Common Sense, Disorders

Common Sense, Disorders in Commonsense and Transmissible Negativism Psychoviruses: Reflections on Bill Cosby’s alleged behaviors

I began my research on common sense in 1985 after observing ~9 elementary school students whom I deemed to not have common sense. At that time, I had no well-formulated notion of what is common sense. Indeed (and at the time), I was of an opinion that everyone possessed “common sense.”

My judgment regarding my students was based on those students’ aberrant arithmetic problem-solving skills in a remediation laboratory involved with elementary school mathematics. I mentioned my findings to the school librarian (in whose facility we conducted the math laboratory during off-hours). The school librarian mentioned that those same students had extremely poor reading skills.

I then mentioned my findings to the school principal. He advised that I discuss my findings in a “parent-teacher” conference. At the parent-teacher conference, I observed that those parents in attendance were “negative.” My only previous experience with “negativity” involved an undergraduate student assistant at UCSB. She was ‘book-smart’, though, retrospectively, also lacking in common sense. Her parents (whom I met on several occasions) always were negative.

These observations then led to an emerging thesis that “negativism” could be transmissible as a “transmissible negativism” (TN) ‘psychovirus’. My hypothesis was that TN interfered with the development of logical reasoning (e.g., as described by Jean Piaget and Bärbel Elisabeth Inhelder). By way of an analogy, my view was that TN interfered with a normal “common sense” developmental program, much akin to a bug in a computer program. I also reasoned that the “terrible 2s” is a period in which parents properly and repeatedly say “no” in order to reinforce good from bad, right from wrong, and correct from incorrect. Negative parents fail to appreciate a need to end the “no” responses at the end of the “terrible 2s.” [NB: My research is reported as Smith, R. W. (1988). Transmissible Negativism and Its Possible Relation to Irrational Behavior and Poor Common Sense. In Abstracts, XXIVth International Congress of Psychology, Sydney, AUSTRALIA — August 29-September 2, ‪#‎T217‬ (volume 4).]

I then began a research project exploring instances of TN throughout society. To my surprise Bill Cosby, Roald Dahl, Nancy Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were prominent exemplars of TN [Smith, R. W. (1988). Transmissible Negativism and Its Possible Relation to Irrational Behavior and Poor Common Sense. In Abstracts, XXIVth International Congress of Psychology (Sydney, AUSTRALIA — August 29-September 2), #T217 (volume 4); and, Smith, R. W. (1992). The National Impact of Negativistic Leadership: A Need for National Caveats Emptor (final draft of book outline). Institute for Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Studies, Palo Alto, CA. (Published May 12, 1992)]. An initial clue to Cosby’s TN was his early comic characterizations of “Fat Albert.”

With this somewhat discursive background, it truly is sad to now read the testimonials in the New York Magazine article by Noreen Malone (and Amanda Demme) entitled “‘I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen” (see <…/2…/07/bill-cosbys-accusers-speak-out.html>).


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