Towards a Cognition-Energy-Learning Model (1)

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Towards a Cognition-Energy-Learning Model (C.E.L.)
on the Bistable Organization of Motivation and its Effect on Cognitive Development


Bernard B. Maarsingh


Popko P. van der Molen

Presented for the fifth international conference on
Reversal Theory, June 21-25, 1991 at Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.A.

Table of Contents

1. Homeostasis versus Bi-Stability
2. The Bi-stable Organization of Motivation
3. Two Metamotivational States and Reversals
4. The Energy Dependent Basis of Motivation: Different Consequences on the Proximal and on the Ultimal Level
5. Motivational Sequences, Learning Spirals and Cognitive Areas of Experience
6. Cognitive Development
7. Summary and Conclusions


1. Homeostasis versus Bi-Stability

✰✰✰ <level 3>   One of the most widespread concepts in psychology is "homeostasis" or synonimous words such as equilibrium and stability. The word homeostasis originates from the physiologist Cannon (1932) who used it to describe a range of physical systems whereby body temperature, respiration frequency, or the illumination of the retina (Lakke 1985) are maintained at a constant level. In psychology, we encounter this concept in a diversity of areas, for example in the work of Pavlov, where he writes about the equilibrium between the systems of the organism and external conditions (Ban 1964); in Jung (1954) in his compensation theory of personality; in Lewin (1951) where he writes about the "quasi-stationary equilibria" in group processes and in Piaget when he describes the cognitive development of the child. Also in theories on motivation the homeostasis concept is often utilized. Examples are Freud's "pleasure principle" and "reality principle" which are focussed on excitation or tension reduction and even in Butler (1953, 1954, 1957) who advocated a "curiosity drive", in Montgomery (1953) who proposed an "exploratory drive" and in Myers and Miller (1954) who even postulated a "boredom drive". The end product of behaviour, even if an attempt is made to explain explorative behaviour, is in fact still considered to be a reduction of the drive to a lower preferred level. More recently, Buck's motivation theory (1985) has attracted attention. Buck adopts White's non-homeostatic concept and subsequently moulds it back into a homeostatic framework. This is the concept of "effectance motivation" (see Wever, 1989, unpublished, for a survey). Other examples stem from the research on whether or not altruistically motivated behaviour occurs at all. Piliavin and Piliavin (1973) and Piliavin et al. (1981, 1982) consider altruistic behaviour to be pro-social behaviour which is focussed on reducing one's own aversive arousal as a result of having seen somebody else "suffer". Variations on the same theme originate from Hornstein (1976, 1978, 1982), Reykovski (1982) and Lerner (1970). Batson (1987, 1988) ends two of his articles, on whether altruistically motivated behaviour does or does not occur, with:

"More and more it appears that motivation to help, evoked by feeling empathy, is at least partly altruistic. If it is, then psychologists will have to make some fundamental changes in their perceptions of human motivation and, indeed, of human nature" (Batson et al. 1988, pp. 75-76)

Apter and Smith (1976, 1979a, 1979b) and Apter (1976, 1982, 1988), on the other hand, propose a bi-stable explanation of motivation in their reversal theory. A bi-stable system is a system in which there are two levels of preference with a given variable (Murgatroyd 1981). The Cognition-Energy-Learning model (CEL: van der Molen, Stoelhorst, Van Dijk, Maarsingh) is based on the reversal theory in relation to the concept of bi-stability of motivation.

2. The Bi-stable Organization of Motivation

✰✰✰ <level 3>   In the CEL two arguments are given to underpin the concept of bi-stability: an ethological and a phenomenological argument.

The first argument was originally formulated by Van der Molen (1977, 1983, 1985) and revolves around the idea that one of the most recent evolutionary developments is the open-ended learning system. This is a learning system by which a behavioural repertoire develops which is especially appropriate to the situation or surroundings in which the individual incidentally happens to live. The capacity to develop such a behavioural repertoire is only utilized optimally when supplies and shortages in the energy balance are treated in a very specific way. This means that behaviour should be organized in such a way that a surplus of energy is immediately invested in the extension and refining of this repertoire. Adjustments in the repertoire will be especially meaningful when those adjustments offer a higher probability of survival in emergency situations and in situations which are very stressful. This means, however, that one has to practice in situations which engender a high level of arousal, for such situations are exactly the situations in which risks have to be taken. But taking risks which afterwards turn out to be too great can have unpleasant consequences. Also, situations which are (too) stressful for a long period of time, can be harmful to the individual. Thus, apart from the necessity to practice with difficult situations, it is also of the utmost importance that the individual has, with regularity, the possibility to escape from threat and danger and to settle down.

