Behavior and Decision Making Theories

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The viewpoints that we will consider in this article are related to the developmental position in many ways. Both groups, for example, recognize the impact of physical inheritance, family, school, and the developmental years. There is, at the same time, significantly different accentuation on the learning process, goal orientation, and factors influencing choice. We will consider the positions of John Krumboltz, as representative of the behavioralists, and H. B. Gelatt and Martin Katz as decision-making theorists.

Krumboltz (1976) recently proposed a social learning theory of career decision making. He identifies four kinds of factors that influence career decision making; these include the following:
  1. Genetic endowment and special abilities. Krumboltz recognizes that certain inherited characteristics can be restrictive influences on the individual, as Tiedeman similarly identifies biological constitution. Some illustrative examples are race, sex, and physical appearance. There are also some other factors where inheritance, at least in part, may set limits: these include various special abilities such as intelligence, musical and artistic ability, and physical coordination.

  2. Environmental conditions and events. This factor includes those influences that may lie outside the control of anyone but which bear upon the individual through the environment in which the individual exists. Some influences may be man-made in the broadest sense and others may be due to natural forces. These human or natural elements may cause events to occur that also bear upon the individual in the educational and career decision process. Examples of influences of this type include existence of job and training opportunities, social policies and procedures for selecting trainees or workers, rate of return for various occupations, labor and union laws and regulations, physical events such as earthquakes and floods, existence of natural resources, technological developments, changes in social organization, family training experiences and resources, educational systems, and neighborhood and community influences.

  3. Learning experiences. All previous learning experiences influence the individual's educational and career decision making. Recognizing the extreme complexity of the learning process, Krumboltz identifies only two types of learning as illustrative examples. These include instrumental learning experiences and associative learning experiences. He describes instrumental learning experiences as those situations where the individual acts on the environment to produce certain consequences. Associative learning experiences are described as situations where the individual learns by reacting to external stimuli, by observing real or fictitious models, or by pairing two events in time or location.

  4. Task-approach skills. The skills that the individual applies to each new task or problem are called task approach skills. Examples of these include performance standards and values, work habits, and such perceptual and cognitive processes as attending, selecting, symbolic rehearsing, coding, and so on. The application of these skills affects the outcome of each task or problem and in turn is modified by the results.
Learning Experiences

Krumboltz sees the individual as constantly encountering learning experiences, each of which is followed by rewards or punishments that in turn produce the uniqueness of the individual. This continuous interaction with learning experiences produces three types of consequences which Krumboltz labels as self-observation generalizations, task approach skills, and actions. A self-observation generalization is an overt or covert self-statement that evaluates one's own actual or vicarious performance in relation to learned standards. The generalization may or may not be accurate, just as one's self-concept may or may not coincide with the concept others have of an individual. Task approach skills are thought to be efforts by the person to project into the future self-observation generalizations in order to make predictions about future events. They include work habits, mental sets, perceptual and thought processes, performance standards and values, and the like. Actions are the implementations of behavior such as applying for a job or changing a major field of study. The behavior produces certain consequences that affect behavior in the future.

In summary, we see an individual, born into the world with certain genetic characteristics such as race, sex, physique, and special abilities or handicaps who, as time passes, encounters environmental, economic, social, and cultural events and conditions. The individual learns from these encounters, building self-observations and task approach skills that are applied to new events and encounters. The successes and failures that accrue in these encounters influence the individual in choosing courses of action in subsequent learning experiences, increasing the likelihood of making choices like previous ones that led to success and avoiding choices like those that led to failure. The process is complicated by aspects of instability, since the individual changes as a result of the continuous series of learning experiences, and the situation also changes because environmental, cultural, and social conditions are dynamic.

Several authors have proposed models of vocational decision making. These are reviewed and compared in an excellent article by D. A. Jepsen and J. S. Dilley (1974). We will consider briefly only two of these positions, one suggested by H. B. Gelatt and one by Martin Katz.

Gelatt (1962) and Clarke, Gelatt, and Levine (1965) draw upon the earlier work of Bross (1953) and Cronbach and Gleser (1957) to develop a theoretical model for vocational decision making. Emphasis is given to a developmental approach rather than a single event by stating that decision making is a series of decisions in which each one influences subsequent decisions as well as some previously made decisions. Since decisions may relate to events of the immediate future, the intermediate future, or the distant future, all of those relating to the last two groups are subject to influence by decisions made before those events come to pass. Gelatt sees the major function of guidance and counseling services as that of turning potentialities into realities, and this, he thinks, can best be accomplished by building decision-making skills.

Predictive System

As Bross (1953) had suggested, Gelatt sees the individual processing information to produce a course of action or decision. The process involves a predictive system (a system to assess the possible alternative actions, the possible outcomes, and the probabilities), a value system (a means of weighing the desirability of different outcomes), and a decision criterion (a way to integrate and select an appropriate action). The three steps are seen as occurring in cyclical fashion to produce a decision that may be to collect further data; or to an outcome that changes the situation, the strategy, or the objective; or an outcome that achieves the purpose. Using this system leads the individual to consider wider ranges of alternatives and possible outcomes and to weigh the desirability of those possibilities not previously contemplated. The decision is a good decision when the decider is willing to accept responsibility for the consequences.

Clarke, Gelatt, and Levine (1965) describe four types of information to be processed by the decider. These include the following:
  1. Information: Alternative actions. This includes information about those courses of action that are available to the individual.

  2. Information: Possible outcomes. This carries the above alternatives to considerations of their results or consequences.

  3. Information: Probabilities linking actions to outcomes. Since each alter-native course of action can likely lead to several distinct outcomes, one must estimate the probability of each action producing each possible outcome. Some will be certain but most will involve risk taking and uncertainty. Complicating the situation further is the existence of branching points within the various alternative courses of action that in turn may carry differing probabilities.

