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Human agency: Does the beach ball have free will?

Motivational Dynamics
in Language Learning
Edited by
Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D. MacIntyre
and Alastair Henry
Bristol • Buffalo • Toronto
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning/Edited by Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter D.
MacIntyre and Alastair Henry.
Second Language Acquisition: 81
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Second language acquisition. 2. Motivation in education. 3. Identity (Psychology) 4.
Self. I. Dörnyei, Zoltán, editor. II. MacIntyre, Peter D., 1965- editor. III. Henry, Alastair.
P118.2.M677 2014
418.0071–dc23 2014019602
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Human Agency: Does the
Beach Ball Have Free Will?
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
The fundamental difference between the hard sciences and the social sci-
ences may not lie in the complexity of the latter, since it is possible to con-
ceive of immensely complex situations in the hard sciences as well. Instead,
the uniqueness of the social sciences might lie in people’s ability to choose
how to behave. Particles and molecules do not make choices, as their behav-
iour is predetermined and predictable by physical and chemical laws. That
such precise predictability is absent in human behaviour is a strong argument
for our ability to exercise free will through rational thought. In fact, it is the
human ability to think and make rational choices that underlies ethical and
moral judgments, for example deeming humans worthy of praise and reward
for good behaviour, and answerable for wrongdoing.
As intuitive as it might be, the above reasoning has not gone unchal-
lenged over the years. On the one hand, advances in quantum mechanics
show that precise prediction is not possible even in principle. The position and
the momentum of a particle, for example, cannot be precisely determined
simultaneously; the more precisely one is known, the less precisely the other
can be determined. On the other hand, several studies have questioned the
extent to which humans are in control of their actions and thoughts. As a
preliminary illustration, one of the most striking findings in this respect has
come from neuroscience, where one study found that the outcome of a deci-
sion could be detected in brain activity up to ten seconds before it entered
awareness, suggesting that it might be possible to predict people’s behaviour
prior to their conscious decision to behave (Soon et al., 2008). Findings in a
number of different theoretical and research paradigms have pointed to
similar conclusions, leading some scholars to view our free will as a mere
illusion (e.g. Wegner, 2002) and our behaviour as largely determined by
unconscious, automatic processes, not by our conscious deliberation (e.g.
Bargh & Williams, 2006). Other researchers have attempted to combine
quantum indeter minacy with social sciences to account for human free will
(Glimcher, 2005; Kane, 1996). The applicability of insights from quantum
mechanics to our behaviour is, however, disputed (Juarrero, 1999; Lau, 2009;
Nahmias, 2010).
Regarding the main theme of the current edited volume, a recent app-
roach to understanding human behaviour has turned to complexity theory to
find explanations for human behaviour (cf. Larsen-Freeman & Cameron,
2008). Complexity theory raises interesting questions regarding agency and
whether the individual is capable of exercising free will by choosing how to
behave. This is because one of the most common metaphors in complexity
nomenclature is ‘the beach ball’, which suggests that the behaviour of the
individual tends to be a function of the terrain and its attractors, thus con-
trolled by external factors; the beach ball does not have free will. Because
multiple, combined and integrated forces constantly affect behaviour, making
it almost never in equilibrium, it is easy to overlook the ‘agent’ and whether
one can be in charge of his/her own behaviour. This reinforces the beach-ball
view of the individual. Although most complexity theorists may not con-
sciously embrace such a deterministic view, clearly this question has not
received due attention. However, when we intend to apply complexity theory
to human motivation, it becomes a crucial issue to examine whether the
beach ball can have a will of its own. Can the beach ball, for example, make
a decision to go against the flow?
Looking at the literature in general, scholars tend to agree on gen-
eral principles on the relationship between the individual and the environ-
ment; beyond that the issue is ‘oddly divisive’ (Dörnyei, 2009: 236). Within
complexity theroy in particular, Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008: 76)
conclude that ‘it remains to some extent an open question as to how far com-
plexity theory can accommodate deliberate decision-making’. Indeed, com-
plexity theory has made substantial strides in analysing the terrain of
the system and its attractors, with much more work to be done to consider
the extent to which behaviour is governed by the various system parame-
ters and attractors. After all, the ultimate goal is not merely to describe the
terrain features but to understand their effect on behaviour. In Albert
Bandura’s (1997: 7) words, ‘Agency causation involves the ability to behave
differently from what environmental forces dictate rather than inevitably
yield to them’.
The question of human agency and free will has been the subject of
bitter debates and sharp disputes, stimulating the thought of intellectuals
belonging to diverse disciplines including Albert Einstein, Samuel Johnson,
Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Jean-Paul Sartre and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
This chapter builds on Larsen-Freeman and Cameron’s (2008) discussion of
this subject by presenting an overv iew of a number of theoretical paradigms
that have challenged the independence of human agency, followed by a
summary of the main arguments used by agency proponents to respond to
these challenges.
56 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
Agency Under Attack
Early challenges
The first attempt to strip from humans the agency of their rational
thought is represented in the psychodynamic paradigm. Sigmund Freud was
the first scientist to offer a systematic analysis of unconscious motives and
to conclude that the conflict between conscious and unconscious is not
exclusive to those suffering from mental illness, but a general structure of
the human mind, and that only a minority of our actions are based on
rational thought (cf. Rennison, 2001). Many critics disapproved of Freud’s
theory because it was considered an ‘insult’ to deeply held beliefs about the
self and reason, a standpoint that Freud himself acknowledged, but inter-
preted as ‘resistance’ and another defence mechanism not to accept this
embarrassing truth (Robinson, 1993). According to the psychodynamic
view, our conscious mind is only the tip of the iceberg, and our behaviour
is primarily motivated by early childhood experiences that lead to an
unconscious battle between the id, ego and super-ego, a battle fuelled by
the pleasure, the reality and later the death principles (Heller, 2005;
Thurschwell, 2000). It is worth noting, though, that at the heart of the
psychodynamic paradigm is the fundamental assumption that we can exer-
cise control over our behaviour, albeit indirectly, through the tools of psy-
choanalysis, such as studying dreams, free associations and Freudian slips
(Sherman, 2000).
