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Сборник международной конференции «Современные методы психологии»

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Издатель: Московский государственный психолого-педагогический университет

Год издания: 2010

Формат: электронное издание

 

Распределенное познание в группе и среда как эволюционный процесс

Лалу С., доктор психологических наук, профессор, Лондонская Школа экономических и политических наук, Институт социальной психологии, Лондон, Великобритания, s.lahlou@lse.ac.uk
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Cultural artefacts (objects, taught representations, institutions) serve as mediating structures, through which human societies elicit, guide, monitor and control individual behaviour. Because artefacts are distributed over the public space, because the influence of the group is pervasive in individual activity, many determinants of human cognition lay outside the individual. This makes the psychological study of activity difficult.

World Installation Theory (WIT) is an attempt to provide a simple framework to describe how societies shape and control individual behaviour. It also explains the evolutionary logics of this control system as a dual adaptive selection between representations and objects, monitored by institutions.

A three layered-model

In Human societies, the determinants of human behaviour are distributed: they lay in the subject and also in the context (motives, goals, preferences, habits; but also artefacts, rules, other people). In an operational perspective, for practitioners who want to understand, predict or influence human behaviour, the World can be considered as an installation. This installation is continuously reconstructed. It is both the product, and the scaffolding, of human activity (Berger and Luckmann 1967; Giddens 1984; Searle 1995)

Installation must be understood here in the artistic sense of assembling patterns in space to modify the way we experience this situation: the installation carries its own momentum.

The installation of the World guides subjects into their activity track, at three levels: physical, psychological, social.

The physical level refers to material reality of objects. It provides affordances (Gibson 1982; Gibson 1986) for activity (that is: which activities can be supported by the objects). For example, chairs afford sitting; buses afford transportation. One can only do what is afforded by the present environment. This layer of installation is distributed in the physical environment by construction of infrastructure, and various mechanisms of supply and procurement, e.g. by the market.

This first, physical, level of determination affords a tree of possible behaviours; but not everything that is possible will be realized.

This is where psychology comes into play. To take action, subjects must interpret situations . At psychological level, motives, representations and practice provide possible interpretations of the situation by the subject: for example choosing between various artefacts which all provide some affordance for the desired activity (like different brands of same product).

Representations include the “how to use” the objects; for example what to do with a web browser, a baby-sitter, or a self-service restaurant. Representations also enable subjects to elaborate and plan behaviour. This layer of installation is distributed over individual Human minds, by the means of experience, education and exposure to discourse (media, advertising, etc.) Social representations, a theory introduced by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, deals with these constructs (Moscovici 1976). With these mental tools, subjects make sense of situations and objects in terms if connotations of activity (Uexküll 1965), or cognitive attractors (Lahlou 2000).

But again, not everything that is even both possible and desired will be realized: a third level of determination, social, will cut off more branches from the tree of possibilities. For example, although we could drive on any side of the roads, only one is allowed in every country. Because individual actions produce externalities, they are limited by others. Institutions are a social solution to control potential abuse or misuse, and minimize social costs (Coase 1960) also called “negative externalities”. Institutions set common conventions which enable cooperation (e.g. people should all drive on the same side of the road; etc.). Many of the rules are already contained in the normative aspects of representations, but institutions are special in their capacity to enforce behaviour, by social pressure or more direct means.

So, at a given moment, individual behaviour is determined by this distributed installation: objects installed in the physical environment, interpretive systems installed in humans, and institutions installed in society. This clarifies the role of Psychology in this framework.

Installation theory is of course very schematic. It is deliberately so to enable a first orientation in the complex socio-technical systems which innovators must deal with. In doing so, it provides a simple check-list for analysis and agenda for action. If we want to change the World, or more modestly one of its sub-domains, it is clear that no action limited to a single layer of determination -for example a new product, or a campaign- will be enough to change the behaviours of people. We should make sure that appropriate installation in the three layers (physical environment, individuals concerned, relevant institutions) has been addressed. What is left to us is the strategy of how to create and distribute such installation. For example, we could start by the physical layer by procuring products, and then try to recruit some institutions so they take over the educative part of the installation

Evolution of the Installation

WIT also, and this is less trivial, tries to clarify how changes occur by providing a model for the evolution of the Installation. This model describes how each of the three layers (objects, representations, institutions) evolve, and their respective relations.

Evolution of human socio-technical systems is a chicken-and-egg problem.

