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Gene Heyman Provocation: Do people choose locally or globally?

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Gene relaunched the discussion about the dilemma of the local/global choices.   Where does this dilemma occur?  In situations in which the outcome depends on a series or pattern of behaviors.  Such as being healthy, temperate drinking, establishing a workplace of cooperation.  Gene suggests that these aren’t one-offs, but instead are accomplished via a series of events.  These he calls “dispositions”, “practices”, or “cultures” — these are habitual ways of behaving. And these patterns of behaviors interact not only with the immediate rewards but importantly affect other rewards and outcomes that are not in the moment.

The dilemma between local-global choices has several key properties:

Perceptual concreteness vs. Cognitive abstractions:  local choices are more concrete and occur in the world while global choices are more abstract and occur in one’s head.  You can create something concrete from these abstractions (which helps) but they still come from one’s mind vs. the world.

Visceral vs. airy salience: local choices have experience-based feedback (smell, feeling, etc.).  Global choices are less experience based, also more abstract.

Immediate vs delayed reward structure: local choices have in the moment rewards, while global choice rewards come later. Temporal distance is quite important — the value of a reward increases as delay to reward decreases.  Moreover, when faced with two choices in which you can get a smaller reward now vs a larger reward later, people tend to take the smaller reward now even though they would get more overall later.  Daniel: This reminds me of other decision making dilemmas, such as the tragedy of the commons in which people choose the immediate reward even though it hurts them in the long run. 

So what do people do to deal with these dilemmas? Daniel: I wonder if the trick with addicts is to get the global rewards to be more local — that is helping them make the global choices more concrete, feedback more salient, and rewards more immediate? Often times, society and culture step in to promote the global solutions — arrests, stigmas, religion, lifestyle norms, socialized self-concepts, etc..  These work because they are linked with values.  And values make the global local. Daniel: Okay, this answers my wonder above!

One of the big take-aways from addiction research is that global solutions are advantageous but motivationally deficient.  We must localize the global by establishing values that are consistent with the global. Enacting procedures that promote adoption of the values, establishing practices that promote enactment of the values. For example, service work in addiction work is a key component — gives them self pride, larger society values, Daniel: What are some examples of programs that work with addicts that illustrate these?

Daniel: I wonder what training programs can learn from effective rehab/treatment programs with addicts?  What are the elements/features of these programs in which addicts are effectively changing their impulses and habits back into their settings? 


Harvard Graduate School of Education