An Objective Analysis of Volitional Behavior

Jacob Robert Kantor
University of Indiana

Before proceeding to an analysis of volitional reactions which will be the subject-matter of the present article, we deem it necessary to make a distinction between volitional action and voluntary behavior; because we consider that what are called volitional or voluntary behavior (these terms are traditionally used synonymously) consist of at least two entirely different types of action.

We venture to suggest that if it never appeared necessary to differentiate between volitional and voluntary action it was because both types were presumed to be movements controlled by mental states. All the activities called voluntary were considered to be varieties of motor action constituting the effects or outcome of undifferentiable mental states.

When, however, we consider the data of psychology to be complex unitary responses of organisms to the stimulus objects and conditions surrounding them, then we assume that the problem of psychological description is to attempt carefully to analyze out of our intricate behavior complex as many differing action forms as we can discern. Accordingly, we base our differentiation between volitional and voluntary action upon divergent modes of contact between the acting individuals and different stimulus objects.[1]

While we plan to divide what is traditionally called voluntary behavior into at least two named classes, to wit, volitional and voluntary, we do not at all pretend that we can reduce to only two kinds all of the adaptations that are

( 117) ordinarily called voluntary (or volitional). It is possible that even the subclasses of volitional behavior alone, which our analysis will reveal, ought to be considered as independent types of psychological phenomena.

By way of justifying the separation of voluntary action from volitional behavior we attempt to point out some salient differences between the two.

Voluntary action is typically the response to a definite problematic. situation. Accordingly, the response pattern of voluntary action will include a choice action, a definite procedure with a decision and possibly a complete reasoning act. These choice and deliberative responses are completely absent in volitional behavior. Again, voluntary action as a type is manifestly more complex than volitional behavior, for it is probably (especially when it involves a precurrent reasoning action) the most complicated of all human behavior. Further, by stating that voluntary action involves reasoning factors we have implied that its patterns are replete with implicit actions of all sorts and with self-communicative language, and in these respects are different from the actions we call volitional, although it is not unlikely that they merge into each other at some point.[2] Also, voluntary action may involve genuine delay of behavior, the postponement of an action until a future time, while volitional reactions, as we shall presently indicate, occur in their completeness immediately upon the first presentation of the stimulus.

I. The Nature of Volitional Action. -- In general, volitional responses constitute very complete forms of behavior occurring under shifting and flexible conditions; or when a number of conditions must be reacted to at the same time. Characteristically, therefore, volitional reactions involve a number of auxiliary responses in addition to the final action. Because we must be dealing here with a single act of psychological adaptation (behavior segment) we will call the final adjustment the definitive or consummatory response. The volitional behavior segment, then, will consist of the response side of a definitive response (batting the ball) and

( 118) other precurrent reactions (in part responses to auxiliary stimuli, stance, arm and hand movements, head actions, eye movements, etc.). Let us be sufficiently cautious here to observe that the volitional reaction pattern, as compared with other types, contains precurrent reaction systems in addition to the ordinary attention and perception reactions characteristic of every behavior pattern.[3]

To be concise, a volitional reaction is one in which some other acts besides the definitive response must be performed in order that the definitive response itself can occur; as when one must go some place, or stoop down in the place where one is located to pick something up. Or else, the reaction involves the use of instruments or apparatus which have to be reacted to both per se and also as means to accomplish the larger action to the adjustment stimulus.[4] Here the volitional action is illustrated by aiming a gun or writing with a typewriter. Not only is one reacting in these cases to the person, say to whom one is writing, or to the object at which one is shooting, but also to the typewriter or the gun.

Coincident with the operation of several responses in the volitional behavior segment, we find in such situations more than one stimulus. We discover here no exception to the fundamental psychological principle that each response system must have its own particular stimulus. Accordingly, volitional behavior segments comprise a series of auxiliary stimuli besides the adjustment stimulus. The latter correlates with the definitive response, while the auxiliary stimuli are connected with the auxiliary responses. In our aforementioned illustrations the gun or typewriter are auxiliary stimuli, that is auxiliary to the adjustment stimulus, the

( 119) target aimed at or the person written to. As we shall presently have ample occasion to observe, the preceding precurrent reactions may serve as stimuli to the succeeding responses.

Volitional reactions may also be considered as detached or somewhat removed from the stimuli. Because much preliminary or precurrent behavior must take place before the final responses operate, such consummatory reactions have the appearance of being detached from their correlated stimuli. Moreover, there may be great variance between the definitive and the auxiliary reactions; so that the same sort of auxiliary acts may be connected with entirely different definitive responses; consequently this fact adds to the remoteness of the consummatory responses from the adjustment stimulus. Such remoteness does not imply a genuine temporal discontinuity of stimulus and response, since, far as the final response may be removed from the adjustment stimulus in time, the intervening activities are directly in line with the final activity. For this reason we might say volitional reactions are durational activities and not delayed. It must not be overlooked that besides some phase of the response starting immediately upon the appearance of the stimulus the other phases follow directly until the conclusion of the particular behavior segment under discussion.

Possibly by far the most intrinsic characteristic of volitional behavior is that the definitive response when it finally occurs is definitely conditioned and directly determined by the preceding auxiliary reactions as well as the objects and conditions constituting the stimuli to those reactions. All this of course in addition to the determining of the consummatory response by the adjustment stimulus or its. setting. Consider that the foremost differentia of volitional responses is that because the stimulus situation shifts or is flexible the final response is indeterminate until it is conditioned by the auxiliary stimuli objects and conditions.

