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date: 20 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The understanding that behaviors are shaped by their usefulness toward attaining valued ends underlies many theories of how personality traits interact with aspects of a situation. This chapter suggests how functional explanations of behavior can be more rigorously formalized through the use of functional fields, which can be regarded as a marriage of ideas within Lewin’s (1943) field theory with modern causal modeling techniques (e.g., Pearl, 2009). We illustrate how functional or process variables can be understood as forces which concern real and perceived causal relationships between features or objects within a situation, and detail how such forces can be understood as functionally mediating the effects of other situational influences on behavior. We discuss how functional fields can reveal how individuals characterize actions, objects, people, and situations in abstract terms (e.g., cooperative, assertive) and actively structure their situation to aid in the attainment of their goals.

Keywords: functional fields, functionalism, expectancy-value models, causal models, field theory, expected utility models, goal models

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