An open learning system will contribute maximally to survival when the following two conditions are met: - firstly, there should be a tendency to seek situations which give rise to a high level of arousal when there is a surplus of energy and - secondly, there should be a tendency to look for situations which reduce the arousal as soon as the energy supply is exhausted or in cases of emergency.

The second argument which is used by the CEL has a phenomenological nature and is borrowed from Apter and Smith (e.g. Apter, 1982). These authors indicate that a specific level of arousal can be experienced in two different ways. They mention as examples of situations which cause a high level of arousal: having to wait at the dentist while worrying about the condition of your teeth, or watching an exciting movie and feeling thrilled. Situations with a low level of arousal are: waiting for the bus while you have nothing to do and are bored stiff, or sitting in a nice warm tub after a hard day's work and enjoying a pleasant relaxation. What distinguishes these four situations is, in the first place, the level of arousal and, in the second place, the extent to which a person feels comfortable or not, in other words, the hedonic tone. Apter and Smith generalized such phenomenological occurrences and elaborated them into their reversal theory. One of the fundamental postulates in their theory is:

"... that certain psychological processes, especially certain motivational and emotional processes, exhibit bi-stability rather than homeostasis (i.e. uni-stability). Switching from one stable state to the other in a bi-stable system can be referred to as a "reversal" and may be brought about by a number of different factors." (Apter and Smith, 1979)

Both arguments, the one phenomological and the other ethological in character, plead for a bipolar organization of behaviour, as described in the CEL.

3. Two Metamotivational States and Reversals

✰✰✰ <level 3>   Both states of the bi-stable system in the CEL, following Apter and Smith, are called metamotivational states. They can be seen as "frames of mind" which determine the general phenomenological characteristics of motivation at a certain moment in time: in other words, the individual interprets his own motives in one of two ways. Because states are not motives in themselves but rather organize the motivation, they are called metamotivational states.

Both metamotivational states indicate a level of preference as to the variable "level of arousal" or "tension". They are called "telic" and "paratelic", derived from the Greek word "telos" which means goal. In the telic state the individual is serious minded, tries to avoid high arousal and wants to plan and structure the future as much as possible (Murgatroyd 1981). The phenomenological characteristics of the paraletic state are, in short: to carry out behaviour for the behaviour itself or for the excitement and sensation which this behaviour arouses (Apter 1979), e.g., impulsiveness, fickle or frivolous behaviour and searching for arousal because it is pleasant in itself (Murgatroyd 1981). (See table 1.1 for a more elaborate summary of the telic and paratelic state.)

The CEL not only postulates, following reversal theory, a complex "control adjustment system" (Murgatroyd 1981, p. 185), but also indicates that the relation between arousal and other variables, such as being full of fear or being full of fun, is much more complex than was generally assumed. This is because, as described above, arousal in the paratelic state is experienced as being exciting and pleasant, and in the telic state as being frightening, unpleasant and as something which has to be avoided. (In table 1.2 this relation between the two metamotivational states and the level of arousal is summarized again.)

Table 1.1: Summary of the Telic and Paratelic States (from Apter 1982, p. 52).
Table 1.2: Experience of arousal in telic and paratelic state.

In the last paragraph, a statement by Apter (1979, page 405) was quoted which, among other things, dealt with the "reversals", or changes, from one stable state into the other, that occur with a certain regularity (Murgatroyd 1981). These reversals can occur under a variety of conditions (Murgatroyd 1981), but will especially take place when: (a) the individual gets frustrated in one state, or (b) the individual gets satiated in the other state (Van der Molen et al., 1991). The former (a) takes place in particular in the paratelic state in which the organism seeks tension and accordingly takes risks. Taking risks implies that unexpected things and unforeseen contingencies may happen which can lead to a telic state. Because of the fact that in such a state the person searches for tension or arousal, satiation will not very often be the cause of a reversal. However, a reversal by satiation may occur when the supply of energy gets exhausted (Van der Molen, 1983, 1984, 1985; see also (Van der Molen et al. 1991). The reversal from the telic to the paratelic state will more often be caused by satiation, because at a certain moment in time the energy supply is replenished to the extent that the search for situations which offer arousal may continue (Van der Molen, 1983, 1984, 1985).