The precise mode in which the precurrent responses condition the final or definitive response differs in the numerous types of volitional behavior which we daily and hourly

( 120) perform. In some cases, and these the most simple, the definitive action is preceded by some single overt act, placing the person in closer contact perhaps with the adjustment stimulus, as in the case of approaching a picture to look at it more conveniently. In such an instance the precurrent movement or action may be considered in function very closely analogous to the attention reaction which precedes the perceptual behavior system in an antecedent phase of the total behavior segment, although in volitional behavior the precurrent action is ordinarily connected with a performance and not a knowledge act, namely, the consummatory action.[5] These volitional precurrent actions may be responses to the original adjustment objects, since the same natural objects may encompass a variety of stimuli, or they may be responses to auxiliary stimuli independent of the, adjustment stimuli. In the former cases they must he closely integrated with the other precurrent actions and the final reaction in the behavior segment.

In contrast with this simplest case, volitional reactions may be conditioned by series of precurrent responses that have been in previous circumstances connected with both the stimulus conditions and the definitive action which reappear in the present behavior segment. Such a situation as this we may look upon as a middle stage in the hierarchy of volitional reactions: middle stage, we say, because the determining or conditioning character of the precurrent response is owing to an actual previous contact of the person with the same general stimulating conditions, while the most complex reactions in the volitional series are those in which the person performs actions precurrent to the definitive response and constituting full and direct anticipation of that final response. Exemplifying such behavior are the activities of a mechanic, say, in inspecting or assembling a complex standard machine. It is such actions as these that deserve the name, if any do, of purposive behavior.

Our most intricate volitional action situation is illustrated by the moves in playing chess. The play of the opponent

( 121) is the stimulus to perform a definitive act (move), but this act is also conditioned by the status of the board at the time. This illustration we use because there can be no question concerning the anticipation of the player's act, since, as a matter of fact, he also anticipates the move of the opponent. [6] Now this knowledge reaction preceding the final act operates in no other way than to anticipate the final response; there is no deliberation and no problem solving. When such processes do occur, however, the behavior segment is much more complex and deserving of a different name; in fact, such more complex reactions we call voluntary actions.

Still another way to characterize volitional reaction segments is to point out that they invariably involve meaning responses [7] of a greater or lesser complexity. In fact many of the precurrent responses above referred to are such meaning reactions. Sometimes these meaning responses are simple overt reactions, while in other cases they consist of definite complex implicit behavior of various sorts. Moreover, in the more complex volitional responses many meaning reactions may operate, whereas in the simpler types one or only a few may function. Of such meaning responses and their operation are constituted whatever is meant by foresight of the final phase or the complete volitional reaction pattern.

II. The Volitional Behavior Segment.--Upon examination a volitional behavior segment reveals immediately a number of striking marks which differentiate it and make it stand out as .a unique type of behavior.

In the first place, a volitional reaction system is so complex that in the more complicated sorts it involves as much action and adjustment as would ordinarily be comprised in several and even many behavior segments. In a genuine sense, then, volitional behavior segments are compound and may

( 122) be said to consist of a number of component segments. In view of the final adaptational connection between a stimulating situation and a response, however, we cannot say, of course, that there is more that one behavior segment in the whole situation.

In the second place, volitional behavior segments are phenomena of occasion. The total activity, though not the detailed adjustments, is improvised through the influence of the specific environing conditions (adjustment and auxiliary stimuli) at the time. We might look upon each behavior pattern as a unique combination of response factors, all of which, operating in conjunction with their connected stimuli, amount to an original form of psychological adjustment. In this respect volitional responses are most sharply marked off from habit responses, although the latter frequently attain an amazing complexity.

Only the total combinations, however, are unique, for the objects reacted to in volitional behavior are after all familiar to the person. It is only the particular arrangement of them which makes the total reaction original. This situation is dissimilar from the one we find in imagination and reasoning action segments, for in these activities the stimulus objects are not merely adjusted to but are recreated in a distinctly new manner. Likewise the final acts in these cases are unique and may be said to be developed in the particular situation in which they operate.

Both the flexibility and complexity of volitional behavior segments are owing to the fact that because the stimulus conditions are uniquely organized, the final or definitive response must be determined and conditioned by the whole series of environing circumstances (stimuli) and not merely by the adjustment stimulus. In consequence, the person performs many and diverse activities between the time he is first stimulated by the adjustment stimulus and the time he performs the final or consummatory response. The necessity to meet all the conditions impressed upon the acting person by the various auxiliary stimuli, complicates and makes each volitional reaction unique.

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III. The Operation of Volitional Fiction.--Just as in every complex case of psychological behavior, volitional reactions comprise the operation of a definitive final response (securing paper for instance) to some adjustment stimulus (say, the need to get the paper). But we have seen that the definitive action is not only conditioned by the adjustment stimulus but by other stimuli and actions, and as a consequence numerous specific modes of operation are possible, depending upon the precise conditions of the situation. Just how our illustrative act will work out will depend upon whether the paper can be secured by merely extending the hand, or whether the person has to go to another part of the room or to an entirely different room to get it. It depends also upon whether the person knows precisely where the paper is, or is only acquainted with that fact in an indefinite way. In general, we may say that volitional reactions differ from each other in the matter of how closely the anterior meaning responses (directing oneself or moving toward the paper or the place where it is located, or naming the place) are connected with the definitive response (specific movement of securing the paper) and with the necessary interpolated reactions (getting ladder, opening cabinet, etc.), besides of course varying in the specific identity of the stimuli and responses involved.

In the sort of illustration we have used, and even more in increasingly complex situations, must the descriptions of how volitional actions operate take account of how the adjustment stimulus (need for paper in our illustration) initiates a meaning reaction (movement or set toward the paper or knowledge of its location, conditioning all later action), which is also partially conditioned by auxiliary stimuli (location of paper). Also, such a description must take account of how the auxiliary stimuli (floor, chair, door, ladder, cabinet, etc.) initiate and condition intermediate reactions (going into other room, opening cabinet), which in turn condition the consummatory reaction (getting paper) in common with their own (auxiliary) stimuli. And finally, how the consummatory response (initiated by the adjustment

( 124) stimulus) through the meaning reaction, which in a sense represents it while at the same time conditioning it, determines to a certain extent what the intermediate actions should be like and also which of the surrounding objects should be auxiliary stimuli.