Psychoanalysis was replaced by the positivist empiricism of the behaviour-
istic paradigm. Following David Hume’s (1921/1748) emphasis on the external
nature of constant conjunction, Watsons methodological behaviourism
rejected inner life because it is not directly observable and requires the unreli-
able method of introspection (Watson, 1913). B.F. Skinner’s radical behav-
iourism went one step further by contending that the mind was no more
than an imaginary invention, like all cognitive constructs, such as thinking,
intention and knowledge (Skinner, 1961). Our phenomenological feelings
were interpreted as ‘collateral effects of the causes’ (Skinner, 1989: 18), mere
by-products of three kinds of selection by consequences: natural selection
(genes), operant conditioning (reinforcement) and the social environment
(Skinner, 1981). In his reply to Chomsky’s (1959) review of Verbal B ehavio r
(Skinner, 1957), Skinner (1972) claimed that creativity, whether in generative
grammar or in poetry, is no more remarkable or less inevitable than a hen
laying an egg!1 The belief that humans control their behaviour was com-
pared with the belief that the wind controls its movement or that the farmer
controls which type of fruit the plant will produce (Skinner, 1978). Skinner
opposed the agentic mind so forcefully that in a speech just one day before
his death he equated the effect of cognitive science on psychology with that
of creationism on science (Skinner, 1990). Skinner accepted all corollaries of
Human Agency 57
his position, rejecting free will, punishment for transgressions and even
human dignity (Skinner, 1973).
Modern challenges
Today, the assumptions of Freud and Skinner that challenge our agency
still persist in various guises. One is the behaviour genetic paradigm, first sys-
tematically utilized in 1875 by Sir Francis Galton (Burbridge, 2001). The
most powerful design to extract genetic influences is ‘twins-reared-apart’
comparisons, limitations of which are compensated for by ‘adoptees-reared-
together’ comparisons to examine environmental effects in the absence of
genetic similarity and by non-human selective breeding to allow for random-
ization (Plomin, 1990; Plomin et al., 2001). In 1979, the Minnesota Study of
Identical Twins Reared Apart was initiated (see Segal, 2012) and found that
‘genetic variation is an important feature of virtually every human psycho-
logical trait’ (Bouchard, 2008: 69). To cite just a few figures, according to
Bouchard (2004), heredity accounts for a substantial proportion of the
variation in key human attributes, such as mental ability (around 80%),
personality (40%–50%), psychological interests (36%) and social attitudes
(65% for males and 45% for females), while environmental influences play
a far smaller role, sometimes even decreasing with age. Although genetic
influences do not usually account for more than 50% of the variance (Plomin,
1990), this magnitude is still remarkable considering that it constitutes a
single source (Bouchard & McGue, 2003), thus leaving all other influences to
share the remaining variance. These results support Skinner’s argument that
a substantial proportion of our behaviour is shaped by natural selection.
Further support to Skinner’s theory comes from the social paradigm, spe-
cifically from the structure vs. agency debate in sociology. In one extreme,
Emile Durkheim (Durkheim & Lukes, 1982/1895) challenged Karl Marx’s
philosophy and advocated the structuralist position that views human
behaviour as passively and unidirectionally determined by social structure.
The other extreme, the voluntarist position, shifts the focus to the individ-
ual, construing social structure as a result of human’s purposeful autonomy,
a position held by Max Weber (Weber et al., 1978/1922) and recently by Baert
and da Silva (2010). A compromise between these two extremes was later
reached in Anthony Giddens’s (1984) structuration theory and Pierre
Bourdieu’s (1977/1972) theory of practice. This position sees structure and
agency as having a dialectical relationship in an iterative process where the
system is ‘recursively organized’ (Giddens, 1984: 25). In this duality of struc-
ture, agents act reflexively to three sources of constraint (and enablement)
represented in ability limitations, sanctions by powerful others and struc-
tural contexts that limit the agent’s options. To draw an analogy, football
players are constrained by rules, but these rules also give players the freedom
to compete in a fair game that does not descend into complete anarchy.
58 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
Some sociocultural theorists in the second language (L2) field have
expressed similar views (e.g. Duff, 2012; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; van Lier,
2013), while others adopted a realist position (Gao, 2010; Sealey & Carter,
2004) arguing that agency and structure are independent and that their inter-
action produces emergent properties. Social psychologists working within
Henri Tajfel and his student John Turner’s social identity theory (Tajfel &
Turner, 1986) have similarly demonstrated that group affiliation has a sig-
nificant impact on a wide range of issues, including stereotyping and preju-
dice (Brown, 2010), crowd behaviour (Reicher, 2001), attitude and attitude
change (Crano & Prislin, 20 08), judgment and conformity (Jetten & Hornsey,
2012) and group motivation (Hogg & Abrams, 1993; Hogg et al., 2004). In
addition to structure and agency, psychologist Albert Bandura (1986) adds a
third component in his triadic reciprocal causation model, namely behaviour.
In addition to influencing the environment, behaviour, once it has occurred
can, in turn, have an influence back on the individual. Even the story influ-
ences the storyteller (McAdams & Pals, 2006).
In other words, ‘there is no chance that . . . [our decisions] can be discon-
nected from the social-political-historical-moral-cultural influences of our
time’ (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008: 76). That one has to constantly
navigate through all these influences indicates that human agency cannot be
understood by looking into the individual, but, paradoxically, by looking into
the social context (Dreier, 2008), as individuals cannot be completely autono-
mous (Ahearn, 2001). In fact, ‘conditioning’ is still accepted as an explana-
tion of environmental effects by some sociologists (see Archer, 2000) and
social psychologists (Bohner & Dickel, 2011), while frequency of stimulus is
seen as a key determinant of L2 acquisition at all levels of analysis, including
phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse and orthography (Ellis, 2002).
This magnitude of environmental effects lends support to Skinner’s argu-
ment that a large extent of our behaviour is shaped by the environment.
