Posts tagged Motivation

Am Manic, will focus; Am sad, will drift

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Attention can be focused or it can be diffused. Attentional focus has been shown to be affected by mood or affect; with positive affect leading to a broadening of attentional focus;  and negative affect, in general been shown to be associated with a narrowing of focus.

However, Gable and Harmon-Jones argue that emotion or affect is not a uni-dimensional construct, but has at least two dimensions: affective valence- i.e. whether it is felt as pleasurable or dis-pleasurable; and motivational  direction- i.e. the action tendency to approach or avoid in pursuit of a preventive/promotional goal.

Much work on emotions has emphasized that they have a number of underlying dimensions. Two dimensions that have received considerable attention are affective valence, the felt pleasure or displeasure, and motivational direction, the action tendency associated with a particular emotional state—approach or withdrawal. Approach motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to go toward an object, whereas withdrawal motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to move away from an object.

They also argue that much of the extant literature on emotion-attention linkage has focused on emotional valence alone, with just one type of motivational direction, and thus has not clarified the (in)dependent role of valence and motivational direction as regards to attention.

Thus, for e.g., the finding that positive emotions lead to  broadening of attention is focused on such research as emotions of joy, contentment etc that are low in approach motivation and are emotions felt after the goal has been reached.

Similarly, the research that has found that negative emotions lead to narrowing of focus have relied on emotions such as fear, anger etc that are high in withdrawal motivation and are pre-goal.

I believe, it is important to step back a little here and go back to our conception of happiness-ennui (mental well-being) continuum and sadness-mania (mental illness) continuum. Another way to conceptualize them is to see sadness having negative valence and low withdrawal motivation – it is passive; mania as having positive valence and high approach motivation- mania is characterized by immense desire for a goal and is pre -goal. Happiness is post goal emotion and is characterized by positive valence and low approach motivation- you have already reached the goal and do not need to exert much efforts in goal directed activity; ennui/boredom/listlessness is negative in valence and has high withdrawal motivation- it is pre-goal- a search for a worthwhile goal.

Another way to make the difference stark is employ the terminology of Berridge et al: happiness is related to liking and the opioid system; while mania is related to wanting and the dopamine system.  Depression/sadness  is related to disliking /feeling pain while ennui/boredom is related to dreading the outcome/feeling anxious (nothing to do and hence life is useless/meaningless!..anxiety but existential anxiety). Berridghe et al have shown that wanting/liking and dreading/disliking differ and have different neural and neurochemichal correlates.

To become a little philosophical, the wanting/disliking  mental illness continuum leading to mania or depression in extremes is to be avoided (thus the dictum of all religions to shun desire/ be stoic) while the happiness-ennui/boredom/existential anxiety system is more preferable where you focus on liking positive outcomes and dreading negative/neutral ones. While the former, to paraphrase Freud,  is the hysterical misery at worst, the latter is common unhappiness at worst.

But anyway that was long detour. Lets get back to the studies by Gable et al.

In the first study, the authors showed that motivational direction was relevant and was the reason behind the positivity-broadening of attentional focus effect. they showed that positive emotions lead to broadening of attention only in low approach motivation condition; but when the positive emotion had high approach motivation (emotions like desire. engagement etc), the positive affect lead to narrowing of focus.

Now a brief detour into methodology: the attentional focus is usually measured using local-global tasks whereby it is determined whether one is paying attention to global features or local features of an ambiguous/mixed stimuli. For eg, the most popular of these consists of a global big H made up of smaller (say 5 in number) F’s and then determining whether the subject notices the global H or the local F. Details can be seen in the Gable papers which are open access.

Now the authors found robust support for their hypothesis that it is the motivational direction and not affective valence that determines the attentional focus. They also relate it to adaptivity.

Positive affects, particularly those low in approach motivation, suggest a comfortable, stable environment and allow for a broadening of attention and cognition, which may serve adaptive functions (Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 2001). However, broadening does not occur when positive affects are high in approach motivation. Such positive affects often encourage specific action tendencies, such as tenacious goal pursuit, and an associated reduction in attentional breadth. This reduced attentional breadth may prove adaptive, as it assists in obtaining goals.

They also extend these finding to negative affects and depression etc and I can easily relate them to earlier work I have covered regarding the danger or safety of environment and promotional/ preventive focus:

Together with past research, the present research supports the idea that low- and high-approach-motivated positive affect produce opposite effects on attentional breadth. It is possible that the intensity of withdrawal motivation exerts similar attentional effects; that is, low-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause broadening, whereas high-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause reduction in breadth. Indeed, such an interpretation would fit with past research. For example, individuals with depression, a low-intensity motivation, are more creative than nondepressed individuals (Andreasen, 1987) and show broadening of attention and memory (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005). In the case of low-motivated negative affects such as sadness and depression, “a more open, unfocused, unselective, low-effort mode of attention would prove not deficient but, on the contrary, beneficial” (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005, p. 456), as one disengages from a terminally blocked goal and becomes open to new possibilities (Klinger, 1975). The past research that found negative affect caused decreased attentional breadth may have evoked negative affective states that were high in withdrawal motivation (e.g., fear; Gasper & Clore, 2002).

