The erotetic theory of delusional thinking

Cogn Neuropsychiatry. 2015;20(5):398-415. doi: 10.1080/13546805.2015.1067601. Epub 2015 Sep 14.


Introduction: In this paper, we argue for a novel account of one cognitive factor implicated in delusional cognition. According to the erotetic theory of delusion we present, the central cognitive factor in delusion is impaired endogenous question raising.

Method: After presenting the erotetic theory, we draw on it to model three distinct patterns of reasoning exhibited by delusional and schizophrenic patients, and contrast our explanations with Bayesian alternatives.

Results: We argue that the erotetic theory has considerable advantages over Bayesian models. Specifically, we show that it offers a superior explanation of three phenomena: the onset and persistence of the Capgras delusion; recent data indicating that schizophrenic subjects manifest superior reasoning with conditionals in certain contexts; and evidence that schizophrenic and delusional subjects have a tendency to "jump to conclusions." Moreover, since the cognitive mechanisms we appeal to are independently motivated, we avoid having to posit distinct epistemic states that are intrinsically irrational in order to fit our model to the variety of data.

Conclusion: In contrast to Bayesian models, the erotetic theory offers a simple, unified explanation of a range of empirical data. We therefore conclude that it offers a more plausible framework for explaining delusional cognition.

Keywords: delusion; erotetic theory; jumping to conclusions; reasoning; schizophrenia.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Delusions / psychology*
  • Empirical Research
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation
  • Schizophrenic Psychology