Mental Rigidity: An Intolerant And Demanding Jailer

Mental rigidity: an intolerant and demanding jailer

The expression “being mentally closed” has been part of popular language for a long time now. We use this idiom when a person we know is mentally rigid, that is, he does not understand or does not want to understand a point of view other than his own, or, because of being right, he loses his temper trying to convince us of our mistake.

So, conventionally, when we talk about a “mentally closed” person, we think of someone who rejects different reflections, ideas or perspectives, in order to remain comfortable and lock themselves up in a personal mental scheme. In other words, a person who necessarily wants to convey his idea to everyone.

This expression, like many others that have become “popular”, must be understood in all its nuances when used in the psychological field. In psychology, in fact, the saying “to be mentally closed” has variants; in this article, we will focus on two of them, due to their semantic proximity.

Mental rigidity

Mental rigidity implies the absence of flexibility and openness, which would help us to reflect from different perspectives, to endure criticism and to live rather than survive. The term “mental rigidity” has often been used in clinical psychology, both to express a phenomenon, a symptom, and a personality trait. Here are some examples:

  • In terms of a clinical phenomenon, psychoanalysis has understood mental rigidity and as a resistance of the patient in the face of change or a situation that is to be avoided. This definition is strictly connected to the meaning we give to this expression in everyday life. A possible example is the patient’s mental rigidity in the face of love or commitment, thus complicating life for this topic.
woman locked up in glass jar
  • Mental rigidity is also linked to the concept of “comfort zone” and, in this case, it acts by clipping the wings, which would be necessary for the imagination, the overcoming of oneself, the expansion of one’s comfort zone and the exploration of new horizons.
  • When mental rigidity is a symptom, we find it in disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome, senile dementia or OCD.
  • The most common concept of mental rigidity, however, is that which refers to a personality trait. This means that, generally, in clinical psychology, rigidity is understood as a set of characteristics, above all mental, but also emotional and behavioral, which occur all together and in a stable manner. In this regard, it can be said that there are two opposite poles: high a and low stiffness.

The need for cognitive closure

This second meaning of the term saves, in some way, the reputation of mentally closed people. The need for cognitive closure refers to the need to eliminate the uncertainty that arises due to a thought or situation. This need is activated by motivating the individual to give a simple answer. The stronger the need for closure, the more energy will be spent in accepting the response and its defense.

However, this does not imply that the answer is positive, correct, genuine or wise. But what does this have to do with closed-mindedness? It’s very simple. Imagine that one day ash starts raining from the sky; this is an inexplicable fact in the beginning, since there are no volcanoes nearby and no other elements that could produce ash in such large quantities.

A person who is mentally closed or with a strong need for cognitive closure would say that it is not ash, but snow, full stop. He would establish this and would not think about it anymore. As we said before, the stronger the need for cognitive closure, the more urgently an answer is sought, regardless of its veracity.

closed and rigid minds

Now imagine a situation that involves the emotional involvement of a subject; let’s assume that a family member has died. A person with a strong need for cognitive closure will try to give a sharp and as painful answer as possible to that great doubt that is death. She will blame the doctors, channeling her hatred, or she will be filled with guilt for the mistakes made while the deceased individual was still alive.

There are many possible scenarios, but they all have immediacy and impetus in common, factors that often do not help. These are precisely the characteristics that unite cognitive closure and the expression “being closed in mind”: immediacy and low tolerance to uncertainty, which push us to respond, but without seeking a new answer.

Are you mentally closed?

The answer to this question is divided into two parts. Let’s review: we talked about rigidity as a sort of cognitive personality trait and the need for mental closure; we have observed its logical functioning with respect to a necessity that, some more or less, everyone feels, that is, to overcome uncertainty.

We need to be honest with ourselves and ask ourselves if we are more people looking for explanations or giving them. If we let our friends talk when they tell us something, if at times we let curiosity overcome the temptation to settle for the first available answer, if we are able to live by asking ourselves questions, then we are far from being mentally closed individuals.

mind lit red with lock and key

As you may have understood, the presence or absence of stiffness are arbitrary matters, so it makes no sense to say things like “I am less stiff than you”, as the scale of mental inflexibility varies from person to person.

Regarding the need for cognitive closure, it must be said that, although there are scales and tests to measure mental rigidity (Webster y Kruglanski, 1994), the truth is that we are all affected. We need closure. There is nothing more human than the pursuit of mental efficiency and the attempt to avoid the discomfort caused  by misunderstanding , especially if our emotions are also involved. Who could ever blame the subject of the previous example for the feelings born in him in the face of the death of a family member?

To conclude, we cannot forget the core of the article. It is difficult to be rigid or not at all, to need cognitive closure or not to have it at all. Ultimately, even if these are measurable factors, we are the ones who manage the root of the problem. Perhaps our task is not to be more or less closed, but to understand why we are and how much this damages us.

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