Essay // Foundations of the Cognitive-Behavioural Model: Biological Constraints in Learning By Operant Conditioning

neurolearn

Abstract

While the “Law of Effect” has one of the most popular concepts in learning theory, the deeper applications have also been questioned. From humans to animals however, although the intelligent management of the concept of reinforcement enables learning to occur, biological factors known as the « instinctive drift » and « autoshaping » challenge the principles of learning. Instances have risen with animals, where unreinforced behaviours were noted without any particular stimulus. Such occurrences have been referred to as « misbehaviour » (Breland & Breland, 1961). The studies (Timberlake & Grant, 1975) & (Bullock & Myers, 2009) applied 2 different concepts to further understand biological constraints where the possible explanation of classical conditioning (Moore, 1973) was heavily challenged with a more sophisticated argument involving solid claims for a “behaviour-systems analysis”. The idea of “stimulus substitution” in (Moore, 1973) was also questioned by Wasserman (1973), where 3-day old chicks were observed to have adaptable responses to specific stimuli.

The 1960s, The Debate & The Effectiveness of Thorndike’s Findings

Discovered in the 1960s, the two phenomena, instinctive drift and autoshaping have created a lot of debate amongst psychologists who are in disagreement with one another in providing a concrete explanation. The main issue in behavioural therapy has been how certain animals [in some cases], would cease performing reinforced behaviours [previously shaped by trainer through operant conditioning] but instead would adopt a new pattern of unreinforced behaviours – even leading to the frequency of the behaviour increasing over time. The phenomena has caused a lot of problems and controversy in the animal behaviourist’s field; as some would see countless amount of work [requiring careful shaping and chaining] being ruined through their animal’s drift from the conditioned task. The discovery of biological constraints also raise serious questions over the effectiveness of reinforcement in modifying and controlling behaviour. Some researchers such as Timberlake in 1983 argued that the concept of reinforcement learning is inadequate and should be forgotten.

Study 1: Auto-Shaping in Rats to the Presentation of Another Rat predicting Food (Timberlake & Grant, 1975)

Procedure

The hypotheses in rat experiment were tested by comparing the behaviour of an experimental group with three control groups with each consisting of five male Wistar albino rats, 90 days of age. During acquisition, each rat received 30 10-second presentation of the predictive stimulus on a variable time schedule with mean interval of 60 seconds. The stimulus-platform was driven by a motor and the cam assembly presented sideways through a flap door. For Experimental group CS+ each presentation of predictive rat was followed by one 45-mg food pellet. The CS (S) (Social) group received the same pattern of presenation but no food was delivered [since rats are highly social, grouped served as baseline for social reactivity to stimulus]. The CS(T) group was presented with stimulus rat and food randomly on two independent variable-time 60-second programs. The CS (W) (Wood) group was subjected to the same procedures as CS+ group, except predictive was a rat-sized block of wood [to separate the social and predictive effects of the stimulus rat] Rats in the CS+ group might approach the stimulus rat for its predictive quality and only engage socially due to proximity.

All rats were housed alone during experiment, and after adaptation to a 23-hour feeding schedule, each rat received 22 days of training, 2 days of pretraining, 11 days of acquisition, and 8 days of extinction. On first day of pretraining, each subject was exposed to experimental chamber for 30 minutes.

trialsratThe above figure shows that CS+ animals increased the frequency of Orient, Approach, Sniff and Social Contact during 11-day acquisition period and successfully decreased during extinction. The CS(S) animals also engaged in considerable behaviour towards stimulus rat but performance stabilized at lower level than CS+ animals (Fig 1B)

white ratFindings

These reveal that the form of contact with predictive stimulus cannot be predicted from stimulus substitution hypothesis, but seems to depend on both predictive stimulus and reward; which supports the theory of autoshaping being the reflection of a system of species-typical behaviours commonly related to the reward. The form of the behaviour [in presence of the stimulus], would thus depend on which behaviours in the conditioned system are elicited and supported by the predictive stimulus. The existence of biological constraints is confirmed.

The study proves that the animal will not necessarily associate innate behaviours linked to the primary reinforcer whatever the predictive stimulus is. Here, the predictive stimulus is another rat, and the subject rat does not treat the predictive rat [stimulus] to behaviours connected to eating.

The findings here are also supported by (Bullock & Myers, 2009) where the image of a grey square which was a predictive stimulus preceding the delivery of bananas. The video retrieved showed monkeys touching, grabbing licking and biting responses toward grey square that moved along the chamber floor, which are the typical types of behaviours observed when the monkey in its natural environment feeds itself.

The lack of approach to the group seems to suggest a low level of conditioning to the block of wood CS(W), but also shows that approach to predictive rat in the CS+ group was not based on its predictive value alone; conditioned approach depends on the social as well as predictive aspects of stimulus rat. Biological limitations are supported as the results seem to suggest that rats can be conditioned to approach a live rat, but not a block of wood which predicts food. Block and platform provided no social cues and could have been too large to elicit behaviour related to food. 

