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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 17

The Behavioral Occasion*

By R.J. Rummel

The longer thread of life we spin,
The more occasion still to sin.
----Robert Herrick, Long Life

Our perception of another person is linked to our behavior toward him, but in what way? We may see him consistently through time as, for example, a brilliant German sociologist, ambitious, hardheaded, and conservative. Yet, if he is a colleague we meet often, our behavior toward him may vary from discussing an abstract idea to serving him a ball in tennis or sharing food with him in our home. Clearly, for behavior to so vary in relation to a consistent perception, what I call a Situation, something is intervening.

Why do we shake another's hand, smile at him, ask him to lunch, and the like? It is usually in response to some specific situation, such as his behavior, or some situational cue. Or we may just decide for some aim, purpose, goal, that is, for some reason, to do something regarding him.

Whether stimulated by another's behavior, situational cues, or our reason, when we behave toward another, our actions are guided by our stable perception of him. Except perhaps when we are at our most calculating, we unconsciously and automatically tailor our behavior toward another to fit the relative mold our psychological field has made of him. This linkage between our stable perception of the other person and our changing behavior is evident, if not entirely clear. Our varying behavior toward the other person can be activated in a variety of ways, but once activated our perception of him guides our action. The problem is now to fill in this first rough sketch.

From the previous Chapter 16, we know that we perceive others as a directed distance from us. How can we fit whatever activates our behavior toward others into this picture? First, let us look closer at whatever stimulates this behavior. Now, our behavior can be the effect of a cause, the response to an action, the outcome of a condition, the implementation of a motive, and so on. In all these cases, there is an occasion for action, whether an entirely mental reason or an external situation. I have already discussed one kind of occasion, the trigger event (Section 15.4 of Chapter 15), which is the excuse for a change in behavior. Occasions in general, however, may simply stimulate routine behavior, as someone's "hello" or "how are you?"

An occasion for behavior must be apprehended within our dynamic field. Of course, unconscious reasons, causes, and conditions may influence us, but these will operate as forces within the dialectical process culminating in our perception of the Situation and occasion. For example, because of our perception of another person we may see his intended joke as a slur on our character or an unforgettable insult. Or we may see an innocent invitation from another person to present our ideas to his friends as an attempt to publicly embarrass us. It must be remembered, therefore, that what we apprehend is the conscious tip of a submerged working out of deeper motives, anxieties, meanings, and the like.

Within our perception an occasion will itself be a situation, a combination of percept and concept, of manifests and latents. What I call an occasion is only a particular type of mental situation, a bundle of dispositions and powers which comprise the immediate reason, cause, and condition for behavior toward others. Like all objects of the mind, we apprehend occasions as stable structures of dispositions. We offer our hand to a stranger who offers his, for the perceived outstretched hand is a cultural disposition with much social meaning. We know that if we put our hand in his, he will pump ours up and down, and that this is a cultural basis for exchanging some pleasantries.

Figure 17.1

The situation which is the occasion for our behavior toward another is, as are all situations, located in our psychological field; and it is apprehended in relation to our perception of him. In other words, and using again our notation, the situation appears in some kind of relationship to j's distance vector to i, as shown in Figure 17.1a. To show this relationship in more appropriate detail, consider now Figure 17.1b. Remember from Chapter 16 (Figure 16.2) that i is a vector in our field along with a vector associated with situation alpha, and that j must also be a vector in this same field. Consequently, i's dynamic field at the moment that situation alpha is an occasion for behavior toward j is a configuration of vector relationships, of relationships between disposition and powers, the most salient being that between alpha and the distance vector shown in bold lines in Figure 17.1b.

We are again at the point where the meaning of a relation requires specificity. The distance of j from i in Figure 17.1b is a composite of the separate distance vectors of j from i on each of i's personality components. These distances are potential psychological forces1 on i's behavior toward j, only awaiting activation and direction. They define i's behavioral dispositions among a range of behavioral potentials, as will be described later. For example, our loved ones are particular vector distances from us on our personality components. Each of these distances is a potential force toward a particular role such as father or ambassador, toward a particular temperament, toward sex, and so forth, requiring only a particular excuse, a specific context, or a particular situation for activation.

In a particular situation, only one or two of those potential forces may be brought to psychological life, and then only partly. At a party, for example, our urge to tell a person "to go to hell" may, under the circumstances, eventuate in mild sarcasm. In other words, what weights the forces--the distance vectors pushing us to behave in a particular way is the occasion stimulating our behavior. This situation weights these forces in the same way that situations weight our personality components. A black doctor and a white farmer, by the differences in their race, status, temperament, motivations, and subculture, will be driven, at the least, toward ignoring each other and, at the most, toward antagonistic interaction. Yet, the occasion of a medical emergency will wash out all differences and only weight the doctor's role components and the patient's security drives. Diplomats or heads of state may grow to like each other personally, enjoy each others' company, have similar interests and attitudes, and find themselves mutually close in their psychological spaces. Yet, the occasion of conference time, negotiation time, bargaining time, or summit time will weight mainly their role components, possibly leading them as representatives of their states to wrangle most antagonistically. There is no need to continue these examples, because we are all personally aware of how our behavior toward friends or enemies or loved ones can vary with context.

Although occasions weight perceived distances, I have yet to specify the nature of this weighting. Here the psychological relationships are similar to that of situations weighting i's personality, except that now we are dealing with a distance vector on the personality components. That is, occasions weight directed distances as a vector product.2 Remember that the directed distance from j to i in i's psychological field is a composite of the distances between them on each of the components of i's psychological space, and that similarly, the occasion alpha that is located in i's space also has projections on each of these personality components. Thus, the weighting is the sum of the products of the distance from j to i on each component and these projections. More specifically, the function f(d, ) for individual i is,

Equation 17.1:

fi(d, ) = i1d1(i-j) + i2d2,(i-j) + i3d3(i-j) + ..., + iUii

where alpha i1 is the projection of the occasion vector on the first personality component, d1,(i-j) denotes the perceived distance from j to i on the first personality component, and U denotes the unique components and i's will. It must be noted that alpha and d are latents, as discussed in Chapter 9, and that the function is a simple weighting of two different latents according to Equations 10.2 (Chapter 10) and 14.1 (Chapter 14).


* Scanned from Chapter 17 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1 . By psychological force I mean the manifestation of an underlying power within the psychological field.

2. See Chapter 14, Note 2.

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