In the 1950s, the cognitive revolution supplanted behaviourism (Miller,
2003). The cognitive paradigm was largely inspired by Edward Chace Tolman’s
(1951/1932) purposive behaviourism and was a major step in reinstating the
role of mental life in human behaviour. Cognitive psychology has subse-
quently split into two routes: the microanalysis of brain functions and the
macroanalysis of the socially situated individual’s goals, expectations and
aspirations (Bandura, 2001). Proponents of both of these research avenues
agree that, contrary to behaviourism, external stimuli do not influence the
individual directly, but through how they are consciously perceived, thus
restoring the individual’s role in the causal chain. However, new strands
within cognitive psychology have started to challenge this view. Originally,
Thomas Henry Huxley (2011/1894) proposed the ‘steam whistle hypothe-
sis’, wherein behaviour is caused by molecular changes in the brain while
consciousness2 is a by-product without a causal effect. Replacing ‘condition-
ing’ with ‘automaticity’, but accepting internal processes, advocates of this
Human Agency 59
view explicitly state that they have ‘reopened the behaviorists’ hypothesis that
the higher order responses of the human being can be directly put in motion by
environmental stimuli’ (Bargh & Ferguson, 2000: 928; emphasis added).
Empirical studies, utilizing conscious and unconscious priming techniques
(for methodological reviews, see Bargh & Chartrand, 2000; Neely, 1991),
have confirmed that situational contexts have significant unintended effects:
cognitively – information-processing goals can be primed (e.g. memorise
vs. evaluate; Chartrand & Bargh, 1996);
affectively – primes influence enjoyment and self-determination (i.e.
intrinsic vs. extrinsic; Séguin Lévesque, 1999), attitudes towards goals
(Ferguson & Bargh, 2004), goal-facilitating objects (Ferguson, 2008) and
goal-facilitating people (Fitzsimons & Shah, 2009), as well as affect fol-
lowing success and failure (Moore et al., 2011) and emotion regulation
during anger provocation (Mauss et al., 2007);
behaviourally – priming increases the probability of goal pursuit and
effort exertion (Aarts et al., 2008; Holland et al., 2009) and of resumption
after interruption and persistence after setbacks (Bargh et al., 2001);
socially – automaticity extends to behavioural contagion (Chartrand &
Bargh, 1999) and even moral judgment (Agerström & Björklund, 2009).
These unconscious effects can be activated by things as simple as chair soft-
ness (Ackerman et al., 2010) or coffee temperature (Williams & Bargh, 2008).
They also occur through the same brain regions (Pessiglione et al., 2007) and
working memory capacity (Hassin, 2008) as conscious effects.
In sum, automaticity is seen as ‘a staple and indispensable construct for
the explanation and prediction of almost all psychological phenomena’
(Bargh et al., 2012: 593), accounting for 99.44% of behaviour (Bargh, 1997:
243), while consciousness has ‘no role’ (Dijksterhuis et al., 2007: 52) and ‘has
been vastly overrated; instead, it is often a post-hoc explanation of responses
that emanated from the adaptive unconscious’ (Wilson, 2002: 107). What
about our phenomenological feeling of agency? These scholars consider self-
knowledge a poor, unreliable measure, citing studies on confabulation, choice
blindness and misattribution of agency (e.g. Bar-Anan et al., 2010; Hall et al.,
2010; Johansson et al., 2005; Wegner, 2002). The magnitude of empirical
evidence supporting the effect of unconscious processes on behaviour left
some wondering whether Freud is really dead (Westen, 1999) and whether the
cognitive revolution would just be a detour to behaviourism (Mischel, 1997).
Our exercise of agency has further been challenged by other paradigms
as well. For example, random events are said to ‘rule our lives’ (Mlodinow,
2008), where accidental occurrences can become life-changing occasions.
Our free will is also constrained by hormones and other biological factors,
such as the effect of testosterone level on generosity (Zak et al., 2009) and
social dominance (Terburg et al., 2012), or the impact of diet on depression
60 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
(Akbaraly et al., 2009; Sánchez-Villegas et al., 2009) and on cognitive ability
in childhood (von Stumm, 2012) and adulthood (Kesse-Guyot et al., 2012).
The effects in all of these cases operate below the threshold of consciousness,
and therefore we are unable to control them directly. However, as discussed
below, some scholars argue that we can still exert indirect, second-order con-
trol (Bandura, 2008) by learning about these effects and behaving adaptively.
Researching these issues is therefore an instance of exercising agency.
Neuroscientifi c confi rmation
A recent, powerful confirmation to the arguments against direct agency
comes from the neuroscientific paradigm. Initially, German researchers Hans H.
Kornhuber and Lüder Deecke (1965) discovered that voluntary action is
preceded by bio-electrical activation in the brain, which they termed
Bereitschaftspotential, or readiness potential (RP). This finding did not seem par-
ticularly remarkable until 20 years later when Benjamin Libet and colleagues
(1983) found ‘somewhat puzzlingly’ (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008: 76)
that RP precedes even the conscious intention to act. They concluded that
‘voluntary’ action is actually initiated unconsciously. Threatening as it is to
free will, this conclusion attracted severe criticism on methodological (Klemm,
2010) and philosophical (Dennett, 2004; Mele, 2009) grounds. Experiments
also questioned whether RP represents a decision to act (Trevena & Miller,
2010) and whether introspection is a reliable measure of decision time (Banks
& Isham, 2009). Nonetheless, more refined replications confirmed the original
findings (Haggard & Eimer, 1999; Matsuhashi & Hallett, 2008). Other studies
predicted which hand the participant would move 10 seconds before this deci-
sion enters awareness (Soon et al., 2008) and used direct recordings from single
neurons with more than 80% predictive accuracy (Fried et al., 2011), the latter
being the most accurate approach in contemporary neuroscience (Haggard,
2011). In all of these cases, the participants’ decisions were predicted before the
participants themselves were aware they would make those decisions, leading
some to conclude that we confuse correlation with causation in the relation-
ship between our sense of agency and our actions (Wegner, 2002), and that full
awareness of agency may even be ‘postdicted’ by the individual after action
has been unconsciously initiated (Guggisberg et al., 2008). Neuroscientist John-
Dylan Haynes wonders, ‘How can I call a will “mine” if I don’t even know
when it occurred and what it has decided to do?’ (cited by Smith, 2011:
24). Further, transcranial magnetic stimulation can induce participants,
unbek nownst to them, to choose which hand to move (Ammon & Gandevia,
1990) and, recently, this non-invasive brain stimulation was found to improve
numerical competence (Cohen Kadosh et al., 2010) and other arithmetic skills
(Snowball et al., 2013) with effects observed as long as six months later!
