I know what you are, but what am I?

I know what you are, but what am I?

|how.odious| Year Two: DAY NINETY-EIGHT

2017 January 27 [Friday]

Friday Feature

“‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” Part III / X

[Read Part I & Part II]

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.

[Read Part I & Part II]


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.

Skilled Yet Unlucky vs. Lucky Yet Unskilled

Skilled Yet Unlucky vs. Lucky Yet Unskilled

|how.odious| Year Two: DAY NINETY-ONE

2017 January 20, 2017 [Friday]

Friday Feature

“‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” Part II / X

[Read Part I]

While watching an episode of the Food Network show, Chopped, a small sort of understanding befell me. For those who have not seen the show, Chopped, it is a reality-TV cooking competition wherein four contestants are presented with a basket of unknown ingredients with which to make an appetizer, entree and dessert, and at the end of each course, someone gets “Chopped” from the competition by a panel of judges. The last person standing, as it were, wins [usually but not always because there are special episodes when more or different prizes are awarded] $10,000. Despite personal opinion, it is quite popular with 433 episodes to date since 2009 (Lea, 2009-Present). Personally, the show does little to nothing for me except that, in general, I thoroughly enjoy watching people talk about themselves. Also, throughout the show, the contestants participate in talking-heads, which are even more entertaining in the sense that there’s the guarantee that at least one of them will say something really stupid at least once during the episode. But that’s neither here nor there.

My point, thus, is that there’s something oddly satisfying about the show, and it’s continued “success” on air. I never really understood what that appeal was and is until I started my little research project into self-victimization (Weber, 2013), of which this little ditty here is Part II [read Part I to gain further insight as to how I landed here]. Through the desire to understand self-victimization, I learned about Julian B. Rotter’s “Locus of control” (Weber, 2013). And then, through this past week’s reading, I learned about Rotter’s Social Learning Theory (Mearns, 2016). Let me simply interject here that there exists a, what’s the word?, plethora of information and writings by Rotter, and I have only scratched the surface, so for all of you real scientists/writers out there, please be patient. *sigh. Okay, so it’s hard to fully understand the impetus behind a person’s self-victimization without understanding Rotter’s social learning theory (Rotter, 1966). Thus, I have spent the past week trying to get a grasp, however small, of Rotter’s Theory.


According to Jack Mearns, whose “Overview of Theory” I found and read online [because I have no access to research materials in English here in Seoul], Rotter’s social learning theory depends upon four parts:

Behavior Potential – … the likelihood of engaging in a particular behavior in a specific situation.

Expectancy – … the subjective probability that a given behavior will lead to a particular outcome, or reinforcer.

Reinforcement Value – … another name for the outcomes of our behavior.

Psychological Situation – … Rotter’s idea that each individual’s experience of the environment is unique.

(Mearns, 2016)

Basically, according to Mearns, Rotter’s Theory determines “that personality represents an interaction of the individual with his or her environment” (Mearns, 2016). Each of the above four parts ascertain how a person’s personality will be enacted during any given situation. Furthermore, “Rotter conceives of people in an optimistic way. He sees them as being drawn forward by their goals … rather than just avoiding punishment” (Mearns, 2016). What does any of this have to do with the reality-TV show, Chopped? Well, I’ll get there eventually.

First, however, each of the four parts of Rotter’s social learning theory rest upon an understanding of “Generalized Expectancies” (Rotter, 1966). Understanding Generalized Expectancies then sheds light on the Internal/External perceptions that drive the way we construe the treatment by others in any given situation. This then, of course, is the crux of Rotter’s “Locus of control,” which may or may not fuel a person’s self-victimization (Weber, 2013). *phew. So, for today, let’s start from the beginning and I’ll only attempt to convey an introductory-level understanding of the idea behind Generalized Expectancies.

Okay, so, the way I understand it, according to Mearns’ overview, Rotter’s social learning theory suggests that any person can behave in any number of ways, but each individual cannot necessarily behave in any conceivable way [Behavior Potential]. The decision to enact either A or B behavior is driven by what the person perceives as a possible result: If I do A, then X will happen; if I do B, then Y will happen [Expectancy]. Thus, after a person decides in which way to behave, the consequence of that decision is either received and responded to in a positive (aligns with the expected perception) or negative (refutes the expected perception) way [Reinforcement Value]. Finally, a person cannot forget that all of this behavior stems from a subjective opinion of one’s surroundings [Psychological Situation] (Mearns, 2013).

The keystone for all of this enacted behavior seems to me to be the Expectancy portion of Rotter’s Theory. When a person decides whichever behavior to enact, that decision seems to rest solely on the perceived potential result of that action, and then whether or not that action is lauded or condemned becomes the driving force for the next set of actions. According to Rotter, this tension, this “interaction of the individual and his or her environment” defines a person’s personality. Thus, a person’s Expectancy becomes the impetus of all behavior.


Rotter, therefore, determines that there is a scale upon which a person’s “characteristic differences” fall whereupon a person believes that the result of their action is “chance determined versus skill determined” (Rotter, 1966, p.2). I think that this is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll try my best to put it into my own words. When a person decides to act but fails, that person can either believe his/her failure was due to forces beyond his/her own jurisdiction, or that same person can believe the result was due to his/her own doing. This is not an either/or situation; it’s a convoluted mix of the two with one being slightly stronger within the mind of the believer during any given situation. Now that perhaps a thin foundation has been laid thus far, what’s the point?