  4. Information: Preferences for the various outcomes. The decider must be able to determine the desirability of each outcome. Outcomes may be instrumental in that they in turn make other, subsequent outcome; possible, or they may be intrinsic and be satisfying in their own right.
This approach suggests that the individual is better able to direct self-development toward desired outcomes if he or she can understand the possible sequences of experiences that lie ahead. This understanding includes the nature of the courses of action, the major branching points, the factors that bear upon the directions at the branching points, and the associated probabilities.

Katz (1963, 1966, 1969, and 1973) proposes a model that has special significance because it has since served as the basis for the System for Interactive Guidance and Information, a computerized system considered by many to be one of the most sophisticated in present use. The unique aspect of Katz's viewpoint is the preeminence given to values, a matter to be dealt with before considering alternatives, information, and probabilities.

Value System

Katz also accepts a developmental position that emphasizes that one is continually involved in one decision after another, with each decision influencing both subsequent and previously made decisions. Using self-concept as a major basis in career development, Katz contends that an individual's value system is the main aspect of that self-concept and thus the major force in decision making. While Gelatt et al. listed information about preferences for various outcomes as the last type of information processed in decision making, Katz contends it must be the first to be considered, followed by an information system and a prediction system.

Early consideration of alternatives or probability of outcomes is largely wasted effort, Katz maintains, since the significance of each will vary from person to person. The individual should first come to some understanding of his or her values. This requires consideration of influences that have been exerted by family, church, peers, socioeconomic status, and similar factors to produce the existing pattern of values, and also comparison of the individual's pattern to the patterns of others. Helping the person to identify and define these values, work through these perceptions rationally, and apply them to making a choice becomes the primary aspect of career decision making.

Although the boundaries and characteristics of values are still largely unexplored, there are starting points that permit progress. Katz points out those even simple systems of arbitrary lists such as money-income, power-authority, stability-security, adventure-excitement-change, provide satisfactory bases for further consideration. In any given decision, Katz believes, the number of pertinent values is usually small, involving perhaps four to six factors. Each of these factors can be divided into convenient segments, for example, desired annual income can easily be put in terms of range of income.

Values differ in significance not only from person to person, but also within the individual. Thus the person must be aware of the different weights he or she ascribes to the values considered pertinent. Katz proposes that some overall total weight be used, for example one hundred points, and each value can then be assigned a proportionate share of this total weight to reflect the significance carried by that value.

After the individual clearly understands his or her value system, it is appropriate to view the options or alternatives as part of the information system. At this point, the person is concerned with identifying the "strength of return" offered by each option or alternative. In other words, to what extent does this option offer a payoff most compatible with the values espoused? Often "hard" information about such payoffs is unavailable, and only "soft" estimates can be used. The individual often will need help in assessing the quality of the information.

Finally, the prediction system is used by applying regression equations or expectancy tables to determine the likelihood of success in each option. This probability of entry or success can be combined with the value return to produce a combination of what Katz labels expected value for each option. Major difficulties in applying this system relate to unavailability of hard data for both identifying "strength of return" and "likelihood of success." Limited but significant progress has been made in both areas, although it tends to remain patchy and incomplete. For example, many colleges and universities have developed "likelihood of success" data for various programs based upon SAT scores, high school rank, grade in a relevant early course, or similar data.

Tentative Generalizations

The various positions or theories we have considered approach the topic of career choice from several different frames of reference; some are based on specific personality theories, others almost totally ignore personality formation, some are concerned with human development throughout the lifetime, and others focus on a specific period. There are, of course, many other fundamental differences among them.

Since the positions have been developed from differing bases, there is considerable risk in attempting to mix them together. Nevertheless, there are some generalizations on which several writers appear to agree. The reader is already aware of several common threads that tie many of the positions together.

The following tentative generalizations are proposed as reflecting a synthesis of ideas drawn from many of the theorists. Each reader is encouraged similarly to develop a personal synthesis of career development theory. This author suggests the following:
  1. The career development process is an ongoing, lifelong aspect, human existence.

  2. Since the process is essentially developmental in nature, it generally predictable but also can be modified by changing circumstances, even to the point of being reversible as the individual attempts to optimize the benefits and satisfactions derive from the worker-job relationship.

  3. Individuals have differing patterns of abilities, interests, and personality. These characteristics are influenced for parental attitudes and behaviors, the impact of other role models, and the experiences that make up the life of the individual.

  4. Occupations also have differing patterns of characteristics required or expected of successful workers. In most situations, some accommodation of variation is possible using a "band concept" identifying the tolerable limits for most successful participants.

  5. The extent to which a person develops and applies his or her unique pattern of individual characteristics depends on attitudes motivations, and values. These patterns can be approached for either the basis of psychological need or the development of self concept. They impinge on the individual's perception of reality (now) and possible reality (future) and probably determine the extent to which the individual responds to existing opportunity

  6. The individual learns about jobs and their relationship to the individual specifically and to society generally from many sources, including the family, peer groups, community, school media, and the planned and unplanned experiences of everyday life. The attitudes toward and knowledge of work developed in the growth, exploration, and crystallization periods of childhood and adolescence will have lasting influence on the worker job relationship of the adult years.

  7. The optimization that the individual seeks in the worker-job relationship is the product of the interaction between the individual (including abilities, interests, personality, values, and so on) and the realities of his or her situation (including economic conditions, opportunity, and chance factors of either positive or negative value). The ability and desire of the individual to capitalize on these interactions influence the level of optimization.

  8. The degree of satisfaction experienced by the worker (either the extent to which the individual's self-concept is implemented or psychological needs are met) is largely determined by the extent to which the potential for optimization is apparent to the individual and is viewed as agreeable and acceptable.

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