include people adopting oversimplified, i.e., superficial and naïve explanations (Berenbaum et al., 2008Rosen et al., 2014Lauriola et al., 2015McEvoy and Erceg-Hurn, 2015Carleton, 2016b). One can think of I.U. as signifying fear of the unknown. (Hong and Cheung, 2015Carleton, 2016a).

Research supports the idea that people with various clinically significant psychological disorders, and combinations of disorders, harbor varying degrees of uncertainty intolerance. (Holaway et al., 2006Gentes and Ruscio, 2011Sternheim et al., 2011; Holaway et al., 2006Yook et al., 2010McEvoy and Mahoney, 2011).

Similarly and by implication, people vary in their intolerance of misunderstanding events or at least the meaning or gist of events. These can include interpretations of oneself and other people's thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.

Listen to people debating on social media.  They argue about many topics. These include politics, confederate flags, and "Black Lives Matter." They argue about gender variations. They argue about statues and monuments. People on each side of the debates appear to be justifying their certainty in their viewpoints. The debate is "as if" their viewpoints are "facts." In the process, they often disparage the viewpoints of the people with different viewpoints.

This section delves into White's competence motivation[1]or effectance motivation. Effectance motivation refers to "the desire for effective interaction with the environment" (White, 1969, p. 317).  My current interpretation and variation of the definition is the need to understand, make sense of, one's environment, other people, ourselves, tasks, and events.  One major part of my doctoral dissertation in 1966 involved the effects of the assumed uncomfortable feelings associated with uncertainty and not understanding the meaning of events. Among these concepts of interest to me were and still are the motivation:

  • to be logical
  • for certainty
  • to understand and to predict accurately
  • to interact effectively (effectance)
  • to attain competence
  • to be accurate in our interpretation of our environment, events, people, behaviors, and
  • to feel and appear competent

 We also know that humans tend to prefer and seek simple explanations and understanding of our very complex worlds of others and ourselves. We typically base our presumed understanding and predictability on minimal variables and information. Just look at the reasons why we vote for selected candidates, choose mates, make investments, and much more. Of course, many people, including me, and you, I hope, try to rely on many factors. We weigh many factors, investigate and consider many alternative explanations, or do we? We try. I try. And yet?

From Bill Griffitt's chapter (Griffitt, 1974), "reinforcement properties of similar and dissimilar attitudes are widely assumed to derive from a general motive to be logical, accurate, and correct (effective) in interpreting one's environment. ….. to the social environment, the accuracy, logicalness, and correctness of beliefs and attitudes concerning issues such as politics, war, and religion may be evaluated only by consensual validation or invalidation through social comparison with others (Festinger, 1954)…" (p.302)

In related work, this motive was labeled "effectance" and gleaned from the Robert White Effectance Motivation concept. My use of Effectance Motivation focuses only on that part that involves the aspects that involve people's need to understand and not to master skills and techniques.

This content is also closely related to a more contemporary concept of self-efficacy AND extensive research and writings (Bandura, 1997). It is part of the theoretical and, for me, the logical and practical idea of people actively needing to correctly interpret the statements, thoughts, and behaviors of others and themselves. I am merely noting the relationship but will not elaborate much on self-efficacy.

 Conclusions and Summary

So, as the age-old saying goes, "A rose by any other name is still a rose." The theoretical terms and the theories and research differ in some ways, as is very common, indeed typical of science and researchers. Each draws on the thinking and research of others and infuses their own with their terminology and variations, implications, predictions, and types of research. Those are standard in science and part of the ways that scientific thought and research progress. For example, there are ideas, theories, and research that often dates back to ancient Greek philosophers and other philosophers over the millennia. However, each theory has its terminology, interwoven ideas, implications, and types of research. I am trying to weave together related ideas and theories that I think support the same or similar idea stated in various ways. For here, I choose the following tentative wording. 

We humans,

  • need and strive to understand and to be effective,
  • vary and have a variety of limitations within ourselves and within the topics, we strive and need to understand
  • strongly tend to use various heuristics, thus relatively simple and typically incomplete but also inaccurate in many ways to understand
  • harbor varying degrees of intolerance for ambiguity and get uncomfortable with such uncertainties
  • experience distress to the degrees that we have such intolerance for uncertainty
  • with various types of limitations, e.g., psychological commonly experience more intolerance for uncertainty
  • do not like admitting to ourselves or others that we do not understand many of the perceived and actual crucial topics in our lives e.g.

spiritual, e.g., religious

political, e.g., conservative vs. liberal

individual differences, e.g., racial, gender preferences, personality traits

-        think and behave "as if" we do understand, "as if" we are correct, "as if" there is truth and we know it.

-        argue, debate, join, support, aggress against, and even go to war "as if" it is "our way or the highway." To be sure, sometimes in history and our lives, our "as ifs" are correct. However, I believe that even in many of those instances, we do not know. Still, we allow our thoughts and our emotional reactivity to dominate our lives "as if" they are in charge.