On the negative side, disruption to brain functions can have unwanted
behavioural consequences. In addition to the famous Phineas Gage, whose
Human Agency 61
personality reportedly changed after a freak accident that destroyed part
of his brain (see Fleischman, 2002; Macmillan, 2000), brain tumours have
been blamed for criminal behaviour, such as indecent conduct (Goldberg,
2001) and paedophilia (Burns & Swerdlow, 2003; see also Mobbs et al.,
2009), as well as more extreme disorders, such as the alien hand syndrome
(e.g. Assal et al., 2007). These findings raise the question of whether our
behaviour is controlled unconsciously by our neurons. Yet, it is argued, we
can exercise agency through consciously ‘vetoing’ the execution of impulses
initiated unconsciously (Libet, 2003, 2004; though see Lau, 2009) by imple-
menting a ‘neural brake’ mechanism (Filevich et al., 2012). Furthermore,
this process, dubbed ‘free won’t’, is not the only function of consciousness,
because consciousness is an emergent property that also exerts top-down
influence, complementing the unconscious bottom-up influence (Bandura,
2008; Gazzaniga, 2012). Finally, this counterargument assumes that the
unconscious initiation of action discovered by Libet is generalizable from
the simple finger movement examined in those laboratory studies to all
human behaviour, and cannot be explained away by skill automation
(Bandura, 2008).
Agency Fights Back
The previous sections have presented in some detail a range of powerful
arguments and positions that go against the grain of traditional motivation
research by claiming that the antecedent of human behaviour is not ‘motiva-
tion’ conceived as an attribute of which people are always aware. We have
seen some potential counterarguments, and in the following such arguments
will be further explored in an attempt to suggest some possible interim posi-
tions. Generally, those who adopt pro-agency views argue that the agent,
given the same present situation and the same past events, ‘could have done
otherwise’. They are usually open to accept that certain factors may play a
role in our behavioural choices, but maintain that these factors merely influ-
ence them, as opposed to entirely produce them (Nichols, 2008). ‘Your genes,
your upbringing, and your circumstances may predispose certain behaviour
tendencies. But ultimately it is you who decides and who bears responsibil-
ity’ (Myers, 2008: 32–33).
In an attempt to address the issue of agency head on, Baumeister et al.
(2011) embarked on the task of answering what at first seems an obvious
question: do conscious thoughts cause behaviour? In order to establish cau-
sality, these scholars reviewed various carefully selected lines of research
that involve random assignment to experimental manipulations, such as
imagining, mental practice, implementation intentions and anticipation. In
support of the agency view, their results showed that conscious causation
of behaviour is ‘profound, extensive, adaptive, multifaceted, and empirically
62 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
strong’ (Baumeister et al., 2011: 351). Agency proponents will certainly be
delighted by this conclusion, but the disparity between this pro-agency con-
clusion and the wide range of anti-agency findings outlined above raises
several questions.
First of all, these two viewpoints need to be reconciled. In their article,
Baumeister et al. (2011) realised that the role of conscious thought is not as
direct as might be intuitively assumed, but offline and indirect: ‘Nothing
indicated motivations originating in consciousness – instead, conscious
thoughts interacted with existing motivations’ (Baumeister et al., 2011: 351,
emphasis added). Put differently, in many situations, our agency seems to be
represented not in our direct control of behaviour, but in our ability to resist
an unconscious impulse or to select from multiple competing impulses.
These resistant and selective roles of conscious behaviour still affirm our
agency, and by extension our moral responsibility, albeit in an indirect fash-
ion (cf. Juarrero, 1999; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008). This indirect view
of agency supports a duality within human nature; while on the one hand
the terrain with its multiple influences disposes behaviour towards one direc-
tion, on the other hand agentic behaviour requires conscious evaluation of
these tendencies and vetoing what is deemed maladaptive.
The second question raised by the disparity of the agency-related
findings is how consciousness can exercise its agentic role. That is, even if we
accept the mediating influence of consciousness, we still need to explain
the mechanism by which this agentic capacity is achieved. As Bargh and
Ferguson (2000) argue, construing consciousness as an ‘uncaused cause’
reverts to a Cartesian dualism, which maintains that the mind is a non-
physical entity (e.g. a soul) that is excluded from the causal order governing
the body; in order to study consciousness scientifically, we must presuppose
that it follows the physical laws of our universe. Complexity theory offers
one solution that explains conscious free will without violating physical
laws. Philosopher Alicia Juarrero (1999) maintains that modern philosophy
is based on Aristotle’s (mistaken) contention that cause must be external to
its effect. Instead, Juarrero asserts that an alternative to external cause is
‘self-cause’. That is, complex systems allow emergent properties, and these
properties can have qualitatively different functions. Consciousness is seen
as an emergent property that exerts top-down control on behaviour.
The third question concerns who can have this agentic ability. Is every-
body capable of it? There seem to be at least two essential prerequisites. The
first prerequisite is that one needs to believe in free will (Csikszentmihalyi,
2006). For example, research suggests that belief in determinism can lead to
unethical behaviour through yielding to enticement (Vohs & Schooler, 2008).
Contrary to philosophers who are interested in the abstract concept of free
will and its existence, Dweck and Molden (2008) also argue that what people
believe constitutes a psychological question whose answers construct dif-
ferential psychological realties. This is because the laws of our universe
Human Agency 63
referred to above also include human nature and how people view themselves,
and this is at least partly self-constructed. To support their view, Dweck and
Molden (2008) review diverse lines of research showing that self- theories – as
fixed or malleable – have a direct and unequivocal effect on behaviour, atti-
tudes and motivation. They conclude that ‘personality is, in many ways, a
highly dynamic system in which (changeable) beliefs can create a network of
motivation and action’ (Dweck & Molden, 2008: 58) and that ‘people’s self-
theories have a cascade of effects on their personal motivation, as well as on
the ways they judge and treat others’ (Dweck & Molden, 2008: 47).
