The Social Coprocessor Model

Fol­lowup to: Do you have High-Func­tion­ing Asperger’s Syn­drome?

LW reader Mad­bad­ger uses the metaphor of a GPU and a CPU in a desk­top sys­tem to think about peo­ple with Asperger’s Syn­drome: gen­eral in­tel­li­gence is like a CPU, be­ing uni­ver­sal but only mediocre at any par­tic­u­lar task, whereas the “so­cial co­pro­ces­sor” brain­ware in a Neu­rotyp­i­cal brain is like a GPU: highly spe­cial­ized but great at what it does. Neu­rotyp­i­cal peo­ple are like com­put­ers with measly Pen­tium IV pro­ces­sors, but ex­pen­sive Radeon HD 4890 GPUs. A High-func­tion­ing AS per­son is an In­tel Core i7 Ex­treme Edi­tion—with on-board graph­ics!

This anal­ogy also cov­ers the spec­trum view of so­cial/​em­pathic abil­ities, you can think about hav­ing a weaker so­cial co­pro­ces­sor than av­er­age if you have some of the ten­den­cies of AS but not oth­ers. You can even think of your score on the AQ Test as be­ing like the Tom’s Hard­ware Rat­ing of your Co­pro­ces­sor. (Lower num­bers are bet­ter!).

If you lack that pow­er­ful so­cial co­pro­ces­sor, what can you do? Well, you’ll have to run your so­cial in­ter­ac­tions “in soft­ware”, i.e. ex­plic­itly rea­son through the com­plex hu­man so­cial game that most peo­ple play with­out ever re­ally un­der­stand­ing. There are sev­eral tricks that a High-func­tion­ing AS per­son can use in this situ­a­tion:

  • (Most im­por­tantly) Find a com­mu­nity of oth­ers—who are try­ing to solve the same prob­lem (Though be care­ful not to wind up with a group of peo­ple who have weaker so­cial co­pro­ces­sors and aren’t do­ing any­thing about it, as you will tend to con­form to this be­hav­ior). Hav­ing even a few friends who are in a similar niche to you is worth a huge amount in terms of mo­ti­vat­ing so­cial pres­sure, as a sound­ing board to bounce ideas off, and sim­ply for the in­stinc­tive feel of sup­port that hav­ing a group of peo­ple “in the same boat as you” gives.

  • Cached an­swers—you can pre­com­pute the “right” re­sponses to so­cial situ­a­tions. Prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple of this is the an­swer to the “buy me a drink” prob­lem: you ap­proach an at­trac­tive NT per­son who you might like as a fu­ture part­ner. After a short time, they ask you to buy them a drink. The log­i­cal an­swer to this ques­tion is “what kind of drink would you like?”, be­cause in most so­cial situ­a­tions where you want to build up a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with a per­son, it is best to com­ply with their re­quests; not cre­at­ing ex­plicit con­flict is usu­ally a safe heuris­tic. But this is the wrong an­swer in this con­text, and you can store in your cache of counter-in­tu­itive an­swers.

  • Scien­tific the­o­ries of so­cial games—in­clud­ing game the­ory and es­pe­cially sig­nal­ing games, in­for­ma­tion eco­nomics and evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy. Build­ing on the “buy me a drink” prob­lem, in­stead of sim­ply stor­ing the an­swer as an ex­cep­tion, you can use evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion eco­nomics to see the un­der­ly­ing pat­tern so that you can cor­rectly an­swer the “drink” prob­lem and many other similar prob­lems. The NT is us­ing the drink re­quest to solve a cheap talk prob­lem—they don’t re­ally want the drink, they want to know if you have higher dat­ing mar­ket value than them, for ex­am­ple higher so­cial sta­tus, in­come, suc­cess with other part­ners, etc. This is be­cause evolu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy makes some peo­ple want high-sta­tus peo­ple as part­ners. If they just asked you di­rectly for these facts about your­self, you would have a strong in­cen­tive to lie. So they make a re­quest that is some­what rude, where only a lower-sta­tus suitor who thought they were worth “suck­ing up to” would com­ply, and then re­ject suit­ors who com­ply. This is re­ally a kind of screen­ing, where abil­ity to give the “right” an­swer plays the role of a cre­den­tial. Neu­rotyp­i­cals play some de­vi­ous games, and this is ac­tu­ally quite a tame ex­am­ple.

  • The wis­dom of na­ture heuris­tic—the hu­man so­cial co­pro­ces­sor is perfectly op­ti­mized for an en­vi­ron­ment that we are no longer in. The EEA has sig­nifi­cant differ­ences to the pre­sent en­vi­ron­ment: most promi­nently, we have po­lice and laws so other hu­mans mostly don’t act on their de­sire to kill you. This means that you can get away with things that you have an in­nate fear of, and you should strongly dis­trust your fear of other peo­ple’s dis­ap­proval. There are also some re­li­able prox­ies of fit­ness that are no longer re­li­able, for ex­am­ple height (can be mod­ified by higher shoes—a trick that women have cot­toned on to, but men are to­tally miss­ing out on).

  • Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and de­sen­si­ti­za­tion—your brain is plas­tic: you can train it and you can de­sen­si­tize your­self to situ­a­tions that scare you. De­sen­si­ti­za­tion re­lies most on ob­jec­tifing and dis-iden­ti­fy­ing with your mal­adap­tive gut fear of do­ing some­thing scary, for ex­am­ple pub­lic speak­ing or at­tend­ing a so­cial func­tion where you know al­most no-one. Real­ize that your brain con­tains small, sim­ple, dumb cir­cuits that pro­duce your emo­tions, and some of them are out­right harm­ful to you. You need to ig­nore their out­put and ex­pose your­self to the stim­uli.

  • Real­iz­ing that your brain con­tains non­ra­tional psy­cholog­i­cal vari­ables—that can be re­set, of­ten through a pro­cess known as “self trans­for­ma­tion”. Ex­am­ples in­clude gen­eral out­look on life, con­fi­dence, self-es­ti­mated sta­tus, self-es­teem, sense of “fun” and ra­tio­nal ir­ra­tional­ities such as venge­ful­ness, honor and pride. Ap­proaches to self-trans­for­ma­tion in­clude east­ern-style “spiritu­al­ity”, “new age” pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy works such as Eck­hard Tolle, and more main­stream self-help like Tony Rob­bins. Chang­ing your use of self-talk and fram­ing is crit­i­cal to re­set­ting these vari­ables.