|William Doherty Challenging Cases Anxiety Mindfulness Great Attachment Debate Future of Psychotherapy Clinical Mastery Attachment Theory Attachment Brain Science Men in Therapy Wendy Behary Couples Therapy CE Comments Diets Trauma Ethics Community of Excellence Mind/Body Etienne Wenger Symposium 2012 Clinical Excellence Couples David Schnarch Gender Issues Narcissistic Clients Linda Bacon Mary Jo Barrett Alan Sroufe The Future of Psychotherapy|
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Art also has a competitive side: to be used as an instrument of sexual selection, another of its adaptive functions. You don't need to be Sigmund Freud to realize that art is pulsing with sex and self-display—from the rock star who galvanizes a screaming audience to dreamy readings by a silky poet and prancing parades of runway fashion models. Art draws us together, but it distinguishes us when we're competing for mates or for attention from the other sex. Sexy starlets and rugged leading men, American Idols, even newly empowered, brainy nerds, all gloriously display distinguishing behavior in the service of sexual and reproductive fulfillment.
Dutton is at his best when he writes about storytelling as an evolutionary adaptation: "Stories provide low-cost surrogate experience," he says. They were essential for our preliterate ancestors because they conveyed information. They served up knowledge in neat packages and helped solve problems by dramatizing potentially difficult situations. They helped our ancestors recall what was dangerous and what was beneficial. But storytellers did more than just relate basic details about what foods to eat and what animals to avoid: they loaded their tales with emotion to hammer their points home. They did this because, as Dutton tells us, using the jargon of psychology, "imagination is a cognitive asset."
Still, you can convey information in vividly emotional documentary style, so where does the proclivity to make things up—to fictionalize—come from? Why the premium on imaginative thinking and activity?
The answer, argues Dutton in a chapter called "The Uses of Fiction," is that imagination enlarges the range of human possibility. First, fictional stories "satisfy a need to experiment with answers to "what if?" questions which focus on problems, threats and opportunities." The adaptive function of conducting thought experiments, of conjecture, of discovering what might happen, is that imaginative narratives allow us to construct unlikely scenarios and play with them—in effect, to think outside the box. That's why military planners, criticized for a "failure of imagination" after the attacks of 9/11, went to Hollywood to interview moviemakers. They wanted to nail down possible terror scenarios that had escaped their mind-sets. Such scenario-making is called "brainstorming" in business and educational settings, and is routinely promoted by hordes of consultants.
The second reason for the usefulness of imagination is "mind reading." "Stories encourage us to explore points of view, beliefs, motivations and values of other human minds," writes Dutton. Stories create the grounds for empathy and social networking. They provide "regulation for social behavior." The imagination is an arena in which the solution to life's problems can be explored. In that way, Dutton suggests, art doesn't imitate life; it's the other way around: life imitates art.
It occurred to me while reading this book that there's a lesson here for therapists and others who practice in the mental health field. After all, perhaps the main tool of therapy is the telling of stories, the conveying of personal information in narrative. When a client sees a therapist, the session is more than just an information dump: clients "perform" their stories in front of therapists, even if they're shy, reticent, or reluctant. They fill their tales with simmering (or repressed) emotion. Therapists conduct thought experiments with their clients and discuss possible scenarios with them. They help clients imagine fresh ways of thinking, acting, and being.