C-64. Pillows and stones: Behavioral alchemy

Alchemy was primitive research. Tis a pity – no, it’s pathetic — that behavioral research is still pretty much alchemy. Thus in communication practice and research on practices (“effects” studies, such as of informative and/or persuasive messages), we take stones, throw them … and they turn out to be pillows.

Many such efforts cannot even beat chance. “Senders” come to believe they needed to have thrown harder. (“The stimulus was not strong enough.”) They still subscribe to the anti-compositional thesis of “whatever it takes.” They are blind to relevance, to the needed functionality of and for the “receiver.”

Other such efforts backfire. Consider, for example, the use of fear arousal in information campaigns. Too much fear stimulus results in audiences turning off instead of tuning in.

Researchers need to be thinking compositionally, especially of the compositional behavior of message receivers together with that of the senders. It would help enormously, of course, if both senders and receivers were themselves better equipped to think compositionally (C-59).

In research on effectiveness we need to be able to identify (distinguish by separation and description: unit and linguistic representation) all conditions that are IN and OF consequence. We need the behavioral calculus that is still missing (App. XIII). Stones are not doing it. So when we have sought to be consequential, the throwing of these stones of behavior turned into a throwing of pillows. (Little wonder that advertisers and rhetoricians preach repetition. [E.G., "Tell them what you are going to say; say it; tell them what you said.])

Composition, the process and the product, is not being well served. Chunks of behavior (i.e., stones) are available to us as “behaviors.” Behavior per se needs more. Compositional behavior needs a lot more. Each unit in and of consequence must be available to be configured, to be and become related, in order to realize the process and product of composition.

(We might designate these needed consequential units of behavior as C-units. They include relatings, relations, the related and the resultant relationships – especially the relatings [VII: functional requisites] essential to compositional behavior and change. That this designation also reminds us of the cognition, communication and compositional capabilities required is a bonus.)


Heuristically, we can approach the task of distinguishing and describing functional units within a message. We can adopt and adapt the technique of signaled stopping (SST) to the advantage of both sender and receiver for any developmental level. For example, the method calls for readers of print messages to indicate with a slash any point in the message where they find reason to stop (e.g., to reread, to ask a question, to think, to agree or disagree). Variations may include, for example, requiring those who stop to ask a question to state that question. [A very good teaching and testing-of-effort tactic.] The stopping points begin to get at the discriminated unit problem. The reasons can be helpful with respect to the description task. (With any medium, print included, many will not stop at all the first time through. They are accustomed to waiting for the “meaning to become clear”? [A testament of sorts to message stoniness?] With broadcast media this initial reluctance/inability to stop will surely need technological provisions.)

(c) 2012 R.F. Carter