Summary. Social traps are situations in which individuals take rational (and often egoist) short-term decisions that, however, lead to negative collective results in the long-term. Some psycho-(logic) traps involve an isolating and limiting view on available behavioral choices. Because everyone needs to feel competent to take future action, the failure trap lets people deny their potential for further learning and engage in task-irrelevant actionism. The sunk cost fallacy is such an example in which, due to already made investments, there is a reluctance to change the unsuccessful course of behavior. Most social issues are not unfortunate events; they have to do with whether we base our solution design on observations rather than assumptions, and whether we accept our duty to act as if we trusted others, although there is always evidence for peoples untrustworthiness. Rather than limiting our fight for survival on individual competition, we can act as institutional entrepreneurs, guiding groups, and societies towards a better future.
Learned helplessness and some psychological disorders
Dogs who experienced repeatedly unavoidable electro shocks learned that they have no control over escaping from such painful events , and henceforth developed a cognitive deficit in the form of generalizing the helplessness expectation to other situations . This phenomenon is also considered reduced incentive motivation . Mental patterns of learned helplessness (LH) resemble those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which associate with depression . LH is mentioned as the animal correspondent of depression . Indeed, LH was found to be a primary cause of both PTSD and major depressive disorder (MDD) . Depression includes the symptoms of feeling helplessness, but it is not its (sole) source. Non-depressed people can learn helplessness as well. Interestingly, ‘normal’ people may over-optimistically assess their level of control and therefore less likely notice uncontrollability as more realistically reasoning individuals with depressive tendencies do .
For what could appear as inappropriate passivity in refugees who are not seeking help and not filing timely registration from the new government, for example, can be explained by LH theory. Survivors of traumatic persecution have learned that they cannot expect help from their violent or passive government, an uncontrollable fact that caused the learning of helplessness that now is applied to the new country’s government as well . LH is characterized by attributions that are more personalized, constant, and of global nature and is directly associated with more severe PTSD and MDD symptoms. The relative importance of a situation to a person’s identity is further mediating this relationship . This way, LH explains why a persecuted refugee may not display the knowledge of pro-actively managing the required legal administration even in a new context that would, in contrast to the former learned one, offering help to do so .
Related theories and hope
Towards the end of the last century, the finding that hopelessness can lead to depression caused researchers like Seligman to re-focus from helplessness to hopelessness and finally to a hope-promoting view that was intended to prevent helplessness and related pathologies of hopelessness depression . For individuals who assume a performance-oriented motivation, prompts of hope and self-esteem are important to let them believe in their ability and become actively engaged, e.g., in learning and other challenging tasks. In contrast, according to goal achievement theory, subjects with a mastery-(learning-)orientation behave actively regardless of their degree of self-confidence. . Models of regulation posit that learners self-regulate (i.e., manage, monitor, and motivate) their resources either towards process or achievement goals . However pronounced and efficient these strategies may be though; the effects of hope finally beat any deficits in self-regulation .
A more positive outlook on relationships reduced the detrimental correlation between PTSD and dysfunctional goal orientation such as performance-avoidance. While mastery development is achieved through social comparison, performance-avoiding students see peer comparison as a threat. Therefore, motivation to get help and to learn can be increased by the adoption of a social-cognitive framework that is supportive of a positive relational outlook fostering help-seeking experiences .
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Content. (1) Individual embodiment of increasingly global social contexts, (2) Globally influenced mediation of learning, (3) Extension of the proximate to a collaborative zone of development, (4) Integrating differences for rich and demanding learning opportunities
Human interactions don’t lack technical but rather cooperative communication skills. The good news is that pro-social behavior can be learned. Collective argumentation is one means to scaffold learners’ engagement in group work. Also, the negotiation of values is vital for achieving a shared sense of agency and accountability between teachers and students. In computer-enabled learning, consequential engagement in the form of enabling equitability and showing the benefits beyond single contributions, as well as using game formats are promising pathways to progress cooperation in learning environments.
Content 1. Development of agentic power, 2. Forethought, intentionality, reactiveness, and self-reflection, 3. Collective efficacy: shared belief in agency, 4. Applied collective agency
Introspection as the scientific method had to give place to behavioral psychology in the nineteenth century , which opposed mentalist approaches to the study of associative mechanisms in learned behavior  with rigorous observable laboratory experiments and animal behavior training as performed by B.F. Skinner  (Figure 1.). Associationists like E. Thorndike believed in biological processes which construe memory in the form of neuronal connections in the brain . Reinforcement, for example in the form of dopamine rewards, was considered necessary feedback for learning enablement . Today there is substantial evidence that learning can happen without this kind of reinforcement though . The classical conditioning (Figure 2.) through basic physical stimulation proven too simplistic, Ivan Pavlov introduced a second system allowing for linguistic inputs too . L.S. Vygotsky considered language as a requirement for the human ability to analyze the world by cognitively separating real-world objects from related conceptualizations . Signs and symbols allow a shared subjectivity, e.g., between teacher and student . Verbal animal behavior is studied to find roots for the development of human language sophistication .