This brings me to their current paper , aptly titled , The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows, that found exactly the effect hypothesized above that sadness/depressive mood was related to broadening of attention, while disgust, a negative emotion with high withdrawal motivation was related to narrowing of focus. they also found that the effect of negative emotion was mediated by arousal which could stand as a proxy for motivational direction.

These two experiments revealed that the relationship between negative affect and attentional precedence is more complex than commonly thought. In line with past theory and evidence, Experiment 2 demonstrated that negative affect caused a narrowing of attention. However, this narrowing occurred only when negative affect was high in motivational intensity. When negative affect was low in motivational intensity, in Experiment 1, it caused a broadening of attention. These results are consistent with the idea that the effect of emotion on local/global precedence is not due to negative versus positive affect, but is instead due to motivational intensity. Positive and negative affects of low motivational intensity broaden attention, whereas positive and negative affects of high motivational intensity narrow attention.

To me this is sufficient, clinching and converging proof of the theories I have been trying to develop with regards to emotions (specifically mania, depression, happiness and despair) and make clear that there are at least two dimensions to happiness/sadness and mental well being/illness constructs. Perhaps if we start liking what we have and stop coveting or wanting more, we have a philosophical, religious, as well as now a psychological, blueprint for how to lead the good life and how to avoid a living hell.

Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2010). The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows: Attentional Consequences of Negative Affects Low and High in Motivational Intensity Psychological Science, 21 (2), 211-215 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609359622
Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2008). Approach-Motivated Positive Affect Reduces Breadth of Attention Psychological Science, 19 (5), 476-482 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02112.x

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Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my fascination with Carol Dweck and her entity versus incremental theory of intelligence/ability that I have blogged about extensively in the past. To recap, people (children usually in her studies) can have a fixed entity view of intelligence that it is a stable trait whihc can/does not change with time; or they can have an incremental view of intelligence that focuses more on motivational states, goals, desires as determinant of success/intelligence exhibited and view it as a malleable and not a fixed trait.

A major paradigm she uses is documenting the behavior of those with chronic or induced entity vs incremental view of intelligence after receiving negative feedback/actual setbacks.  She has found that while entity theorists relate their failures to global traits like lack of intelligence and display subsequent helpless behavior;   the incremental self theorists display mastery oriented behavior, use new strategies and in general persist.  The big question then becomes why do they persists? and the surprising answer may be what Neo answered – ‘because I choose to’.

I recently came across this book  ‘Are we free’  about free will debate and in it was surprised to find a chapter by Carol Dweck and Daniel Molden titled “self-theories in the construction of free-will’  that builds on works of Carol et al to argue that those iwth fixed views of intelligence/morality basically are determinisms believing in a kind of genetic determinism, while the incremental theorists are sort of libertarians who believe that one can exercise choice over one’s behavior.  They also show that belief in free-will/incremental theories has a better life outcome.

I will now quote extensively form that lovely artcile:

Modern psychological research suggests that, at least within Western societies, belief in the power of the individual over the constraints of the environment predicts better psychological adjustment and greater personal success. As a rule, people appear to fare better with an internal versus external locus of control (Rotter, 1966), feelings of self-determination versus external constraints (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and use of primary control (direct, agentic action) over secondary control (adjusting to the environment or event without trying to affect it; Heckhausen & Shultz, 1995; Lazarus, 1991).

They then mention how even after having an inetrnal attribution, one may still differ in whether one attributes to fixed traits or malleable states.

We have investigated this issue by focusing on people’s beliefs about whether basic personal attributes (such as intelligence or personality) are fixed and static traits or, instead, more dynamic qualities that can be cultivated (Dweck, 1999; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). The former belief is termed an entity theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes are fixed entities that are not subject to personal development. The latter belief is termed an incremental theory, because here the assumption is that human attributes can be developed or changed incrementally through one’s efforts.
Research comparing entity and incremental theorists has uncovered marked differences, ones that have important implications for perceptions of free will (for reviews see Levy, Plaks, & Dweck, 1999; Molden & Dweck, 2006). Not only do entity theorists by definition believe in fixed traits, but they also believe that these traits directly cause behavior in a highly predictable way (Chiu, Hong, & Dweck, 1997; Hong, 1994). In contrast, not only do incremental theorists by definition believe in more dynamic, malleable traits, but they also believe that people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations—which they view as controllable— play the major role in causing their actions (Hong, 1994).4 Thus, both theories give the major causal role to factors inside the person, but those internal factors for entity theorists are not amenable to personal control, whereas those internal factors for incremental theorists are far more susceptible to it.

