Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Predicting behaviour

Behavior of people cannot be predicted with 100 % precision.

a) What causes people to behave differently in similar situations?

I think that the reasons why people behave differently in similar situations are too diverse and numerous to list here and I don’t for a minute think that I could list every single one. If I were to narrow the boundaries of this question and undertake an experiment to see the differences in how a group of people behaved in one similar situation I would try to examine the subject through either variance theory or process theory depending on which school of social scientific thought I subscribed to.

If I were to take the variance theory approach I would base my experiment on my belief that “human behaviour should be studied and explained with the same scientific methods that are used to study natural phenomena” (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). Take, for example, an experiment designed to see how a group of ten randomly selected students in a class each reacts to being offered $5 in exchange for letting me take a digital photograph of them, measured in the strength of their willingness ranging from totally willing to totally unwilling. In this experiment the dependent variable will be the reaction of each student and the independent variable will be the act of making them the offer. I would also have to define the operational definition of willingness – in this case I would see it as first time acceptance with no questions asked by the student.

Of course it can be argued that this experiment is invalid because of the combination of external factors that come to bear on the experiment have indeterminate effects. For example, one students’ total willingness may be down to the fact that he left his wallet at home and was unable to pay for a bus ticket. Another students’ total unwillingness may have been caused by the fact that she had been a victim of identity fraud and was very, very wary of her personal details. The positivism approach that my experiment takes would not be able to account for these factors.
A second approach to take would be process theory which studies how “a sequence of events, unfolding in a particular context, contribute to a series of outcomes of interest” (Huczynski & Buchanan, 2007). None of the factors external to my variance theory experiment could be considered stable and process theory takes a probabilistic view in that it attempts to show how there is a greater or lesser probability that certain combinations of explanatory factors will lead to an outcome (but it will never say the probability is 0% or 100%).
Constructivism is an alternative to the positivism idea in that it sees many elements of objective reality as being socially constructed. In the case of my experiment I would have to ask how the willingness of different students to accept my offer is socially constructed. It may be the case that if I asked another person to observe the experiment with me and rate the reactions that they may rate a student who I rated as ‘reluctant’ as ‘totally willing’. The interpretation of individuals is more important than a pre-determined operational definition, which within a constructivist world is irrelevant.

b) To what degree can we predict their behavior? Give an example of a situation in which the prediction is simple and one in which it is difficult or impossible.

Prediction of individual behaviour becomes harder as more external factors become part of the prediction. An example of a situation where prediction is simple would be this; sit a person at a desk with two overturned cups in front of them and tell them that one has a $20 note underneath it. Tell them that they can choose one cup to lift up and if the $20 note is underneath they can keep it. I think it’s pretty simple to predict that a person would choose to lift up one of the cups rather than elect not to bother – human nature is pretty consistent in its fondness for something for nothing.

I would imagine that a situation in which prediction of human behaviour is difficult or impossible is sending men into battle for the first time. There are hundreds of influencing factors that will decide how each man reacts – will they head towards the enemy, or turn and run, or try and hide; will they be calm and rational or irrational or will they go berserk.

c) Can Organizational Behavior help us to increase the probability of some predictions? Why do you think so?

After reading the introduction to the topic of Organisational Behaviour I think that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. This is because Organisational Behaviour doesn’t treat the people that make up an organisation as islands that are cut off from the rest of the world, rather it tries to understand the different aspects of the environment – political, economic, social – that may cause certain behaviour to happen. By taking this approach and removing uncertainty the probability of certain predictions will increase.

I was enthused by the section in the text on the post – modern organisation and think that this concept will increase the probability of certain predictions because it brings the workforce and those managing them closer together and therefore provides management with more information on which to base decisions. In a post – modern organisation, for example, employees are empowered to make decisions and are usually doing their job because it was something they chose to train for at college or university and therefore it is something that they enjoy doing. Management knows then that the reaction to being offered more responsibility in their chosen area of expertise for no more money will probably not be turned down. In a post - modern organisation employees’ work in small teams and the managers help and facilitate their work rather than being draconian. Concepts like being at work on time or dressing appropriately are becoming increasingly outdated and managers take an interest (and are maybe a part of) their workers private lives too. This means that managers are better placed to understand how different individuals will react to certain changes that are forced upon them.

Also, if an individual works in an organisation that responds positively to change – very elastic to borrow the term from economics – then the employee too is likely to respond positively to change. The behaviour of the organisation has increased the probability of the prediction in this case. The organisation that I work in tends to be one that attracts people because of the relative stability within. This in turn creates workers who only respond well to stability. In recent months the pace of change has been quickening and the organisation is critical of people who do not respond well to it – but this is simply a failure of the organisation to equip its people to deal with change. The behaviour of the organisation increases the probability that its workers will deal well with change by implementing more frequent change.

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