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i. The Behavioural Loop or Cycle

The Behavioural Loop or Cycle

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Potential options for acquiring satisfiers and avoiding contra-satisfiers are identified, drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
  3. The resources needed to acquire those satisfiers or avoid those contra-satisfiers are assessed, again drawing on individual or group knowledge and experience.
  4. The resources that we control are assessed. These resources may be our own or those of others.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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h. The Evaluation of Resources and Risk/Benefit/Cost Analysis

The Evaluation of Resources and Risk/Benefit/Cost Assessment

The Evaluation of Resources

Resources are those things that we employ to gain satisfiers for our needs or to avoid contra-satisfiers. For example, time, physical and mental effort, money, etc. The effort involved consumes resources that we control, whether they belong to us or to others.

It is important to distinguish between resources and satisfiers. For example, although we are used to thinking of air as a resource, this is incorrect because no-one experiences, owns, or controls it. However, without it we would die. It is therefore a satisfier of an important existence need.

Like satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, resources are evaluated emotionally. Their value derives from the value of the changes to satisfiers and contra-satisfiers that their use causes. The latter, in turn, derive from the changes in our emotional state that they achieve.  However, it can be extremely difficult to predict what resources will be needed and whether the desired effect will be achieved. For example, we cannot predict how long a hunting expedition will take or whether it will be successful. To add a further level of complexity, several resources may be needed to acquire a satisfier or avoid a contra-satisfier.

It may be that there is an objective and logical method of deriving the value of resources from the value of changes to satisfiers and contra-satisfiers. However, this would be a very complex process and not something that we could do in our heads, especially when under pressure to make a decision. In practice, therefore, resources are valued as follows:

  1. Via social learning. For example, if a group of people find that dried cow dung burns, will provide warmth at night, and will cook food, then they will attach an emotional value to it. When raising children, they will educate them in that value. However, a modern person may not attach the same value, especially if he steps in it.
  2. From experience. For example, if spending an hour carefully choosing the ingredients for a meal results in praise for one’s cooking, then the emotional value attached to that hour (a resource) derives from the emotional value of achieving that praise (a satisfier). Over time, as we make more such assessments, we will allocate an average emotional value to an hour of our time.

Inevitably, each person places a different emotional value on each resource, and these values can alter with changing circumstances and experience.

Risk/Benefit/Cost Assessment

Rarely do we control sufficient resources to fully satisfy all our needs and avoid all our contra-needs. So, we try to apply those resources that we do control to best effect. The decision on how best to apply them uses a risk/benefit/cost assessment.

All changes to a satisfier or contra-satisfier which may be caused by an act are assessed for their overall effect on our emotional state. For each satisfier or contra-satisfier this depends on four things: the priority we give to the relevant need or contra-need; the extent to which it is already impacted upon by other satisfiers and contra-satisfiers; the anticipated change to the relevant satisfier or contra-satisfier; and the likelihood that our behaviour will make that change.

The resources that we employ also have an emotional value and their use reduces our overall emotional state. When deciding to act, we take into account both our likely use of resources and the likely changes they will make to our satisfiers and contra-satisfiers. If the net change to our emotional state is positive, then this is a benefit, and, given a choice, we would normally choose the option with the highest benefit. However, if the net change is negative, this is a dis-benefit and we would not normally adopt that option.

The Value of a Gain or Loss

It is notable that people are more averse to losing a satisfier than failing to gain it. This is known as a cognitive bias and sometimes, incorrectly, regarded as irrational. The main reason for this bias is associated with the effort involved in creating and altering our schemata. Much mental effort is put into building schemata, and mental effort is, of course, a finite resource. For example, if we own a car then we also need to incorporate this fact into our schemata for shopping, travelling to work, holidays, and so on. We also need driving skills, knowledge of road traffic law, etc.

The assessment involved is relatively simple and can, therefore, be explained by mathematical analogy. If we gain a car then we gain the net benefit of a car, (a), less the effort involved in constructing the schemata that go with it, (b). The value of gaining a car is therefore (a – b). However, if we lose a car we lose the net benefit of the car, (a), and added to this is the effort involved in revising our schemata, (c). The loss is therefore (a + c) which is, of course, greater than the gain (a – b).

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h. Resources, Poverty and Wellbeing

Resources, Poverty and Wellbeing

We use resources to create satisfiers. Resources include, for example, time, physical effort, mental effort, emotional resources, and material resources or property. A key feature of resources is that they become depleted with use. Knowledge is not a resource in this sense, however, because it does not become depleted.

Property is the resource that an individual or group of people hold to satisfy their needs and which they will defend. Ownership attaches to property, it is associated with a particular individual or group, and only they have the right to use it. It is human nature to hold property and respect for ownership must be reciprocal if ownership is to exist.

An inability to satisfy one’s needs due to a lack of adequate resources or other obstacles can be described as poverty. Normally, due to its prevalence, this term applies to an inability to satisfy our existence needs. However, it can also be used to describe an inability to satisfy other needs. It can be a poverty of existence and procreation needs, for example an inability to feed or house oneself, a poverty of relatedness needs, for example an absence of kin and other people with whom to form relationships, or a poverty of growth needs, e.g., an inability to develop one’s talents and skills.

The term “wellbeing” is commonly used in the medical profession as an indicator of physical and psychological health. Here, however, it is given a broader meaning, i.e., the extent to which the needs of an individual or population are satisfied and, of course, the extent to which contra-needs are not.

Wellbeing is far more than “something that it is nice to have”. It affects the way in which we behave as individuals and the success or failure of a society. There are positive and negative feedback loops between individuals and society. If society, which can be regarded as a satisfier, provides wellbeing then individuals will support it, will be able to pursue their needs and will be better able to contribute to that society. This is a positive feedback loop. Conversely, if society becomes a contra-satisfier, for example when a minority exploit the majority, then the latter will become alienated, engage in conflict and the society will fail. This is a negative feedback loop.

Different cultures provide for the needs of their population in different ways, and their success in doing so varies. It is possible to evaluate a culture from the way it uses the available resources to satisfy the needs of its population and others with whom it interacts. In general, resources satisfy the wellbeing of the population most efficiently if they are used in an egalitarian manner. That is not to say that every resource should be apportioned equally. As individuals ascend the tree of needs their needs begin to differ from those of others, and so too do the resources required to satisfy them. Thus, equitable sharing is related to needs satisfied rather than the resources applied.

Numerous attempts have been made to measure the wellbeing of populations: the Gini Index, a measure of the income distribution of a country’s residents and thought to be a good indicator of the level of inequality; Bhutan’s measure of Gross National Happiness; the OECD’s Better Life Index; the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW); subjective wellbeing (SWB); and so on. In the author’s view, however, it may be possible to measure an individual’s wellbeing in terms of the value they place on the resources available to satisfy their needs. For example, if they place a high value on personal time or money then this implies that they have insufficient to satisfy their needs. All these approaches have their flaws and can be criticised. I do not propose to look at them in detail, therefore. I merely wish to establish the principle that wellbeing can be measured, and serious attempts are being made to do so.