The role of non-intentional processes, affect, and evaluation

It is a characteristic of human action and ISD that individuals plan what they do and evaluate the consequences of their actions. Difficult life situations or longterm goals, however, typically require decision-making without complete certainty about the result and, as we know, beliefs in the face of uncertainty are often distorted. We try, make errors, and then (have to) learn how to adjust probed strategies (Popper, 1972). We pursue life plans and strive for personal ideals that may become an important part of our self-definition. Nonetheless, identity or self-definition consists of several self-defining elements we have not intentionally planned. Of course, they could have been unintentional by-products of our expectations and wishes. Many of them have developed as products of chance encounters (Bandura, 1982) that were beyond planned calculation but influenced our situation. The aim of Chapter 3 is to become acquainted with some of the manifold mental processes involved when individuals build and disengage from intentions, and thus contribute to their own development. In the following, I focus on the short-term perspective of ISD and draw attention to the fleetingness of the moment, non-intentional processes, and affect.

A short-term perspective on ISD: Mental processes in social context

We cannot illustrate long-term dimensions of ISD without a careful examination of the moment. But even when we concentrate on the short-term, at closer inspection it remains difficult to describe the process of how attitudes result in intentions and actual behaviour. In the following introduction, I will (a) illustrate the complex interconnection between intentions and (non-intentional) events in everyday life situations. This complex pattern leads (b) to the important, but difficult question about basic determinants of behaviour and development (i.e. the role of person and environment, nature-nurture interactions).

The interconnection of events and intentions

First, I would like to illustrate the rich and complex phenomenon of intentional states (e.g. expectations, planning, goals) and their relations to events by means of an example from everyday life. We start with action episodes within a limited and containable period of time (see Box 3.1). Perhaps one might think that predictions (anticipations, expectations) are more likely to come true in a shortterm period because one can maintain a better overview as compared to longterm plans with less predictable ends. This is not necessarily true.

What can we learn from this digression about intentions? (You can replace soccer with a scene in a supermarket or concert hall.) First, it demonstrates (though admittedly oversimplified) how different action episodes are connected with one another and with events (e.g. physical movements). Intentions or expectations are concerned about how to best kick a goal. The physical event consists of a specific movement of the ball (ballistic curve of a projectile) that has been speeded up and passed a defined marking line. The ball is continuously kept in motion but not

BOX 3.1 A SNAPSHOT: CURRENT INTENTIONS AND PREDICTION OF THE MOMENT

Think about an event, e.g. activities or action units that will take about 90 minutes (e.g. a soccer match, a shopping tour, a concert, seminar/school lessons). We assume your interest in this activity. For example, you plan to visit a live soccer match with friends, an event at which you hope something could happen that fits your current interests. Please think about some of the possible subsequent moments: which details of the match you will recognize will depend on your previous experience and interest. Perhaps you follow the first minutes attentively, before you get distracted. You receive an SMS and think about responding immediately, but the match is still exciting and you wait for a good moment. Because a player of the rival team fouls and the referee does not recognize it (or ignores it?), you get worked up. During the half-time break, you need to do two tasks: you remember the SMS and your mates remind you that it is your turn to get drinks. The first minutes of the second half are boring, and you have enough time to become curious about the arising discussion in front of you. At last, the game gets more exciting, but unfortunately, it is the rival team that scores a goal. Maybe you begin to notice that your shoes are pinching your feet and you try to stretch them by moving them. Your own team is playing rather poorly - and you imagine taking over the game and shooting the equalizing goal. The game ends in a tie.

every movement is relevant for the result. Participative perception, which is characterized by expectations, evaluations, or emotions, is based on neuronal activity. The momentary intentions (SMS, getting drinks) disperse the attentive processes that are directed towards the match. One can try to avoid being distracted from one’s intentions; however, whether we remain attentive to the game is beyond personal control (e.g. how exciting the game proves to be).

Another example of limits to our intentional control is how well a task can be performed. Especially when new skills are in demand, one can often not predict reliably how successful one may be. We sometimes wish to control the circumstances around events we plan (e.g. the weather outlook when we plan a trip in the afternoon) or how well we will perform in critical situations when outstanding athletic achievement is being expected. Perhaps we can speculate about the specific feeling we will have after the ‘ta-ta-ta-daa’ of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, but we cannot predict how impressed we will be in a live concert.