There is a simile about our thoughts being like the defense and prosecution in a courtroom. Our positive and reassuring thoughts are our defense. However, our defense attorney has been ill-informed and incompetent. The negative thoughts, with negative implications and outcomes, is like the powerful prosecutor. The prosecutor has been more easily persuading the judge and jury. This situation persists until our defense attorney displays devotion to speaking for our best interests. Our preferred defense needs to prepare better and rehearse.

We want our defense attorney to object to false accusations about symptoms, abilities to manage, and helplessness. We want our defense attorney to object rapidly before the prosecutor's words are allowed to influence the jury. Thus, we want the preferred thoughts to arise fast and effectively. I also wrote about this simile in my "Defend Yourself" Blog.

There is a more encouraging and preferable interpretation compared to the view that we humans do not understand anything. We need not live entirely in a "make-believe" or "as if" world.

Humans can very often behave fine with theories and belief systems that are functional, that work, that need not harm others, and that do not harm themselves. These beliefs can allow and facilitate reasonably efficient and caring interpersonal relationships. We need not be perfect. We need not understand all that we seek to understand. We can and do make lots of mistakes. We can learn to tolerate lots of uncertainty. We can believe in and interpret "as if" systems in religion, for example, and yet not adopt all of the systems and not interpret parts that will harm others or ourselves.

We can support our political and religious systems without depriving others of their beliefs. We can learn to work together and compromise without believing that compromise means we lose or are doomed. We do not necessarily have to consider our beliefs, our theories, as the only correct ones.

Is this easy? No, of course, it is not easy! Are some people, perhaps many people, incapable of doing it? Apparently, in the environment in which they live and with their limitations and burdens, I reluctantly agree that many are not capable. My purpose here is not to persuade all or most readers to strive for this ideal world. My purposes are to enlighten people to think differently. I want readers to understand themselves and others from different vantage points. Be more flexible, be knowledgeable, and be more accepting of yourselves. Develop and cultivate thoughts and behaviors that facilitate improved adaptation. Those who can better adapt will be more successful in life.

Consider the familiar situation when one set of beliefs, a theory about yourself and others, is not working well for you. When this situation is resulting in much distress for you, find another set of beliefs that have better results for you. This option is akin to saying that if a scientist's theory is not allowing accurate predictions that account for enough of the data variability, then modify the theory. In this case, modify your interpretations of yourself, others, events, etc. Keep adjusting until you feel much better and are predicting more accurately and with more benefits for you and those relevant to you. So, if my behavior is not leading to the desired emotions and behaviors, within me or by others, then modify your beliefs and try different behaviors. "Elementary, my dear Watson."



Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W H Freeman/Times Books/ Henry Holt & Co.

Birrell, J. & Freeston, M. (2011). Toward a definition of intolerance of uncertainty: A review of factor analytical studies of the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(7), pp. 1198-1208.

Buhr, K. &Dugas, M. J. (2009). The role of fear of anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty in worry: An experimental manipulation. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(3), 215-223.  

Fergus, T. A. (2013). A comparison of three self-report measures of intolerance of uncertainty: An examination of structure and incremental explanatory power in a community sample. Psychological Assessment, 25(4), 1322–1331. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034103

Gosselin, P., Ladouceur, R., Evers, A., Laverdière, A., Routhier, S., & Tremblay-Picard, M. (2008). The Intolerance of Uncertainty Inventory (IUI): Development and Validation of a New Self-Report Measure. Anxiety Disorders, 22(8), 1427-1439.

Griffitt, W. (1974). Attitude Similarity and Attraction (Ch. 12). In T.L.Huston, T. L. (Ed.) Foundations of Interpersonal Attraction.  New York: Academic Press.

Lauriola, M.Mosca, O.Trentini, C.Foschi, RTambelli, R. & Carleton, R.N. (2018).The Intolerance of Uncertainty Inventory: Validity and Comparison of Scoring Methods to Assess Individuals Screening Positive for Anxiety and Depression. Frontiers in Psychology, March 26, 2018.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00388 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00388/full

Morriss, J. (2019). What do I do now? Intolerance of uncertainty is associated with discrete patterns of anticipatory physiological responding to different contexts. Psychophysiology,
56(9),      https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13396

  [1] https://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch09-motivation/competence-motivation.html

 [i] Coincidentally, my 2nd cousin, Jonathan Raskin, Ph.D., has published many papers and is an authority on George Kelly, Ph.D. He wrote the document "As if" in "The Internet Encyclopaedia of Personal Construct Psychology." 




BLOG 1 -- Defend your innocence. Stop prosecuting yourself. Stop bolstering your prosecutor. Act "as if" there is a real case to make about yourself because there is! Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 


BLOG 2 -- Hyper-focusing on undesirable body sensations, thus magnifying them in our perceptions, can make them seem worse and prolong them. Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 


BLOG 3 -- Believing and Behaving "As If" / Facing "Reality" / Understand Oneself Better /  Manage Many Stressors  Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 

BLOG 4 -- DJT: Some Reasons for People Supporting Trump  Mark S Schwartz, Ph.D. October 11, 2020