Sunday 18 November 2012

Starting to define 'confusion'


Confusion n. The act or result of confusing; a confused state.

Confuse 1. To bring into disorder, to mix up. 2. To throw mind or feelings of (a person) into disorder; to destroy the composure of. 3. To mix up in the mind, to fail to distinguish between. 4. To make unclear.

(Dictionary 2001)

Confused adj. 1 Puzzled, perplexed, baffled, mystified, bewildered. Opposite: Enlightened. 2 disordered, disorderly, muddled, mixed up, in disarray. Opposite: orderly.

Confusion n. 1 bewilderment, perplexity, puzzlement, mystification, uncertainty, opposite: understanding. 2 misperception, misunderstanding, mix up, muddle, mistake, opposite: clarity. 3 disorder, chaos, rumoil, upheaval, commotion, opposite: order. 4 embarrassment, awkwardness, disorientation, uncertainty, self-consciousness, opposite: confidence.

(Thesaurus 2002)

Lazarus labelled both confusion and bewilderment as functional mental confusion. He says ‘…they are bound to have emotional correlates and consequences without being emotions [themselves].’ (Lazarus 1991 Pg.83) This corresponds with the dictionary definition that the state of confusion is a result of cognitive processes, and suggests confusions relationship with emotion is that of a catalyst. Function mental confusion must derive from thinking. This is an important element of creating a convincing character performance.

There are other neurological conditions that recognise confusion as a symptom. Senility, dementia and delirium are such examples. Zarit & Zarit citing Lipowski (2011 Pg.72) lists other meanings, at least medically, to the word confusion:

·      -Disorientation
·      -Inability to think clearly or coherently
·      -Poor contact with reality
·     - Reduced awareness of environment

Regarding delirium, Zarit & Zarit (2011 Pg.71) describes its onset as ‘… [A] person who has been functioning adequately suddenly develops global impairment in intellectual functioning.’ They goes onto say (2011 Pg.73) ‘Thinking is often characterised by a dreamlike quality with some merging of dream content with reality.’ It’s important to remember that confusion is a symptom of delirium and not the cause. There are other symptoms that could be the driving force or instigator of confusion. Other symptoms include delusions, hallucinations and illusions. As delirium is a driving force for confusion, and confusion being a state rather than an emotion, an animator might be inclined to borrow actions from other symptoms of delirium to portray confusion, such as a series of gestures that make no readable, literal or chronological sense (dream content with reality for instance). I would suggest there is a risk of miss-communicating the action (thus narrative) to the audience. Particularly when the other meanings listed above would appear to have more substance. If we look at the types of delirium it is possible to start to build possible characteristics to apply to performance.

‘The types of performance have long been recognised (Lipowski, 1990; Ross, Peyser, Shapio, & Folstien, 1991). The first type is characterised by hyperalertness and hyperactivity; patients are restless, agitated and vigilant. In contrast, the second involves hypoalertness and hypoactivity. Patients are quiet and subdued and maybe drowsy. The third pattern involves the fluctuations between the other two types … Patients have difficulty focusing and sustaining or shifting attention.’ (Zarit & Zarit, 2011 Pg.73)

The issues for character performance arise when applying these characteristics to characters that are naturally defined by them (hyperactivity for example). However, with the symptoms physiological reactions being at opposite extremes of considered normal reactionary behaviour speeds, there appears to be an option to suit different character beats.

In science we can see examples of what drives confusion, such as neurological conditions, but in storytelling terms, it is the narrative itself that will drive the confusion. If we look into cognitive behaviours rather than neurosis, such as irrationality in practical cognition, we can see an example of what confusion drives, and gain a deeper understanding of where it is situated in narrative character performance.


‘One way people can behave irrationally is by being broken. If a person suffers a stroke, he may behave irrationally. But this is not the kind of irrationality I am talking about … So when I speak of irrationality in this paper, I am only concerned with those varieties of irrationality that arise in intact cognizers.’ (Pollock 2006 Pg 4)

So confusion can drive irrationality, but irrationality is not confined to confusion. The above quote is important because it suggests that the initial driving force does not have to have a middleman. This exposes a problem in storytelling; if irrational choices in performance arrive from an un-established source we could potentially arrive at the same issue as mentioned above, of miscommunication to the audience. We do not want to risk the loss of believability.

To understand confusion in performance, we have to understand the relationships of conditions and states as actions and reactions to narrative objectives. By touching the surface of relationships in and around confusion we can see an action and reactionary sequence. Delirium (action) can cause (the reaction) confusion and confusion (itself an action) can drive irrationality (also a reaction). If we replace delirium, with say a choice to either go left or right as a road splits (action), and irrationality with a decisive choice (reaction), confusion then, still the central component (action and reaction – the act or result) is thinking. So if a character does not think he cannot be confused. 

Definition (So Far):

Confusion is the process of thinking. Other aspects such as how and why are reliant on the narrative. Exploring whether real-life physiological reactions or narrative subtext will be more efficient in conveying narrative will be fertile ground.

I will be exploring the non-verbal non-expression performance first. 


DICTIONARY, 2001. The Oxford Popular English Dictionary. Bath: Parragon.

LAZARUS, R., 1991. Emotion & Adaption. New York: Oxford University.

POLLOCK, J., 2006. Irrationality and Cognition. University of Arizona.

THEASAURUS, 2002. Encarta Essential Thesaurus. London: Bloomsbury.

ZARIT, J. & ZARIT, S., 1991. Mental Disorders in Older Adults: Fundamentals of Assessment and Treatment. 2nd ed. New York: Gilford Press.

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