Controlsystems Theory

terms control theory and control theory psychology are recent names for describing the development of a body of theory based on a feedback-system model or paradigm. Control theory posits that there are self-monitoring and self-functioning systems in living organisms similar to governors on motors that prevent them from going too fast; the control aspect essentially protects the organism from itself. Other current synonymous names for this approach include cybernetic psychology, general feedback theory of human behavior, and systems theory psychology. In the area of learning and conditioning, the biofeedback principles and procedures (i.e., the process of providing an organism with information about its biological functions such as alpha waves, heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow in the extremities) exemplify control/systems approaches in both laboratory and practical settings [cf., Poiseuille 's law -named after the French physicist Jean L. M. Poiseuille (1797-1869) who verified the principle following earlier work by G. H. L. Hagen (1797-1884), sometimes called the Poiseuille-Hagen law, refers to a mathematical relationship among the variables of blood pressure, flow, and resistance]. The notion of self-regulating systems of the body is not new (cf., Bernard, 1865). However, the idea of applying the same principles to the study of the mind is relatively more recent (e.g., Ashby, 1952). Various unresolved issues confounded initial attempts to develop a comprehensive and precise feedback model, for instance, the concept of homeostasis (internal stability and balance) versus the concept of adaptation (external shaping and modifiability); that is, the dilemma was to be able to control behavior so as to accommodate both internal and external systems. Another problem was the development of mechanisms to account for integration of different feedback systems in the organism. W. Powers describes an integration theory and model involving a negative feedback control loop that consists of five elements: a feedback function consisting of a transducer/signal sensitive to identifiable environmental variables; a comparator function involving a feedback, reference, or error signal; a compatibility function between the reference and feedback signals; an error-signal discrepancy function between the feedback and reference signals; and an output function that exerts its effect upon the environment so as to make a match between the feedback and reference signals and reduce the error-signal to zero. A profound consequence of integration theory for psychology is the implication that living organisms do not control their environments by controlling their outputs; they control their inputs; that is, they control their "perceptions." Thus, according to this theoretical orientation, control over the environment results as a by-product of controlling one's perceptions. Control theory research breaks with more traditional approaches to research methodology in psychology (cf., family-systems model/theory -a paradigm emphasizing that families may be understood best via systems theory, and suggests that one conceive of the family as a complex of interrelating individuals where traits and disorders emerge based on the functionality and health of the family as a whole). Most current research in control theory is grounded in causal models where influence presumably flows in one direction, but cybernetic theory shows that the concept of cause becomes ambiguous when variables under the control of negative feedback systems are examined. Among other positive features, control theory provides a natural theoretical basis for humanistic psychology; that is, behavior originates not in stimuli from the environment but within the organism itself. See also HUMANIST THE-ORIES; GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY; ORGANIZATIONAL, INDUSTRIAL, AND SYSTEMS THEORY; REACTANCE THEORY; TOTE MODEL/HYPOTHESIS.

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