In the CEL model of Van der Molen et al (1991) the energy dependent basis of motivation is an important explanation for such an interaction between level of arousal and metamotivational state and the reversal from one state into the other.

4. The Energy Dependent Basis of Motivation: Different Consequences at the Proximal and at the Ultimal Level

✰✰✰ <level 3>   In contrast to most psychological approaches, the concept "allocation of energy" is very important in ethology. Strategies and tactics (e.g. to find food) of various animals are analyzed in the light of the hypothesis: " ... behavioral control mechanisms are designed to maximize the rate of net energy gain" (Daly & Wilson 1983, p. 39). To illustrate the concept we will give two examples to indicate what the term means in ethology. Tits are small birds which are found often in wooded areas in Europe and North-America. These birds remain in the same area the entire year and they breed there in summer. In winter it is hard to find larvae because they are well hidden and irregularly spread. So the tits must have a special strategy which makes finding food as efficient as possible. It seems to be the case that they use a "giving-up time" decision-rule. This means that they look for food only during a specific period of time at a specific place and if by then they have not found anything yet, they give up and look for another place. Krebs et al. (1974) have shown by means of experiments and calculations that this strategy produces the maximal number of food-units within a specific period of time compared to other strategies, such as, for example, examining a pine-cone during a pre-set period of time, or starting to look elsewhere, having found a fixed number of larvae.

This is an example in which a number of strategies for collecting food are compared on the basis of their efficiency, and in which the animal appeared to use the most efficient method; the animal allocated energy as efficiently as possible. The next example is completely different, but corresponds with the former in using energy as efficiently as possible.

The hermit-crab lives in "discarded" snail-shells and looks for a new house when she grows too large for her current house. If the crab succeeds, she continues to grow. But if the crab does not succeed to find a larger house, she stops her own growth, for a house is necessary in order not to be caught by predators. The energy which normally is put in the growth, now is used to mature sexually. Instead of putting energy in the growth, the crab puts it in reproduction (Bertness 1981). Van der Molen (1983, 1984, 1985) and Van der Molen et al. (1991) assume that the motivation with specialized learning-animals (human beings), is steering behaviour in such a way that the energy spent is actually utilized in an optimal way. This means that arousal inducing situations will be sought as soon as there is a surplus of energy and that the situation will, if possible, be controlled as soon as the supply threatens to be exhausted (see pp. 4, 5, and 6).

The question which now arises is: what are the implications of an energy-efficient learning system? In the first place, it can be said that the energy which is invested in experimenting with new and exciting situations is no longer available for other activities (such as eating). So only when there is a surplus of energy i.e. when there are no other urgent outstanding needs to be fulfilled, can investments be made in learning. This learning should produce long-term results in terms of survival or reproduction (see for instance Dawkins 1976. When the system results in a more exact, more efficient and more economical representation of the surroundings, especially concerning relevant situations, it contributes to a higher survival value. A side effect of such a learning-system is that eventually energy and time will be available for activities other than those considered to be essential necessities of life. This is so because the surroundings have been mapped out in such a way (cognitively) that one responds to the specific situation in the right way at the right time.

When we add the ethological argument used by Van der Molen to the phenomenological argument which was used by Apter (see pp 4, 5, 6), we can draw an important conclusion regarding "cause" and "function" of behaviour (Tinbergen, 1963, 1968). By "cause" Tinbergen means the proximal causes and goals of behaviour and by "function" he means the ultimate causes and effects.

The paratelic state results, in the long term, in a surplus of experience (especially in important areas) which in the end is settled down into a refined and extended behavioural repertoire (Van der Molen, 1983, 1984, 1985). In the short term, the main goal is to have fun doing things which are exciting (see for instance Apter, 1976 or 1982). So the behaviour is, at the proximal level, aimed at the principle: just do what is exciting. The effect at the ultimate level of such behaviour (an extended and refined behavioural repertoire) seems to play no part in the proximal motivation of such behaviour. In our view, this is a logical consequence of the observation that learning competes with other activities (e.g. eating) and so should be inviting at the proximal level.

Batson et al. (1987, 1988) also ascertain the importance of the distinction between proximal and ultimate results when they study the motivation of altruistic behaviour. From a number of very well organized experiments Batson concludes that altruistic behaviour indeed also appears to exist when the proximal goal of the behaviour is examined and not only the long term results. Now that a clear distinction between proximal and ultimate results and goals has been indicated to be of crucial importance, it seems logical to ask in more detail how exactly learning progresses.

