Toward a goal-directed explanation of suboptimal behavior

Practical information
30 September 2019
11:30am- 1pm

ENS, room Ribot, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


Dual process models of behavior causation distinguish between (a) a stimulus-driven process in which a stimulus activates the association between the representation of stimulus features and the representation of a response  (S-R) and (b) a goal-directed process in which the values and expectancies of the outcomes of one or more behavior options are weighed before an action tendency is activated (S:R-O → R). I propose to embed the goal-directed process in an action-control cycle in which discrepancies between goals and stimuli can be reduced via behavior (i.e., assimilation), via a change of goals (i.e., accommodation), and via reinterpretation of the stimulus (i.e., immunization). Dual process models vary in their view of the interplay between stimulus-driven and goal-directed processes: In the traditional, default-interventionist architecture, the stimulus-driven process is the default determinant of behavior, including suboptimal behavior, whereas goal-directed processes can occasionally intervene to produce more optimal behavior. I propose and alternative, parallel-competitive architecture in which the goal-directed process competes and wins from the stimulus-driven process and is therefore the default determinant of behavior (e.g., Moors, Boddez, & De Houwer, 2017). In the latter architecture, suboptimal (and seemingly suboptimal) behavior stems from (a) sand in the wheels of the goal-directed cycle, or (b) biased competition between several goal-directed processes, and (c) stimulus-driven processes that escape competition from a goal-directed process. Our research agenda is to (a) work out the theoretical details of the alternative model further, (b) test the model empirically, for instance, by examining whether behavior that is traditionally explained as caused by a stimulus-driven cannot be better explained by a goal-directed process, and (c) examine the heuristic value of the model for understanding and changing suboptimal behavior in various applied domains (e.g., psychopathology, weakness of will, environmental behavior, emotional behavior).