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that different beliefs about the nature of people’s traits and abilities may profoundly alter people’s potential for perceptions of free will in choices and actions. Entity theorists’ greater emphasis on the deterministic influence of fixed internal traits could serve to give them a sense of a stable and predictable world, but at the same time, constrain perceived opportunities for choice and agency. In contrast, incremental theorists’ greater focus on people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations as causes of action—factors they believe can be controlled—could serve to enhance perceived opportunities for self-determination.

Thus, entity theorists tend to respond to difficulty by relinquishing agency, whereas incremental theorists tend to react by reasserting their agency. Do these different reactions make a difference for important life outcomes? In a longitudinal study by Blackwell et al. (2007), students’ math achievement was monitored during their transition from relatively simple elementary school mathematics to more challenging junior high school mathematics. Although entity and incremental theorists did not differ in their math achievement when they entered junior high, incremental theorists soon began to earn higher grades than entity theorists and this disparity continued to increase over the next 2 years. The discrepancy in performance was found to result in large part from incremental theorists’ belief in the efficacy of renewed effort and their choice to persist in the face of setbacks (see also Hong et al., 1999). Furthermore, several studies have now taught students an incremental theory and shown substantial increases in their motivation and grades or achievement test scores in the face of challenging curricula both in junior high school and in college (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell et al, 2007; Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003).

Further support for these findings comes from recent research by Baer, Grant, and Dweck (2005).5 They showed, first, that entity theorists experience greater symptoms of distress and depression in their daily lives and that this is tied to their greater tendency to engage in self-critical rumination about their fixed traits and abilities following negative events. Baer et al. also showed that the more distress entity theorists felt, the less they engaged in active problem solving. The opposite was true for incremental theorists. Overall, then, entity theorists’ belief in deterministic traits leads them to perceive fewer choices for action following failure, and they do indeed appear to suffer from this lack of choice and reduced agency.

They then go on to discuss the self-theories in relation to moral responsibility and social judgement building on their previous work that showed that people having entity views tend to be more retributive, while those with incremental views moire rehabilitative when judging others.

In short, even though entity theorists believe that traits constrain the extent to which people could have acted otherwise, they still believe that people should be held accountable for these constrained actions. Moreover, even though incremental theorists believe that people are more free to alter and develop their basic character (i.e., they have ultimate responsibility for their actions; see Kane, 1996), they are less severe in their moral judgments and punishment. Perhaps it is their understanding of the complex psychology that lies behind decisions to act that makes them more understanding of errant behavior. Further, because in their eyes wrongdoers can change, they tend to advocate rehabilitation instead of retribution. To our knowledge, discussion of the link between conceptions of free will and the type of punishment people should receive has been less prominent in philosophical discussions and may be a fruitful direction for further analysis (see, for example, Smart, 1961).
To summarize thus far, research on self-theories has yielded a picture of two psychological worlds. In one, traits are fixed and deterministic and there is little room for agency when those traits prove deficient. It is also a world of retributive justice. In the other world, traits are malleable, and so are the causes of behavior, leaving more room for choice and agency even after setbacks. In this world of enhanced self-determination, education and rehabilitation are emphasized so that wrongdoers might be guided to make better choices in the future.

They finally conclude with implications of their research for the free-will debate, which I think need to be mulled over.

The first point from our research is that personality is, in many ways, a highly dynamic system in which (changeable) beliefs can create a network of motivation and action (Cervone, 2004; Dweck & Legget, 1988; Molden & Dweck, 2006; cf.; Mischel & Shoda, 1995). For example, personal theories of intelligence create different goals, beliefs about effort, task choices, and reactions to setbacks. Although these beliefs can be instilled or activated without people’s awareness, they can also be self-chosen.
We do not deny the important effects of inborn temperament and early experience and we do not view the child as a blank slate on which anything can be written. Yet our view of personality is very different from a view of personality as just a set of deep-seated personal qualities that inevitably incline people toward particular choices and actions. Indeed, even some of the most ardent students of temperament’s role in personality grant that as children develop they cognitively construct their worlds, and that these cognitive constructions (such as self-theories) become an important part of their personality (Block, 1993; Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994).9 Thus our first point is that people’s belief systems are part of their personality, and we see in this more dynamic view of personality greater possibility for self-formation.
Our second point is that beliefs, such as self-theories, can alter what are often taken to be deep-seated traits. Such traits might include resilience, extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, risk taking, and nurturance (Block, 1993; McCrae & Costa, 1999).

To me, it is important to persist. Persist in convincing skeptics of the utility of free will. And I choose to!

Dweck, C., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A Word From Two Perspectives Psychological Inquiry, 6 (4), 267-285 DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0604_1
Carol, Dweck S; Daniel, Molden C (2008). Self-Theories: The Construction of Free Will Are We free, 44-65

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