But let us observe that here we are considering a case in which the final or consummatory response of the behavior segment is itself a fairly simple action. We can well imagine how much more complicated the situation is when this definitive act is itself a complicated behavior such as the solving of a technical problem or the drawing of a plan.

Yet in spite of the great variety and complexity of volitional behavior we may still isolate as a general characteristic of such behavior at least three stages or types of operation, each of which we may discuss separately. These types we may sum up as follows: (A) the initiation of the meaning factor stimulated primarily by the adjustment stimulus and secondarily by the auxiliary stimuli, and operating in direct conjunction with the definitive response or through the intermediation of auxiliary responses; (B) the functioning of the auxiliary reactions in connection with the preceding meaning reactions and the following consummatory response; and (C) the operation of the definitive final response.

(A) The Meaning Factors.--As soon as the stimulus appears the volitional reaction begins; but, as we have seen, these reactions operate under shifting and relatively indefinite conditions, so the definitive response must be preceded by other and aiding reactions. In everyday speech we should say that the person must discover and know what to do under the present circumstances. Our interest here is to point out that we have movements or other acts initiated at once, which acts belong to the volitional pattern of response but are not the definitive reaction system. In every case, however, they are not merely parts of the behavior pattern but condition the later parts. To illustrate, I perceive the tennis ball coming toward me and my definitive act must be the placing of it at some definite point on the opposite side of the court. Now before I can accomplish the necessary act I must

( 125) discover the best way to strike. This anticipatory knowing action consists of various movements of the person preceding the specific striking act.

Now such reactions as we have been indicating, which function to determine the future or further operation of other reactions, are meaning responses. And while they may not always be open to the observer's inspection as is true of all the subtle implicit meaning reactions, they are nevertheless always components of the volitional behavior segments. These meaning responses need not always be clearly prior in action to the other two phases, but may in some cases operate practically or quite simultaneously with the auxiliary reactions and possibly almost simultaneously with the definitive response also.

Precaution must be rigorously observed to the end that we may not confuse these meaning reactions with perceptual responses which always have a place in every complex behavior segment.[8] Perceptual reactions are indeed themselves meaning responses of a sort, but are quite distinct from the type under discussion. The meaning responses which we are now describing are determining or conditioning responses operating in addition and posterior to the perceptual: responses. In general, we may distinguish between the perceptual and volitional meaning reactions by observing that the former are more closely connected with the adjustment stimulus while the latter are more definitely integrated with the definitive response . [9] The distinction between the perceptual and other latterly occurring meaning reactions may well be illustrated by indicating that whereas the perceptual reaction constitutes the person's awareness of the identity of an object, the other meaning reaction comprises his appreciation of what to do about it. Such an appreciation we ordinarily refer to as an understanding about the thing,

(126) especially when the appreciating person can state the fact in words, and in practically all cases it involves an immediate positive or inhibitional action (moving toward it or away from it, seizing it, or checking all such action) with respect to that object.[10] The simpler form of perceptual meaning reaction is called merely seeing or otherwise sensing, because the activity is much less complex and to all appearances always less discernible.

Furthermore, the meaning reaction may be and usually is stimulated by the combination of adjustment and auxiliary stimuli, whereas perceptual responses have only their specific adjustment stimulus objects or conditions and their settings. That the distinctly volitional meaning reactions can follow the perceptual response is manifest from the fact that it may just as likely follow another type of meaning reaction. Upon the clue that volitional meaning reactions may be overt or implicit we may proceed to expose two varieties of the meaning phases of volitional responses.

1. In the first of these varieties the adjustment stimulus calls out a compound series of acts all of which are closely interconnected with the final action. The segment of behavior works out as follows. The necessity to do something we may consider to be the adjustment stimulus. This stimulus is attended to and perceived auditorially perhaps as a bit of imparted information or visually by the condition of certain objects. Immediately a series of interconnected reactions follow. Similarly, in aiming a gun, when the mere aiming is the act in question, the presence of the stimulus conditions brings about the appropriate responses. The essential fact here is that some of these reactions serve as meaning responses; in other words, they determine the character of the later reactions and the definitive response. Eschewing completely the mentalistic implication, we have here typical cases of what James called 'resident and remote controls.' This means to say from our standpoint not that mental states control muscles but that preceding reaction

( 127) systems condition succedent ones with a final determination of the consummatory response.

2. Turning to a somewhat more complicated situation, the person, besides attending to and perceiving the occasion for action, must also pay attention to the stimulus object we call the first auxiliary stimulus. Here we note the distinction between the adjustment stimulus which may be an object as well as a condition and the other stimuli in the behavior segment. Such a situation would be represented by language behavior or aiming a gun at a moving target. In other cases the occasion for action is not sufficient to initiate the overt meaning action which led to the definitive aiming response, or in other words the overt meaning acts are insufficient determiners of the aiming act. In addition to these overt precurrent acts this type of behavior segment requires a series of implicit meaning responses. These responses operate as images or ideas as to how to point the gun and refer to both position and rate of movement of the target or the appropriate use of words and mode of expression in a language situation. The person may have either a definite or a vague appreciation of what the needs of the situation are and how to meet them.

