|how.odious| Year Two: DAY NINETY-EIGHT
2017 January 27 [Friday]
“‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” Part III / X
Social interaction with a cat is, often times, quite painful and surprisingly complex. Unlike a dog, a cat wants what it wants and the want cannot be beaten out of it. This perhaps is the catalyst behind the cat- and dog-owner judgments, but this is not about that. A cat can, however, be persuaded out of a particular want if a greater want reveals itself. Thus, as all cat owners know, if you can present a cat with an equally alluring option to the one it already so desperately wants, the cat will seemingly do your bidding. Obviously, the cat is still just pursuing its own wants, but if you can positively reinforce the behaviors you want your cat to enact, the cat will continue to enact those behaviors for the reward it receives (Bradshaw, 2013). Like cats, we humans are surprisingly attuned to positive reinforcement, and yet, unlike cats [unfortunately], social interaction between humans is always much more complicated. Don’t you ever wish, though, that interacting with other humans could be less daunting?
After my [inept] attempt to explain the fundamentals of Julian B. Rotter’s “social learning theory” in last week’s post as the foundation upon which I will examine why and/or how some people enact behavior and/or become victims of their own volition, I will attempt to convey how social interactions in daily life are not as obviously labeled “skill determined” or “chance determined” as reality-television game shows and Texas Hold ’Em poker. Thus, I ought to begin with a quick overview of how Rotter (along with Phares, E. J. and James, W. H.) tested how people behave when the situation is clearly defined as “skill determined” or “chance determined” in their “Studies of Complex Learning” (Rotter, 1966, p. 4).
Their hypothesis, which I will paraphrase here, went something like this:
If a person (Person A) believes that the outcome of his/her behavior was determined by his/her own action, then when that behavior is positively reinforced, the likelihood that that same behavior will be enacted increases, and when the behavior is negatively reinforced, the likelihood that that same behavior will be enacted decreases. If a person (Person B), however, believes that the outcome of his/her behavior was determined by forces beyond his/her own control, then when that behavior is positively or negatively reinforced, the likelihood that that same behavior will be enacted remains unchanged. (Rotter, 1966, p. 5)
After a series of tests that [you can read for yourself because they’re way too dense for me to explain and examine here] were designed specifically to test how people behave under clearly labeled “skill determined” or “chance determined” situations, the experimenters basically stated under what conditions success would be met, and the measure for each subject was how much time passed before the subject reached “extinction,” which was defined as the subject having an expectancy of success on a scale of 0–10 being 0 or 1 three times (Rotter, 1966, p. 5–9). After a number of tests were conducted, they found that there was a “clear difference with the subjects given chance instructions and those who were not told it was either a chance or a skill task having significantly more trials to extinction (almost twice as many) than the skill group” (Rotter, 1966, p. 7). What this means is that the group of subjects who were told that success was dependent solely on luck or who were told nothing at all, continued to expect that they had a chance to succeed for twice as long as those who thought that their success was dependent upon their own skills. The crazy part to me is that all of the outcomes were completely arbitrary, the simple reinforcement decided by the experimenter. Rotter, James and Phares, were not the only researchers who conducted these types of tests and came to similar conclusions either, by the way (Rotter, 1966).
But what is the point of all of this? The point is that people behave differently when they believe or perceive the outcome of a given situation is determined by their own skills or sheer luck. The multitude of various situations in everyday life, however, are not clearly labeled as such. So then how do people manage this vast social landscape, the landscape of social interaction that holds the most value (Mearns, 2016)? According to Rotter, there have been many researchers who have studied and are “concerned with whether the individual is controlled from within or from without. We [Rotter, et al] are concerned, however, not with this variable at all but only with the question of whether or not an individual believes that his own behavior, skills, or internal dispositions determine what reinforcements he receives” (Rotter, 1966, p. 4). Here is an example of Rotter and company’s “Studies of Complex Learning” hypothesis in real-life terms:
Person A and Person B are experiencing the same situation; in that, they’re both seeking employment. Person A expects (remember the “four main components” to Rotter’s social learning theory from Part II) to get the job because she feels that her skills qualify her for the position. Person B expects to get the job because he too feels that his skills qualify him for the position. Outcome X: Now, both submit their resumes and go in for an interview. A week later, they both find out that they have been hired. Person A perceives this success as a reinforcement of her skills and abilities and will most likely enact the same behavior the next time she needs to find employment. Person B also perceives this success as a reinforcement of his abilities and maybe feels lucky that the interviewer wasn’t a bitch and will most likely enact the same behavior the next time he needs to find employment. Outcome Y: Now, both submit their resumes and go in for an interview. A week later, they both find out they were not hired. Person A perceives this failure as a failure of the self and will blame the failure on her own lack of skills or qualifications, and she will adjust her strategy/approach to the next situation wherein she’s looking for employment. Person B, on the other hand, will perceive this failure as a situation beyond his control, that it was a stroke of bad luck, thinks the interviewer was a bitch, etc., and since he does not find the failure to be his fault, will most likely approach the next employment-seeking situation in exactly the same way.
