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Hypocognition, in cognitive linguistics, means missing and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts.[1]


The word hypocognition (and its opposite, hypercognition) was coined by American psychiatrist and anthropologist Robert Levy in his 1973 book Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands. After 26 months of studying them, Levy described Tahitians as having no words to describe sorrow or guilt, resulting in people who had suffered personal losses describing themselves as feeling sick or strange instead of sad.[2][3] Levy believed the Tahitians' lack of frames for thinking about and expressing grief contributed to their high suicide rate.[4] He believed that a balance between hypercognition and hypocognition was culturally most desirable.[5]


Hypocognition is a phrase commonly used in linguistics. In 2004 George Lakoff used it to describe political progressives in the United States, saying that relative to conservatives they suffer from "massive hypocognition," which he described as the lack of having a progressive philosophy framed around the progressive core values of empathy and responsibility such as "effective government" versus "less government" or "broader prosperity" versus "free markets."[6]


Hypocognition has been blamed for preventing the practical application of evidence-based medicine in areas where frames (contextual and presentational influences on perceptions of reality) obscure facts.[7] More generally, experts often overuse their own expertise: e.g. cardiologist diagnose a heart problem when the actual problem is something else.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hollan, Douglas (2000). "Constructivist Models of Mind, Contemporary Psychoanalysis, and the Development of Culture Theory". American Anthropologist. 102 (3): 538–550, See p. 541. doi:10.1525/aa.2000.102.3.538.
  2. ^ Levy, Robert I. (1975). Tahitians: mind and experience in the Society Islands (Pbk. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 324. ISBN 978-0226476070.
  3. ^ Shweder, Richard A., ed. (1995). Culture theory: essays on mind, self, and emotion. Cambridge University Press. pp. 227–8. ISBN 978-0521318310.
  4. ^ Ottenheimer, Harriet Joseph (2009). The anthropology of language: an introduction to linguistic anthropology (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. p. 41. ISBN 978-0495508847.
  5. ^ Ferrara, Nadia (1998). Emotional expression among Cree Indians: the role of pictorial representations in the assessment of psychological mindedness. London: Jessica Kingsley. p. 38. ISBN 978-1853026560.
  6. ^ Lakoff, George (2004). Don't think of an elephant!: know your values and frame the debate: the essential guide for progressives. White River Junction VT: Chelsea Green. p. 24. ISBN 978-1931498715.
  7. ^ Mariotto, A. (2010). "Hypocognition and evidence-based medicine". Internal Medicine Journal. 40 (1): 80–82. doi:10.1111/j.1445-5994.2009.02086.x. PMID 20561370. S2CID 24519238.
  8. ^ Wu, Kaidi; Dunning, David (9 August 2018). "Unknown Unknowns: The Problem of Hypocognition". Scientific American. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  9. ^ Wu, Kaidi; Dunning, David (2018). "Hypocognition: Making sense of the landscape beyond one's conceptual reach". Review of General Psychology. 22 (1): 22–25. doi:10.1037/gpr0000126.