number of scientists view PCT as a step toward a new understanding of
living systems. The explanations offered by PCT hold up to scrutiny
in the same way that the principles in the physical sciences hold up to
rigorous examination. All other contemporary flavors of psychology and
there are many - presume linear causality, from the environment to
behavior, as in behaviorism, or from the brain to behavior, as in
cognitive psychologies. This new conception which Powers and others
call PCT shows clearly that the key quality of life is circular
causality. Circular causality as in negative feedback control -
employed in engineered devices such as the cruise control on your car,
which keeps your car traveling at a specific speed, or your home heating
system which keeps the temperature at a desired level. The basic idea
is to negate the error between the desired state and the present state.
Negative feedback occurs when the output of a system acts to oppose
changes to the input of the system; with the result that the changes are
lessened. If the overall feedback of the system is negative, then the
system will tend to be stable.
In PCT, behavior is seen as a process; a process of trying to
maintain specific conditions rather than a linear process where single
cause leads directly to a specific action. This process involves
perception-comparison and action. It takes into account the
relationships between the individual and their environment. We record
what we experience and the world around us and within us as a set of
perceptions. These perceptions are compared to an internal references
perception (the ideal or how we want it to be) and our actions are our
attempts to bring these two closer to the same state. This process
occurs not in a linear sequence but simultaneously.
here is that at any given moment we have an ideal in mind and we are
constantly measuring the world to see how closely it matches the ideal.
Put simply, behavior is an attempt to match what I think I have to what
I want through my actions.
environment changes we quickly vary our actions to get what we want.
The children’s story Goldilocks and the
Three Bears is a wonderful illustration of this latest belief about
behavior. As Goldilocks sits down to eat the porridge, she sits at Papa
Bears place and takes a spoonful and says “This porridge is too hot”
then at Mama Bears spot she declares “This porridge is too cold” and
then at Baby Bears spot she finds a match between the ideal and the
present state and declares, “This porridge is JUST RIGHT”.
Of course JUST
RIGHT would be different for different people and may be different for
the same people at different times. Desired states are rarely the same.
The constantly varying environment and desires makes it difficult to
predict behavior or interpret actions as being linked to one internal or
external cause. Perceptual Control Theory is about relationships between
the external and internal at any given moment.
behavior is therefore a process of moving through the world recording
perceptions and comparing them to our desired state- not in a linear
fashion but by comparing the relationship of both internal and external
of behavior arise simultaneously from the environment and from within.
Behavior interpreted in this way is more than just the actions we take.
Let’s take a look
at a couple of examples of everyday life through this new view. In this
view people act to gain attention only when two things are true: they
want attention and they think they are not getting it, for example a
small child in a grocery store begging, a student in a classroom
cracking a joke or an adult who pouts. PCT also tries to answer another
common question, “Why do you do what you do?”. So why do you answer the
phone when it rings (stimuli)? The PCT explanation would go something
like this, when we hear the phone ring it is simply information and we
may or may not answer it depending on what we want at that moment. We
answer it or do not answer it to reduce the difference (error) between
what we want and what we are experiencing. Perhaps we may answer the
phone because we are expecting a call from a friend, or we want the
noise to stop because the baby is sleeping. We may not answer the phone
because we are busy doing something that we do not want to interrupt or
because we believe it is someone who we do not want to talk to, amen to
caller id. No matter why we answer the phone it is always the action we
are taking to get that just right feeling.
is a dynamic process that is constantly changing and is about making
things happen the way we want. Our awareness is always searching our
systems for error (the difference between what we want and what we think
we are getting).
With this in
mind, we answer or do not answer the phone for multiple reasons, which
vary almost every time.
beliefs that our references (desires, goals) are connected at multiple
levels, with higher levels setting reference for lower levels. It is
easier to understand that some things we experience like the taste of
our favorite candy are less complex than say the taste and satisfaction
of a job well done.
that humans are a nested hierarchy made up of eleven levels.
lower levels are the way we take in the word it’s easy to label these
sensory. The next level (category) consists of the labels and is made up
of differing combinations of sensory information. It can be thought of
as the words and symbols that we attach to our experiences. The next two
higher levels combine differing categories to create sequences and
multiple sequences create programs. These levels are most of the things
we do like driving a car, walking riding a bike, or playing an
instrument fall in these two areas. The next higher level is the
principles level. References at this level are what you are trying to
maintain while carrying out different programs, like being honest, or
being respectful or being courageous. The highest level takes your
principles and forms them into beliefs or system level concepts. This
level is your own personal explanation of how the world works. When we
behave we operate from the level at which we perceive and down. Think
about it this way; the higher levels never tell the lower level what to
do (what specific action to take) but they set the references for the
level below, and so on downward.
higher levels send a message to the lower levels to create specific
conditions, they define the just right for the next lower level.
Perceptual Control Theory, unlike the other theories of human behavior
described here, is the first theory that is being proven through the use
of computer modeling. Prior to this time the type of research used
in psychology and human behavior might best be described in the words of
Phillip Runkel as “casting a net” research. Like a fisherman throwing
his net into the water, gathering his net back up and then predicting
based on his catch, what will happen the next time he casts his net.
Unfortunately, this form of research is not good for understanding and
authors of the BE-Print think understanding Perceptual Control Theory
can be a great asset to people wanting to take more effective control of
their life journey.
We know that
whatever your personal theory of human behavior is, it will greatly
affect your practices. We believe it is valuable to operate based on an
accurate theory of human behavior. The BE-Print was designed taking into
account the core concepts of PCT.