So, here we are, upon a bridge. We first stood upon the knowledge that a person’s behavior when a particular situation is known to require skills or depends upon luck is essentially predictable. Now, we’re crossing that bridge to the landscape of social interaction where the labeling of such interactions as “skill” or “luck determined” is impossible. Thus, when dealing with social interactions, we are now dealing with “internal versus external control of reinforcement” (Rotter, 1966). I’ve been wrestling with how to package and present the various ways a person may approach the myriad social situations to show the differences in the perception of those who believe the outcomes of their behaviors are either determined by their own doing or by the doing of others and/or other-ly-ness. The conclusion I’ve come to is to present three social interactions in varying degrees of knowable social behavior. I will attempt to present these interactions through the two perspectives of Person A — who perceives the following situations presented to her from an “internally-controlled” point of view — and Person B — who perceives the following situations presented to her from an “externally-controlled” point of view. This is not to say that both A and B perceive all situations from this perspective. I am merely stating here that they hypothetically perceive the following hypothetical situations in their aforementioned ways.
Social Interaction №1
“Boss and Employee (or any socially hierarchical setting)”
A social interaction between a boss and an employee has a few knowable, definitive rules. The boss knows that she has the power to end an employee’s employment, but the boss also needs the employment of employees. An employee knows that she must fulfill whatever tasks are required of her, but the employee also knows that she ought to be treated well. Thus, there is a social contract between bosses and employees in that the boss hires an employee to do the work, and if that employee does the work, she will be compensated with the agreed upon form of compensation. If the employee does not do the work, she will not be compensated. Each knows the other holds some form of power over the other, and so, interactions between varying hierarchical levels are oftentimes tense. Despite this tension, social interactions with a superior are more clearly defined. A boss says, “Good job.” You must be doing a good job. A boss says, “Bad job.” You must be doing a bad job. Even though this may seem like an obvious, logical response, it’s the employee’s perception of the cause of this comment by the boss that matters. Thus, here is the situation:
A boss has called an employee into her office for a performance review. The review is positive, and the boss has offered a bonus. Person A expected to do well, perceives this bonus as a reward for all of her hard work, and will continue to work hard. Person B expected to do well, perceives this bonus as a reward for all her hard work and will continue to work hard. The following month, however, the boss conducts a similar performance review. The review is negative, and the consequence is a warning. Person A expected to do well, perceives this punishment as a failure of her work and thus, changes her approach. Person B expected to do well, perceives this punishment as unfair, complains that the boss is an asshole and thus, continues to approach her work the same way because what can she do?; her boss is a bitch.
Social Interaction №2
“Customer and Service Provider”
In the realm of customer service, social interactions are still bound to a few knowable guidelines, but the lines become slightly blurred. The customer wants something from the service provider, and the customer will most likely be unable to get the thing he wants unless the service provider gives it to him. The service provider, similarly, is there to give the customer what he wants, but the service provider ought to be treated with, at the very least, some respect. Thus, the situation:
Person A walks into a coffee shop and orders a cup of coffee. Person A expects to be given a cup of coffee in exchange for money. The service provider takes Person A’s money and gives him the coffee. The social interaction is a success, so Person A will most likely behave in a similar way when needing coffee again in the future. The same situation unfolds in exactly the same way for Person B. The next day, Person A walks into a coffee shop and orders a cup of coffee the same way he always does. The service provider snaps at him and tells him he needs to “wait a goddamn minute!” Person A looks around to make sure he didn’t cut anyone in line. If he has indeed cut the line, he apologizes and makes his way to the back. If he has not cut the line because there is no line, he may wonder if it was something he said or the way he said it. If he concludes that the treatment he has received could not have been caused by something he said or did, he can only conclude that the service provider is having a bad day, and thus, however the service provider may behave is beyond his control. Meanwhile, Person B walks into a coffee shop and experiences the same brash service provider. Instead of even making sure he has himself done nothing wrong, having no inkling to think that he perhaps has caused this reaction, Person B responds in equal fury at the service provider asking him, “Where the hell do you get off telling me what to do?”
