PCT and Older Adults

[Richard Pfau (2019.11.25 18:00 EST)]

Are there any articles or papers relating PCT to the lives of older adults? If you are aware of any, please let me know.

I have come across some articles dealing with control and elderly people but none cite Powers work and I didn’t find anything searching the csgnet files.

[From Kent McClelland 2020.01.15 1725]

Hi Rich,

One section of a conference paper I presented for a PCT conference in Wales many years ago deals at least obliquely with the question of control and older adults. Check out the last paragraph of this extract from the paper:

In this discussion I have argued that social order is the product of cooperatively controlled perceptions, not mechanisms of social control, or else social forces, as sociologists often assume. If my argument is correct, cooperatively controlled perceptions have great importance for sociologists, in that they provide the social structure we try to study. I would like to illustrate my meaning in a little more detail by considering a specific area of sociology, and suggesting some ways that cooperatively controlled perceptions of attachment could become an important focus for this work.

Sociologists in the field of gerontology, who talk about “the life course” (for example, Hockey and James 1993) are hoping to trace the typical trajectory of personal identity from birth to death within a given society. If we reconceptualize this endeavor as an attempt to understand the building up and maintaining of a system concept of self, we can see how attention to cooperatively controlled perceptions might transform this study. At birth, according to the PCT view, the human perceptual hierarchy is relatively undeveloped. Plooij and van de Rijt-Plooij (1990) working first with chimpanzees and then with human infants have begun to map out the stages at which levels of perception are added to the child’s central nervous system. While the Plooij’s research has not yet addressed this issue, one would assume that by the age of three or four most children have begun to develop perceptions at the system-concept level of attachment to self and to other persons. While the child’s caretaker may have a very clear idea of the child’s personality at this stage, the child himself or herself has probably has rather low-gain control over these complex perceptions. A child’s years of formal education then, while not adding any new levels of perception, may increase the gain of the perception of self by filling in the intermediate levels with new perceptions of shared activities- as the child builds skills in games and school work—with clearer perceptions of social contingencies—as the child learns to obey the rules of interaction—and with new attachments to individuals and groups which can be incorporated into the perception of self—as the child has social experiences which can be added as remembered stories to the child’s perceptions of self and others at the program level. This building up of control systems at lower levels and filling in of lateral connections in the hierarchy increases the stability and gain of the system-concept-level perception of self. Paradoxically, stability of any perception at a high level depends on flexibility at lower levels- on having a wide variety of options to choose from in dealing with high-level disturbances. In colloquial language we might say that a child is getting to know who she or he is, and is thus developing a secure sense of self.

The caretaker’s role in this process of child development is initially to provide control for variables or levels of perception the child cannot yet perceive. Some caretakers issue a steady stream of commands or suggestions in order to supply reference standards for the child to use. Other caretakers attempt to manipulate the behavior of the child by resorting to rewards or punishments, or using coercion. Others may seek to use the leverage they have in their part of the cooperatively controlled perception of the child’s self by making comments or cracking jokes about the child’s personality characteristics. While such tactics may work with extremely small children, as the child gets older (and certainly by adolescence) any parent or caretaker who continues trying to exert interpersonal control in these ways ends up involved in a high level of conflict with the child.

In middle life, one continues to build the system concept of the self by gaining more experiences and acquiring long-term attachments, perhaps with a spouse or children or coworkers or friends. All of this assumes, of course, that the individual is in secure enough circumstances, by virtue of social class, to avoid the serious disturbances which might lower one’s ability to control and threaten one’s sense of self.

As old age approaches, however, many individuals find their perceptual hierarchy eroding from the bottom up. Loss of sight, loss of hearing, loss of sensitivity to touch, loss of mobility due to various chronic diseases, all of these lower the gain with which high-level perceptions can be controlled. More serious than physical losses may be the loss, through death, of significant others, people who cooperate to maintain the perception one has of oneself. The aged person stuck in a nursing home without friends or family, attended only by strangers, quite understandably experiences difficulty in maintaining a secure sense of identity. Hence the importance in care for the aged of avoiding techniques of interpersonal control which tend to “infantilize” the older person (Hockey and James 1993). In sum, the study of the life course can be reconceptualized in terms of one’s struggle to build and maintain a sense of personal identity with the help of one’s friends and family and all those who cooperate in controlling that centrally important perception of self.

Extract from “On Cooperatively Controlled Perceptions and Social Order” Presented at the 1st European Workshop on Perceptual Control Theory, Gregynog, the University of Wales, June 1994. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1621.7046

The entire paper is available on my webpage on ResearchGate.


Thank you. Your information is helpful.