Study 2: The Misbehaviour of Organisms (Breland & Breland, 1961) 

Procedure:

In this experiment pigs were conditioned to pick up large wooden coins and deposit then in a large “piggy” bank. The coins were placed several feet from the piggy bank and the pigs were required to carry and deposit those coins to be reinforced. Generally, 4 or 5 coins would lead to a reinforcer, although the initial shaping of the pig started with 1 coin for 1 reinforcer.

Photo: Center for the History of Psychology // UOA

Findings:

The pigs conditioned very rapidly and had no trouble taking ratios on top of having a famously ravenous appetite. However, gradually the same problem developed from pig to pig usually after a period of weeks or months, gradually worsening. While at first the pig would eagerly pick up dollar, carry it to the bank, then run back to get the next, and so on, until the ratio was complete. After weeks, instead of pursuing the same routine, reinforced behaviour would become slower and slower. The pig would sometimes run to pick a coin but on the way back to the bank, it would drop it, root, drop it again, root it along the way, pick it up in the air, drop it, root it some more and so on.

This change in behaviour was initially believed to be caused by a low-drive, but behaviour only increased in intensity and strength in spite of increased drive; finally going over the ratio so slow that it would be left without much to consume.

As the unreinforced behaviour increased in frequency and manifested, it was noted that the behaviour was very similar to those repertoire of food-gathering behaviours pigs usually do in their natural setting. The Brelands then concluded and referred to the behaviours as instinctive drifts as they seemed to relate to the animal’s innate responses. The subject was replaced by a Raccoon, and a similar unreinforced behaviour appeared, which caused the animal to misbehave. The initial pattern was fine when 1 coin was being given to the Raccoon, however with 2 coins the reinforced behaviour gradually deteriorated leading to Raccoon holding them together, rubbing, dipping in container and out again.  Similarly to the pigs it was deduced these movement were innate behaviour to food in natural setting [rubbing crustacean, for example]. Those behaviours were said to constitute a clear example of the failing of conditioning theory. It was evident that the animal was performing unreinforced behaviours despite the lack of reinforcer; it was concluded that coins were not food, container not a stream [dipping in and out] and no shell to remove [rubbing]. The new behaviour also produced no food, but instead delayed delivery, which makes a clear point for biological constraints in Operant Conditioning.

Conclusion

While the concept of operant conditioning remains a reliable method in learning [having proven to alter behaviour as a result of experience], the unpredictability of an organism seems to suggest that an element of failure in whatsoever process involving animals [living organisms] remains a possibility. On this subject, Skinner established that perhaps animal/organic behaviour is defined by both learning experiences and hereditary drives. Skinner also concluded that the odd occurrence of unreinforced behaviour would be related to phylogenetic [hereditary] and ontogenetic [learned] influences operating simultaneously.

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References

  1. Breland, K. & Breland, M. (1961). The misbehaviour of organisms. American Psychologist, 16, 681-684
  2. Bullock, C. E., & Myers, T.M. (2009). Stimulus-food pairings produce stimulus-directed touch-screen responding in cynomolgus monkeys Macaca fascicularis) with or without a positive response contingency. Journal of the Experimental Analysis Behavior, 25, 127-135
  3. Bullock, D., & Neuringer, A. (1977). Social Learning by following: An analysis. Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behaviour, 25, 127-135
  4. Mazur, J.E. (2013). Learning and Behaviour (7th Ed.).New Jersey. Pearson, 101-126
  5. Moore, B.R. (1973) The role of directed Pavlovian reactions in simple instrumental learning in the pigeon. In R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Constraints of Learning. New York: Academic Press, 159-188
  6. Timberlake, W. & Grant D.L. (1975). Auto-Shaping in Rats to the Presentation of Another Rat Predicting Food. Science, New Series, 190, 690-692
  7. Wasserman, E. A (1973). Pavlovian Conditioning with heat reinforcement produces stimulus-directed pecking in chicks. Science, 81, 875-877

 

22.04.2014 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

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Essay // The Psychology Behind Conformity, Compliance & Obedience

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Adaptive Social Behaviours

Conformity, compliance and obedience are a set of adaptive social behaviours that one makes use of to get by in daily social activities. They are all some form of social influence, which causes a change in a particular person or group’s behaviour, attitude and/or feelings (Cialdini, 2000, 2006). Various forms of social influence have been used for a variety of reasons; sometimes to help individuals stray from harmful behaviour such as smoking; other times [not as altruistic as the latter] to sway customer decisions towards consumerism. Such changes in behaviour require systematic approaches that can be in the shape of direct personal requests; or more subtle and elaborate commercials and political campaigns. Direct efforts geared at changing another’s overt behaviour require persuasion; and are often described as compliance [seeking compliance]; which involves specific requests that are answerable by simple answers such as “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe”. Other behavioural etiquettes sometimes require the impact of a set of rules, such as [formally] speed signs, or [informally] public space rules [staring at strangers is seen as inappropriate]; this type of influence is known as conformity, which is generally believed to be an integral part of social life. Obedience as a form of social influence tends to take a more straightforward [abrupt] approach as it involves direct orders or commands from a superior.

