The Nature of Intelligence

Chapter 11. The Function of Ineffective Adjustments

L.L. Thurstone

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

There are many interesting effects in normal or momentarily disrupted mental life which may be considered under the title of this section. Let us consider a motive or dissatisfaction which is attempting to get relief through overt adjustment of some kind. The motive may be considered as a pressure which expresses itself, more or less, at random in different overt forms until one act is executed which gives relief. This drains the motive and there is no further cause for continued trial-and-error behaviour. The last act, which drained the motive and satisfied it, is called the successful act. We have in a previous section considered the manner in which the consequences of a proposed adjustment are anticipated mentally. If that anticipation is a failure the intended act is no longer driven by the motive. It is no longer identical or integral with the motive, and it therefore simply disappears. The pressure still remains and expresses itself in some other idea or anticipated act which is driven by the motive as long as the proposed act is identical with the motive. This trial-and-error process may be maintained in overt behaviour, in perceptual anticipation, or in the form of the still earlier anticipation of imagination.

Consider now the situation in which a strong motive, which is close to the mainsprings of our lives, remains

(144) unsatisfied for some time. This drive may either be dissipated by being drained into other more or less equivalent channels, or it may remain as a pressure which is ready to particularize itself in any manner through the slightest provocation. This we have also considered in relation to the sensitiveness to slights of a person who does not feel socially, professionally, financially or otherwise sure of himself. Such a person has the universal motive of self-expansion or self-assertion which has not been given adequate expression and relief.

The kind of relief to which we have so far given our attention is that which is effective, that which satisfies the motive and drains it. After its satisfaction the individual is not so sensitive to slights, perhaps, as he was before receiving something in the way of social approval and recognition unless he has lived for a long time in a submissive attitude. There are situations in which we can see a motive expressing itself overtly in ways which are entirely inadequate and totally ineffective. These constitute one of the most interesting topics in human psychology because one can study them in everyday life in oneself and in other people. They constitute good indices of the mental life and character of people, and their understanding can only be of advantage in the improvement of one's own character.

In Fig. 12 I have represented what may be thought of as taking place when a motive suddenly bursts out in an adjustment which is on some occasions absolutely detrimental to its genuine satisfaction. How does this come about ? In the diagram I have represented the motive which tends to particularize itself, to express itself. This is

Figure 12, The Ineffective Adjustment formula

( 145) done either by mental or overt trial and error. Suppose that the craving which demands satisfaction attempts expression in many ways which are all unsuccessful. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the pressure, the demand for and insistence on satisfaction, is thereby increased. If you start a body of water flowing in a certain direction it is a serious matter to stop its flow suddenly. Something may burst if the volume of water and its velocity are sufficient to constitute a considerable momentum. So it is with the mainsprings of our living. In the diagram I have represented this increase of pressure of the motive in successive trials by increasing the width of the section at the point where the consequences of the proposed trial act can be foreseen. As we increase the width of this sector by the increased pressure of the motive there will be more opportunity for the motive to break through in adjustments which would not have constituted the path of least resistance at the initial stages of the drive. It is not unreasonable to suppose that on some occasions the motive will express itself through an adjustment which affords relief in the very immediate perceptual situation, but which does not in the long run satisfy the motive. Such an adjustment would be ineffective when considered in the light of its consequences, but it would be effective in the most immediate sense and it might serve the purpose of draining the motive.

It is a matter of general observation that we are less competent to make keen intelligent judgments when we are wrought up emotionally than when we are in a calm state of mind. Interpreted with reference to the reflex circuit, this would simply mean that when the urgency for an

(146) adjustment is not specially severe we can inhibit the expression of the motive at an unfinished ideational stage in order to live through imaginally the remote consequences of the proposed particularization. But this is not so easy when the urgency is severe. This is typically the case when we are emotionally excited. The pressure demanding relief, the urgency for an adaptive adjustment, is then high, and the ideo-motor tendency will then be correspondingly strong. This tendency will particularize and express the motive without the imaginal verification of which we should be capable when the motive is less immediately vital.

