Federer versus Murray, and why I might become a behaviorist

August 16, 2014

Andy Murray loses to Roger Federer in the quarter finals of Cincinnati. Your LWD correspondent considers becoming a behavioural psychologist

Just another tennis match, [16th August, 2014] and no big deal. Except Roger Federer has just had praise heaped on him on the event of his thirty-third birthday with the implication he is nearing the end of his illustrious career. He has drifted down to World number six. Andy Murray after surgery has slumped to World number ten, and is slightly under-cooked for the US Open in a week’s time.

At the start of the match, one TV pundit favoured Murray slightly to win it. Another expert favoured Federer slightly. What happened was dramatic and unexpected.

Early exchanges

Early exchanges show Federer to be the more confident player, and he breaks to lead 3-2 and serve. Then he wins another break to take the first set. One of the worse sets Murray has played against Federer.

Second set

Federer’s play dips and Murray breaks at 2-1. Then again to 4-1. Murray strategy to Federer’s backhand side is winning. Federer’s play weaker than in the first set.

Murray drops serve and droops

Murray drops serve with weak play to 4-2. Then drops another serve with even weaker play. If I believed in momentum I would say Federer had gained it.

Murray’s play continues in increasingly predictable weak fashion, and he loses miserably.

‘Between Andy’s ears’

Peter Fleming, one of the better tennis commentators, observed for B Sky B that ‘something was going on between Andy’s ears’ , a euphemism I took to mean that Andy’s mental state was wrong. But on the previous day Andy had shown enormous concentration in defeating big serving Isner. There was no mental fragility on show.

Why I might become a behaviourist

I did not disagree with Fleming’s remark. Except it left me feeling I might give up searching for explanations of human behaviour that involved unobservable processes such as mental fragility. That is the central precept of behavioral psychology,

Fight may still be OK

If I took up with behaviourism, then I could stop worrying about mental events or processes such motivation, commitment, maybe even fright, but fight might just about be OK because like flight it is just about observable.

And, as a behaviorist I would have to abandon worry as an epiphenomenon.

Goodbye to creativity

So it’s goodbye creativity, hello to the world of stimulus and response.

My observations on this brave new world may be reported in a future blog post.

Update

August 22nd:  The Murray conundrum continues in the first round of the US open. Against a veteran opponent Robin Hasse, Murray is tentative from start and gets worse.  The serve is tentative. The play a mix of cautious and over aggressive.  Still struggles on, but wins tie break to go two sets up.

Murray then increasingly physically distressed, cramps mightily, appears to be about to default.  Hasse wins 

set, then also flags. Murray limps home after a wildly swinging fourth set.

I depart from neo-behaviorism and reach speculative view that AM is in same dire form as some English and Indian cricketers I have watched recently.  Cramp is part of a more complex set of actors.  So is first round nerves.


Guilt: a new insight into leadership effectiveness and pathologies

November 27, 2012

Guilt has been identified as factor associated with leadership effectiveness. We assess the promise of the GASP scale, and consider the absence of guilt in leadership pathologies

Citing the work of Professor Taya Cohen [image opposite], William Kremer of the BBC World Service suggests that guilt may be an under-researched factor of leader effectiveness.

Shame and guilt cultures

For background, he notes the work of American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, who as early as the 1940s identified shame cultures such China and Japan, and guilt cultures such as America:

In a 1946 study, [Benedict] distinguished between “shame cultures” such as Japan and China, and “guilt cultures” such as the US. Whereas the guilty conscience is a means of social control in individualistic societies, face, honour and ostracism have the same role in Eastern societies, including China and Korea. Although the distinction is controversial, research suggests that in some cultures shame can be a springboard to positive action. For example, one study found that Chinese managers in Hong Kong used shame to resolve conflicts, while separate research has found that US managers were more likely to use shame to punish employees.

Professor Taya Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University has looked at the correlation between guilt proneness and ethical action. Her work is directed towards understanding the role of moral character traits, such as guilt proneness, and why interactions between groups are characterized by more competition, greed, and fear than are interactions between individuals.

The GASP scale

The GASP scale has been described in the scholarly journal of personality and social psychology in an article by Professor Cohen and co-workers, Introducing the GASP scale: A new measure of guilt and shame proneness.

Another gasp

The GASP scale is simple enough to produce another gasp from traditional cognitive psychologists who would deny that anything credible can be extracted from a four item inventory. [I would argue on the contrary that the more imaginative the concept, the simpler the means needed for collecting initial quantifiable data]

Claims for the emerging research

The research suggests that leadership may be associated with feelings of guilt which are translated into actions of social benefit. I have heard variations of this from friends who acknowledge a sense of guilt instilled in them through a Catholic education.

Leaping to conclusions

I find the central idea of interest although the concept is one which risks too rapid evaluation. There is need for some thorough ‘map-making and testing’ here. Maybe Benedict’s guilt/shame distinction would be a starting point.

The absence of guilt

I find Professor Cohen’s work a refreshing addition to the leadership canon. Most of my life I have tended to dismiss guilt as a residue of social shaping and something to be overcome. However, a complete absence of guilt may be a contributing factor to the behaviour of leaders deficient in ethical judgements of their actions, and thus one explanation for the much discussed dark side of leadership.


Parental influences on leadership

July 28, 2009

Henry VIII

Henry VIII


A recent obesity study suggests that there are parental links in obese children, but not across the gender divide. Should we seek to understand the acquired characteristics of female leaders from studies of their fathers, and those of male leaders from those of their mothers?

Background

A recent research study into obesity had implications for leadership research:

There is a strong link in obesity between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, but not across the gender divide, research suggests. A study of 226 families by Plymouth’s Peninsula Medical School found obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters. For fathers and sons, there was a six-fold rise. But in both cases children of the opposite sex were not affected.
The researchers believe the link is behavioural rather than genetic. They say the findings mean policy on obesity should be re-thought.

The research has implications across a whole range of health and well-being policies and treatments. A particular implication may be as a research approach within what has become intractable ‘nature/nurture’ debates.

Are leaders ‘made or born?’. Maybe differential impact studies such as this one holds a clue. Perhaps we should seek to understand the acquired characteristics of female leaders from their fathers, and those of male leaders from those of their mothers. That feels a somewhat counter-intuitive notion, but at least it is testable.

Worth discussing further

I’m not sure where this is taking me, but look forward to discussing it with others more qualified than I am.

Image

Image is from a portrait of Henry VIIIth of England on the fromoldbooks website