In short, the soccer-match scene illustrated a manifold, complex picture of physical energy and neuronal activity, both of which are involved when individuals follow intentions in concrete situations. Intentions depend on the cognitive and volitional orientations of the acting person (beliefs, values, expectations) and the rules (e.g. soccer rules) one knows or accepts. On the basis of prior knowledge, individuals are selective in the events (e.g. movements) they value as important or unimportant. The time span of a soccer match was used as an example, and attention was drawn to processes (changes over the time) that occur - in part without intentional control of the agent. When this is true, it is likely that we would fail to succeed or be unable to recognize many details (e.g. automatic processes, Rothermund, 2011) if we were to attempt to explain or predict the next moment vividly or depict life as it occurs — especially under demanding conditions. Given this complex dynamic, the prediction of specific intentions (as well as emotions and other mental processes) proves to be complicated at the least.

Finally, one should be aware that identifying general regularities and the primary causes of intentional striving is an ongoing challenge. From the perspective of ISD, connections between (a) events (e.g. physical movements, neuronal states) and (b) intentional states related to events are of primary interest; however, the correspondence between current specific intentions and the ability to induce the necessary prerequisites varies to a high degree and depends on the individual’s competencies and situational factors. We have to return to the critical question of what we mean when we state that intentions (and related concepts like expectations and evaluations) can actually predict or ‘explain’ behaviour or human action (e.g. Brandtstadter, 2006; Greve, 2001).

Sources of behaviour and development

The central determinants (causes) of behaviour and development constitute a general and frequently repeated question in psychology. We can merely approximate an answer to the question because we must assume that many factors contribute to the prediction of the moment. Precision or certainty is not distinct enough to judge decidedly (Popper, 1972). In accordance with contemporary models of lifespan development (Baltes et al., 2006; Overton, 2015), we can tentatively use the concept of interaction as a heuristic to describe the complex interplay of several determinants that regulate human behaviour.

Kurt Lewin’s (1935) ‘basic formula’ is still often used to formalize the general problem of explaining behaviour (exemplified in the formula ‘B =f* (P, £)’). In introductory lessons in motivational psychology, some readers may have learned this intuitively convincing but simplified illustration of the basic interaction of determinants of human behaviour (i.e. factors of persons and their surroundings). Environment is understood to mean the momentary situation as well as the milieu in the sense of chief characteristics of the permanent situation. According to Lewin (1935, p. 71), behaviour depends on both, upon individual characteristics and upon the momentary structure of the existing situation, and it is not possible to single out one part to be attributed to the environment and another to the individual. A specific environment is indispensable to the concept ofpredisposition (i.e. hereditary disposition). Lewin draws attention to the point that individuals usually deal with dynamic problems, a view that is also appropriate for the dynamic nature of intentions. Important questions to which basic and applied (e.g. intervention and training studies on coping skills) empirical research contribute refer to details of how the interactive basis of human behaviour and development function in detail.

This brings us to the fascinating issue of whether or not and how it is possible to trigger or develop intentions that can help one use one’s potential to shape or improve one’s situation. This issue is closely related to the individual and thus, to his or her biography - and one has to make clear or specify, which of the many possible interactions is worthy of investigation. Contemporary psychology has a rich inheritance of constructs and assumptions that can be applied to the prediction of intentions and actions. More than 40 years ago, Lee Cronbach reviewed the, at that point already abundant, body of research (empirical results) on interaction factors in the branch of aptitude-treatment interaction (ATI; i.e. whether persons with specific characteristics profit more from specific treatments). He summarized some of the problems that arose as follows: ‘Once we attend to interactions, we enter a hall of mirrors that extends to infinity’ (Cronbach, 1975, p. 119). Insofar, one can rejoice or be dismayed that Lewin’s dualism of person and situation disintegrates into many antitheses. In concrete situations, one can find countless interactions between personal characteristics and environmental changes, but interaction effects are difficult to replicate. Cronbach’s conclusions about ATI are valuable for research on intentions (and related action-theoretical constructs such as volitions, attitudes, values, preferences, and expectations) because they illustrate that there are too many factors that probably contribute to ISD as well; for instance, personal goals are related to attitudes and values (see below), which in turn are prone to be sensitive to contemporary changes in social and moral values. Age differences in values that have been found in several lifespan studies (e.g. Borg, Hertel, & Hermann, 2017; Gouveia et al., 2015; Mayr et al., 2012) may reflect cohort differences or age-related changes. Furthermore, intentional constructs can vary idiosyncratically from person to person (biographical relevance), and what individuals want in one moment may change within a short time span, depending on situational factors that become salient.