(B) The Auxiliary Intervening Factors.-The auxiliary responses are indirectly stimulated by the adjustment stimulus, but they are still essentially independent responses excited to action by their own stimuli. These intervening responses are well illustrated by the acts of getting the key, switching on the light, etc., which are performed as part of the action of getting a book which we know is in the library. Because of the influence of the adjustment stimulus upon these intervening responses they are of course directly connected with the definitive reaction and as a consequence of their independence they have a decided influence upon the final reaction. Plainer put, the dual connection of these interposed responses makes them not only into means for carrying out the final and definitive adjustment to the primary stimulus but also into actual and rigorous determiners of that adjustment.[11]

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As in case (A) so here the intervening responses may all be either (1) overt or (2) implicit, and moreover there may be here also combinations of overt and implicit reactions, as well as (3) the semi-overt verbal reaction. In fact, verbal responses constitute a large portion of the intervening responses in volitional reactions.

1. The merely overt intervening conditioning responses are illustrated by the gross acts of walking, reaching, or stooping in order to carry out some definitive response to a stimulus. Some striking though not common actions which show this type of intervening function are the balancing movements made by the tight-rope walker and the bicycle rider in the acts of getting from one place to another. Again, in reading, numerous eye movements constitute the intervening responses.

2. Implicit intervening reactions may be considered as more definitely foresight responses than are the overt reactions, for we observe that while the former are stimulated in much the same manner as the latter, yet the very fact that the latter are implicit responses means that they are adaptations to absent objects. This means to say, then, that the adjustment stimulus object as well as some of the auxiliary objects have served in the capacity of substitute stimuli. Now because these implicit reactions are part of the total volitional behavior situation the absent objects or conditions reacted to are involved in the behavior segment in which they function and they operate effectively to condition the definitive responses. To illustrate, I am stimulated by a stack of letters to prepare replies, but an auxiliary stimulus indicates the lack of time to complete the task. It is necessary to foresee certain objects and to anticipate various conditions in order to arrange the work and select the part to do at once from the remainder which must be left for a later time.

3. Because of the commonness of verbal components of most of our complex behavior it is hardly necessary to

( 129) comment upon this form of intervening volitional behavior. We might indicate, however, that probably the verbal type of intervening behavior is best exemplified by the language manipulations in ‘mental' or oral arithmetic.

In concluding this discussion of the intervening responses we are impelled to point out that not all the anterior determinations of definitive responses make for the smooth operation of them or for the advantage of the acting person. Quite frequently the interposed responses provide an untoward determination of the consummatory reactions. Often enough they serve most effectively to interfere and disturb the definitive response. This situation is well exemplified by the fumbling and generally disturbing responses which are introduced into a volitional behavior segment by the extraneous stimuli which 'rattle' the ball player as he is about to strike the ball. The universal knowledge of this principle lies at the basis of the hostile emarks of the supporters of the out-side team.

(C) Definitive or Final Response.--Whatever type of pattern is constituted by the precurrent phases of volitional behavior, the final response may consist of two general types of action. On the one hand, it may be a single reaction system or a group of closely integrated reaction systems; on the other hand, it may be a rather complex series of more or less discrete reaction systems. In the first type the final act would be illustrated by jumping off the tight rope when the walker gets to the end of it or it might consist of writing one's name on a paper after having reached for and secured it. The more complex situation would be illustrated by all the page turning and place determination involved in looking up a word in the dictionary or the activities included in the swinging of one's golf club after having performed the preliminary actions.

Wide bounds must be allowed in many cases for the operation of the final or definitive action, for the detailed responses may be many, although great precaution is necessary to prevent us from overstepping the limits of our given behavior segment. This means to say that frequently it

( 130) is extremely difficult to delimit the boundaries of volitional behavior segments or to determine exactly where a volitional reaction leaves off and some other reaction begins. Thus in our illustration of reaching for a book to look up a word it may be that the turning over of the first page is the end of our first volitional segment and that immediately after this a new segment is initiated. Theoretically, of course, we have a decisive criterion, namely, the operation of a new adjustment stimulus, but in practice we frequently find difficulty in determining what the new stimulus is or when it begins to operate.

The definitive action in volitional segments, whether complex or simple, may be overt, implicit, or verbal. The act may consist of a stroke of a bat or golf stick (overt), the thought of a person or object (implicit), or the pronunciation of a name or other word or phrase (verbal).

IV. Classification of Volitional Action. -- When we attempt to introduce some sort of classificatory order into the thousands of volitional reactions that we are constantly performing we discover that the differences between such reactions comprise variations in complexity, diversity in the specific manner in which the definitive responses are conditioned, and dissimilarity in the number and types of stimuli operating in the various segments. Upon the basis of a joint ;consideration of these criteria it is possible to classify and arrange in some order the various types of volitional behavior. . From the exceedingly numerous classes of such behavior we arbitrarily select and describe six illustrative classes.

1. In the first class, in ascending order of complexity, we have a series of behavior segments in which the adjustment and the auxiliary stimulus (there is only one of each of these) consist of the same object, for example, the brake which needs to be set (adjustment stimulus) and is stuck (auxiliary stimulus). The attention and perceptual reactions will be comparatively simple, since there is only the one object to attend to and perceive. Again, the conditioning reactions will be fairly simple, completely overt, and entirely integrated with the definitive or consummatory response.

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2. In the second class of volitional responses the adjustment and auxiliary stimuli are not the same object. We can react to the speeding tennis ball and to our opponent at the same time. Our attention in various degrees and alternations must be directed toward the two stimuli, as well as our perceptual acts. Now in this class of volitional reactions we assume that there are auxiliary reactions which are both integrated and unintegrated with the terminative response. All the auxiliary responses that are not in the direct line of the stroke (speech reactions for example) may not be integrated with the latter, but the responses that are directly connected with the definitive response may also be intimately integrated with it.