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Conformity: Pressure to behave in ways deemed acceptable (by who & why?)

Conformity which is an integral part of social life and could be defined as the pressure to behave in ways that are viewed as acceptable [appropriate] by a particular group [peer or cultural]. The rules that cause people to conform are known as social norms, and have a major influence on our behaviour. When the norms are clear and distinct we can expect to conform more and when not clear, it generally leads the way for less conformity and uncertainty. An effective example of norms explicitly stated was seen in Setter, Brownlee, & Sanders (2011) where percentages were left on the bill for tipping guidance; what was observed is the positive effect it had on customers, making them tip. However, whether social norms are implicit, formal or informal, most individuals who chose to embrace social reality tend to follow the rules most of the time.

While some might argue that conformity takes away a lot of social freedom from the individual; the other perspective sees conformity as an important agent in the proper functioning of society [supposed no one obeyed road laws, chaos would spread across cities worldwide]. Furthermore, many people choose to comply to look good to others and make a positive impression even if their true self do not agree with conforming, similarly to Hewlin (2009) where many employees adopted the “facades of conformity” and although found it unpleasant – thought of it as necessary for career progress – conformity for many is seen as tactic of self-presentation. Yet, many individuals are unaware of the amount of conformity they show, and would rather see themselves as an independent who is less susceptible to conformity (Pronin, Berger, and Molouki, 2007). Individuals generally choose to conform primarily because most individual have the desire to be liked and one way of achieving this is to agree and behave like others [contradictions might not lead to acceptance]. Secondly, the desire to be right – to have a reliable understanding of the social world (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Insko 1985) leads most to go with the values of others in who might be described as a group of individuals chosen to be a guide in partial identity. However, while conformity serves as a guide, it can also hamper evolution and innovation as critical analysis is not likely to thrive where most individuals seem to follow a pre-programmed behavioural patterns that have been established centuries ago. Therefore a fair balance in thought and application seems to remain the best line of thought when dealing with conformity [think, analyse & evaluate].

Thinkers: Not Everyone Conforms Blindly As an Increasing Number of Individuals Now Think Independently

Somehow, not everybody conforms, many individuals and groups are able to withstand conforming pressures as shown in Reicher and Haslam (2006) BBC prison study. Power was found to be a factor that acts as a shield against conformity (Keltner, Gruenfeld, and Anderson, 2003); it was found that restrictions that influence the thought, expression and behaviour of most people do not seem to apply to people in power [leaders, CEOs, politicians, etc] with the reasons being the fact that these people are generally less dependent on others for social resources; pay less attention to threats; and are less likely to consider the perspective of other people. Griskevicius, Goldstein, Mortensen, Cialdini, and Kenrick (2006)’s study supported the reasoning that when humans desire to attract desirable mates, both sexes tend to conform to gender stereotypes – here the male would usually not conform to everyday social rules [but indirectly conform to gender stereotype]. Finally, many human beings refuse to conform due to their desire to be unique – when their uniqueness feels threatened, they tend to actively resist conformity (Imhoff and Erb, 2009).

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Compliance: A Request requiring Conformity

Compliance is a form of conformity, however, unlike the latter it involves a request for others to answer with a “yes”. While conformity attempts to alter people’s behaviour in order to match their desire to be liked and to be right; compliance is usually aimed at a gain, and to achieve it one would need compliance from others. One technique used to gain compliance is an impression management, ingratiation; which involves getting others to like us in order to increase the chance of making them comply to our requests (Jones, 1964; Liden & Mitchell). Gordon (1996) suggested 2 techniques that work, flattery and promotion.

Another powerful means is “incidental similarity” where attention is called onto small and slightly surprising similarities between them and ourselves (Burger, Messian, Patel, del Pardo, and Anderson, 2004). While Conformity consisted mainly in gaining acceptance and trust, compliance is more focussed on getting to an end. A technique used to get compliance, is the “Foot-in-the-door” technique which involves inducing target people with a small request [once they agree], only to make a larger one, the one we wanted all along (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) – it relies on the principles of consistency [once said yes, more likely to say yes again]. Another technique known as the “Lowball Procedure” rests on the principle of commitment where a deal is proposed, only to be modified once the target person accepts – the initial commitment makes it harder to turn down.

The “Door-in-the-face” technique involves a large request, only to fall on a smaller one after refusal; this was proven to be efficient by Gueguen (2003). The “That’s-not-all-technique” was also confirmed to work by Burger (1986), a technique based on reciprocity involving enhancing the deal before the target person has the time to respond to an initial request. Another great technique, based on scarcity, is the “Playing-hard-to-get” technique which – as the name goes – is a behaviour used towards the target who would be assumed to pick up hints over the user’s high demand [romantically]. Lastly, many professionals use the “Fast approaching deadline technique” to boost their sales and rush people in on the pretext of limited time sales prices.

