Understanding Patterns of Action: Learning Objectives


General objective

In addition to the specific objectives listed below for each topic, there are general objectives that apply to all of the topics:

   To explore the topic beyond the specific material provided in lectures and reading lists, using published literature and the Web

    To think about the issues to the point where you can explain them in terms that differ from the original presentation or paper, using new examples of your own


Introduction and overview: Concepts of action and structure

    To state the course objectives and teaching strategies

    To list the advantages and limitations of the experimental method in psychology, especially in social and applied psychology

    To define in detail the terms 'structure' and 'system' as applied to behavioural phenomena

    To describe the relations between the concepts of 'action', 'behaviour' and 'meaning'


Action and language

    To define basic concepts in the analysis of language, such as 'competence', 'performance', 'langue', 'parole', 'grammar' and 'rule'

    To illustrate the possible application of such terms to the analysis of macro-structures in conversation and patterns of non-verbal action

    To outline the basic elements in a syntactic theory of action

    To outline the basic elements in a semantic theory of action


Systems of action

    To define what 'systems' are in terms of four key properties

    To illustrate systems concepts, such as 'openness', 'equilibrium', 'trajectory' and 'equifinality'

    To give a brief account of 'Catastrophe Theory' explaining such terms as 'hysteresis' and 'bimodality'

    To give a brief account of 'Chaos Theory' explaining such terms as 'phase space', strange attractor', and 'sensitive dependency on initial conditions'

    To describe the basic properties of hierarchical control systems, with behavioural examples

    To evaluate Clarke's three-level model of action regulation


Action sequences

    To give the rationale for the sequence-analytic approach to psychological investigation

    To describe in detail the stages in carrying out a standard 'Markovian' or 'stochastic' sequence analysis

    To explain how the method may be modified to extract other more complex patterns of events

    To provide examples of real problems where sequence analysis has been used successfully


Action forecasting

    To describe the history, rationale and framework of forecasting in psychology, and psychology in forecasting

    To explain in detail the workings of one procedure for qualitative behavioural forecasting which might be used as an action-analysis technique

    To outline the requirements and problems for evaluation studies in the field of forecasting

    To illustrate by reference to specific studies how empirical research in forecasting psychology has developed in recent years


Cybernetic and computational models

    To describe the major parts and properties of a single-loop control system

    To illustrate the problems and approaches encountered in the analysis of multi-loop phenomena

    To illustrate hierarchical multi-loop control with behavioural examples

    To explain the elements of finite-state automata theory, showing how it might be used to represent sequential patterns in human action


The role of emotion

    To review the main ways in which emotion and cognition could be interrelated

    To summarise experimental work on mood and memory, and on mood and attention

    To evaluate the different positions in the Zajonc / Lazarus 'primacy of emotion' debate

    To describe the basic principles behind cognitive therapy for emotional disorders

    To review the main features of 'cognitive appraisal' theories of emotion

    To describe Clarke's 'Micro Affect Theory' of anticipatory affect and planning

    To show how cognitive appraisal theory and 'Micro Affect Theory' can be elaborated using Teasdale and Barnard's ICS (interacting cognitive subsystems) model


Action and common-sense understanding

    To define 'natural psychology'

    To review the case for and against a re-unification of scientific and common-sense psychology

    To enumerate the strengths and weaknesses of common-sense psychology

    To list the features of an ideal, broad-range psychology

    To describe the problems of extending tacit knowledge, and strategies for their solution

    To explain the problem of boundary conditions (or conditional generalisation) and its relevance for applied psychology

    To explain the problems of particularising from and applying statistical generalisations

    To summarise the implications of the points above for psychology as a whole


Attribution: Understanding the understanding of others

    To summarise the basic covariationist models of attribution, and the vignette-based paradigm of investigation

•    To understand and evaluate the main features of 'knowledge-based' attribution

    To describe the main patterns of error and bias in attribution making

    To relate attribution theory to theories of self-knowledge, including the studies of Nisbett and Wilson, and White's reply

    To contrast the roles of implicit and explicit psychological knowledge in self-understanding

    To review the recent development of language-based models of attribution

    To evaluate the current position of attribution theory and research overall


David Clarke