Critical reviews of PCT

Dear all,
I’m working with some colleagues on an article to introduce PCT to the career counseling field. My coauthors asked whether I knew of any scientific critical review of perceptual control theory, for instance a review from outside PCT, that would list the shortcomings of the theory.

Could anyone suggest such a review?

I currently know two ‘reviews’ in the blogosphere:

First Scott Alexander’s Slate Star Codex, which provides an quite-nice review (has been some time since I read it)

and second Andrew D Wilson’s Psych Science Notes quick (and pretty dirty) ‘review’.

If there is a more thorough, more scientific alternative, even from many years ago, I’d be very happy to hear about it.

Kind regards,


I have two files filled with criticisms of control theory and rebuttals of those criticisms.

Adam Matic in an e-mail to the on 26 April 2014 contains two attachments [i.e., DEVIL’S.BIB.docx (225K) and (51K)] that contain extensive e-mail discussions and references to articles and ideas about criticisms of control theory. My printout of DEVIL’s.BIB seems to be about 100 pages long. These may be a source of some critical references.

More specifically, Howard J. Klein, “Control Theory and Understanding Motivated Behavior: A Different Conclusion,” Motivation and Emotion, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1991, pp. 29-44, states that “In the preceding article and in other writings (e.g., Locke, Cartledge, & Knerr, 1970; Locke & Latham, 1990) control theory has been challenged as a viable perspective for understanding human behavior and work motivation in particular. It is the view of this author that such a disparaging position is unjustified.” You might have a look at that article, which gives full references to the articles he refers to that are critical of control theory.

Similarly, an article by Jeffrey B. Vancouver, “The Depth of History and Explanation as Benefit and Bane for Psychological Control Theories,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 1, 2005, pp. 38-52 addresses a critical article by Bandura & Locke (2003) [i.e., Bandura, A., & Locke, E. A., “Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited,” *Journal pf Applied Psychology,* Vol. 88, 2003, pp. 87-99]. You might have a look at these too.

I also noticed in my notes that M. M. Taylor, “Editorial: Perceptual Control Theory and its Application,” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Vol 50, No. 6, June 1999, pp. 433-444 discusses the following objections to Perceptual Control Theory: The “Simplistic” Objection (p. 434), The “Too Slow” Objection (pp. 439-40), The “Decision-Making” Objection (pp. 440-1), and The “Inverse Kinematic” Objection (pp. 441-2).

Anyhow these are some articles and references to articles for and against perceptual control theory that may be helpful.

With Regards,
Richard Pfau

Thank you for your reply with a wealth of information, Richard! That’s very helpful!