3. A still more complex class of acts would be those in which besides the adjustment and the auxiliary stimuli there may be one or many other stimulus objects or conditions calling out reactions which function to condition the definitive response. These auxiliary responses are overt reactions operating as more or less independent actions between the earliest attention, perception and meaning actions of the volitional segment, and the consummatory response. In these types of volitional actions we may well expect the attention and perceptual responses to be enormously complicated. Well exemplified is this class of volitions by the behavior segment in which one finally arrives at the proper point in the stream and casts the trout fly.

4. Very different from the foregoing forms of volitional reactions are the segments in which preceding responses serve as definitive stimuli for the following responses in the segments. This condition introduces a greater complexity in the total behavior segment and a greater preliminary indefiniteness in the final action. The latter is in consequence all the more conditioned by the preceding responses. Such segments operate, of course, in situations in which the definitive response is not entirely determined by the adjustment stimulus. For example, in case of fire one must remove certain valuables to a place of safety, but just where the disposition of the articles will take place will be determined more

( 132) by what the person will be made to do in the course of working out the behavior segment, by various exigencies (auxiliary stimuli), than by the adjustment stimulus.

5. A more complicated and differently operating determining influence is found in the volitional reactions in which the definitive response is conditioned by implicit responses. Such segments involve the adaptation of the person to objects and conditions which are not present but which necessarily must be taken into account in order to carry on the response to the original adjustment stimulus. These implicit reactions may operate in two distinctly different ways. In the first place, such responses may merely facilitate the ongoing of the behavior segment which is occurring at the moment. That is to say, the implicit response may facilitate the progress of the person toward the completion of the definitive response. Or in the second place, the implicit response may operate to condition what the final reaction shall be or shall be like. This latter situation represents a more complicated type of volitional response and must be placed in another class.

As an example of a volitional reaction of class 5 we may take the case of the person escaping from a fire. The stimulus is fairly exacting and the course of the volitional segment may be determined by the implicit responses. The reader will observe that but for the kind of reaction involved, implicit rather than overt, the present class of acts are like those of class ¢. In class 5 the determining response is a reaction to any immediately present object, but such present objects serve as substitute stimuli for absent objects, conditions, or actions. Our point here is that the definitive response in the segment is determined by the implicit action serving as stimulus for another action in the segment. Perhaps another illustration will clarify this point.

I am stimulated to make some extemporaneous remarks at a dinner gathering. Immediately it is necessary to seize upon a topic and most likely the occasion which brought the members of the party together will serve as the source of that speech. As I gather momentum for my speech I observe

( 133) several of my neighbors and under the proper circumstances thereto I begin to reflect upon what ‘X' is thinking about my handling of the subject. This implicit response to his thought may stimulate me in such a way that my further remarks assume such a shape as to make my speech an entirely different sort of thing than it might otherwise have been.

More complications may be introduced into the total volitional behavior segment if we further consider the person making the speech and his reactions to himself as constituting the source of the responses which condition the later behavior and in turn the terminative response of the particular behavior segment.

6. By far the most complex type of volitional reaction is the one in which the definitive response is almost completely determined by the precurrent responses in the behavior segment, rather than by the adjustment stimulus. The latter in this case merely determines that the act should occur and conditions some of the precurrent acts. This type of determination of the final response by precurrent responses we might look upon as a definite form of anticipation. The person is stimulated to bring about some sort of condition, say the construction of a house or the setting up of a piece of apparatus. But just how the apparatus or the house should be designed or built must be determined by the nature of the results to be obtained, and yet no very precise specifications are available. The individual must then respond implicitly to much of his past actions in previous similar situations and to the objects there met with, in order to design and construct some sort of similar apparatus which correlates with or is in some sense common to similar conditions in the individual's past experience. This class of volitional reactions in their typical form may be thought of as at least approaching the inventive. Let us note once more that the stimulus conditions the individual to perform a type of reaction which has no definite model but which has to be organized and determined by the general conditions of the stimulus.

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V. What are the Stimuli and Stimulus Settings in Volitional Behavior?-The problems involved in the study of the stimulus factors in volitional behavior segments are manifestly more crucial than they are in other cases of psychological behavior. For in addition to the functional indefiniteness of the adjustment stimulus the other stimuli are very complex, many of them operating and all of them functioning in peculiar combinations. We may consequently divide up our analysis of the stimulus conditions into four general divisions, to wit, (A) classes of stimuli according to their nature (kind of thing), (B) classes of stimuli according to their function, and (C) classes of stimuli according to their complexity and temporal position in the behavior segment. To this triple division of stimuli must be added (D) some observations concerning the settings or background of the stimuli.

(A) Classes of Stimuli according to their Nature.--From the nature of the volitional behavior segment it follows that the stimuli for such activities will be exceedingly contingent and peculiar to some very specific situation. Even when the stimuli .are concrete objects, therefore, they will have to fit into an immediate momentary situation. For example, if we are responding to an opponent in a game we always find him to be a shifting and unstable object. Otherwise, of course, we would not be observing volitional behavior but rather habit responses or other forms of behavior. Needs, events, actions, and conditions therefore will constitute a large portion of volitional stimuli.

In general, we might suggest that the most typical feature of volitional stimuli is the characteristic of indefinite definiteness which they carry. This characteristic is excellently illustrated by the stimuli which we name specifications. That something must be done we are thereby informed; also it is made known to us what sort of result is expected but just how the activities will be executed remains to be determined by the particular exigencies of the behavior situation. Not to confuse this reaction with voluntary behavior we must add that we are not concerned here with anything

( 135) but the carrying out of a plan of action, not at all with choosing the plan.

Conventions of various sorts and social contingencies are stimuli for complex volitional responses. Precedents and other social institutions set our paces for all sorts of social conduct for the precise carrying out of which various other auxiliary stimuli provide the immediate conditions. Such conventions also function as fertile sources for auxiliary stimuli of all sorts which operate to determine definitive responses stimulated by other objects and conditions.

