The Economics of Motivation

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The economics of motivation was fascinating. I have studied the Skinner box extensively in both the History and Systems in Psychology course as part of my bachelor program and History of Psychology, which was part of my associate program. I always enjoyed Skinner’s emphasis on observable behavior, rather than James’ introspection. In a capitalist society, we take for granted that demand law dictates many of our actions and purchasing choices. As prices go down we tend to buy more of those things and less of the things that cost more, and vice versa (Deckers, 2005). Moreover, the fixed ratio (FR) schedule of reinforcement is particularly explanatory when applied to human behavior. As the price of reinforcement goes up the demand for inelastic goods deviates little, but the demand for elastic goods drops considerably. In the past few years, this principle of economics has become all too apparent to those of us who have children. As to the subject of motivation, demand law and FR explain that human behavior is predictable within a context of external frequencies of reinforcement, acting in conjunction with internal motives, to mold environmental and psychological incentives, thereby affecting behavior. 

The section on the heuristics of decision making was also quite interesting. I have studied heuristics as it is concerned with computer viruses. When an anti-virus program uses heuristics and finds a program that is not really a virus it is called a false-positive. Deckers seemed to imply that such “false-positives” are also possible with decision making that employs heuristics. It is important to always keep in mind past probabilities when considering heuristics as a shortcut for cognitive functions or virus detection and removal.    

The James-Lange theory of emotion appears to hold true to a point. As with the nature vs. nurture debate, emotion seems to be a complex interplay of factors acting upon the choice to bring about behavior. One of those factors surely is the biofeedback of facial musculature and sympathetic nervous system arousal. It does not appear that the James-Lange theory can explain all emotions as a derivative of bodily action, but there is certainly a strong correlation in some emotions. Furthermore, I don’t think we can ever undercut the cognitive influence of choice on any human behavior. The Cognitive-Arousal theory takes into account personal schemas, perceptions, and upper-level thinking when considering the arousal level attached to events. The James-Lange theory seems to center on basal brainstem-centered responses (such as association and reinforcement); whereas, the Cognitive-Arousal theory is concerned with the primacy of cortical excitation over basal responses. Never mind that the human brain contains both an advanced cerebral cortex and all subsequent evolutionary structures (i.e. brainstem, cerebellum). The appraisal process of human emotion is more involved than simple biofeedback or cognitive arousal. Appraisal more than likely incorporates both as a foundation for the sensation of emotion.  

 I have always been quite taken by the idea of emotions as an evolutionary adaptation. I can see how the fight or flight behavioral paradigm can be explained as the evolutionary adaptation of the emotions of anger and fear. As with the James-Lange theory of emotion, the evolutionary theory of emotion seems to explain a limited number of emotions—those that contribute directly to survival and adaptation. Although, what was lacking in the section on the evolution of emotion was a theory of love as it pertains to reproductive efficacy (i.e. the follow-through from reproduction to actual rearing). 

 Additionally, the Event-Appraisal-Emotion sequence that Roseman and Smith outlined appears to link the James-Lange theory of emotion, in the case of the amygdala moderated positive and negative valence; Cognitive Arousal Theory, as it pertains to cortical manipulation; through the subjective inventory of appraisal. Even though Roseman and Smith don’t specifically sight biofeedback as a causal factor in the sequence, a pre-aware appraisal is hypothesized to be under the control of primitive, subconscious mechanisms. The pre-aware phase is also biased to avoid negative features, rather than emphasize positive features; thereby highlighting the evolutionary adaptation of fight or flight behavior. 

Lastly, the facial feedback hypothesis incorporates Darwin’s theory of emotion as an evolutionary adaptation with James’ biofeedback theory of emotion. Of particular interest is Darwin’s proposal that a sort of natural selection of emotions takes place at the neurological level—where free expression of an emotion intensifies future exhibition of said emotion. However, there seems to be a large body of evidence which claims that facial feedback mediates emotions, rather than causes them. As an example, Strack and associates showed that inhibition of the skeletal muscles that control smiling decreases amusement (Deckers, 2005). This admonition does not, however, dictate that all amusement is caused or inhibited by facial feedback, only that amusement is increased or decreased through facial reticence. 

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Deckers, L. (2005). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental, Second Edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. 

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