Poor Social Judgment – An Aspect of Schizophrenia

There are three components that generally typify an individual emerging with schizophrenia: alienation, introversion and divergent thinking. Together, these characteristics diminish the schizophrenic individual’s capacity for exercising good judgment in social situations.


People with emerging schizophrenia are generally socially impaired and isolated. As stated by Burns (2006), “premorbid developmental and social impairments have been well documented in adult schizophrenia.” People with schizophrenia tend to be unpopular and uninvolved in primary and secondary school, and they may also be more introverted than their peers.

The mentally ill are possibly the most alienated members of our society. Research suggests that social isolation (i.e. limited social interaction with other children) and poor or disrupted interpersonal relations during childhood, teen and early adult years appear to increase an individual’s risk for future development of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. It is quite possible that social isolation is causally implicated in the presentation of schizophrenia, instead of simply being correlated with psychosis as a separate characteristic. It is obvious that social isolation is a consequence of schizophrenia.


Introversion may also accompany psychosis, and it too may be inexorably intertwined with alienation and psychosis. Divergent thinking has been noted to be descriptive of individuals that may be more self-involved, at least in terms of their thinking processes. Jung noted that introverts solve their problems in their own minds, as opposed to extroverts who rely on the external world and interaction with other people in solving problems.

As stated by Rugu (2013), “one is predominantly introverted if his interest and attention generally turn inward, toward his own thoughts and feelings; if his interest and attention are generally directed outward, toward other people and external stimuli, he is predominantly extroverted.” Clearly, however, there exists a continuum between introversion and extraversion, with most individuals falling between the two extremes. Nevertheless, most schizophrenics are probably more introverted than they are extroverted, and the social isolation that may accompany their introversion may be extreme.

Divergent thinking

In previous articles, I’ve suggested that schizophrenic individuals tend to be divergent thinkers. Divergent thinking has been noted to rely on perceiving more details in the in the mental and the material worlds than what might emerge from what may be called dogmatic thinking, and it should be understood that there exists worlds that are constituted by the material and the non-material.

While people with schizophrenia may be more imaginative than non-mentally ill individuals, the creativity implicit in their thought processes may not be productive in a positive sense, specifically because they may lack the quality of convergent thinking, involving analytic reasoning and logic. Schizophrenics may have more details at their disposal with which to construct their world-views, but they may not be able to construct their world-views in a meaningful way. Divergent thinking characterizes perhaps all forms of schizophrenia. It may be most obvious in the paranoid schizophrenic, but the results of this type of thinking, when convergent thinking is lacking in the individual, can be seen disorganized schizophrenic individuals.

Divergent thinking accompanies social isolation due to the fact that this type of thinking leads to unique ideas, whether these are good ideas or bad ideas, and whether these ideas are practically applicable to problems in the material and mental worlds. Because divergent thinking is a quality that characterizes schizophrenic individuals as well, it might be said, again, that divergent thinking is a correlate of schizophrenia and it may result in alienation. Alienation, divergent thinking, and introversion all may be amalgamated as causes of the psychotic presentation. In combination, these characteristics allow for the synergy between isolation and introversion, compounded by the influence of divergent thinking, perhaps without the convergent thinking which would permit solutions to problems related to social interaction.

The synergy between alienation, introversion and divergent thinking may all equally form part of the personality of the schizophrenic individual. This personality will be dysfunctional in meeting the interpersonal needs of the schizophrenic individual, due to the nature of intrapersonal self-involvement reflected in alienation, introversion and divergent thinking.

Social judgment

Ultimately, it is social judgment that is compromised by these three characteristics. The schizophrenic’s essential and paramount battle may be to ameliorate the effects of stigma, a consequence of implicit societal attitudes that are a reaction to the schizophrenic’s hapless and unintended nonconformity.

Without social judgment, the schizophrenic may have no means of negotiating social relationships, she may be unable to understand how others view her, and she may lose contact with others in the material world. This loss of real world social contact, then, exacerbates the condition of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia can be viewed as a vicious cycle caused by alienation, introversion and divergent thinking. Social skills training would be an intervention that might serve to assist schizophrenics in dealing with stigma. This type of training might allow them to approach new acquaintances with knowledge of appropriate disclosure of their condition – disclosure that may demonstrate a social awareness of how their illness is viewed by others. Equipped with an understanding, however limited, of the role of stigma in terms of their interactions with others, people with schizophrenia may be better able to interact in the material world.


Burns J (2006). The social brain hypothesis of schizophrenia. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 5 (2), 77-81 PMID: 16946939

Image via everst / Shutterstock.

Ann Reitan, PsyD

Ann Reitan, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and well published essayist of fiction and creative nonfiction. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Washington, Master of Arts in Psychology from Pepperdine University, and Doctorate of Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University. Her post-doctoral research at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, involved personality theory, idiodynamics and creativity in literature. She recently published Illuminating Schizophrenia: Insights into the Uncommon Mind.
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