Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Dangers of Over-Interpretation and Over-Analysis

A reader highlighted this problem in a comment on my recent "Letter Writing in Relationships" articles. At the time, the comment was aimed mainly at letters but I feel that it applies in a lot of other areas of aspie communication.

Note: As is often the case, my initial writing of this particular blog went off-topic and instead spends most of it's time exploring a completely different aspie trait. I've decided to leave it intact though as I think it provides some interesting reading.

Its a well known fact that aspies miss quite a lot of the nuances of non-verbal communication such as tone, expression, body language and innuendo. What is often less documented is that these things can often be determined by aspies with good coping mechanisms, though not without significant delay.

Event Recording as a Coping Mechanism
One of the most effective coping mechanisms I employ is "conversation recording" where I attempt to remember an event in its entirety for later analysis.

In aspies with particularly well-developed coping mechanisms (typically, older aspies), event recording is virtually "second nature". It often occurs without any conscious decision on our part.

When an event is "recorded", a lot of things, particularly tone and body language which are not accessible at the time are retained. The funny thing about this type of retention is that although a lot of input is captured, it usually isn't available to me until I review the "recording". Something I may not do until hours or days later - and often, unless I have a reason to do so, not at all.

Late Interpretation
I'm in the habit of reviewing "recordings" whenever I get an unexpected response from people or whenever I deem that a conversation is important and could be carrying more information than is immediately obvious.

Often this works in my favour. Certainly an apology for a lack of empathy or a misguided "off the wall" remark is better being a few days late than not being offered at all.

At work a post-meeting interpretation can help me to understand exactly what is really being asked of me. It also uncovers a lot of my embarrassing on-the-spot answers.

While event recording is certainly useful in understanding relationship issues there are a few critical problems with using it in this context;

  • Over interpretation
    When people are having an unrehearsed conversation, there's a certain amount of non-verbal language that creeps in - but there's also a limit to this.

    Reinterpreting the same scene 10 times over usually won't reveal any additional information and anything new that does appear after several reviews is more likely to have been introduced by the "reviewer" than the original conversationalist.

  • Frame of Reference
    Men and women have vastly different frames of reference and will often interpret the same scenarios quite differently - particularly from an emotional standpoint. Sometimes "no interpretation" is better than a completely wrong or"insensitive" one.

  • Emotional Interference
    Where the emotions of couples are concerned, there can often be a significant difference between what someone says and what they really mean.

    Tone and body language can be an important clue here but sometimes constant replaying of the conversation can cause you to focus entirely on the words,rather than on the message.

Written Communication
often, as a way of making up for the shortcomings in our normal conversation, aspies will expend quite a bit of effort in the interpretation of written communication.

This is great when it comes to poetry which can be full of hidden meanings but it's not good when a letter is meant as a "heart to heart" because the aspie can fill it up with their own interpretations and leave no room for the writer to get their point across.

The only solution here is to try to encourage the aspie to read without interpreting but it's more difficult than it sounds.


wrongshoes said...

I didn't realize it wasn't usual for people to do this. This is one reason I love to write stories about simple experiences. My experiences are enhanced as I'm transcribing them.

pink said...

i definitely do this... over-exaggerate things in my mind. i really need to learn to just see things as they are, maybe exaggerate body language and emotions but not intentions. a lot of fabrication goes on in my head when things are really quite simple
i also agree about writing, i love writing things down, it's so interesting.

pink said...

i definitely do this... it's something i need to work on, i need to learn to see things just as they are.

virgoansun said...

Fascinating - I like the bit about recording conversations for later use and analysis. I frequently go over and over things in a rather obsessive manner - often finding out rather late that someone was being unpleasant. Even so after 47 years of having conversations, I can read a situation quite well on a good day. On a very Aspie day, I can't really understand anything. Me wings