Textbook Chapter 4: Choices and Actions: The Self in Control
What You Do and What it Means
Many of the principles that apply to animal behaviour also apply to human
behaviour. But to explain human behaviour, one needs mire, and one especially
The importance of ideas- what you do depends partly on what it means- reflects the
broad theme that inner processes serve interpersonal functions. Meaning requires
language, which is learned through culture. Thinking enables people to make use of
o One of the basic functions of thought it doing things mentally before
physically. Thinking is doing (William James).
The progress of culture offers us more and more choices
Two Steps of Choosing:
o Most people handle choosing in two steps: the first step involves whittling
the full range of choices down to a limited few and the second step involves
more careful comparison of the highlighted options.
Influences on Choice:
o Major patterns that guide people’s choices:
Risk Aversion: people are more affected by possible losses than
Temporal Discounting: what happens right now weighs more heavily
than what might happen in the future.
The certainty effect: people tend to place undue weight on things
that are certain (eg: the colour of the car, instead of if it would
protect you in the event of a crash).
Keeping options open: some people prefer to postpone hard
decisions and keep their options open.
When choosing between two options, people tend to focus on quantitative
differences. But qualitative features are what you will live with from then on.
Error management theory: both men and women make decisions so as to
minimize the most costly type of error, but men’s worst error is not the same as
Why people don’t choose
Status Quo Bias: preference to keep things the way they are instead of change.
Omission Bias: taking whichever course of action does not require you to do
anything (aka the default option).
A general theme behind decision avoidance is anticipated regret. Sometimes people don’t make choices because it is too difficult (modern life has too
many options). But sometimes people will also not choose to buy something if there
are not enough options.
Two reasons for failing to make a selection from a group of options: none of the
options seem good enough, or it is hard to tell which one is the best.
o As there are more options, it is less likely that one is not good enough, but it
also harder to tell which is the best.
o The interest in preserving options is the core of an important psychological
theory that has held up well over several decades: Reactance Theory
(Brehm). People prefer to have freedom of choice and therefore have a
negative, aversive reaction to having some of their choices or options taken
away by other people or by external forces.
o Reactance produces three main consequences: it makes you want the
forbidden option more, it may make you try to take steps to try to reclaim
the lost option, or you may feel/act aggressively against the person who has
restricted your freedom
Choice and Change
Understanding choice and decision making is a vital part of any effort to understand
Entity theorists: people who regard traits as fixed, stable things (entities). Tend to
regard other people’s behaviour as reflecting their traits.
Incremental theorists: who believe that traits are subject to change and
improvement. Interpret behaviour as caused by temporary states and external
o Entity theorists could develop learned helplessness because they think
that failures are more drastic because they are permanent features of
1. Suppose you show up for a paid experiment and receive $10. The researcher says
you can double your earnings if the outcome of a coin toss is a head, or lose your
earnings if the outcome of a coin toss is a tail. Research shows that most people
a. Flip the coin and try to get $20
b. Not flip the coin and keep their $10
c. There is a 50/50 chance that people will flip the coin because the potential
gain equals the potential loss.
d. The research evidence is mixed 2. Mohammed is 4 years old. His mother, a social psychologist, asks whether he would
rather have one cookie today or three cookies tomorrow. Mohammed chooses the
one cookie today. This illustrates _____.
a. Certainty effect
b. Risk aversion
c. Planning fallacy
d. Temporal discounting
3. Joni wants to see an R-rated movie with some friends. However, Joni is only 14, and
her parents forbid her to go. Which of the following responses could be predicted
from Brehm’s reactance theory?
a. Joni would behave aggressively towards per parents
b. Joni would want to see the movie more
c. Joni would sneak into the movie anyway
d. All of the above
4. Entity theorists are to incremental theorists as _____ are to ____.
a. Global traits; specific traits
b. Specific traits; global traits
c. Stable traits; unstable traits
d. Unstable traits; stable traits
Freedom of Action
Many believe that psychology must explain all behaviour in terms of causes, and if a
behaviour is caused, then it is not truly or fully free. Others emphasize the fact that people
make choices and could have been chosen differently under other circumstances, and in
that sense they believe people do have freedom. The belief in free will helps humans to act
in more prosocial ways, thereby helping the social system function better.
More or Less Free
Although absolute freedom is debatable, relative freedom is an important feature of
Free Action Comes From Inside
Self-determination theory: perspective on freedom of action, builds on intrinsic
vs. extrinsic motivation. Deci and Ryan: people may be motivated to perform well
out of a deep passion for excellence or because of a bribe, they may behave honestly
because of a deep moral sense or because they feel others are watching them, etc.
Basically motivation can come from the inside or the outside. Doing something to
satisfy external pressures is felt to be less free than acting from one’s inner
promptings. People have an innate need for autonomy.
Having an Out, vs. No Escape Panic Button Effect: believing that one has an escape option (produced by
o Eg: experiment described in class with loud noises while participants did
puzzles, and a panic button given to half which would “stop” the noise.
Believing that you have free will means that you think that you have some control
over your life, which may reduce stress.
1. People who believe in free will are more _____ than people who do not.
2. According to self-determination theory, people need to feel that activities are
motivated by ____.
a. External factors
b. Internal factors
c. Global factors
d. Specific factors
3. What type of motivation leads to the best goal outcomes?
4. Believing that one can exert control over stressful events makes them more
tolerable, even if one has no control. This is called the _____.
a. Certainty effect
b. Planning fallacy
c. Panic button effect
d. Status quo bias
Goals, Plans, Intentions
A goal is an idea of a desired future state; it is a meaningful link between values and action.
Setting and Pursuing Goals
A person’s goals reflect both inner processes and cultural factors.
Pursuing goals involves at least 2 major steps, which involve different mental states.
They are: setting goals (evaluating how difficult or feasible a goal is and deciding
how much you want to pursue it), and pursuing the goal (planning what to do and
carrying out those behaviours). o In the first step, positive illusions are set aside and people think critically
about the goal, wanting to know both the good and the bad. In the second
step, optimism and positive illusion is important.
Both the conscious and automatic system are involved in the pursuit of goals. The
conscious system does much of the goal settin