(B) Classification of Volitional Stimuli according to their Function.--Here we need only set down the fact that besides the adjustment and auxiliary stimuli, the nature of which we have already had occasion to point out, we find other stimuli in volitional behavior segments all of which, however, may be called auxiliary. These latter are divisible into various orders according to their places in the behavior segment. To illustrate, the need for some particular kind of paper upon which to make a note may be considered the adjustment stimulus; the absence of this special type of paper may be considered an auxiliary stimulus of the first order. Now the next stages of the volitional behavior pattern will involve movements stimulated by the chairs, doors, cabinets, etc., met with in searching for the paper; these objects we may refer to as auxiliary stimuli of the second order. Again, when a volitional behavior segment involves much preliminary trial and error action these acts themselves constitute stimuli which influence the definitive response, and we may name these, auxiliary stimuli of the third order. Prominent among such determining actions are the language responses of various sorts.

It may well be that a still more intensive analysis of volitional behavior than we have already made might yield even more determiners in the form of stimuli which we might consider to be auxiliary stimuli of higher orders than those we have mentioned.

(C) Classification of Stimuli according to their Complexity and Temporal Position. -- As we might expect, the volitional

(136) responses having so many stimuli may operate in different manners and combinations. To express it differently, they may function singly or in groups and constellations; in the latter case a number would be functioning simultaneously, whereas in other cases they operate in chronological order. Stimulus conditions vary greatly of course with the complexity of the behavior situation and it is possible that we may have a single adjustment stimulus and a constellation of some one or all of the different types of auxiliaries, either operating in chronological order or simultaneously. We cannot at this point resist the temptation to indicate again that the auxiliary stimuli operate directly or indirectly to determine or condition a final response which is not completely and exclusively determined by the adjustment stimulus.

(D) Volitional Stimulus Settings.-Possibly much more than in other types of behavior do we find in volitional action a great prominence of the various stimulus settings. What ordinarily amounts to no more than a background for a stimulus-object, bringing about a refinement in the response or a sharper differentiation of stimuli by specialization of action, becomes in volitional behavior segments definite stimulus factors. These setting objects or conditions become in many cases full-fledged auxiliary stimuli. Reflect upon the prominence of the settings to the stimuli in a chess game or in some similar behavior situation. What is at one moment, when a given move is made, the background of one's stimuli, becomes later, when the opponent is moving, a very decided stimulus itself for one's own next action. How important the settings appear in such a situation is also manifest from a common but erroneous belief that all the chessmen are at once the stimulus to every move reaction.

The extreme importance of the stimulus settings in volitional behavior is a consequence of the contingent character of the total situation. Very striking is the contrast in this respect between the volitional action and a reflex response. In the latter case the adjustment stimulus is not only the only one operating, but the setting or background of the stimulus ordinarily plays no part whatsoever in the behavior

( 137) segment. When in comparatively infrequent situations the settings do figure in the behavior circumstances they serve merely to increase or decrease the vigor with which the response is performed, but they cannot alter the morphological character of the response. Quite different is the situation in volitional behavior segments; in every case the total general surroundings have both indirect and direct influences upon the intimate characteristics of the behavior pattern.

Correlated with the increased function of the setting which makes it into an auxiliary stimulus, is the shifting of the adjustment stimulus to be the background of the now prominent setting. In most instances probably the setting objects could not become actual stimuli without this functional modification of the adjustment object or condition in the behavior segment. These functional displacements are all of course typical consequences of the fortuitous character of volitional behavior.

VI. Volitional Actions as Performative and Informational.--Contrary to the usual notion we believe volitional actions comprise informational responses as well as performative reactions. That is to say, volitional acts may consist of responses in which the individual performs some sort of knowledge or informational adjustment to some object as well as overt manipulations of all sorts.[12] In support of this thesis several propositions may be adduced.

In the first place, no principle of volitional behavior is opposed to this thesis; rather the description of volitional reactions is entirely consonant with our view. For if volitional behavior consists essentially of a mode of adaptation in which there is a definite and auxiliary response and moreover an adaptation in which the definitive response is determined by auxiliary stimuli in addition to the adjustment stimulus, then it is entirely possible that the adaptation may be informational as well as performative.

In the second place, when we ask what determines whether a reaction is informative or performative do we not get the

( 137) answer that this is entirely a functional affair? That is to say, if the behavior segment adjusts the individual by way of some cognitive orientation we call it a knowing or informational reaction, whereas if the reaction results in some change in spatial relation between the person and the object we call the reaction performative. Now it is certainly clear that volitional responses may be of both sorts, and our criterion as to which sort lies in the nature of the definitive response and the adjustment stimulus. Do not many if not all of the trial and error manipulations in reasoning activities answer to our description of volitional reactions? And when such reasoning reactions are theoretical in character and not practical problem-solving activities then the volitional responses are informational. The same designation may be correctly applied to numerous of our volitional responses when they are autonomous and independent of other reactions.

That volitional responses may be informational as well as performative appears likewise from the fact that in the actual determinations of the consummatory reaction many informational stimuli may operate to excite determining knowledge reactions. This is true of course of any sort of volitional reaction and especially so when the definitive response is itself informational in character. To a certain extent, then, all complex volitional reactions, at least, involve informational behavior of various sorts in the carrying out of the total segment. Is it not very likely then that the whole segment should be informational in character?

VII. The Range of Volitional Behavior.-Here we might raise the general question as to what sorts of situations involve the operation of volitional behavior segments. The answer to this question is in our opinion simple and unequivocal. Probably every one of our complex human situations provides us with a series of occasions to perform such behavior. Whenever we adapt ourselves to different or somewhat unfamiliar surroundings, when we are obliged to handle tools or manipulate complex objects such as machines, while playing games of various sorts or engaged

( 139) in constructive activites, we perform a great many volitional responses.