Another consideration is the number of available adjustments which increases as the pressure of the motive increases. We do find this in the fact that when we are emotionally excited, when the urgency for an immediate adjustment is strong, we express our motives with many acts in addition to that one act which alone would have constituted the successful adjustment. The pressure spills over, as it were, into adjacent and other actions besides the one which may have been intended. This is typical not only of the situations in which our motivation is excessive but also in those cases in which random trial and error has not yet by habit been reduced to the most effective single and final common path.

Let us consider an illustration. Grant that we all possess gregariousness as one of the main sources of motivation for our conduct. In its ultimate biological sense this motivation may be defended as instinctive, a desire to be accepted by the herd, to have the protection which is afforded by membership in the herd, to be accepted by the strongest

( 147) and most powerful and influential herd. This instinct is in the case of the human mind a universal demand for the social recognition of our group, of our friends and co-workers, of the general public as far as our social world allows it to be included in our self-concept. Praise, promotion, deference to us, acknowledgment of our necessity and importance, acceptance of us as socially worth-while individuals, satisfy this motive. The failure to get any of these satisfactions makes us restless, unhappy in the place where we are living, critical of everything without knowing the cause, perhaps, arrogant and intolerant in our demands for recognition in the narrow and immediate sense.

During the hours of his job a labourer is perhaps ordered about as though he were a nonentity without self-respect. His work is not made a part of himself. He finds in the shop no opportunity to express and satisfy his own importance, no opportunity to show how clever and capable he thinks he is. This motivation is universal. It applies to every human being. All of us demand first the recognition of those immediately about us. If we fail to get it here in our working environment we transfer our interests and our self-concept to other places where our feeling of worth-whileness is recognized.

If others do not voluntarily recognize and admit our importance we tend to demand it in other direct and indirect ways. We seek then such partial satisfaction as may be obtained in momentary notoriety by our profanity, our unnecessarily bold and aggressive manner, bragging about our achievements which others apparently have not recognized, magnifying trivial situations in which our superiors

( 148) were at fault or in which they knew less about the job than we did, the situations in which we more or less spectacularly showed how stupid the other fellow was in contrast with us.

Our cravings for recognition break through in more or less ineffective adjustments on those occasions in which we should really rather have our importance voluntarily acknowledged by others. The unsatisfied craving for social approval remains with us and modifies many other adjustments which have at first sight nothing to do with social approval. This is what happens when a man receives a reprimand or some set-back in his work. He inhibits the defensive reply that he would like to give in order not to jeopardize the security of his job, but the dissatisfaction breaks out perhaps in arrogance or arbitrariness against his associates or against the members of his family. This arrogance gives a more or less immediate kind of satisfaction to his craving for social recognition. The recognition is only immediate and it may result in lower esteem afterwards, but it serves nevertheless to relieve the unsatisfied desire in a narrow, temporary, and perceptually immediate sense.

The particular occasion in which we display arrogance in business or at home may involve issues which are quite different from those in which our desire for social approval was frustrated and which brought about our temporary sensitiveness to any sign of lack of approval. Again, this serves to call attention to the futility of trying to describe our mental life in terms of the stimuli or detailed situations in which we act and the particular muscular adjustments which we make. A far more fundamental consideration for the understanding of human nature is to decipher as well

(149) as we may the motives that make us act as we do. To describe the stimulus and the response is interesting, but in most cases this is a secondary matter. Such procedure is fruitful only for relatively simple and more or less reflex adjustments.

The satisfaction of our motives is a relative matter. The degree of satisfaction obtained from any given stimulus depends partly on the strength of the motive at the time, and partly on the degree of satisfaction to which we have been accustomed. An unexpected profit of one hundred dollars would affect us differently in relation to our present need for the money on the one hand, and on the other to the amounts of money which we are in the habit of calling our own. It is so with the gregarious instinct. A person who is not accustomed to receive much social approval will be quite elated by a slight encouragement from some source which he considers socially more recognized and more secure than his own. Another man who is accustomed to social approval in more intense form will take the same encouragement as a matter of course.