The second prerequisite is that agentic capacity requires becoming cog-
nisant of the factors that influence one’s behaviour. Awareness of the effects
of unconscious primes may override and disrupt unconscious impulses
(Bargh & Chartrand, 2000; Wegner & Bargh, 1998). Group affiliation, for
example, may lead to prejudice automatically, but the realisation of this sus-
ceptibility would help one monitor one’s behaviour and hopefully avoid the
prejudice trap. People may shape their own destiny by learning about the
factors that influence them. Agentic exercise of conscious thought can thus
have a causal impact on behaviour (for a review, see Baumeister et al., 2011)
and, therefore, it is a false dichotomy to ask whether conscious or uncon-
scious thought causes behaviour; it is the interplay between the two
(Baumeister & Masicampo, 2010; Nordgren et al., 2011). For this reason, psy-
chological experiments typically involve an element of deception for fear of
nullifying the independent variables under examination; allowing the par-
ticipants to be conscious of the actual hypothesis prior to the study is con-
sidered ‘a scientific prohibition’ (Bandura, 2007: 655). Even covert, nonverbal
communication from the experimenter can bias the participants’ perfor-
mance (Rosenthal, 2003).
In other words, the emergent nature of consciousness seems to allow one
to exercise agency by recycling and reprocessing one’s knowledge of the
system in order to reshape the boundaries of the system and change its tra-
jectory. This illustrates the nonlinearity of the system; the same situational
input (the terrain) can have divergent outputs depending on one’s expertise
and attentiveness to input particulars. This conceptualisation is compatible
with the First Law of Thermodynamics (cf. Juarrero, 1999), which states that
energy is always conserved, cannot be created or destroyed, and can only be
converted from one form into another. That is, consciousness does not have
to be an uncaused cause, but a reorganisation of existing knowledge. Fate, we
may argue, is not dictated by the terrain, but by whether one resists, or yields
to, it. In fact, it is probably this capacity to resist attractive attractors that
makes humans unique. If our behaviour were solely a product of the terrain,
looking back and feeling proud about one’s achievements would become
An example of this agentic achievement should make the point clearer.
A vivid illustration comes from research on psychological resilience.
64 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
Resilience is defined as ‘the maintenance of positive adaptation by individu-
als despite experiences of significant adversity’ (Luthar et al., 2000: 543).
That is, some individuals are able to sustain normal functioning in situations
of extreme stress, significant threat, severe adversity and trauma (Cicchetti,
2010), and can actually thrive after these aversive events (Bonanno, 2004).
Such cases might be more interesting than cases where an individual follows
the expected trajectory by succumbing to a negative attractor basin and
consequently developing, say, mental disorders or other psychopathologies.
Initially, theorists assumed that such cases are exceptional, but recent
empirical studies have shown that resilience is actually the most common
response to potential trauma (Bonanno, 2005). Although it might be tempt-
ing to thin k of resi lience as an individual difference trait, resilience researchers
have forcefully challenged such a view. These researchers argue that resil-
ience is not ‘in’ the person (Masten, 2012: 208) or something that an indi-
vidual ‘has’ (Cicchetti, 2010: 146). Instead, they stress that resilience emerges
from the dynamic interaction of multiple factors, internal and external to the
individual, that have differential effects depending on time and context.
Furthermore, like in so many other areas, researchers have been able to
discover specific genes that appear associated with resilience. Kendler (2006 )
argues, however, that the expression ‘X is a gene for Y’ is misleading, because
it implies a causal relationship that is strong, clear and direct, while in fact
genes play a contributory role working in concert with a host of other fac-
tors. Indeed, recent findings dispute the direct causal role of genes suggest-
ing that:
there is much more scope for a single gene to have multiple diverse
actions. But, even more basically, this dynamic process forces one to
reconceptualize just what is meant by a gene. These new findings in no
way undermine the evidence of the crucial pervasive importance of genes
but they do undermine any notion that genes are determinative in a
simplistic fashion . . . (Rutter, 2006: 151)
Going back to the original question of whether the beach ball has free
will, the above overview is consistent with Larsen-Freeman and Cameron’s
(2008: 76) assertion that ‘we can marshal some substantial support for a
positive answer to this question’ and with Juarrero’s conclusion thatWe are
not passive products of either the environment or external forces. In a very
real sense we contribute to the circumstances that will constrain us later on
(Juarrero, 1999: 253, emphasis added). This position is moderately optimistic
as it rejects both the extreme view that we have absolute control over our
behaviour, and the other extreme that our behaviour is entirely ruled by
Human Agency 65
unconscious processes and external factors. Although past research has con-
firmed several behaviourist claims, investigations also point to our ability to
exercise agency indirectly through top-down control (e.g. Baumeister et al.,
2011; Windmann, 2005). This conclusion, however, also compels us to make
an important distinction between the beach ball and the individual in rela-
tion to attractors. While the ball gravitates towards various attractors, indi-
viduals can agentically repel themselves from certain others. As demonstrated
in resilience research, this ironic process – repelling from attractors – is not
uncommon and requires ordinary rather than extraordinary abilities, hence
its nicknameordinary magic (Masten, 2001). Motivational theorising
within a complexity framework has paid little attention to this repellent
process to date and has instead focused on the expected trajectory of indi-
viduals gravitating towards attractors. However, potentially introducing
agency into the genes–environment debate, conscious repellent processes
certainly deserve more attention in future research.
I would like to thank Zoltán Dörnyei for his extensive discussion and
feedback on this topic. I also thank Diane Larsen-Freeman, Peter MacIntyre
and William C. Peterson for their comments on an earlier draft.