5. Motivational Sequences, Learning Spirals and Cognitive Areas of Experience

✰✰✰ <level 3>   In figure 1.1 both the metamotivational states and the reversals from one state to the other are represented graphically. The sequence, shown in this figure (fear - relaxation - boredom - excitement - fear, etc) is important for the learning process.

Figure 1.1. A commonly occurring Motivational Sequence.

Van der Molen (1984) explains how a behavioural repertoire develops by way of positive and negative learning spirals. If the indicated sequence relaxation - boredom - excitement - fear - relaxation - etc. can be completed often enough, it means that generally speaking there have been sufficient opportunities to achieve relaxation timely and to replenish the energy supply. In this way an individual will develop a behavioural repertoire which functions adequately and in which the various skills have been well consolidated and integrated.

As a consequence, the person is (better) able to deal with emergencies and to relax more quickly and effectively, with the result that after some period of time he or she is able again to explore, etc. We label this a positive learning spiral.

If, however, the person does not succeed in finding enough moments of relaxation, he or she can replenish his/her energy less often. The individual will then be in the paratelic state less often and consequently will explore less and exhibit telic behaviour more frequently. This results in the person acquiring fewer new skills and practicing "old" skills less often. And being less skillful subsequently lessens the chances of further moments of relaxation. Thus a negative learning spiral develops (figure 1.2).

According to this model, skills have the tendency to grow in clusters. Van der Molen calls such clusters, after Grof (1972, 1973, 1976) "clusters of COndensed EXperience" or "COEX-systems" (see figure 1.3). Grof defines a COEX-system as follows:

"A COEX-system can be defined as a specific constellation of memories consisting of condensed experience (and related fantasies) from different life periods of the individual. The memories belonging to a particular system have a similar basic theme or contain similar elements and are associated with a strong emotional charge of the same quality. The nature of these systems varies considerably from one COEX-system to another."

Grof distinguishes positive and negative COEX-systems, depending on the emotions connected with the cluster. The reason for such clustering of areas of experience is explained by Van der Molen (1983, 1984, 1985). When certain situations have been explored regularly and the experiences have been processed well, we can speak of a positive COEX-system in which various skills have been incorporated. Such skills can often also be applied in other, comparable situations, so that these too, can turn out to be controllable and manageable. In this way positive experiences can extend to related areas of experience and thus stimulate a positive COEX-system to grow. Poorly processed experiences also have the tendency to grow in clusters. When, in a given situation, there is little exploration and consequently little practice with certain relevant skills, it is more difficult to control that situation if needed, and subsequently it is also more difficult to relax and settle down after solving the problems at hand.

Figure 1.2 Two possible learning spirals (Molen, van der 1984) in which the development and refining of the behavioural repertoire is the result of positive learning spirals, and in which a rigid and stereotyped way of reacting will be the outcome of negative learning spirals

This implies a high probability that only few new skills will be learnt, so that the next time the individual finds himself in the same, or a similar situation, he will, most likely, have another problematic experience. This increases the likelihood of telic behaviour (i.e. behaviour for escaping and avoiding) in such situations, resulting in even less experimenting. An example of a negative cluster is the behaviour of somebody who, as a result of his or her shyness, no longer dares to appear in public. By doing so, the fear for such kind of situations will grow, because the familiarity with those situations will diminish, and the person can not properly develop other skills for which he or she needs the help of others in a group context (for instance school tasks). In this way the individual easily ends up in a negative learning spiral in which new experiences are no longer utilised to learn, but rather to strengthen the existing, inadequate avoidance behaviours. Breaking out of such a spiral is very difficult. The most important (and most necessary) condition for this is the ability to acquire relaxation and rest whenever needed, which is necessary for the processing of experiences and replenishing the energy resources. If a number of well-processed areas in which there are well-controlled skills, are in some way related to badly processed areas of experience, those well-processed areas of experience can sometimes serve as a "refuge" when situations become too frightening. Such refuges serve to provide the necessary opportunities for relaxation.

Figure 1.3 Hypothetical example of the growth of positive (+) and negative (-) systems of COndensed EXperience in the total area of experiences (from: (van der Molen 1984).

Here it is important to bear in mind that a positive COEX-system does not necessarily consist of pleasant experiences. It can also be a matter of a positive end result, i.e. the good processing of negative, unpleasant, experiences. A negative COEX-system consists of badly processed unpleasant experiences.