If we consider the situations just mentioned as the stimulus conditions for individual responses we may then refer to another series of situations as social. All of our social situations are replete with conditions in which our definitive responses must be carefully and directly determined by a variety of auxiliary stimuli, in many cases very prolific in number. These social situations all supply us with fairly indefinite situations for the adjustment to which are required the distinctly volitional forms of behavior.

Possibly the whole problem of the range of volitional behavior can no better be comprehended than by pointing out that for the most part our language responses conform to the volitional type of behavior. The carrying on of a conversation or the delivering of an oration constitute a most intricate complexity of volitional behavior adjustments.

VIII. The Development of Volitional Responses.--Volitional reactions have histories. No matter how complex or how indeterminate in character they are, they must date back to previous coördinations of responses and stimuli. Indeed this principle marks an essential condition for the operation of any volitional reaction at all. This does not mean merely that certain phases of the volitional response such as the auxiliary reaction systems constitute part of the behavior equipment of the person. It means more than this; it means that no complex volitional action can be an actual adaptive action unless there exist genuine associations between the various stimuli and the various responses in the behavior situation for the particular person who is involved in it.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that all connections between responses and stimuli in a volitional-behavior situation represent coördinations which go back to some historically anterior trial and error contact of the person with the general stimulating conditions in which the reaction is performed. Were it not for this fact it is doubtful whether determining responses could condition consummatory re-

(140) -actions. Moreover, it is certainly true that a person will be most efficient in performing indeterminate actions who has had most experience in that particular field. The machinist who starts out to execute a specified activity finds many suggestive stimuli to condition the prompt and effective carrying out of that project, whereas the uninitiated individual finds either undetermining stimuli in the various machinists' objects (tools) or else all the stimuli happen to be thwarting. It must be very carefully observed, however, that the possibility and effectiveness of the operation of volitional behavior segments depend entirely upon the fact that numerous reactions may be made to influence each other rather than upon any very definite organization of responses with each other. Prominent remains the fact that volitional behavior consists of adaptations to unstable and unstandardized conditions which require a not too close connection between responses if we are to meet the given situation, although without some connection the whole adaptation would remain unachievable.

That in general the components of volitional reactions must have some organizational history appears also from the fact that were this .not so and the adaptation were made, it would have to be a totally new adjustment as far as that is possible in human behavior. But this is never the case in volitional action. The stimulus circumstances do not demand it nor do the reactional situations justify such an interpretation. Now this, as we have seen, happens to be precisely the practical distinction between volitional reactions and voluntary actions. In the latter case we may assume that the actions involve the development of a practically new mode of response. In the case of volitional reactions, on the other hand, we really have no more than a new combination of previously acquired stimulus and response coördinations.

IX. The Conditions of Volitional Behavior.--Already we have seen in the preceding section that when a person has had considerable experience in forming particular sorts of stimulus and response coördinations this experience consti-

(141) -tutes a favorable condition for that person's participation in volitional reactions related to that type of stimulus and response coördination. To this condition we must add others, among them being the availability of objects and persons which can constitute stimuli to determine the operation of the volitional reaction and its progression toward its definitive conclusion. The more possible stimuli (objects, persons, etc.,) we have around us the more chance there is for the volitional action to occur and the greater our ability to adapt ourselves to a shifting and indefinite situation. Absolutely indispensable, of course, is the presence of some of those possible stimulus objects for the ongoing of the volitional act at all. . The number of possible stimuli is then a functional factor in the facilitation of the working of volitional behavior.

X. Volitional Reactions and Habits.-No one, it is safe to say, will confuse volitional reactions and their operation with habit acts and their particular mode of functioning, especially when the more complex forms of volitional reactions are concerned. It may be true, however, that the simpler sort of volitional reactions may appear to the observer to be very like the habit response. We propose, therefore, to suggest a fundamental criterion which will distinguish these two types of behavior. Let us note that volitional behavior, no matter how simple, involves a reaction within a reaction; that is to say, it consists essentially of the operation of a definitive response to an adjustment stimulus, a definitive reaction which is not only conditioned by that adjustment stimulus but is also very closely and definitely determined by auxiliary responses and their stimuli. In the case of habit responses, on the contrary, we have a single form of activity, integrated from simpler activities in some cases, to be sure, but still a single mode of adaptation which is very closely integrated with a single adjustment stimulus.[13] Again, volitional reactions contrast very markedly with habit activity in that the former is not determined until the definitive response is about to operate, whereas the latter was entirely

( 142) determined at some past period when it was originally acquired as a reaction. As a consequence of the differences between volitional reactions and habits the latter appear as entirely automatic, while the former have the appearance of being completely casual and occasional.

XI. Do Animals Perform Volitional Reactions?-Complex as volitional reactions are there seems no good reason to assume that the higher animals do not perform such behavior. This statement does not hold, however, for the very complex types. It is no doubt the case that probably no animal, even of the highest order, performs the type of volitional reaction in which the organism definitely anticipates some specific mode of response. This conclusion we may reach from an observation of the complexity of the action itself as well as from the consideration that such complex activity involves much implicit behavior of an intricate sort. The evidence from animal studies leads us to doubt much whether any animal is capable of performing such intricate implicit responses.

Probably the best evidence we have that animals can perform even complex volitional responses is found in the experiments upon animals in puzzle boxes. There can be no question but that the act of a cat in working its way out of a cage involves a great deal of volitional behavior, but those same experiments indicate that the type of volitional behavior in which complicated implicit reactions are necessary fall outside the range of the animal's capacity to perform.

