Consistency within Personal Schemata
Schemata, paradigms, and memes are essential references when we are motivated to act and, together with unsatisfied needs, govern our behaviour. When all the information we have access to is consistent, we can make quick and easy decisions. Inconsistencies on the other hand result in ambiguities, confusion, and uncertainty.
It is perfectly possible to hold information deemed to be “false” or “uncertain” if its probability is flagged accordingly. However, the less certain the information, the more cognitive processing needed to arrive at a decision, and the more delayed that decision will be. In the natural world, delaying a decision to act can reduce our chances of survival. Therefore, we tend to regard information as being either true or false.
The simple propositions “Peter likes Jane” and “Peter does not like Jane” contradict one another and are therefore inconsistent. To give another example, “Dogs have wings” is inconsistent with the image of dogs that most of us hold. Usually, however, inconsistencies are far more complex than these examples suggest, and complex reasoning is often needed to reveal them. They can also be detected by the unconscious mind, which gives us a sense that “there is something wrong”. However, the process involved in this is unknown.
Unresolved contradictions make us more vulnerable. They can lead to uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and, in the extreme, mental ill-health. Thus, internal consistency of the information we hold can be regarded as a basic need. In turn, this need drives us to understand the world in which we exist. It is, quite simply, a survival mechanism.
Consistency between Personal Schemata and Social Memes
Every society has a core social ethic. In large complex societies, this is often based on its main religion, albeit, in some cases, its historical religion. In the West we have the Christian Ethic, in China the Confucian Ethic, and in the Middle East obedience to the will of God. This core social ethic is not necessarily stated explicitly and can be intangible. However, it is the basis of our social norms and values, and we learn of it through them. This process establishes our External Ethical Schema, i.e., our understanding of why society holds some things to be good and others to be bad. Errors of interpretation do, of course, occur and for this reason our External Ethical Schema can differ from the actual social ethic.
We also develop an Internal Ethical Schema, i.e., our personal understanding of what is good, what is bad, and why. This is equivalent to our super-ego or conscience. However, it is not necessarily the same as our External Ethical Schema for the following reasons:
- Differences of opinion between oneself and society as to what is good or bad. We can find ourselves in situations where it is necessary to hold a particular belief to satisfy our basic needs even though this may be inconsistent with objective reality, for example, if we live in a dogmatic and authoritarian society.
- Differences in the way that individuals balance personal and social interests.
- Behavioural predispositions (see next article).
- Effort after Meaning when relearning the social ethic in later life, for example after migration or when changing jobs.
There can, therefore, be contradictions between the beliefs that we hold, and the beliefs acceptable to a group or society to which we belong. This too can cause stress, anxiety, and in extreme cases, mental illness, as we struggle to reconcile the need for internal consistency with those for social acceptance, positive regard, and even our existence needs.
Consistency between Social Memes
Simpler societies with relatively small populations tended to be local monocultures. One had three options: accept the prevailing values, norms and beliefs and be accepted by others; not accept them and be rejected; or hide one’s personal beliefs and struggle with the inconsistency.
In a more complex society, we can belong to several groups each of which establishes a different External Ethical Schema. In belonging to these groups, we adopt different roles, and the different schemata guide our behaviour. Inconsistencies between them can, of course, arise and it is notable that many occur in connection with employment. We have a range of strategies to deal with those inconsistencies but key among them is the development of a clear Internal Ethical Schema and following it. Further guidance can be found here:
In a more complex society, there is also wide variety of groups to which an individual may belong. People are attracted to groups they feel may satisfy their needs and this also applies to the need for inner consistency. Thus, people with a particular view will join others with the same or similar views and be able to hold that view whilst at the same time being socially accepted. In this way inconsistency is avoided. However, belonging to such a group does have the effect of reinforcing the beliefs that individuals share, and ideologies can, therefore, develop.