Social Interaction №3
The first two interactions were essentially between strangers in situations with vague albeit knowable social rules in modern society. This interaction, however, is not between strangers, and thus, the rules become murky, less discernible. Thus, here is the situation:
A friend posts a picture onto one of the various forms of social media. Person A sees the picture and comments, “Haha, nice face!” Person A expects her friend to understand her sarcasm. Later that day, Person A receives a text message that says, “[smiley-face emoji] Thanks!” Since the response Person A received from her friend met her expectations, Person A will continue to behave in a similar fashion. The same interaction unfolds between Person B and the friend. All is well. The following week, a friend posts another similar picture. Person A sees the picture and comments, “You don’t look very happy.” Person A expects her friend to understand her. Within a minute Person A is bombarded with angry texts from her friend berating her with messages like, “How dare you? Why would you write something like that? That’s so mean! You don’t even know him!” et cetera, et cetera. Person A is baffled and re-examines the picture and the comment and tries desperately to figure out what she said that set her friend off. Person A is still confused as to what she did to make her friend so mad. Maybe her friend is talking about something else, so Person A, texts back, “What did I do?” The friend responds, “Your comment on that pic I just posted of me and my boyfriend! How could you write that! Everyone can see it!” Realizing what she did, Person A feels really bad for the oversight. Perhaps that sort of comment shouldn’t be made in public.
The same situation befalls Person B. This time, however, upon receiving the first mass of angry texts shoots back, “What the hell is wrong with you?” The friend responds, “Your comment on that pic … Everyone can see it!” Person B does not perceive that this could possibly be her fault because the friend should know that the picture was posted in public, so Person B responds, “Are you serious? You posted that pic in public! You should know better! Stop being such a bitch!”
My point is obvious, if someone calls you mean names they’re revealing a deep, egoistic defense mechanism against whatever weakness you may see in them. Haha, j/k, but maybe. Of course, these are all hypothetical situations and each person’s perception of any given outcome or response to their behavior is handled differently. All I have attempted to do here is translate the result of Rotter and his fellow researchers’ studies — on the way people behave when given direct information about whether or not a given task requires skill or luck — into the internal or external blame a person perceives when an interaction either reinforces or negates a given expectation. Admittedly, obviously, I have but a rudimentary understanding of all of this behavioral psychology. As an every person who did not study psychology in college [except to fulfill the one psychology course necessary as core curriculum], I am fascinated by social behavior and behavioral psychology, thus, I spend my time studying it for fun.
There’s a really good chance that I’m getting some if not all of Rotter’s hard work wrong. If I have drawn conclusions or said things here that are just pitifully incorrect, please don’t get mad, just tell me where I’ve gone off the rails. I’m here to learn. So, if you just want to tell me I’m stupid, well, good luck. If, however, you want to help further my knowledge, please by all means, TELL ME HOW AND WHERE I AM COMPLETELY WRONG! Honestly, I need to know because I really care about getting this right.
In the meantime, I will press on toward the part of Rotter’s “Generalized Expectancies for Internal Versus External Control of Reinforcement” where he determines how to determine whether or not someone possess internal versus external control and how that control determines perception which ultimately determines behavior. In conclusion, as for the question on which I concluded Part II, a quote from the summary of the findings to Rotter and company’s Studies of Complex Learning:
A series of studies provides strong support for the hypotheses that the individual who has a strong belief that he can control his own destiny is likely to (a) be more alert to those aspects of the environment which provide useful information for his future behavior; (b) take steps to improve his environmental condition; (c) place greater value on skill or achievement reinforcements and be generally more concerned with his ability, particularly his failures; and (d) be resistive to subtle attempts to influence him. (Rotter, 1966, p. 25)
Hmmm … interesting, if I may say so myself.
Bradshaw, J. (2013). Cat Sense. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
Mearns, J. (2016). The Social Learning Theory of Julian B. Rotter. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from http://psych.fullerton.edu/jmearns/rotter.htm.
Rotter, J.B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80 (№1), 1–28.