Thursday, December 28, 2017

What Do Competent People (Psychologists Included) Know?

An abstract of "What Do Competent People (Psychologists Included) Know?" to be presented at the Mid Winter Meeting of The Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology,
Division 24 of the American Psychological Association.
March 2, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona.

I hope it will serve as a useful introduction to one of the core concepts in Descriptive Psychology: Intentional Action.

They allow 200 words for the abstract, so I wrote this:

"Competent action in the world of people entails having the concept of a person and knowing how people behave. Much of this is implicit. The psychologist's job is to make this knowledge explicit, coherent, and systematic. But what knowledge is required to manage social life? (A corresponding question: what must an adequate psychology account for?) Descriptive Psychology's Person Concept approaches this question by pre-empirically starting with: 1) People make sense. 2) People are what they are and not something else instead. And, 3) Don't count on people being simpler than they have to be. Implicit is the base-line expectation that people are intentional and cognizant actors able to deliberate about theirs and others behavior. This understanding, compatible with ordinary meanings of action and responsibility, is made explicit through a systematic unpacking of the Person Concept's formulation of behavior as Intentional Action. This is accomplished through a Parametric Analysis of intentional action consisting of 1) an Actor, 2) what the actor Wants to accomplish, 3) what the actor Knows or distinguishes in the circumstance relevant to what the actor Wants, 4) what the actor Knows-How to do, 5) the real time Performance of the action, 6) the action's Achievement, 7) the action's Significance and, 8) the Personal Characteristics expressed by the action. These eight parameters are expandable and locate how any behavior is alike or different from any other.  This analysis provides the teacher and clinician both a checklist of behavioral constituents, and, when relevant content is absent, where to look."

Here's Peter Ossorio's conceptualization of behavior as Intentional Action:

 Behavior = Intentional Action = < I, W, K, KH, P, A, S, PC > 

I: The Identity of the actor.
W:  What the actor Wants to accomplish.
K:  What the actor Knows, distinguishes, or recognizes in the circumstance that is relevant to what the actor Wants. (In Deliberate Action the actor recognizes different options, in Cognizant Action the actor is self-aware of the ongoing behavior).
KH:  What the actor Knows-How to do given what the actor Wants and Knows about the relevant circumstance.
P:  The procedural manner or Performance of the action in real time.
A:  The Achievement of the action.
S:  The Significance of the action for the actor.  What the actor is up to by performing the act in question.
PC:  The Personal Characteristics of the actor expressed by the action. 

I use this as a checklist to formulate questions about where to look when I am trying to understand someone's behavior  or when I am asking someone what they know about someone else. For regaining empathy, I might, for example, wonder:

1. Given their understanding of the overall circumstance, what does this person want and value? (And do we share an understanding of what the overall circumstance call for?) (The "W" parameter)

2.  What exactly do they recognize in their circumstance that is relevant to what they want and value? (And do we share a common appreciation of the situation?) (The "K" parameter)

3. What do they know how to do given what they see as their current opportunity or dilemma? (And do they have the skill or competence that is needed to successfully manage the circumstance?) (The "KH" parameter)

4. What is the significance to them of how they behave in these circumstances? (The "S" parameter)

5. What personal characteristics are they employing and what is the significance of these characteristics to them? (The "PC" and "S" parameters)

6. Can they tolerate the way I express what I understand about them?


  1. As long as the individual has the capacity to mentalize then the above may be applied....Just a thought.

    1. Yes, the implicit recognition of people as actors engaged in intentional action is central to the concept of metallization, and similarly, for empathic behavior. Thanks for reminding me of the conceptual link!

  2. Very insightful. Just wanted to thank you for sharing this