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I received a reprint from the journal Language. It was the review I had seen, now
reduced to 32 pages in type, and again I put it aside. But then, of course, Chomsky’s
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72 Part 1: Conceptual Summaries
... Scholars have called for a reappraisal of CDST in order to account for the role of learner agency (Hoorie, 2015;Karimi-Aghdam, 2016;Larsen-Freeman, 2019). They argue that the current conceptualisation of CDST overplays the role of the interaction of underlying variables, while underplays the role of learner agency in determining L2 WTC. ...
... According to CDST, learners' L2 WTC is determined by the underlying sub-structure, that is, interaction between underlying psychological, contextual and linguistic variables. It tends to imply that learners are passive subjects of the structural changes rather than active agents capable of shaping their own L2 WTC by intervening in the process of communication (Hoorie, 2015;Karimi-Aghdam, 2016;Larsen-Freeman, 2019). For instance, talking on CDST's beach ball analogy, Hoorie (2015) argues that while the beach ball enters and leaves attractor and repeller states depending entirely on the constellation of external factors, human agents can exercise their agency to resist entering into these states. ...
... It tends to imply that learners are passive subjects of the structural changes rather than active agents capable of shaping their own L2 WTC by intervening in the process of communication (Hoorie, 2015;Karimi-Aghdam, 2016;Larsen-Freeman, 2019). For instance, talking on CDST's beach ball analogy, Hoorie (2015) argues that while the beach ball enters and leaves attractor and repeller states depending entirely on the constellation of external factors, human agents can exercise their agency to resist entering into these states. Therefore, it has been proposed to conceive of learner agency as a dialectical phenomenon subject to both internal, i.e. free will, and external factors, i.e. environment. ...
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Willingness to communicate in a second language (L2 WTC) is a speaker’s voluntary engagement in communication using a target language. WTC has undergone several conceptualisations over the past twenty years or so. The aim of the current article is to present a narrative review of the major conceptual developments in research on L2 WTC. First, the article discusses the strengths and limitations of the major conceptualizations of L2 WTC, i.e. MacIntyre et al. pyramid model, Wen and Clement Chinese conceptualization, and Kang’s situational model of L2 WTC. Second, the article presents the basic features of the complex dynamic systems theory (CDST) and discusses how it serves as a meta-theory with immense explanatory power to encompass the complex, dynamic and non-linear behaviour of L2 WTC. Finally, corresponding to a CDST construal of L2 WTC, the paper discusses some of the methodological developments and possible directions for future research. The article aims to contribute to language teachers’ and teacher educators’ awareness of the complex and dynamic nature of L2 WTC and provide future researchers with an alternative theoretical framework and corresponding methods to study L2 WTC.
... Task engagement is enacted by and embodied through the learner. Consequently, it is also necessary to focus task engagement research on the agent (or agents) who are exercising intentional actions that contribute causally to the learning outcomes (Al-Hoorie, 2015). Tasks provide the spatiotemporal contexts that allow learners to optimize their learning and decide whether and in what ways to engage their resources in completing a task. ...
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Task-based approaches to L2 instruction have become de rigueur in many learning contexts, and learners routinely encounter tasks in the course of regular L2 instruction. The reality of many instructed L2 contexts is that the same task or sequence of tasks can provoke varying responses when presented to students within the same group or classroom. Engagement is a useful lens for L2 researchers seeking to understand how and why individuals focus on, interact within, and learn from tasks. Task engagement can vary across students who are doing the same task, even if that task is highly stimulating. In addition, there may be important differences in how individual engagement manifests among students who have the same overarching level of engagement; these differences have implications for L2 learning and for researching tasks. This chapter is divided into three parts. In the first part, we define task engagement and provide a brief overview of existing work on the topic. As our review shows, task engagement represents the level and quality of a learner’s integrated mental and physical activity, as well as their affective experience, within a task. In the second part, we compare task engagement with task motivation, another framework for looking at students’ involvement in TBLT. We emphasize that task motivation can be thought of as either a precursor of task engagement or as the by-product of engaging in a task. We end our chapter by suggesting ideas for task engagement research that treats individuals’ task engagement as a holistic, situated, adaptive, and momentary phenomenon. Our position is that confusion in understanding task engagement may arise when macro-level information (i.e., general engagement tendencies in a collective of learners across a course of task-based language learning) is used to capture micro-level insights about the time (momentary), task (an individual task), and agent (the individual learner). In response, we propose ways to reconfigure the unit of analysis and the level of granularity at which task engagement is conceptualized, observed, and measured.
... At the same time, the study of human and social systems-whether those systems exist in the physical or the symbolic social domain-always implicates agency, whether this is 6 individual or collective, contingent or essential (Al-Hoorie, 2015;Larsen-Freeman, 2019). ...
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This chapter has two broad objectives: first, to provide an accessible introduction that will aid readers in understanding the central concepts of complexity theory; and, second, to examine the utility of complexity theory as a robust conceptual framework for empirical research-particularly in the lives of language teachers and the work they do. I begin this chapter by examining the principles underlying the theoretical perspective of complexity, considering how this framework encourages scholars to view the world and its phenomena, and detailing how complexity theory has been used by other disciplines. Then, by extending the recent work of Larsen-Freeman (2015, 2017), I explore some of the key intellectual ideas and theoretical tools that are on offer from the complexity perspective and relate these to existing work in the field of teacher motivation, autonomy, and development. Finally, I transition into looking at the endeavor of teacher-related research from within this conceptual framework in order to establish the ways in which complexity theory might inform transdisciplinary research in the discipline, and how it can assist in plugging gaps left by conventional research paradigms.
Over the past 15 years, Research in the field of second language learning motivation has been dominated by the second language (L2) motivational self system, conceptualizing motivation as a combination of the ideal L2 self, ought-to L2 self, and L2 learning experience. Despite the analytical strength demonstrated by the self components of the L2 motivational self system, the influential role of the L2 learning experience component is still in need of greater elucidation. Using a hybridized Research approach combining a complex dynamic systems (CDS) perspective with dramaturgical coding and poetic inquiry, we unpack a Japanese undergraduate student's L2 learning experience. Taking the learner as both a complex system and a situated actor, key themes are identified and explored as attractor states. Humanizing what can often be an impersonal perspective, dramaturgically framed poetic inquiry is seen to add analytical power to the CDS perspective and afford its artistic and evocative representation.
