When you have diminished psychological capacity, you no longer have the ability to make effective, reasonable decisions regarding your life.
In this lesson, we’ll discuss the definition of diminished capacity and look at some examples.
What is Diminished Capacity in Psychology?
You’re at home alone. You don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you don’t feel well and you’re struggling to get up off the floor. Grabbing your phone, you manage to call 911. The EMTs notice that you’ve not been eating well, you’re confused, you haven’t bathed in many days, and there’s no evidence that you have recently eaten. Something is definitely wrong with you.Diminished capacity is a condition where you are no longer capable of making effective decisions about your life.
It is also called a loss or lack of ‘competency’. Capacity can refer to your ability to decide things (decisional capacity) or your ability to take effective action (executional capacity).
Why Does it Happen?
Diminished capacity occurs as a result of damage to the brain. For example, dementia (a decline in your memory or thinking skills) can produce a condition where you no longer remember how you’re supposed to behave. Psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia (fragmented thought processes combined with delusions and illusions), can create a situation where you’re no longer perceiving reality effectively. Psychopathy is a state where you have a limited ability to experience emotions and may not understand the consequences or moral implications of your decisions and actions.
Damage to emotional processing centers, such as due to a physical blow to the head, can cause you to be unable to control your emotions. In each of these cases you may be considered to have diminished capacity, which generally means that society will not allow you to remain completely independent.
You are fascinated by a certain movie, to the point of obsession.
You watch it over and over again and imagine yourself as the protagonist. As you spend your time constantly within this limited environment, you find that aspects of your life outside the movie become more difficult to understand and deal with. You don’t understand the need to pay your bills or even go to work. After all, you are now a different person! As the delusion persists, you begin to believe that you need to follow the path of the protagonist, which includes the murder of an interfering neighbor. Finally, you take action.During your trial, medical professionals come forward to present physical evidence. Your brain has been altered by your obsession! Certain pathways have been rendered useless, while others have become overdeveloped and prominent.
The argument is raised that you no longer have the ability to correctly evaluate your actions. Until you are treated, you are considered to have diminished capacity.
You can’t remember the things the way you used to. You don’t know the people at the door who claim to be your family. You forget that you left the burner on in the kitchen.
The people on the television don’t seem to make any sense any more. You have Alzheimer’s Disease.As your brain begins to break down, tiny changes cause loss of blood supply to parts of your cerebral cortex (the wrinkled, blanket-like surface of your brain where your awareness resides). You begin to lose regions that hold memories, while others begin to cross-connect, causing the information to become confused. As the losses build up, your ability to manage your life decreases. You are now in a state of diminished capacity.
You were fine until the basketball game.
It was a great jump shot, but when you collided with your opponent on the way down, you fell backward and hit the back of your head on the court surface. You were unconscious for several minutes. When you woke up, you thought you were all right, but swelling and damage were already taking place in your amygdala and hippocampus, areas of your brain that help you manage your emotions. You had a real problem that you didn’t know about.
Things began to change. You found your emotions constantly spiraling out of control. One minute you’d be laughing and happy, then the next minute you’d be full of rage without knowing why. When the safety on the football team tackled you, your teammates had to stop you from beating him to death.
You burst into tears, and then stayed in a depressive state for days, unable to eat or sleep. Finally, health officials decided that you are at diminished capacity, and recommended treatment.
Diminished capacity happens where there is something wrong with the way you think, causing you to become unable to live normally. It can be a loss or lack of the ability to decide (decisional capacity) or your inability to effectively act on your decisions (executional capacity).
It can happen in response to a mental illness, such as dementia (a decline in your memory or thinking skills), schizophrenia (fragmented thought processes combined with delusions and illusions), or psychopathy (severely limited ability to experience emotions or understand consequences). When you have diminished psychological capacity, it is often not considered safe for you to be living independently, and you will generally experience some level of control by authorities.