Obedience: The Most Direct Route

Obedience is less frequent that conformity or compliance as most people tend to avoid it, being one of the most direct ways of influencing the behaviour of others in specific ways. Many prefer to exert influence in less obvious ways, through requests instead of direct orders (e.g. Yuki & Falbe, 1991). While obedience can help organise workforce, it is also known for its dark nature of blinding people into performing atrocious acts by eliminating the sense of guilt through assuming that they were only “following orders”; atrocities related were seen in Milgram’s experiment; which is also one of the main similarities with conformity and compliance, in that the process in all three can blind an individual towards unethical behaviour. Destructive obedience has been observed throughout history for situational pressures pushed people into atrocious acts; for example having one’s responsibility relieved by another plays a major role in encouraging destructive obedience. Those is commanding positions often have uniforms and badges which can sometimes push individuals to obey without questioning. Similarly to compliance, the Foot-in-door used by authority figures and the fast pace of events happening can sometimes leave the individual with little time for reflection, thus leading to destructive obedience.

Shot of a Young Child Shouting at the Camera

Reflexion

Conformity, compliance and obedience are all vital practices in controlling the behaviour of individuals or groups. Conformity encompasses compliance and obedience, where the latters are more specific derivatives. While conformity revolves around the individual choices in relation to social groups, compliance and obedience are generally connected to an outcome; comply to have a request met by a “yes”, and obey if you are not in the position to disobey and if your superior asks you to, but keeping an ethical awareness could help against destructive obedience.

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References

Baron, R.A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social Psychology (13th ed). New Jersey: Pearson, 252-287

Burger, J.M., (1986). Increasing compliance by improving the deal: The that’s-not-all technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 277 – 283

Burger, J.M., Messian, N., Patel, S., del Pardo, A., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a coincidence! The effects of incidental similarity on compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 35 -43

Cialdini, R. B. (2000). Influence: Science and practice (4th ed). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Cialdini, R. B. (2006). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins

Deutsch, M., & Gerard, H. B (1955). A study of normative and informational social influences upon individual judgement. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 629 – 636

Freedman, J.L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 4, 195 -202

Gordon, R. A. (1996). Impact of ingratiation in judgements and evaluations: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 71, 54 – 70

Griskevicius, V., Goldstein, N.J., Mortensen, D.R., Cialdini, R.B., & Kendrick, D.T. (2006). Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non) conformity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 281 – 294

Gueguen, N (2003). Fund-raising on the Web: The effect of an electronic door-in-the-face technique in compliance to a request. CyberPsychology & Behaviour, 2, 189 – 193 

Hewlin, P.F. (2009). Wearing the cloak: Antecedents and consequences of creating facades of conformity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 727 – 741

Insko, C.A (1985). Balance theory, the Jordan paradigm, and the West tetrahedron. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press.

Jones, E. E. (1964). Ingratiation: A social psychology analysis. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts 

Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D.H., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110, 265 – 284 

Pronin, E., Berger, J., & Molouki, S. (2007). Alone in a crowd of sheep: Asymmetric perceptions of conformity and their roots in an introspection illusion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 585 – 595

Reicher, S., & Haslam, S. A. (2006). Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC prison study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 1-40

Setter, J.S., Brownless, G.M., & Sanders, M. (2011). Persuasion by way of example: Does including gratuity guidelines on customers’ checks affect restaurant tipping behaviour? Journal of Applied Psychology, 41, 150 – 159

Imhoff, R., & Erb, H-P. (2009) What motivates nonconformity?: Uniqueness seeking blocks majority influence. Personalilty and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 309 -320

Yukl, G., & Falbe, C.M. (1991). Importance of Different power sources in downward and lateral relations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 416 – 423

 

22.04.2014 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

____________________________________________________

While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

Please feel free to support us by considering a donation.

Sincerely,

The Team @ dpurb.com

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Essay // Design, Selection & Stress in Occupational & Organisational Psychology

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« L’Uomo Universale » by Leonardo Da Vinci

Occupational psychology

Occupational psychology is the study of human behaviour and experience in the workplace, it may be described as the application of psychological principles and theory in order to help organisations and their team. As occupational psychology also includes a focus on organisations in general, it may be wise to take great care when referring to the world of “employment” or “work”. This is simply because many people may work very hard for charitable organisations as volunteers, and their contribution may not always be focused on the increase of profits (although it may involve increasing productivity), and money may not be the main driving and motivating factor – depending on the organisation’s field, values, philosophy and goals.

Apollo_Bust

Image: Apollo, the Greek god of arts, music, masculine beauty, poetry & the conductor of the 9 muses. He is also the god of purification and healing.

Hence, occupational psychology tends to focus on the improvement of organisations’ effectiveness in terms of the work performed within, while respecting and managing the conditions leading to the satisfaction of the employees and employers.