Another aspect of ineffective adjustment is the over-satiety attained in the satisfaction of a motive that has long remained unsatisfied. A simple case in point is the overeating which follows starvation for some length of time. The results may actually be detrimental to the fundamental motive which thus expresses itself. Another case of this sort is the so-called " swelled head " of the person who is suddenly advanced to a status which he may long have considered as unattainable. He lives that status with as many as possible of the immediate sorts of satisfaction. He

(150) domineers over those who are now under his direction in order to gain the immediate satisfaction which he has tacitly recognized as more or less unattainable. He is not content to take the indirect satisfaction which would be given him for his efficiency in his new position. He wants tangible evidence of his importance here and now. Consequently people must bestir themselves in accordance with leis commands at the moment. The same effect can be seen in those who have recently acquired wealth. They must have the visible evidence of their status. It must be perceptually and immediately apparent to themselves and to their friends that they have attained a financial status with which they have not formerly identified themselves. The man who has been wealthy all his life takes his status for granted. He does not need to show it by his dress, by demanding deference from people about him, by the financial implications of the situations in which people find him. He does not bully the waiter, and he does not mind carrying a package. He is not impelled to demand from the immediate situation the most obvious kind of recognition for his status. He is not slave-bound by the minor social conventions which the newcomer must observe in order to establish his new identity. These cases illustrate how a motive which has not been satisfied for some time acquires more ideo-motor pressure demanding immediate satisfaction than the motive which is more or less habitually released and satisfied.

The same type of behaviour is not infrequently seen with the person who has some kind of inferiority and who overcompensates for it. The inferiority is hardly ever realized consciously. I had occasion recently to see this in two

(151) personalities in a garage. One man was the senior partner and the other man was a junior partner. The junior partner was a foreigner who spoke English with a marked accent. The senior partner was an American. I gained the impression repeatedly that the junior partner was the more competent as a mechanic. I had occasion to see them both at work, sometimes on the same problem. The junior partner was nearly always right where there was a difference of opinion. The senior partner would no doubt have been furious if anyone had intimated that he was not so competent a mechanic as his assistant, the foreigner. I am sure that the senior partner did not have the slightest doubt about his superiority, even in his most candid and frank moments of whatever introspection he may have been capable. The two personalities were strikingly different. The junior partner was always courteous, willing to do things for customers, eager to make small repairs in a hurry, if necessary. He never criticized any of his partners in the garage. Occasionally he would give a good-natured smile when his diagnosis proved to be right. The senior partner was a typical grouch. He swore on the slightest provocation, he never had time to do an emergency job, probably on account of a fear of his inability to complete it properly. He criticized the junior partner when the latter was not present. He claimed that his assistant was a drunkard, although I never saw him drunk. The behaviour of the senior partner was in the nature of ineffective expressions of his desire to excel in ability as would behove his status as senior. Failing to get the normal satisfaction of having us recognize his importance, he gained it in a momentary sense by telling us of his own

(152) importance. He would swear and brag, criticize the customers for the stupid way in which they handled their cars, find fault with his assistant on the slightest provocation. The assistant did not need to be grouchy, because he had the obvious and tangible satisfaction which came from his ability to do his work well. His personality was in consequence well-balanced and good-natured.