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In the 19th century, Donders (1868/1969) argued that although psychologists could not directly observe mental processes, they could still infer them through performance speed in response to different stimuli. Donders described several experiments reporting different latencies depending on, for example, whether an object was placed to the right or left and whether the participant was using their right or left hand. A century later, researchers started investigating automatic stereotypes (Gaertner & McLaughlin, 1983) and automatic attitudes (Fazio et al., 1986) through sequential priming tasks. In a sequential priming task, the participant is first presented with a prime stimulus (e.g., Pleasant) and then with a target stimulus (e.g., Rose). The participant is to make a quick decision regarding the second stimulus (e.g., to classify it as Flower or Insect). A priming effect occurs when the similarity between the two stimuli makes the response speed faster than if the first prime stimulus was, for example, Disgusting.
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Purpose: Even though research on teacher wellbeing has recently generated considerable interest in the field of teacher psychology, investigations of the subjective wellbeing of ICLHE teachers remain relatively scarce and have not found their way into teacher development. It is therefore worth investigating whether teachers in tertiary education struggle or flourish in their role as ICLHE teachers, what factors appear to diminish or enhance their wellbeing and how teacher development can address these factors. Design/methodology/approach: Based on a nation-wide study on the subjective wellbeing of Austrian CLIL teachers in primary and secondary education, data for this paper were generated from ten semi-structured interviews with ICLHE teachers who discussed their ability to cope with the spate of new tasks and to remain optimistic despite the emotional and social demands they have to face. The findings below are the result of a thematic analysis following procedures laid out by Braun and Clarke ([2006] “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3 (2): 77–101.). Findings: Our study shows that teachers manage the challenges of having to teach in English better if they perceive their work as rewarding, have a strong social network and see a clear purpose in their work. It seems that particularly in tertiary education, goals, motivation and possibly prestige connected with ICLHE help reduce the impact of stress and other challenges. Originality/value: Based on our findings, we developed a combined Interactive Balance Model for Managing Wellbeing which offers a feasible avenue to explore individuals' positive psychological resources. We hope that this model will provide a framework for effective ICLHE teacher development.
Guided by a dynamic systems theory framework, this study observed and investigated how the motivation of students learning interpreting changed during an undergraduate English-Chinese interpreting course, with the aim of delineating, if any, typical trajectories. Nine students submitted anonymous reflective learning logs five times to yield qualitative data; one of the nine participated in an in-depth interview. All the data were coded and analysed on the basis of grounded theory. The findings revealed the intra- and inter-individual variability in terms of motivational dynamics, which constantly evolved and interacted with a variety of factors. For these students, high motivation in the initial conditions did not guarantee stable performance later. Throughout the study, the students self-organised into different attractor states under the influence of various internal and external elements. For them, an encouraging teacher led to increased motivation, whereas deeply ingrained diffidence eroded it. Two swing factors, which refer to factors that either strengthen or weaken motivation, were mid-term exams and practice. Furthermore, an archetype of a strongly motivated student was identified and discussed at length, thereby adding another piece of jigsaw to the broader picture of motivational dynamics in second language acquisition. The conclusions drawn from the present study are expected to enhance the understanding of teachers and researchers about the intricate nature of language-learning motivation, especially for interpreting learning, and the encompassing potential embedded in dynamic systems theory.
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Ce travail est une recherche-intervention transdisciplinaire se situant principalement dans le domaine de la didactique des langues. Son objectif est d’observer le rôle que jouent les émotions sur le développement des compétences d’apprenants japonais qui pratiquent des jeux de société en français langue additionnelle. Dans cette recherche, une perspective énactive de l’enseignement-apprentissage des langues a été choisie. Cette perspective prend en compte la pluralité des individus qui sont présents dans les dispositifs pédagogiques, ainsi que l’importance de leur vécu et de leurs interactions avec leurs environnements. Ces éléments nous concernent également, en tant que personne issue d’un environnement culturel différent de celui de ses apprenants, disposant en outre d’une expérience d’enseignant du français au Japon. Dans ce travail, l’influence des émotions sur les comportements d’étudiants de première année de l’Université de Tokyo a été observée quand ils jouaient à des jeux de société entre Japonais ou avec d’autres publics étudiant en France, afin d’analyser ce qui pouvait les aider ou les bloquer dans leurs prises de parole ou leur production de discours. Après que les étudiants japonais ont joué entre eux, puis avec des étudiants en France, nous avons organisé des entretiens individuels dans le but de confronter nos premières analyses des comportements des étudiants pendant les parties de jeu avec leur vécu et leur ressenti. Cela nous a permis d’affiner nos analyses pour mieux comprendre les émotions qu’ils ont pu ressentir et pour les aider dans le développement de leurs compétences langagières en français langue additionnelle, ce qui n’est pas une tâche simple mais relève de la complexité au sens de Morin. En effet, il nous semble nécessaire de reconsidérer la place de l’enseignant et ses rôles dans des dispositifs d’enseignement-apprentissage des langues additionnelles dans des environnements culturels variés et pluriels. L’analyse de l’ensemble des données a ainsi permis d’identifier des constantes et des variables qui évoluent selon certains facteurs psychologiques ou sociaux, plus ou moins propres à chaque étudiant.
This chapter provides a realist take on complex dynamic system theory, or CDST, and its insightful contributions to the study of society and social change. It highlights some of the most important concepts used in CDST-informed research, considers CDST’s general understanding of complexity, emergence and causality, and summarizes CDST’s interesting yet underdeveloped view of agency. It closes by identifying some of CDST’s weaknesses and areas in need of further conceptual development. The work in this chapter will then serve as the basis for a discussion of CDST-informed AL research in the following chapter.