Occupational psychology today generally requires sound knowledge and understanding in these three main categories:

(A) Human factors
(B) Personnel work
(C) Organisational psychology

(A) Human Factors 

(i) Human-machine interaction

This field of study is also known as « ergonomics » and is primarily concerned on the study of human interaction with machines. For example, it has also been reported (Kelso, 2005) that the city of London was selected to host the 2012 Olympics due to the syndrome known as “fat finger” – the use of buttons too closely spaced, caused panel members with the syndrome to vote wrongly. This common error is considered to be the main factor leading to London being the host, since one panel member voted for Paris instead of Madrid, leading to the former winning by two votes and thus being London’s opponent instead of Madrid. City experts believed London would not have been able to win against Madrid. This very particular syndrome, namely “the fat finger syndrome » has also been blamed for several multi-million pound errors, for instance the mistaken purchase of 50,000 shares rather than £ 50 000 worth of shares.

FatFingerGenes
(ii) Design of Environment and Work: Health and Safety

The next area has to do with health and safety, and focuses on factors regarding light, noise, general work space, ventilation, risk factors and occupational stress. It is to be noted that this is an incredibly important area, and a good example of a modern disaster reflecting the incredible importance of intelligent design in the field of health and safety, is the Fukushima disaster. The whole world was left unprepared to deal with the nuclear leak caused by the over flooding of the reactors due to the badly design of the walls not being high enough to withhold the excessive water brought in by the tsunami.

Challenger_1986

Explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986

Another disastrous example is the loss of the US space shuttle Challenger in 1986, which for the very first time transported a teacher who was to have spoken from the spaceship the American president Reagan and her pupils. The horrific explosion happened live on television and millions of people who had been watching remember the iconic shot as a ‘flashbulb memory’. The likely cause of the explosion was a set of defective ‘O’ ring seals about which many engineers had complained about repeatedly; grave doubts were raised about the launching since the rings had never been used in temperatures as cold as that on the launch day. Irrational group decisions were made, and the launch proceeded despite the doubts – as the warning signs were explained and brushed away. A one third ‘burn out’ (erosion) of the Challenger ‘O’ ring on past launches was considered as a ‘safety factor’ of three (there would be two-thirds left, after all!) (Reason, 1990). This kind of irrational ‘rationalising’ is a feature of groupthink – no one wished to be responsible for delaying the launch and therefore disrupting the arrangement with Reagan. The people in ultimate control were highly cohesive and to some extent separated from those with the doubts. ‘Mind guards’ ensured that the engineers’ complaints were not heard by the decision-makers. The presidential commission investigating the decision-making process revealed that a major problem lay with a system of communication within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration organisation. The decision system was ambiguous; it was not clear which decision should go to the very top and it was consequently very hard to attribute clear responsibility.

(B) Personnel Work 

(i) Personnel Selection and Assessment (including Test and Exercise Design)

An organisation hiring the wrong staff can be costly in terms of productivity, quality of service delivery and company / organisation reputation. Occupational psychologists throughout the years have contributed in the effective monitoring and filtering of quality in staff recruitment.

(ii) Performance Appraisal and Career Development

Psychologists can assist and advise organisations on how to run staff appraisals in order to create two-way relationships that employees respect and value, since career development is essential. However, this may also lead to the staff being extremely attractive to competing organisations. This would be beneficial to the individual but not so much for the organisation.

(iii) Counselling and Personal Development

This area comprises most of the skills found in general counselling psychology. Occupational psychologists may also practice as career advisors or stress management counsellors among a variety of other roles [being a versatile field that applies to various aspects of the human organism’s behaviour across a wide range of environments]. In these cases [when dealing with organisations and their staff], emphasis is primarily in being an attentive listener, demonstrating empathy and being accepted as genuine.

(iv) Training

A productive workforce is a well-trained workforce, and one that avoids costly or dangerous errors. Good occupational psychologists tend to spend the majority of their time focussing on identifying training needs [to refine individuals’ skills, performance and delivery], and the design and delivery of training programmes.

Training
(C) Organisational Psychology
 

(i) Employee Relations and Motivation

A wide range of aspects in mainstream social psychology was developed through the study of the ways that small groups interact and perform in a work context. This area includes research into conformity, obedience, teamwork, team building, attitudes, communication and especially leadership. It also investigates theories of work motivation.

(ii) Organisational Development & Change

Organisations tend to be dynamic and continually evolving structures. External influences [such as research, cultural demands and trends] force change on organisations in the competitive economic world of today’s industries. For example, most organisations in Western Europe have had to comply with the equal opportunities legislation and also with health and safety directions [e.g. concerning smoking at work]. In other cases organisation sometimes also have to overhaul or downsize the general managerial policies and culture. This is where occupational psychologists’ advice help & guide organisations during change; while altering attitudes, through reasoning, findings and theory from social psychology and group dynamics with the practical experience and judgement of organisational development.