The term unpleasant can easily lead to misunderstanding. The experiences were unpleasant at that time, but after a while the negative COEX-system may be experienced as intriguing, i.e. when the person is in the paratelic state, precisely because of the arousal elevating characteristics of such a COEX-system. Positive areas of experience are then experienced as boring and thus as less pleasant, for they no longer produce excitement.

In the telic state, of course, the situation is reversed. The positive areas of experience will be sought, whereas the negative areas of experience will be experienced as unpleasant and frightening.

This difference in the way in which positive and negative COEX-systems are faced, has interesting implications for cognitive development.

6. Cognitive Development

✰✰✰ <level 3>   Lewicka (1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989) speaks of "standards of goodness" and "standards of badness"; certain standards indicating what kind of behaviour should be pursued and what kind of behaviour should be avoided. Czapinski (1982, 1985, 1986, and 1987) extends this with his research on the judgement of experiences, from which it is evident that, generally speaking, people have a slight "positivity bias". This means that experiences generally acquire a slightly positive emotional value rather than a zero or neutral value (except when they have a specific and very strong emotional value). According to Czapinski one can speak in the cognitive representation of the experiences of a slightly positive background field, against which the negative areas of experience especially stand out. Using these concepts, we can now say more about cognitive development. (see figure 1.4).

This figure resembles the figure which van der Molen used to depict Grof's theory of COEX-systems (see the previous paragraph), but is now further specified. The development of the cognitive system can now be described as follows.

The areas of experience with the unpleasant connotations, i.e. the areas which have not yet been properly processed and digested (- -), will raise the level of arousal and be accompanied by tension. In the telic state, the well processed areas (+ +) are attractive, because they are controllable in such a way that in the case of an emergency a state of rest can easily be achieved. For such areas we therefore have chosen the term "refuge". In the paratelic state, the not yet well processed areas will be particularly attractive, because the tension they afford will be experienced as pleasant.

Figure 1.4: Cognitive representation of areas of experience.

We assume the following: in the paratelic state the borders of the exciting areas are explored, i.e. exploration will occur in those areas that are closest to the area for which there is a "standard of badness" and where there is a relatively high chance of an arousal inducing (and thus also possibly unpleasant) experience. At the proximal level, if things go well, it is however simply a matter of (pleasant) tension and excitement. A consequence of such an exploration then is that the borders of the badly processed areas start to shift; as a result of the positive experiences, parts of the problem area are "nibbled away" and gradually change into well-processed areas. In this way the individual learns and is able to develop further. At the ultimate level we may in a way speak of a "goal" of the paratelic state, namely, "striving after" and gaining new experiences which are necessary for further development.

What then happens on the logical-cognitive level? Following the line of argumentation, the experiences should be represented in such a way that the organism acquires precise, relevant and economical schemes of the surroundings (otherwise the gain from the energy spent would not be maximized). Lewicka (1985, 1987, and 1989) concludes that we can say more about this when we make a distinction between sufficient and necessary conditions. Sufficient conditions are conditions which have to be fulfilled in order to attain a certain result. When for instance, somebody wants to boil an egg for his breakfast, a sufficient condition could look like this:

  1. Fill a pan with water.
  2. Place the egg into the pan.
  3. Put the pan on the cooker and turn on the gas.
  4. Once the water is boiling, wait for 4 more minutes.
  5. Turn off the gas and pour the water away.

When these conditions are met, the person will indeed get his boiled egg. However, this is not the only way to boil an egg: it could also for instance be boiled in an old can over a camp-fire or in a micro-wave. A (series of) sufficient condition(s) indicate(s) how a certain result can be obtained, but this does not mean that when these conditions are not met, the result cannot possibly be obtained.

A necessary condition is a condition which hás to be fulfilled; without that condition a certain result cannot possibly be obtained. A necessary condition in the example of boiling of an egg could be: "heat the egg to a temperature above the coagulation temperature of the white of the egg, just long enough for the heat to penetrate the whole egg". The way in which the egg is heated is not specified, it is in fact unimportant. Only the fact that the egg is heated for a certain period of time is relevant; otherwise it never never will become "boiled". Given the necessary condition(s) for a certain result it is often possible to lay down a varied number of sufficient conditions.

