Our behaviour is always ongoing. When one need is satisfied or contra-need avoided, we move on to another. In every case, we make our decisions in a similar way, and there is, therefore, a behavioural loop or cycle as follows.
- Our most pressing needs or contra-needs are identified through their impact on our emotions. That is, we identify the greatest cause of dis-satisfaction.
- Potential options for acquiring satisfiers and avoiding contra-satisfiers are identified, drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
- The resources needed to acquire those satisfiers or avoid those contra-satisfiers are assessed, again drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
- The resources that we control are assessed. These resources may be our own or those of others.
- Possible courses of action are assessed for their potential impact on our emotional state, taking into account the following:
- All affected personal needs and contra-needs.
- All affected needs and contra-needs of significant others.
- Whether we will receive positive or negative regard, and what is needed to enhance the former or mitigate the latter.
- Whether we will feel psychological satisfaction or guilt, and what is needed to enhance the former or mitigate the latter.
- If the likelihood of achieving the desired result is uncertain, we also assess the impact of not achieving it. Whether we proceed with a course of action will depend on the benefit we hope to achieve, the likelihood and consequences of failure, and our personality. Most people, for example, will not use all their available resources in a single high risk, high return activity.
- Generally, when seeking a satisfier, we have two potential routes. We may wait until an opportunity arises by chance or attempt to create one. Similarly, when seeking to avoid a contra-satisfier we have the options of waiting until it arises or seeking to pre-empt it. Which route we choose depends on the net emotional benefit gained. This in turn depends heavily on the resources required to create an opportunity or pre-empt a contra-satisfier.
- Those actions that are within the resources available to us and which have an emotional benefit are implemented. We do not normally seek to optimise our choices, because this, in itself, requires substantial resources. Rather, we choose an option which is both satisfactory and sufficient and reject options which have an overall disbenefit. This is known as “satisficing”, a term coined by the American political scientist, Herbert A. Simon, in 1956.
- The outcome of the action is observed and remembered for the future. If it has been successful, then this will reinforce the behaviour, i.e., we are more likely to repeat it in similar circumstances. If it has failed, then the behaviour involved is less likely to be repeated. Repetitive failure will cause it to become extinguished.
- The entire process is then repeated indefinitely. However, as time progresses our needs and contra-needs alter, and different ones come to the fore. For example, the physiological needs for food and sleep increase in priority if not satisfied. We can also learn from experience and become more adept at choosing efficient and successful forms of behaviour.
Research has shown that emotions can carry over from one decision to the next without us being aware of it. These incidental emotions can be difficult to detach and can influence subsequent decisions. For example, people who previously experienced anger are more prone to blame others in subsequent decisions, and people who previously experienced sadness are more prone to blame general circumstances. Fearful people make more pessimistic judgements about the future, and angry people are more optimistic. It is thought that the best way to avoid this emotional carry over is to develop greater emotional awareness.