As most of the research we tend to focus on revolves around the individual organism’s development and well-being, we will look at the human factors in occupational psychology; these generally revolve around:

  • Designing or redesigning jobs
  • The Design of Equipment to match Human Features and Capabilities
  • Health and Safety at Work
  • The Introduction of New Technologies

The services offered by psychologists in the personnel area tend to include: 

(i) Selection and Assessment of Personnel

E.g. of a complete selection process in hiring a Lecturer:

Imagine we were part of a team that has to select a new lecturer for a University. Where exactly should we start? A good starting point would be to consider the essential demands of the task required of a lecturer. It is clear that lecturers have a whole lot more to do than simply lecturing. We should consider the importance of each aspect of the job. Next, we should be asking ourselves what a successful employee in the profession of lecturing would need to be able to cover in order to perform each of the academic tasks successfully; then devise a way of assessing each candidate for these abilities. It also goes without saying that an advert would have to be placed with the job description so the applicants may know exactly what they are applying for and whether or not they are suitable for the position and demands of the task. Finally, the selection process will have to be organised, where the candidates can be assessed with the successful one being selected [with a backup] for an appointment. The process does not stop here, however – as we may want to know whether the selection process was well designed and effective. We will also have to evaluate the procedure, not on the one appointment, but over several selections, by keeping track of the performance of each appointee over their first two years, for example, with their performance at the selection process. This is a method to find out whether our appointment procedures are effective and whether they produce the appropriate & desired results.

(ii) Appraisal of Work Performance
(iii) Training Programmes
(iv) Career Guidance and Counselling
(v) Issues of Equal Opportunity at Work

In the area organisational development, psychologist may also run projects concerning:

(i) Attitude and Opinion Surveys
(ii) Team building, Leadership and Management
(iii) Industrial Relations
(iv) The Modification, Update and Change of the Organisational Culture
(v) Enhancing the Quality of Working Life
(vi) Improvement of the Quality and Effectiveness of Communications

All these procedures contribute in a harmonious organisational environment and culture where productivity, employee and employer satisfaction are the main concerns, while minimising stress levels across the organisation. As we are now going to find out, stress can be devastating to both the mind and the body. Hence, design and selection are key steps in achieving stability, harmony and productivity through an efficient organisational culture.

Sustained Stress may have a fatal impact on Physiological Health

Stress is known for causing the increased secretion of cortisol, a hormone that could halt the production of cytokines, which are vital for maintaining a functional immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2002). Over the years, a large number of research has also found positive correlations between daily cortisol levels and general health. The different levels of cortisol secretory activity have been linked to health problems such as hypertension, burnout, emotional distress, upper respiratory illness and eating behaviour. However, cortisol is paramount to increasing access to energy during stressful experiences and is released on a daily pattern by 2 well defined components; the “Cortisol Awakening Rise”; and the Diurnal levels that gradually decrease over the day. It has also been found that high levels of stress could lead to less cortisol being produced in the morning (O’Connor et al., 2009b). An individual going through a serious series of stressful events would have an increased risk of developing an infectious disease with no regards to their age, sex, education, allergic status and/or body mass index (Cohen, 2005).

Two types of stress associated with increased health deficiency

Cohen et al. (1998) identified two types of stress associated with increased health deficiency; these were interpersonal problems with family and friends; and/or enduring problems associated with work. As further research unveiled the dangers of stress, Janice Kiecolt et al. (1995) found that wound healing was also prolonged on people exposed to continuous stress, along with the lower levels of cytokine. Similarly, Marucha, Kiecolt-Glaser and Favagehi (1998) also concluded to findings over healing being prolonged on test subjects (dental students) where quicker healing was observed on vacation and not before their exams. Eventually, the conclusion of stress being a response to stressors lead to the latter being investigated in our daily lives by researchers for improvement.

Stress may be perceptual deficiency depending on whether subjective appraisal is Positive or Negative

Stress is generally perceived as negative perceptions and reactions when pressure is excessive. The transactional approach devised by Lazarus defines stress as “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p.19) The theory has so far been one of the most solid finds in the field of occupational and organisational psychology and continues to be applied to various sections in the quest to enhance quality of both work and output.

Occupational Psychology in the Workplace: Stressors

In the field of Occupational psychology, the main focus has been on the study of human behaviour and experience in the workplace. As the world of work in the present generation is constantly changing, with companies adopting more flexible styles – along with developing technology – Lazarus and Folkman’s theory has been used in most stages of the employment life cycle in order to minimise the effects of stress on employees while maintaining a sensible amount of “good stress” (pressure) to maintain motivation. The concept is based on such solid logic that it could be applied to most areas of human interactive environment.