Representations and objects follow a co-evolution process: representations are constructed by the practical experience people have of objects. E.g. people lean about “chairs” by using chairs, or by sharing experience with other people who know about chairs.

Conversely, objects are made (built, constructed) after the pattern of their representation: ladders are made to look like ladders; firemen are trained to behave as firemen; email software is built after the representation of email. And this is the reason why representations match with objects.

While representations and objects are taken in a chicken-and-egg process, each form of the object (symbolic, reified) is continuously tested in its own realm. Reified objects are subjected to a “reality test” that is: can they survive the confrontation with other objects in the arena of the real world: Does this device work? Is this system sustainable? Is this project successful? In this reality arean, only the fittest survive.

At the same time, representations are subjected to “thought experiments” in the symbolic realm: Is this representation acceptable? Is it compatible with the lical culture? Is is (politically, ethically, etc.) correct?  In this symbolic arean, only the adapted survive. This often means that this representation will be used to design objects or action in the real world.

So this is what we mean by a “dual selection process”, since objects have a dual form, symbolic and concrete. Instead of a simple trial-and-error process selecting variants, like in the natural selection of biological organisms (Darwin 1859), we see here a more complex, but also more economical process, where objects are selected twice, in each of their forms (symbolic, concrete) by thought experiments and reality tests. This applies to material objects (chairs, cars0 as well as to more virtual objects (democracy, education) of which the “concrete” form emerges in the form of situations and practices.

At a social level, the co-evolution of objects and representations is monitored by domain-local communities of interest and stakeholders (users, providers, public authorities, etc.) who set the patterns of objects, the rules of practice, and more. Because these stakeholders know the field, objects, representations and rules are adapted to behaviors. These stakeholders create institutions, which are both sets of rules to be applied to maintain order and foster cooperation, and communities of interest aware that they are playing in the same game.

Indeed, as said earlier, knowing how to use the affordances is not always sufficient to execute adequate behavior. Some people might do something wrong and provoke (by ignorance, personal interest…) negative externalities for themselves or others. Institutions are a social answer: they create and enforce rules to control these potential misuses or abuses; they set common conventions, which enable cooperation (e.g. people should all drive on the same side of the road; they should use ‘metiquette’ (digital politeness rules) in their digital communication, etc.).

Many of these rules are already contained in the mental representations, which are by nature normative. But institutions bring a physical control layer to these norms. They enforce them with special personnel. Also, every loyal member of the community tends to serve as a rule-enforcer to bring mavericks back on track. Often these rules are made formal and explicit (regulations, laws, etc.), but they may remain informal rules of good practice, tricks of the trade or traditions. As these rules are the result of compromise between local interests, they vary from place to place.

The fact that the rules are created and enforced by and between institutions, which represent communities of interest, results in rules reflecting rapports de force between these communities, vested interests and current practice in the real world. The co-evolution between artefacts and representations is done under monitoring and control of stakeholder communities, which use institutions as social and economic instruments to safeguard their interests. Institutions reflect the rapports de force between stakeholders, and they evolve as these rapports de force themselves evolve.

Using WIT for research and design

WIT describes how the evolution takes place as a dual selection system of objects and their representations, in the two first layers (physical, psychological), under monitoring and control by institutions. This clarifies the respective roles of Psychology, Sociology and Economics in the description of human activity, and their interplay in evolution. Because some determinants lay in the context, psychological theories alone cannot explain or predict behaviour. But because some determinants are psychological and social, a social psychological approach is necessary. This has methodological implications for the analysis of cognition and communication: we must take into account both internal and external determinants, and their relation. “Perceived Quality” (Nosulenko, 2008; Nosulenko and Samoylenko 2001) is typically such approach and shows us the way to go.

WIT also makes explicit the relation between synchronic and diachronic determinants of activity, by showing how the current installation is gradually constructed by the interplay of the three layers. The more developed the society, the more institutions, the more complex the relations between the three layers. This is why change is gradual, and often takes the pattern of a leopardskin, going faster where local conditions are easier, and progressively spreading as global institutions join the process.

Pointing at the multidemensinal aspect of construction is helpful to the practitioner, because it may direct his attention to which determinant was at the root of some specific aspects of the current system.

Also, by proposing three possible angles (physical, mental, institutiona) ways to address the problem at hand, WIT has the advantage of being design oriented; and provides a pragmatic perspective for those who want to change the World.

Precisely because WIT is an oversimplified model, it is simple to use, and may therefore be useful in practice – as long as one remembers that it is oversimplified.

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