March 9, 2007

Reciprocal Determinism And Why Punching People Out Is Way Cool

And stay away from my man! 

 

A quick addendum to my previous post on the "Psychological Uncertainty Principle."

A reader pointed out that some of this is explained by "reciprocal determinism", which basically means that you respond to your environment, but then force a change in your environment which further changes your behavior.  For example:

  1. "Girls don't like me. Girls don't like me.   Girls don't like me."  Repeat x 100.
  2. So a girl thought she liked you, but then met you, and now decided you're a nutter. So she bolts.
  3. Now you have proof girls don't like you.

It sounds like reciprocal determinism says who you are affects your environment, which then affects you.  

That's wrong.  In the above example, it wasn't ever true that girls didn't like you.  You made it true.  You changed your behavior, somehow, that made it so that girls don't like you.  You received some gain from making it true that girls didn't like you-- perhaps it helps you avoid intimacy, etc, etc.  

So your identity never enters the equation.  Reciprocal determinism is about behavior, not identity.  Albert Bandura (the originator of this concept) was responding to Skinner's behaviorism.

Wikipedia's article on reciprocal determinism is a perfect example of this exactly wrong use of the concept.  They describe how low MAOA enzyme can cause you to be antisocial.  In fact, it is the opposite:  having low MAO-A does nothing, but having high MAO-A seems to be protective.  The reason people became antisocial (synonymous with criminal) in those studies was that they were abused-- in essence, they imitated the behavior. 

The experiment Bandura is famous for speaks to my point about the absoluteness of your responsibility for your identity:  kids watched adults beat up a bobo doll, and were then put in a room with a bobo doll, and, surprise, the majority then imitated this behavior, even using the same hitting techniques and repeating the same phrases the adults did.  Nothing genetic or even environmental affected this outcome-- almost all the kids did it (and almost none of the control kids who didn't watch the adults beat up the doll).

So watching the Matrix causes kids to go Columbine?  Bandura would have said yes.  But oddly no one ever wonders why then the cooking channel doesn't result in more pies, or why porn hasn't prompted rampant depilation.  Bandura's theory of reciprocal determinism required a key element: reinforcement.  There has to be a gain in the imitation, in the identification.  You may have "learned" the violence by watching it, but you won't display the violence unless there is some reward-- it isn't just a reflex, some part of your core identity.   You decide to imitate it, because it rewards you.  How?  "I want to be just like my Dad" (except he beats Mom.)  "Neo is so cool." (Didn't he kill all the human security guards?)  "Thug life!"  Etc. Note that no one ever imitates the violence of, say, Gollum. Want to know why?  Because Gollum never scores any chicks. 

So once again, you pick who you are.  Or: you picked who you are, how you behave, whether you know this or not. So now ask: why did you pick this person, this identity?  And what is preventing you from changing any or all of it?

 







Comments

>>So once again, you pick w... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2007 1:30 AM | Posted by vhalon: | Reply

>>So once again, you pick who you are. Or: you picked who you are, how you behave, whether you know this or not. So now ask: why did you pick this person, this identity? And what is preventing you from changing any or all of it?

Children who grow up seeing there parents drink alcohol or take pills to calm themselves when stressed, often do the same as adults. It is what they have witnessed. There is a reinforcement for that behavior. But imagine if their uncles, aunts, most of the people they grew up with, etc. did the same thing to calm themselves. When these children start drinking and drugging (assuming there is no genetic component for argument sake) as adults, did they "choose" to use that coping mechanism, or were they funneled into it? What prevents you from changing is not being exposed to the other options and then much later in the future, not even being able to see the other options. That is unless you actively get therapy/AA, but even then, the alternative methods of coping feel "unnatural." Essentially, truly changing your behavior is never easy--that is why we can "read" people consistently. Usually you can predict the general actions and responses of friends or family members (or patients!) if you take the time to truly study them. If a person acts "out of character," maybe you didn't take the time to really know them.

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"A reader pointed out that ... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2007 1:07 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"A reader pointed out that some of this is explained by "reciprocal determinism", which basically means that you respond to your environment, but then force a change in your environment which further changes your behavior. For example:

1. "Girls don't like me. Girls don't like me. Girls don't like me." Repeat x 100.
2. So a girl thought she liked you, but then met you, and now decided you're a nutter. So she bolts.
3. Now you have proof girls don't like you.

It sounds like reciprocal determinism says who you are affects your environment, which then affects you.

That's wrong. In the above example, it wasn't ever true that girls didn't like you. You made it true. You changed your behavior, somehow, that made it so that girls don't like you. You received some gain from making it true that girls didn't like you-- perhaps it helps you avoid intimacy, etc, etc. "


This is not "making something happen." This is actually superstitious behavior, in which a consequence is tied to the incorrect cause/action. Saying that "girls do not like you" does not make it so, however this statement is reinforced when a consequence occurs in proximity. In this instance, a girl who has become closer to you has discovered she isn't interested in you anymore, thus reinforcing the thought that you are unliked by girls. Since this occurred in nearest proximity to the action (the girls-hate-me mantra), it is linked to it. If a girl had complimented your looks before this girl became disinterested in you, the consequence likely would not have had as great an effect.

Ah ha! Actually, it isn't superstitious behavior. Certainly, your example is logically correct, but in my example it is indeed true that if a man thinks to himself, "girls don't like me" then it will indeed become true. Whether it is a loss in self-confidence, or your behavior subtly changes, but it is a cause and effect. As an example, a guy may be more curt with a girl, or more dismissive, etc. (I'm not saying this happens all the time, this is just an example.)

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I love Albert Bandura's rec... (Below threshold)

October 18, 2008 11:49 PM | Posted by Al Gammate: | Reply

I love Albert Bandura's reciprocal determinism theory. It is paradoxical in that it indicates we are both creators and puppets of our destiny.

We are puppets, because our environment via pleasure and pain molds us.

We are creators, because we mold our environment via our behavior, fueled by our thoughts and emotions. And our molded environment further molds us.

So we are indirectly molding ourselves.

Given that we are both puppets and creators, freewill and fate co-exist.

Yes, we are victims of circumstance - but circumstance is also a victim of us!

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Neo callously murders a num... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2009 4:34 PM | Posted by crumbskull: | Reply

Neo callously murders a number of innocent humans in the first movie. This is, as far as I'm concerned, the most interesting ethical dilemma in the entire trilogy and is not mentioned once in the movies or in any of the pop-philosophy Matrix books I've ever read. While it has been a while since I've watched them, I'm fairly sure he continues to do this even AFTER he has gained the ability to stop bullets and fly.

What an asshole.

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Dead right. Neo takes o... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2009 4:39 PM | Posted, in reply to crumbskull's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Dead right. Neo takes on the narcissist position completely. Even though he is in a fake world (the Matrix) those people are connected to actual humans in the real world, and when he kills them, they die _for real._ Whether he needs to kill or not could be debated (and I agree, he didn't need to) but it seems never to occur to him at all that he was actually killing people.

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I think they address the ki... (Below threshold)

June 1, 2014 6:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think they address the killing innocents issue here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9p8LXD5UDs

So i think killing the security guards puts forth a utilitarian argument. In that framework, you either agree that the matrix is bad and killing is outweighed, you blue pill, or you try to shut down the resistance.

This is orthogonal to the narcissism issue, though. The gear, Neo's attitude, and the path he chooses conform to a type/image he or the viewer would like to project. He is the righteous rebel without regard to the existence of others/their perspectives.

Whether this is good or bad depends on the viewer.

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