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CH7 - Vallacher & Wegner summary.doc

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Jason Plaks

Vallacher/Wegner Intro: Asking yourself “what am I doing?” is a deeper task than it seems, because there is a multitude of ways of describing your actions. You have to decide on how general or specific you would describe your behaviour—and whether it’s focused on the “how” or “why”. Vallacher and Wegner propose that describing an action in specific and base ways helps one carry it out, while describing it in a broad sense provides meaning. Thus the identities given to our actions have an effect on subsequent action. The farther an action is, the more abstract our description is. And while breaking actions down into concrete, simple identities helps one get through a difficult task, abstract identities aid self-control to carry through on a task and even aid recovery after a negative experience by distancing oneself from it. Vallacher and Wegner call their model the theory of action identification: it is about the interplay between action and the mental representation of it—both have an influence on each other. Cognition and Action:  Many psychologists were sceptic about cognitive representations of action having any effect on behaviour, since behaviour follows a general path, while cognition is erratic  Many others think cognition does play a role, but a reflective one. The cognitive identification comes about in response to behaviour. Ex. Self-perception theory (infer attitudes from behaviour), Freudian theory (actions from unconscious drives, cognition explains it)  Some focus on the intent connection: ideas are maps for action and are carried out unless something intervenes. Yet little is known about cognition’s effect on enduring behaviours  Both reflective and intent connection have validity, yet both need to be integrated  Action identification theory holds cognitive representations and action to have cyclical influence on each other; through intent connection, cognitive representation lead to action, and action causes reflection and further cognition. Action Identification Theory:  identification of one’s actions is constrained by reality, and people tend to arrive at identifications that help maintain their actions  Levels of identification: the theory distinguishes between high-level and low-level identification. Higher-level identities provide a generals understanding of an action, are more abstract, and indicate the meaning or “why” of an action, lower-level ones, however, are more basic and more component-focused, and breaking an action down into concrete behaviours. Each action has an identity structure, which bears all the different ways of how it can be identified. And low versus high level identification is a relative organization. Ex. Drinking milk: picking up the glass versus getting calcium  Three theoretical principles of the theory:  1) action is maintained with respect to its prepotent identity (salient identity of action helps maintain it because people look to attain it—ensures stability, while other two principles allow change)  2) when both a lower and a higher level act identity are available, there is a tendency for the higher level identity to become prepotent ( higher level tendency tends to sway representation of action; in ambiguous situations or situations with little understanding, people are quick to accept a suggested higher-level representation of their actions)  3) when an action cannot be maintained in terms of its prepotent identity, there is a tendency for a lower level identity to become prepotent (when cannot live up to a higher level identity or evidence goes against it, will come back to reality and the leading representation will be a lower-level one; ex. While may accept high-level identity that one is dancing, upon finding out that one sucks, will focus on individual moves, rather than believing that it looks cohesive  Ex. Experiment where told to drink coffee—when given cumbersome cup, it was no longer identified as “getting caffeine”, but as “holding the cup”, etc. Determinant of Identification Level:  And so the theory suggests how people come to an understanding of what they are doing, however, one must also look at the context, because it has an effect on the prepotent identity  Action context: if one only knows the physical movement, hard to describe what was actually done—it is then just a “basic act”. But if you have contextual cues, it has drastic effects. Ex. Using calculator may be doing taxes or doing test/trying to not make mistakes depending where you are. Readiness to accept higher meaning of what you are doing given by context. Yet some conditions ambiguous and hard, so you are reduced to the basic acts—as you can no longer fulfill the higher identification.  Action difficulty: harder things lead to lower level identification, because hard to maintain higher identification as it requires a complex sequence of smaller acts. Difficulty of enactment, familiarity, complexity, enactment time, and learning time are maintenance indicators. They are the criteria for judging how difficult an action is. If it is more difficult or disruption-prone, it will have high dif
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