Stress, Proving PCT

[From Rick Marken (950605.2145)]

Bruce Abbott (950605.1210 EST) --

There is an apparently common-sensical idea that people who are
experiencing stress in their lives should be given more control over
the sorts of things that cause the stress, and that this control (even if
illusory) will diminish the impact of those events.

According to PCT, stress is caused by error -- not things or perceptions
of those things. So any lack of control IS a cause of stress (that's why Ed
Ford's book about PCT is called, quite appropriately, "Freedom From
Stress"; we are free from stress when we are in control). You can't
really "give" people control, though you might be able to show people
how they can improve their ability to control (again, that's what Ed's
book is about; ways to improve your own ability to control your perceptions).

If control is illusory (as it was in my closed-open loop experiment) then
it is not control -- so it won't help reduce stress (error). A case could
be made for the notion that most of the control we seem to have over other
people is illusory; that's probably why much of our stress is associated
with perceptions that involve other people; it's just not possible to
reliably control those perceptions (as Ed's book makes clear; if you
won't read my book, you could at least read Ed's;-)).

My research (and a little thought) suggests that this idea is not
necessarily true.

I'm not sure that your research really addressed the causes of stress. My
interpretation of your results is that the rats were in stress in BOTH
conditions: control of shock and no control of shock. I think that any
level of shock greater than 0 (the rat's probable reference level for
shock) is stressful for a rat -- it creates error. Thus, your methodology
ensured that the rats experienced the same amount of stress in the
control of shock and no control of shock conditions.

I take the rats' failure to reliably select either control or no- control
of shock as evidence of reorganization. If the control of shock condition
allowed the rat to actually control the shock, keeping it at the reference
level (0) then I suspect that the rat would have selected the matching no
control of shock condition every time; that way the rat gets the reference
level of shock (0) with no work. The observed "indifference" refers (I think)
to the fact that the rat selects the control of shock condition 1/2 the time
and the no control condition the other 1/2 . This suggests that the rat is
reorganizing -- randomly selecting behavioral strategies becuase the
existing strategies are not working; the rat is getting shocked -- it is in
stress; it is reorganizing becuase its current control organanization
is not working (no thanks to the experimenter, I might add;-)

Me:

Do you think there is any way to convince a reinforcement theorist
that there is no such thing as reinforcement?

Bruce:

Yes, but I think it's going to take a whole series of demonstrations to
drive the point home.

I basically agree with you; there is no one experimentum cruxis that
demanded a Copernican view of the universe, for example. But (per
my previous post) at least there was a working model of the solar
system (Ptolomy's) that could be compared to observation. I don't
believe that the equivament of a Ptolmaic model (of behavior in
general; there are some good models of specific phenomena, like Mach
Bands) exists in psychology.

Best

Rick