Monash University
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PSI theory: expectancy-based reactions as a function of self-regulation

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posted on 2017-02-17, 02:12 authored by Garivaldis, Filia Joanne
Expectations play a vital role in the adaptive functioning of individuals. In some instances, expectations are constructive, enabling individuals to behave predictably, purposely and routinely. In other instances expectations bias the attention, feelings and cognitions of individuals. In these cases, expectations exacerbate feelings of uncertainty and undermine adaptive functioning. These expectations may be influenced by whether individuals derive decisions from intuitive or analytical processes. A theory of self-regulation—Personality Systems Interaction (PSI) theory—outlines these processes. Briefly, PSI Theory differentiates four behavioural and experiential systems. Extension memory is the system that underpins intuitive and autonomous processes. Intention memory underpins deliberations and systematic planning. Intuitive behavioural control is the system that enacts these plans when opportunities arise. Finally, object recognition underpins responses to threat. Research has demonstrated that the interaction of these systems is critical for the regulation of behaviour and experience. Furthermore, emotions affect which of these systems are activated at any time. The present set of studies examines how self-regulation shapes the expectations and experiences of individuals. Study 1 was conducted to ascertain whether the various PSI systems elicit different emotions—one of the key determinants of both self-regulation and expectations. In particular, participants were asked to unscramble sets of words to form sentences. Embedded within these sentences were synonyms of autonomy, deliberation or obligation, intended to prime extension memory, intention memory and object recognition respectively. Participants also completed the IPANAT—a tool that assessed emotions implicitly—and a measure of susceptibility to preoccupation and hesitation—called action control. Primes that purportedly activated extension memory evoked pleasant emotions, especially if participants reported an action orientation (p=0.003); low levels of preoccupation and hesitation. Primes that purportedly activated object recognition evoked unpleasant emotions, but only if participants reported a state orientation (p=0.044, p=0.016); high levels of preoccupation and hesitation. Finally, primes presumed to have activated intention memory evoked unpleasant emotions in participants with a moderate action orientation (p=0.022, p=0.001). These results indicate that the priming attempts validate the assumptions of PSI Theory. Study 2 utilized a similar paradigm, but also examined whether the PSI systems shape the expectations of individuals. After unscrambling the sentences, participants predicted the extent to which they are likely to enjoy a set of jokes. Interestingly, when both extension memory and object recognition were activated, participants expressed more positive expectations of joke funniness compared to when intention memory was activated, especially if they had reported a moderate action orientation (p=0.028, p=0.012). These results are discussed with reference to optimistic and pessimistic biases associated with these systems. Study 3 extended the previous studies further by examining the extent to which the positive and negative expectations of participants translated into positive or negative evaluations of the jokes. When participants were primed with extension memory and expressed positive expectations (p=0.012), they were likely to enjoy the jokes. This effect was contingent on whether participants reported a high appreciation of humour (p=0.028). When participants were primed with object recognition or intention memory, however, they did not tend to enjoy the jokes, especially when they were told they would (p=0.053). A fourth study was conducted to examine another determinant of system activation—self-discrepancies. Self-discrepancies, the extent to which individuals hold impending goals, may also influence expectations and evaluations. The same sequences of tasks were completed by participants as in Studies 1, 2 and 3. However, rather than unscrambling sentences to activate the three systems, participants recalled fulfilled or unfulfilled aspirations or obligations. The results demonstrated that self-discrepancies are associated with unpleasant emotions in accordance with self-duscrepancy theory, but only in participants with a moderate action orientation (p=0.040). Additional novel findings included simultaneously pleasant and unpleasant implicit emotions found associated with recollections of fulfilled goals (relaxation: p=0.041, helplessness: p=0.040, p=0.033). These results are discussed with reference to the PSI systems. Again, participants primed with extension memory, by recalling fulfilled goals, generated expectations that were equally positive to the expectations of participants primed with object recognition—who recalled failed obligations. Conversely, participants primed with intention memory, by recalling failed aspirations, generated less positive expectations, but only when they reported an action or state orientation (p=0.042). Individuals with a moderate action orientation responded predictably in this study. Subsequently, participants’ enjoyment of jokes was once more contingent on their appreciation of humour (p=0.047). Specifically, participants who recalled fulfilled goals enjoyed the jokes more when they appreciated humour—akin to activated extension memory—whereas participants who recalled unfulfilled obligations enjoyed the jokes less when they appreciated humour. This set of studies demonstrates that the experiences of individuals are largely determined by their expectations. Furthermore, both experiences and expectations are influenced by cognitive and emotional states. These associations may help explain the questions of when positive or negative expectations, debated in previous research (Golub, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2009; Sweeny & Shepperd, 2010), are superior. For instance, this research may provide some evidence of the conditions for which each of pessimism and optimism are likely to enhance the experiences of individuals.


Principal supervisor

Simon Moss

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Psychological Sciences

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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