Figure 1. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Quadrant
Figure 2. Pavlov’s classical conditioning
Cognitive Approach to Learning
Noam Chomsky criticized that animal verbal behavior might follow different principles that wouldn’t allow generalization attempts to human behavior . The lack of real-life conditions in the laboratory environments and the difficulty to repeat animal experiments in wild life , ethical constraints in animal research limiting invasive practices , utterly operant-mathematical approaches, and an over-emphasis on language opened the way towards cognitive approaches beyond the study of language . The negligence of instinct’s role, as proven by Konrad Lorenz to be relevant for imprinting mechanisms in learning (Figure 3.), also brought behaviorism into critique . Vygotsky’s developmental method of research of the human species was re-discovered . Around the same time, after the mid of the twentieth century, Jean Piaget’s schema theory (Figure 4.) introduced the concepts of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration as the developmental cognitive principles of his influential genetics based philosophy .
Figure 3. Konrad Lorenz’ Imprinting
Figure 4. Piaget’s Schema stages
After 1980, intelligence, especially Howard E. Gardner’s multiple intelligences (Figure 5.) (but also, Robert J. Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence , as well as his personality characteristics related to thinking styles ), were taken into account in education programs . Autonomous learning raised from Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (Figure 6.) noticing that human behavior is about willful and context-dependent mental processes . Innate needs for competence, as described by Skinner , and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory further contributed to the motivational aspect of learning .
Figure 5. Gardner’s multiple intelligences
Figure 6. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory
Piaget and Vygotsky both construct human development holistically from transactional, relational, and situational thinking perspectives . Such a constructivism also implies that education is about active learning rather than teaching , putting the focus on human growth experience instead of economic principles . Vygotsky with his socio-cultural approach to psychological development (Figure 7.) is, in my opinion, best reflecting Plato’s principle of “the meaning of the world is embedded in the experience of the world” (p. 399) reminding us that the theory of learning remains a dynamic and context-sensitive science going forward .
Figure 7. Vygotsky’s Socio-cultural approach
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I have already argued that psychology should be taught instead of history, and that kind of un-learning and de-culturation would complement the strategy to reduce shared group hatred and separation in favor of more compassionate oneness with all and everything. It was always known that traveling and cross-cultural exchanges are mind-opening and enriching experiences that are often even dramatically changing one’s world view. As Third Culture Kids (TCK) show, it takes in fact a bit more, but only little more than around three years of living between cultures during the formative years to become a world citizen in the sense of not being socially conditioned and limited to a specific culture . With global communication and mobility possibilities today we could use that old wisdom to implement ‘world citizenship’ programs to educate a truly locally AND globally caring generation that helps promoting peace and well-being for anybody from far and wide.
Don’t be a frog, and enjoy the following story:-) :
THE CHINESE HAVE AN EXPRESSION FOR THE LIMITED WAY ALL OF US LEARN TO SEE THE WORLD: jing di zhi wa, meaning “frog in the bottom of a well.” The expression comes from a fable about a frog that has lived its entire life in a small well. The frog assumes that its tiny world is all there is, and it has no idea of the true size of the world. It is only when a passing turtle tells the frog of the great ocean to the east that the frog realizes there is much more to the world than it had known.
All of us are like that frog. We grow up as members of a culture and learn, through direct and indirect teaching, to see the world from the perspective that becomes most familiar to us. Because the people around us usually share that perspective, we seldom have cause to question it. Like the frog, we rarely suspect how big and diverse our human species is.
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Predominance of responsibility at the individual level rather than at the societal-level
Floridi (2016) is pointedly describing the issue around the distribution respectively diffusion of responsibility as “everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s responsibility” (p. 11). He suggests a framework that is recommitting responsibility for any action of a collective back to the individual by rejecting the concept of faultless responsibility, i.e., even when an individual would lack intention or information regarding the immorality of his action (Floridi, 2016). Ralston et al. (2014) found that the individual level determines ethical behavior rather than the societal level. This may be surprising when considering, for many psychological explanations often defining, the influence of culture and society. One possible explanation could be that there is an increasing variety of values within a single culture (Ralston et al., 2014). One type of collectivist setting, however, was found to be influencing ethical behavior, namely institutional collectivism (Ralston et al., 2014).