Lewicka (1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989) subsequently speaks of "necessity-oriented" and "sufficiency-oriented" procedures (behavioural strategies / -recipes). In the CEL these procedures are treated as a number of "recipes" for behaviour, belonging to a certain COEX-system which are based on sufficient or on necessary conditions. The recipes which are based on conditions (necessity-oriented procedures) are related in particular to those areas of experience which are mapped out thoroughly. The recipes which are based on sufficient conditions (sufficiency-oriented procedures) are conceptually simpler, but in general less economical, because in general more instructions and recipes are then needed and they are less well (causally and logically) integrated (see Van der Molen et al. 1991).

What happens eventually at the logical-cognitive level in the optimal case is that, starting from the experiences that exploration has yielded, an all-encompassing necessity-oriented recipe of a higher abstraction level is generated out of the initially acquired sufficiency-recipes. For this to happen it is a prerequisite that there is enough time and relaxation between such situations for the processing and integration of the new experiences. A simple example will clarify this: Imagine John is walking in a forest. He enjoys the surroundings and is completely relaxed. Every now and then he climbs a fence to walk through the pastures or through a piece of fenced-in woodland. Suddenly a horse gallops towards him from out of the wood and without thinking John starts running. Somehow he can escape and not until later he asks himself what exactly has happened. First he hesitates to enter the forest again, but after a while when he has settled down again it seems to him quite exciting (paratelically) and he resolves to constantly stay close to the fences, so that he can escape quickly should that be necessary (refuges in frightening situations). In this way John re-investigates the situation and finds out in which area of the forest the horse is and which area of the forest and which pastures he must try to avoid. Eventually, the excitement of walking is diminished, because he exactly knows where he has to be careful and why. The motivation during the paratelic phase - to explore the forest - eventually disappears because he knows it all. It has become too familiar.

In this example, John is unpleasantly surprised and at first reacts frightened upon the entire forest. But by exploring the situation a sufficiency-oriented recipe ("If I walk in the forest, a horse may gallop towards me at any given moment in time") is converted into a necessity-oriented recipe ("Only if I climb that particular fence can the horse gallop towards me"). The consequence hereof is also that John's freedom of movement has increased, for the area to be avoided is clearly reduced. This is represented in figure 1.5.

Figure 1.5 Avoidance, exploration, and reduction of an unpleasant area of experience (after positive experiences).

An area of experience which is first experienced as problematic (unpleasant in the telic phase), gradually reduces in size, as its borders are explored (in the paratelic states) and positive experiences in that marginal area may occur. At the ultimate level the aim of the paratelic behaviour is, to speak in Grof's terms, to convert as many negative COEX-systems as possible into positive ones. In other words, the aim is, among other things, to convert less efficient sufficiency-oriented recipes, connected to badly processed experiences, into highly efficient necessity-oriented recipes which are are in particular connected to well-processed and digested experiences. This means that the representations of the surroundings become more efficient and more economical.

It now becomes clear why experiences tend to result in well processed and badly processed clusters. When certain situations have been explored often enough and the experiences have been well-processed, we speak of a positive COEX-system in which skills have been learned that are applicable in different, but comparable or related situations. In such an area of experience the individual can more easily establish positive learning spirals. In a similar way badly processed experiences also tend to grow in clusters; there is a strong likelihood that the next time the individual finds himself in the same, or a similar or related situation, he will experience it as problematic. This raises the probability of telic behaviour in such situations, with the result that less exploration and experimentation will take place. In this way the individual gets caught up in a negative learning spiral in such areas of experience; new experiences cannot be used for learning, but only for strengthening and extending the existing, relatively inefficient behavioural strategies. In terms of figure 1.4 this means that, given such an accumulation of bad experiences, the cognitive representations of the refuges (+ +) remain relatively limited and small and that for the cognitive representation of the problem areas (- -) relatively broader and less efficient margins are maintained.

Figure 1.6 Safety margins in the telic state. Explanation: the dotted lines indicate the direction in which the circumference of the COEX-systems changes in the case of an unfavourable direction of the learning process.

Should necessity-oriented recipes of high precision and a high level of abstraction be absent, and relatively many sufficiency-recipes be used instead, the indicated borders in figure 1.4 are less favourable during the telic state. The refuges of well-processed areas are small because of the overly simple, badly generalizable and thus limitedly useful sufficiency-recipes, whereas for the badly processed areas, excessive safety margins are maintained. The individual's freedom of movement is then relatively limited (see figure 1.6).