There are at least two main factors which determine the manner in which we express our motives. These two factors are the strength of the motive on any occasion and the habitual manner in which that motive has previously been expressed. If the motive is strong it may disrupt the smooth running of our mental life. If there is no habitual way in which the motive may express itself, we may on that account have some mental disturbance. W e may think of the breaking of a dam by way of analogy. There are two main factors which determinate where the water will run. The topography of the land determines the lines of least resistance. The amount and pressure of the water also determines where it will go. If a considerable body of water is suddenly released from the dam it will not confine itself to the single channel by which the dam is ordinarily discharged. The water will spill over other routes, which are not so low in level as the principal channel and which were not originally intended to discharge the water. So it is with our motives. If the ideo-motor tendency is strong the motive will discharge not only in the one route which has the lowest resistance but also in many other routes which have only relatively low resistance. If no channel exists at all the several routes will not differ markedly in their resistance or

( 153) level and the discharge will be correspondingly diffuse. This will serve to illustrate that motivation and habit are perhaps primarily responsible for diffuse and unlocalized adjustments. If the motivation is strong there is an increased probability that the adjustments will be diffuse and beyond intelligent control. This is typically the lack of intelligent foresight in extreme emotion. If there are no habits established for the motive the adjustment will tend to be diffuse in the form of random trial and error. This is what we see when a child is learning to write. The motivation has no habitual mode of expression and it issues more or less at random through the facial muscles, the tongue, the feet, and the tightened wrist. With practice these diffuse expressions of the motive disappear and the motivation issues more effectively and completely along those particular lines which by trial and error have been established as effective. A tight wrist in writing or at the piano is therefore properly interpreted as diagnostic of incomplete co-ordination. It shows that the process of defining the motive and limiting it to the most effective final common path has not been completed and that some of the diffused effort of learning is still in evidence. When mastery has been attained the delimitation of the act is completed in the ideational cue instead of overtly.

In order to understand human conduct with any degree of psychological insight, it is necessary to realize the wide range of behaviour in which a basic impulse may express itself. The behaviour is not necessarily rational in any ultimate sense. One of the basic principles in the interpretation of conduct is that when the impulse is strong, or when it has beers frustrated for a considerable time, there is a spread in the type

( 154) of behaviour by which the impulse expresses itself. Since the impulse is denied satisfaction in the behaviour which is natural and normal, it seeks satisfaction in substitute conduct which by superficial appearance maybe entirely irrelevant and inappropriate. The effect corresponds to the random behaviour by which an impulse expresses itself in the early stages of learning.

Another basic principle in the interpretation of conduct is that when the satisfactions for which an impulse is striving are denied, there is a restriction in temporal reference to the immediate present. By this is meant that an impulse may seek satisfaction in behaviour which is adequate when viewed from the standpoint of the immediate moment, even though it may be entirely inadequate and obviously ineffective when viewed from the standpoint of its permanent or future effects. A very common example is the provocation for swearing and bragging as expressions of self-advancement and the desire for superiority. The satisfaction may be attained momentarily, although it is not permanently effective. This principle is in line with the principle that we have previously discussed regarding the temporal reference of intelligent and unintelligent conduct. The more intelligent the conduct, the more remote is the expected benefit.

In our discussion of autistic and realistic thinking we found occasion to say that the autistic form of thought is not always and necessarily harmful. Only its extreme indulgence is to be discouraged. We should make the same conclusion regarding certain varieties of ineffective adjustment. Ineffective adjustments should not necessarily and always be discouraged merely because they are ineffective in the

( 155) normal and more or less enduring sense. If an impulse is strong and if it has been denied its normal satisfaction, there are occasionally situations in which the peace of mind and the balance of the personality can be more readily retained by giving vent to the unsatisfied impulse through ineffective behaviour that gives only momentary release, even though the momentary ineffective behaviour is entirely irrational and useless from the standpoint of outside observers. Such is the case with a sudden burst of profanity, or with a crying spell, when they are expressions of a suddenly blocked impulse or desired state. To inhibit the momentary release of the impulse can be the cause of a strain on the personality for hours or days. Explosive behaviour is not intelligent, and it is not social, but it has a value for the individual which must not be overlooked. Since the development of personality is essentially in the direction of social acceptability, it should be clear that the extensive reliance on the momentary release of our impulses is socially detrimental as well as permanently ineffective, but, on the other hand, we should not make the mistake of branding all explosive and ineffective behaviour as useless


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2