Applying Lazarus and Folkman’s theory of stress to occupational psychology will consider all elements that cause stress in the workplace connected to the physical requirements of the job. Stress can be physical, with factors such as noise, unsafe heights or slippery floor. These factors when present will not only cause the employee to be on guard but also likely distract them from being fully concentrated on their job for fear of harm. The solution would be to make a safer and more comfortable environment, however too safe is known to affect performance. The perfect fit would be right balance between motivational factors (incentives) and physical environment (not overly comfortable), that would lead to a design for the best fit for the job to the person (Morgeson & Campion, 2002). The human element should also not be forgotten in the case of a sociotechnical system (Trist & Bamforth, 1951) present where a Swiss cheese defence system might be in place to correct possible human errors. As mentioned, the stress element requires modelling according to Lazarus’ Theory which proves to be versatile for its huge range of application when considering different types of stressors and how to balance their effect on the employee.

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Organisational « Culture »: Synchronised Workforce through situational patterns of performance-oriented behaviour

A strong culture is also essential for the organisation as this ensures the employee fits in with the organisation’s values. The organisation also has to ensure that most stressors are regulated and checked in order to ensure a stable functioning of the work force.

According to Richard Lazarus’ transactional theory of stress, minor day to day problems known as “hassles” can accumulate and cause stress. However one coping mechanism from the theory comes from coping which follows the appraisal stage. When a task is being appraised, the outcome defines whether the employee will see it as stress. However, the stressor can be approached positively and be re-appraised to instead fit the employee’s belief and capacity. Different appraisals usually define how the employee copes, such as understanding employee needs using Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs (1974). It is assumed that some needs are basic and innate and have to be met to sustain motivation. Managers can provide environments that harmonise with the needs of employees after learning what they are.

Maslow’s model puts forth the belief that safety and security have to be met before one can realise their full potential. One this basic need is satisfied, Maslow assumes the attention is shifted to the next need, which in this case would be a motivated move towards achieving the job. However, if this need is not satisfied, this gives rise to discomfort. Indirectly, Maslow’s model is applying the logic of Lazarus & Folkman (1984), as the stressors – which in this case is the inability to feel safe and secure – are being targeted while the manager would try to motivate the employee. Some criticism however questions the flexibility of the model for its assumption. Assuming several needs become important & crucial simultaneously how would the motivation of the employee be affected? Furthermore, self-actualisation is hard – if not impossible – to define, therefore it is hard to confidently know whether someone has reached the stage.

Mismatch between employee & job may cause Occupational Stress

Mismatch between an employee and a job can also cause occupational stress (French, 1973). If the job demand is appraised as too high, the employee could feel discouraged if the task creates demands than exceeds his/her capabilities, unless he has a stake in the outcome of his/her performance motivation will not be successful. Lazarus and Folkman’s theory of stress is once again applied with great efficiency as it opens the door for reasoning in how to deal with stressful situations and find the right coping mechanism that would allow the employee to carry on without negative attributions. One example of this application is to organisational development which is premised on the assumption of planned transformational change.

Organisational development  has been defined as “a systematic effort applying behavioural science knowledge to planned creation and reinforcement of organisational strategies, structures and processes for improving an organisation’s effectiveness” (Huse & Cummings, 1985). The aim is to achieve commitment from the whole organisation dedicated to change. Organisational development intervention looks to a range of planned programmatic activities pursued by both clients & consultants. French, Bell and Zawacki (1994) differentiate between interventions directed at individuals (coaching, counselling), dyads (arbitration), teams (feebacks), inter group configurations (Survey, Feedback, etc) and organisations as whole (business process re-engineering). As the focus is swapped from one level to the next, the number of dimensions to consider increases, this adds to the complexity of the intervention process. However, all interventions tend to rely on organisational diagnosis [the assumption that something is not performing well enough and needs to be changed).

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Photo // Bryan Christie Design

Tuning the Environment to balance Stress Levels

Appreciative inquiry is an organisational development model that focus on how things might have been or might be better (Cooperrider & Srivasta, 1987). The whole concept of organisational development follows the logic of  Lazarus & Folkman (!984), as the transitions are all supported by teams of professionals [counselling / accustoming] which are geared at balancing the stress levels of accustoming the workforce to the new changes through a combination of modifications to the environment, motivational factor and security and support.

As organisational psychology deals with the administrative side and operational psychology deals with the task itself, they are still very closely associated. Changes in operational hassles will reduce the stress on the employee, as this would assumingly make the task at hand much more simple and straightforward. Changes in organisational hassles will increase the job satisfaction of the employee, as his time at work would be less cumbersome.

Interventions: Better Outcome when the Source of Stress is the Primary Focal Point

The main concepts of interventions usually concentrates primarily on reducing the source of stress, and secondly by reducing the impact on individuals which has been found to be more effective on people than reducing the risk (LeFevre, et al. 2006). Such an example can be seen when dealing with occupational problems, such as the termination of employment. Such an event can have a devastating effect on an employee’s life, especially if it was unpredicted [redundancy, released]. One way to deal with such a situation would be to provide counselling support to the released employee; these include trained professionals with listening, questioning & goal setting skills who help people to carry on in life (Egan, 1996). Clarifying with employees, the employable, marketable skills and helping them to plan short term goals by which skills might be applied in other situations.