In such a negative learning spiral a negative COEX-system may gradually extend via an accumulation of avoidance reactions which are principally based on sufficiency recipes. These can be generated relatively quickly, but they are also accompanied by relatively large safety margins, with the result that a relatively large area of experience is considered to be risky and scary.

7. Summary and Conclusions

✰✰✰ <level 3>   In this chapter about the Cognition-Energy-Learning model (CEL), which explains the most essential aspects of the learning process, two arguments have been put forward to support the bi-stable character of motivation. One argument refers in particular to the ultimal effect of an open-ended learning system: the accumulation of a refined and extensive behavioural repertoire. The second argument was purely phenomenological and refers to the fact that the bi-stable character of motivations indeed is reflected in the personal experience of the individual.

Subsequently, the energy dependent basis of learning was discussed. The concept of energy allocation was illustrated using a number of examples from ethology which then were applied to the CEL model. The alternating preference for a high or a low level of arousal provides two essential parts of the process of learning: on the one hand the acquisition of new and novel experiences, on the other hand the reserving of time and energy for structuring and processing this experiential knowledge. The alternation of the telic and the paratelic state guarantees that the learning process continues, every time when time as well as energy are available for other matters than for the primary necessities of life. This system thus guarantees that no surplus energy is waisted, but is utilized to increase survival value.

Experiences can be problematic or non-problematic. Depending on the meta-motivational state of an individual, an area of experience can be experienced as pleasant and attractive, or as unpleasant. In the telic state problematic areas (for which no adequate behavioural strategies exist yet) will be avoided as much as possible: in the paratelic state, however, they can be a source of (then pleasant) tension and arousal and can thus be attractive to explore. In this way the individual can glean some measure of experience in areas which are (relatively) unknown. And such experiences are a prerequisite for the development of the individual to higher levels of behavioural organization. Non-problematic areas of experience will not be sought in the paratelic state, for they do not produce arousal and are thus considered to be "boring". In the telic state however, these areas are essential for the individual in order to be able to retreat to "common ground" and to relax. Only when a certain amount of rest can be achieved regularly is the individual able to process his or her experiences optimally.

There are circumstances in which it is impossible for the ideal sequence of telic-paratelic reversals to occur, because they are too demanding. If such circumstances last too long, this will lead to the establishment of a negative learning spiral which will force the individual into stereotyped and inefficient ways of responding.

The likelihood that the negative, problematic experiences within a certain area will spread to other areas will then increase. Hence the term, the "contagiousness" of experiences. This contagiousness of experiences also applies to the positive, well processed and consequently non-problematic experiences. In a positive learning spiral, the individual continually learns new skills which can sometimes be applied to other areas of experience. In this way, the likelihood of having positive experiences increases. Contagiousness of the way in which learning experiences are processed, both in the positive and the negative direction, primarily manifests in areas of experience than are functionally related. However, the principle of contagiousness manifests also in all other areas of experience in their totality.

In the next chapter, the CEL-model will be expanded to include two other metamotivational states, namely social contacts and the emotions arising from them. By incorporating these two states, it is possible to describe and explain how the quality of social relationships influences the learning process.


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Research Reports and Prepublications on this subject

Dennen, v.d., J.M.G. & P.P. Molen, v.d. (1981), Violent Aggression as a Social Unskill: Notes on the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Polemological Institute, Rijks Universiteit Groningen (R.U.G.)

Molen, v.d., P.P. & J.M.G. Dennen, v.d. (1981), Striving, Playing and Learning: An Ethologists View on Aggression and the Dynamics of Learning in the Play and Struggle called "Life", Heymansbulletin, Dept. of Psychology, Rijks Universiteit Groningen (R.U.G.), HB-81-551-EX

Maarsingh, B. & P.P. Molen, v.d. (1990), Energie en Strokes: de Wisselwerking tussen de kwaliteit van sociale relaties en de individuele ontwikkeling, Heymansbulletin, Dept. of Psychology, Rijks Universiteit Groningen (R.U.G.), HB-90-1004-EX

Molen, v.d., P.P.; C. Dijk, v. & B. Maarsingh et al. (1990), Naar een Cognetief-Energetisch Leermodel; over de bi-stabiele organisatie van emoties en het effect daarvan op de ontwikkeling van copingvaardigheden en cognitie; een integratie van de theorieën van Lazarus, Apter, Van der Molen en Lewicka, Heymansbulletin, Dept. of Psychology, Rijks Universiteit Groningen (R.U.G.), HB-90-1012-EX