The field’s current understanding of L2 motivation is largely reliant on explicit self- reports (e.g. questionnaires and interviews). While such means have provided the L2 motivation field with a wealth of understanding, the underlying assumptions are that such attitudes take place in a conscious manner and that such representations are adequate. Recent developments have discussed these limitations and have called for a more in-depth and holistic understanding of the motivational psyche of L2 learners (e.g. Al-Hoorie, 2016a; Dörnyei, 2020). This thesis seeks to address this research lacuna by arguing for the inclusion of an implicit dimension into L2 motivation research, using the case of Hong Kong as an illustration. This thesis is first made up of a systemic literature review which provided an empirical understanding of the unprecedented boom in published studies that occurred between 2005 – 2014. Studying the dataset that was made up of 416 publications allowed for an understanding of the L2 methodological and theoretical trends in the literature. While there were several key findings from this empirical review, specific to this thesis, the most significant lies in the identification of the lack of an implicit dimension in the field. Consequently, this shaped the premise for this thesis, namely to set forth the case for a subconscious dimension of L2 motivation research. The selection of Hong Kong as a research location was motivated by its unique linguistic landscape. In order to better understand the situation, a qualitative pilot study that sought to determine Hong Kong’s viability as a location for unconscious motivation research was carried out. The qualitative results show that indeed, Hong Kong is loaded with ethnolinguistic tension. Regarding the participants’ attitudes towards the three languages, Cantonese was found to be synonymous with the Hong Kong identity and English was seen as a superior language that was associated with prestige and professional opportunities. In comparison, Mandarin held little relevance to the participants’ everyday lives. Upon further investigation, it was found that Fear of Assimilation was the main reason behind the participants’ lacklustre attitudes towards Mandarin. Overall, this qualitative pilot study offered an insight into the complexities underscoring Hong Kong’s unique, and loaded, linguistic environment; confirming Hong Kong’s suitability as a research location for this implicit line of research.
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How do human beings decide when to be selfish or selfless? In this study, we gave testosterone to 25 men to establish its impact on prosocial behaviors in a double-blind within-subjects design. We also confirmed participants' testosterone levels before and after treatment through blood draws. Using the Ultimatum Game from behavioral economics, we find that men with artificially raised T, compared to themselves on placebo, were 27% less generous towards strangers with money they controlled (95% CI placebo: (1.70, 2.72); 95% CI T: (.98, 2.30)). This effect scales with a man's level of total-, free-, and dihydro-testosterone (DHT). Men in the lowest decile of DHT were 560% more generous than men in the highest decile of DHT. We also found that men with elevated testosterone were more likely to use their own money punish those who were ungenerous toward them. Our results continue to hold after controlling for altruism. We conclude that elevated testosterone causes men to behave antisocially.
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The nature of free will is a philosophical issue; whether people believe they have it is a psychological one; and whether people actually have it is in the terrain in between. This chapter shows how people's self-theories - their conceptions of human qualities as fixed or as malleable - create different perceptions and experiences of free will. Interestingly, these different perceptions mirror those of different philosophical traditions. The chapter then shows how self-theories lead people to different psychological solutions for issues allied with free will, such as issues of moral responsibility and blame. How much free will do people actually have? The debate has often turned on whether the physical laws of nature allow for free will. To a psychologist, this seems surprising. Thus, the chapter ends by proposing that the issue of free will may, at least in part, turn on questions of human nature and how best to conceive of it.
This monograph reports on a longitudinal inquiry into mainland Chinese undergraduates’ language learning experiences in an English medium university in a multilingual setting with a focus on their strategic language learning efforts. This book examines the issue as to what extent language learners’ strategic learning efforts depend on their ‘choice’, if ‘the element of choice’ is the defining characteristic of language learners’ strategic learning behaviour. The inquiry, using a qualitative and ethnographic research approach, reveals dynamic interaction between learners’ agency and contextual conditions underlying the participants’ strategic learning process. Such understanding informs pedagogical efforts to foster individual learners’ capacity for strategic learning and their capacities in opening up and sustaining a social learning space for exercising their strategic learning capacity or utilizing their strategic learning knowledge.
This chapter shows that genetic variation is an important feature of virtually every human psychological trait and must be taken into account in any comprehensive explanation (theory) of human behaviour. It begins by discussing the mistaken but widely held belief that 'genetic variance' is an indicator of the biological or evolutionary unimportance of a trait. It then turns to the role of quantitative genetic methods in modern biology. Application of these methods across a very large number of quantitative characteristics of an equally large number of species leads to the conclusion that almost all quantitative characters are heritable. This truism is illustrated for the major domains of normal human individual differences: mental ability, personality, psychological interests, and social attitudes. It is shown that compared with effects in social psychology, ecology, and evolution, as well as psychological assessment and treatment, known quantitative genetic influence on human psychological traits should be considered large in magnitude. The argument that ' there are no genes for behaviour' is refuted using 'clockwork'genes as an example. Using the example of corn oil, it is also shown the fact that finding genes for a quantitative character can be very difficult. The chapter concludes by pointing out that molecular genetics will not replace quantitative genetics; rather, the two levels of analysis will fit together seamlessly.
This chapter distinguishes several dimensions of the problem of free will. The descriptive project aims to characterize our everyday notions of choice and responsibility, and to discern the origins of these notions. Psychology is obviously critical to this descriptive endeavor, and there is some evidence that everyday notions of choice are indeterministic. On the substantive project, the goal is to assess whether our everyday notions of choice correspond to the way the world really is. It is argued that psychology is not currently in a position to show directly that determinism is true, however psychology might show that the belief in indeterminist choice is poorly founded. The goal of the prescriptive project is to decide how we should respond if we find that our everyday beliefs in free will are unjustified. Psychology has an important role to play here too, in exploring the potential consequences of revising our everyday practices.
Psychotherapy in Everyday Life shows how clients employ therapy in their daily lives. The varied and extensive efforts involved in this are systematically overlooked in therapy research. The book shines important new light on processes of personal change and learning in practice. More generally speaking, it launches a theory of personhood based on how persons conduct their everyday lives in social practice. This approach and many of the book's findings are of immediate relevance for understanding other fields of expert practice.