XII. Volitional Reactions and Knowledge.-In the traditional psychological treatises volitional reaction is always considered to be closely connected with knowledge, for in the first place, volitional reaction is not distinguished from voluntary behavior, and in the second place, the organism performing volitional reaction is presumed to possess some definite foreknowledge of what he is about to do. We believe that while it is entirely proper to say that volitional reactions involve knowledge, this knowledge is not as we have indicated a very deliberate form of anticipation of the definitive response excepting in the most complex voluntary reaction. To be very plain, we reject completely the con-

( 143) -ception that knowledge represents some sort of mental state entity different from the motor action which follows it. We cannot conceive of psychological phenomena except as members in a homogenous series of activities of the person which differ only in functional and morphological details.

For our own part, we believe that knowledge in volitional reactions is constituted mainly of the operation of medial stimuli, namely determining responses and their stimuli in addition to the adjustment stimulus. Knowledge in volitional reactions, we conclude then, is distributed throughout the whole behavior segment. This whole matter may be best worked out by a brief consideration of what knowledge is from a psychological standpoint.

As a psychological term, knowledge, if distinguished from cognition, is merely a more complex form of behavior than the latter. Now cognition in general means merely the operation of a differential response which has previously been coördinated with its particular stimulus. Of these reactions we may say that while performing them the person appreciates the presence and nature of the stimulating object. Such cognitive activity we find of course in abundance in volitional reactions, for observe that we have a large number of stimuli in such reactions.

Briefly, then, we might indicate that much of the knowledge in all volitional reactions consists of the perceptual responses to the adjustment and auxiliary stimuli. Also, in all volitional reactions the overt and implicit meaning responses represent knowledge reactions of varying complexity. Likewise, the elaborate implicit anticipatory responses which look toward the consummatory reaction rather than to the present stimuli, constitute very definite forms of knowledge reactions. It is these forms of volitional action components, we believe, that are usually thought of as the foresight responses. Now we suggest that because such responses are found only in the most complex volitional behavior patterns, we must either enlarge our conception of volitional reactions to admit other forms than those which contain such elaborate anticipatory reactions, or else we must admit as knowledge all the other perceptual and meaning

( 144) reactions that are distributed throughout the total behavior pattern. Further, it may be suggested that whenever we have a complex anticipatory response in a behavior segment we always find there in addition a large number of the distributed knowledge factors; in fact, a larger number than when the complex anticipatory reaction is absent, for in the former case the total behavior situation will be more complex.

XIII. Summary.-First we suggest a distinction between volitional and voluntary action and then proceed to an analysis of the former, which we characterize as consisting of actions within actions. The volitional behavior segment is described as a series of stimuli and responses. The adjustment stimulus initiates the behavior pattern, but does not completely determine what the final reaction will be. Exactly what sort of definitive response shall occur in these fortuitous behavior situations depends upon a series of additional or auxiliary stimuli and their responses.

In the actual operation of volitional reactions we analyze, besides the attention and perception reactions, some additional precurrent responses which we differentiate into two classes, namely, meaning and auxiliary reactions. The former are more directly connected with the final or definitive response which terminates the behavior pattern, while the latter are less directly so connected, although both find a place in all complex contingent volitional actions.

In the classification of volitional reactions we use as criteria (1)the number and complexity of stimuli, (2) the way these stimuli condition the definitive response, and (3) the general organization of the behavior pattern. Six types are thus distinguished.

After an analysis of the stimulus factors in volitional behavior the question is raised whether volitional reactions are all performative or whether some of them are not informational in character. The latter alternative is indicated as the answer. Finally, by way of further elucidating the character of volitional reactions, we discuss among other problems the development, range, and conditions of such behavior.


  1. We believe it is conserving a pernicious animistic tradition to make the at least two interacting things which science demands as the basis of its data to consist of (1)the ‘mind' or consciousness, and (2) the body, instead of stimulus and person (response).
  2. Our sixth subclass of volitional action comes close to being a voluntary action.
  3. A habit response, for example, involves (1)an attention act, (2) a perceptual reaction system, and (3) a simple or complex final action, but the volitional response involves in addition meaning and auxiliary reactions. Cf. sec. X. below.
  4. By adjustment stimulus we mean the object or event to which, or person to whom the actual adaptation is made. In this sense the adjustment stimulus contrasts with the auxiliary stimuli, which, while influencing the final response, are not themselves the objects or conditions to which the response is made. In chasing a dog, the chasing action is a response to the dog as adjustment stimulus. Now this chasing reaction may be conditioned by the presence of a stick or a stone in which case these objects become auxiliary stimuli.
  5. This does not mean to say that the consummatory response cannot be an informational reaction,
  6. We assume in this illustration that the conditions are not so definite that an actual choice has to be made, for in that case we should prefer to call this a full-fledged voluntary action.
  7. The term meaning response signifies a reaction which serves to determine the character of a later action. Cf. an article by the writer, entitled 'An Objective Interpretation of Meanings,' Amer. J. of Psychol., 1921, 32. 231-248.
  8. Reflex responses, for example, comprising as they do a single reaction system omy, involve no separate preceding perceptual reaction system. Cf. Kantor, 'The Psychology of Reflex Action,' Amer. J. of Psychol., 1922, 33, 19-42.
  9. The perceptual reaction system is of course very closely associated with a final reaction, but in the case of volitional behavior this final reaction is not the same as the definitive response. It would be more like the standing, looking, and head-straining acts which are inside the behavior segment and precede the definitive action.
  10. Let us suggest the fact that it is because volitional responses are correlated with fairly indefinite and shifting stimuli that the two types of meaning reactions are necessary.
  11. These intervening reactions may be to a certain extent at least meaning reactions, but in their independence of operation and remoter connection with the adjustment stimulus they are very different in function.
  12. Whenever we ‘place' a vaguely familiar individual somewhere in our past experience we are performing an informational volitional reaction.
  13. For a detailed description of habit reactions, cf. Kantor, ‘The Integrative Character of Habits,' J. of Comp. Psychol., 1922, 2, 195-226.

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