A quote:

From social learning theory one would anticipate that the more clearly and uniformly a situation is labeled as skill or luck determined, in a given culture, the lesser the role such a generalized expectancy would play in determining individual differences in behavior (Rotter, 1966, p. 2).

A dun dun duh dah! We’ve come back to my whole fascination with Chopped and other reality-TV, game-show-type shows. What I believe Rotter to be saying in the above quote is this: If the world labels something as, “This is a game of chance,” then we know that we ought to feel excited or disappointed in our sheer luck, good fortune, or lack thereof, but more importantly, we know not to feel bad about ourselves because the game was a game of luck. If the world, however, labels something as, “This is a game of skill and wit,” we are overcome with feelings of personal ineptitude if we fail and gloating pride if we succeed.

Hence, Chopped, for Chopped is a game built and labeled as a game of chance AND skill. It’s the perfect egoic “out.” If a person gets “Chopped,” that person can tell him/herself that the basket ingredients got the better of them. If a person wins, that person can tell him/herself that he/she is the best thing since sliced bread. Such is the mass appeal and continued, seemingly bottomless, available contestants. The game of Chopped is specifically tailored to give each contestant exactly what he/she wants: No blame or personal responsibility if he/she wins because the game is set upon the unknown variables of the basket ingredients which serve the purpose of luck, yet all the credit if he/she wins because the game requires some level of cooking skills. Get it? It’s quite perfect really, and I’ve got to admit, I feel a bit stupid for not noticing, before all this research, the perfectly balanced egoic stroking that makes up all television game shows and reality-TV game shows.

And then it was at expressly this moment that I realized that there’s another game of chance AND skill that perhaps works as a better example because it’s combination of chance AND skill is perhaps, less apparent to the novice player, and that game is poker. I am only familiar with one variant of poker, and so that is the version I will use.

Texas Hold ‘Em [henceforth referred to simply as poker] is a fairly popular version of poker because of the nature of the betting rounds. There’s so much action that may be enacted as each player has three whole opportunities to bet before all of the cards are revealed, which means that there are four whole opportunities to best your opponent. The excitement of poker depends upon both skill AND luck. The interesting thing about poker is that on any given hand, skill can beat skill; skill can beat luck; luck can beat luck, and luck can beat skill. Once a certain [penultimate] level of poker is reached, there are no egoic “outs.” Sure, a person CAN win huge sums of money on sheer luck, and no amount of skill can predict exactly what cards an opponent holds. Skill, however, can get a pretty good sense of what cards an opponent holds and thus, will not lose all his/her chips on a stupid call on someone who potentially has the highest straight flush possible, etc., &c.

The way my brother so aptly puts it is that, “Sure, you can win with luck, but that means you’ve got to have the cards every hand. No one’s that lucky. Winning with skill means that you can win no matter what you’re dealt. Just having great cards isn’t necessarily what wins. Whoever gets the chips wins.” For those of you who are less familiar with the way that poker is played, I apologize if this example fails to resonate with you, but this is not a lesson in poker; it is a lesson in the way people behave. I mean, no one just sits down at a poker table and thinks, “I’m gonna get lucky today!” Oh wait … shit … never mind.


The every person understands poker as a game of luck, but like my brother says, you won’t actually win that often on sheer luck. But a person has to possess a little skill because there are rules by which the game is played. Nevertheless, I’d argue that the every person does not have a professional-level understanding of poker, and so, it is a game of luck. Thus, when the every person sits down to play a hand, the monetary loss or gain may be blamed on luck. The player cannot be praised nor blamed for his/her earnings or losses. It’s just luck! Therefore, to the every person, their outlook or generalized expectancy toward poker is “chance determined.”

For the professional or full-time poker player, however, poker is mostly about skill with a little luck here and there being welcome. A professional player, then, approaches poker with the generalized expectancy that winning is “skill determined.” Thus, when a professional player loses, he/she may feel badly about his/her own performance, but I’m sure there’s still a small resolution that an opponent got lucky. I, however, have yet to ever notice a single professional say it was just luck no matter the outcome.

These two examples, Chopped and Hold ‘Em, are, obviously, GAMES. Thus, we must delve into the real stuff, how all of this pertains to LIFE, not the game, but rather, your existence and ultimately, your role within it. The next step, however, is to create a bridge between how our perception of possible outcomes drives all of our action. Then, how do our actions create patterns of behavior that ultimately lead to the effect that every person has upon the others around them. But, of course, that is the end-all to this “‘Victims’ Who Make Victims of Us All” series. If the overall goal here is to get from Point A to Point D or even E, then my hope is that today, after a brief overview of how Points A thru D get us to Point E, I explored the distance between Points A and B, which revealed Point C.

As today’s conclusion, I’ve gained insight into all the little minutiae, according to Julian B. Rotter, that form the patterned actions we all know as each other’s personalities. That insight soon shed light on the way those actions are supported by positive/negative feedback, which is then perceived as either being a result of our innate competence or otherly forces of luck. Thus, here we are now, treading shallow waters within the understanding of Rotter’s theory that suggests that we are indeed creatures of constant give and take. The question that burns in my mind now is: Without the semblance of “best-ness,” is there, perhaps, a better approach to life and the interactions within?

[Read Part III]


Lea, L., Noll, D., and Krupat, M. (Executive Producers). (2009 January 13 – Present). Chopped. [Television series]. New York, N.Y.: Food Network.

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 (No. 1), 1-28.

Weber, J.P., PhD. (2013, December). Self-victimizing again?: there is relief for the persistently victimized. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/having-sex-wanting-intimacy/201312/self-victimizing-again.