Allowing the person concerned to release their feelings by speaking out over vocational and personal concerns, and helping them assess their resources. Finally help them find a placement or employment while also reinforcing with the employee, reminding them that they are skilled and mature and that their redundancy was a purely professional decision. What the whole process seems to have once again applied, is the logic of Lazarus & Folkman (1984) that proves itself as a solid formula applicable in most situations where stress is involved. In this context, the employees have been professionally re-appraised and should be better mentally to deal with upcoming challenges for fresh employment.

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Reflexion: Appraisal & Subjective Perception is Key

The particular relationship between a person and his/her environment will vary on the positive or negative depending on the appraisal. Appraisal can sometimes be instinctive, and/or influenced by an individual’s perception which can in turn be influence by other biological factors (hunger, pain). This shows that no matter how deep the stress causes may be, Lazarus’ formula – although simple – has an application that can logically construct or deconstruct most situations dealing with occupational and organisational stress.

One of the main points worth considering however, is the fact that men tend to experience more stress than women from the “need for recognition” pressure, while women experience more stress from health issues; social support benefits stress levels for males and females but affects them differently [organisational commitment in males & state of mind in females].

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References

  1. Cohen, S., Frank, E., Doyle, W.J., Skoner, D.P., Rabin, B.S. & Gwaltney,J.M., Jr. (1998) Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in adults, Health Psychology 17: 214- 23
  2. Cohen, S. (2005) The Pittsburgh common cold studies: Psychosocial predictors of susceptibility to respiratory infectious illness, International Journal of Behavioral Medecine 12: 123-31
  3. Coolican, H. (2007). Applied Psychology, 2nd Edition. Hodder Education.
  4. Cooperrider, D.L. & Srivastva, S (1987) Appreciative inquiry in organizational life, in
    W. Woodman & W.A. Passmore (eds) Research in Organizational Behaviour, Stamford, CT: JAI Press.
  5. Davey, G. (2011) Applied Psychology, West Sussex: British Psychological Society and Blackwell Publishing
  6. Egan, G. (1996) The Skilled Helper, 6th edn, London: Brooks / Cole
  7. French, JRP. (1973) Person Role Fit. Occupational Mental Health. 3, 15-20
  8. French, W., Bell, C. & Zawacki, R. (eds) (1994) Organizational Development and Transformation: Managing Effective Change, Burr Ridge, IL: Irwin McGraw-Hill
  9. Huse, E. & Cummings, T. (1985) Organizational Development and Change, St Paul, MN: West.
  10. Kelso, P. (2005). The fat finger that may have helped London win Olympics. The Guardian, 23 December: 3.
  11. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., Marucha, P.T., Malarkey, W.B., Mercado, A.M. & Glaser, R. (1995) Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress, The Lancet 346: 1194-6
  12. Kiecolt-Glaser, JK., McGuire, L., Robles, TF., Glaer, R. (2002) Psychoneuroimmunology: Psychological Influences on Immune Functtion and Health, J Consult Clinical Psychology, 70, 537-47
  13. Lazarus, R.S. & Folkman, S. (1984) Stress, Appraisal and Coping, New York: Springer
  14. Le Fevre, M., Kolt, G.S., Matheny, J. (2006) Eustress, distress and their interpretation in primary and secondary occupational stress management interventions: Which way first? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (6), pp. 547-565.
  15. Marucha, P.T., Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. & Favagehi, M. (1998) Mucosal wound healing is impaired by examination stress, Psychosomatic Medicine60 362-5
  16. Morgeson, J.P., Campion, M.A, Dipboye, R.L., Hollenback, J.R., Murphy, K. & Schmitt, N. (2007) Reconsidering the use of personality tests in personnel selection contexts, Personnel Psychology 60: 683-729
  17. O’Connor, D.B., Hendrickx, H., Dadd, T. et al. (2009) Cortisol awakening rise in middle-aged women in relation to chronic psychological stress, Psychoneuroendocrinology 34: 1486-94
  18. Reason, J. (1990). Human Error. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  19. Trist, E.L. and K.W. Bamforth (1951) “Some social and psychological consequences of the longwall method of coal getting.” Human Relations, 4:3-38

 

Updated 10th of February 2018 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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04.12.2013 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com

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While the aim of the community at dpurb.com has  been & will always be to focus on a modern & progressive culture, human progress, scientific research, philosophical advancement & a future in harmony with our natural environment; the tireless efforts in researching & providing our valued audience the latest & finest information in various fields unfortunately takes its toll on our very human admins, who along with the time sacrificed & the pleasure of contributing in advancing our world through sensitive discussions & progressive ideas, have to deal with the stresses that test even the toughest of minds. Your valued support would ensure our work remains at its standards and remind our admins that their efforts are appreciated while also allowing you to take pride in our journey towards an enlightened human civilization. Your support would benefit a cause that focuses on mankind, current & future generations.

Thank you once again for your time.

Please feel free to support us by considering a donation.

Sincerely,

The Team @ dpurb.com

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