Intentions between conscious and unconscious processes: A pendulum

There are many possible ways to explain why some of our intentions are nondurable, but others are durable. Despite the possibility that our intentions may exceed our abilities and, in that sense might become meaningless to us, we do not recognize some of the mediating processes due to limits to our sensory-perception system (e.g. defence mechanisms, Freud, 1936; Vaillant, 1992; data-and concept-oriented immunization, Brandtstadter & Greve, 1994; context effects in adaptation, Helson, 1971; classical conditioning; automatic selfregulation, Papies & Aarts, 2016). In order to understand the success of specific plans, one should also consider that there are processes other than conscious mental representations involved that we have not planned and that seem to be outside of intentional control. For instance, we might regard as a matter of course that the advance planning of specific action responses for specific future states can be intentionally initiated. The result of such deliberative processes consists of a cognitive representation of action-outcome links (see Rothermund, 2011). Unfortunately, we still know too little about the relationship between more general long-term life goals and situation-specific changes, although considerable work has been done during the last years on how goals are related to cognition, given that people age (Freund, 2006; West, Ebner, & Hastings, 2013). As will be argued in the following, however, action tendencies (e.g. preferences and inclinations) are partly automatic in nature, and one cannot be sure which of the many possible outcomes will become salient, given the many factors available in situations that probably influence our intentions (e.g. through visual perception; see, for example, Garner’s effort to distinguish between qualitative features and quantitative dimensions of a stimulus; Garner, 1978).

The linkage between attitudes, intentions, and concrete behaviour is not only automatic in part, due to routines in responses (e.g. repeated application of stereotypes or particular skills), but sometimes inconsistently executed. In many situations, we get distracted from intentions and thus need to learn more about the passing (unconscious) mental processes in their complex functioning. These are perhaps a central element of the riddle of how pursuing goals can contribute to future states. There are some encouraging results from the research on cognitive processing (Rothermund, 2011) or the protective function of mindfulness and meditation (Remitters, Topolinski, & Michalak, 2015). There are still questions about how mindfulness works and which kind of thinking

(e.g. intuitive, automatic, affective information processing, or deliberate, rational-analytic thought) is associated with the current cognitive state.

Both identity goals (e.g. personal life projects; Little, 1983), as well as less important goals that sometimes come to mind incidentally in daily life, have the potential to activate our memory for a long time. We have evidence and theories that explain why individuals sometimes - even after or especially because of failure - continue to pursue their goals, but it remains an intriguing question why some of these specific efforts remain stable for a considerable period of time in life or reoccur, whereas others are scattered to the four winds. The present chapter describes the cognitive, motivational, and affective-evaluative processes which are important when individuals pursue intentions. Figure 3.1 includes some of the mental processes that are linked and alternately activated when people choose, act, and get distracted. Sometimes we do notice or remember that we wished to do something important, but it is again fair to say that many things happen that we cannot perceive or cannot ignore.

Admittedly, the mental processes are depicted in a more ordered structure than they occur in real life. I focus in the following on the rational-calculating (rationalizing) and affective-evaluative processes (e.g. attitudes, preferences) which are involved when individuals decide to do something or choose between several alternatives. The purpose of Figure 3.1 is to illustrate some of the short-term

Cognitive-motivational processes of ISD

FIGURE 3.1 Cognitive-motivational processes of ISD.

processes that possibly throw current or momentary light on a part of the motor of ISD across the lifespan.

Similar to the assumptions of previous psychological models, the (dis-) equilibrium in the centre of the figure should illustrate, for example, the regulation of cognitive contradictions (Heider, 1958; Piaget, 1977), or the regulation of perceived loss (Brandtstiidter, 2016), and pays tribute to the assumption that we, as long as we continue to grow older - from childhood and across lifespan - are confronted with challenges throughout life. It is almost unnecessary to say that every day we have to cope with several losses (e.g. solving problems that others transmitted to us, or striving towards ideals that we cannot fulfil). Nonetheless, the concept of equilibrium is well suited to illustrate that we are better able to recognize volitions in situations when confronted with obstacles (‘To observe the will with its essential characteristics there need to be certain real emotional conditions - such as, for example, internal or external obstacles’; Ach, 1935, p. 40).

In the following, I begin with those processes closely related to planning and carrying out a behaviour (e.g. volitions, action plans, action control; Gollwitzer, 2012; Schwarzer, 2016) before I address the not less important moderating and mediating prerequisites of intentions (e.g. emotions, attitudes, values, expectations, attributions). It should become evident that prospective sketches (i.e. intentions, personal goals) under no circumstances can be seen as tabula rasa (or opportunistic reflections of bare future-oriented visions without history), but are rather related to and based on significant memories (see biographical research; Buhler, 1933; Butler, 1963) and processes of self-regulated learning (Panadero, 2017). Intentions have a history. I start with some of the mental processes that have been viewed as key characteristics of intentions, and thus ISD.

 
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