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The Psychology of Communication


1.4 The "Approach" Approach

This book is designed to set up some centripetal forces to counter the centrifugal tendencies to fly off in all directions. Each chapter takes a different logical approach to the psychology of communication (see Figure 1-4). Each approach will cast some light on the topic from its peculiar perspective. The successive overlays on the various approaches will, it is hoped, present an illuminating picture of the topic. Each approach will add an overlay so that a sophisticated portrait of the domain will emerge. The cumulative effect will be to reveal the domain in all its complexity.

The chapters in the body of the book are organized around the various logical approaches to Psycomm.

The first three approaches are presented as thesis (behaviorism), antithesis (humanism) and synthesis (interactionism). Chapter 2 (behavioristic approach) considers only input information. Chapter 3 (humanistic approach) argues that we must consider stored information as well as input information. Thus, the same stimuli can produce different responses in different people because of their different stored information. Chapter 4 (interactionist approach) argues that we must consider fedback information as well as stored information and input information. Thus the behavior of a person is determined also by the feedback from their previous behavior. Those chapters present three more and more sophisticated concepts of the person and corresponding theories of communication.

Chapter 5 (phylogenetic approach) and chapter 6 (ontogenetic approach) place psychology firmly where it belongs as the study of organisms rather than of mechanisms. In tracing development from animal to human and from child to adult respectively, they demonstrate that growth is the progressive emancipation of the organism from the tyranny of the environment. How then can you do science when, despite your rigorous controls, your subjects do as they damn well please?

Chapter 7 (pathological approach) encounters the further complexity that the nervous system can have functional as well as structural disorders. Since it is the only system which "knows" its environment, there can be disorders of person-in-environment as well as disorders within the person. Chapter 8 (phenomenological approach) deals with the further complexity that the nervous system can be viewed from the inside (experience) as well as from the outside (behavior).

Chapter 9 (simulation approach) focuses on the various attempts to simulate communication using machines, notably the computer. Chapter 10 (mediational approach) focuses on the argument that computers are better used to extend the nervous system by intelligence amplification (IA) rather than to simulate it with artificial intelligence (AI).

Chapter 11 (biological approach) and chapter 12 (sociological approach) deal with the complexities arising from the fact that the nervous system is embedded in a hierarchy of systems within systems. There are subsystems within the nervous system which is, in turn a subsystem of the person, who is, in turn, a subsystem of various social groups.

When asked to account for the success of his famous lectures, Professor Alan Goldstein of Cornell University said "I tell 'em what I'm going to tell 'em, I tell 'em, and then I tell 'em what I've told 'em." I'm telling you what I'm going to tell you here in Chapter 1 (Prologue), I'll tell you in the body of the book (Chapters 2-12), and I'll tell you what I've told you in Chapter 13 (Epilogue).

This textbook, like many textbooks, was written because I was teaching a course for which no textbook was available. Over the years while teaching the course, my lecture notes evolved into this book. In lieu of a textbook, I assigned a number of slim, inexpensive, well-written books within the domain of Psycomm. The nine books I have chosen over the years are presented in Figure 1-5. Once again, the variety of those books illustrates the ubiquity of Psycomm.

Six of those books are now out of print. Their publishers abandoned them when they could no longer be produced for a profit. This makes good sense in the business world. However, it does not make sense in the scholarly world to have access only to the books that sell. I'll try to retrieve those thrown-away books by incorporating some of their content here in this book.