Friday, June 5, 2015



The phenomenal field

First, "all behavior, without exception, is completely determined by and pertinent to the phenomenal field of the behaving organism."  The phenomenal field is our subjective reality, the world we are aware of, including physical objects and people, and our behaviors, thoughts, images, fantasies, feelings, and ideas like justice, freedom, equality, and so on.  Snygg and Combs emphasize, above all else, that it is this phenomenal field that is the true subject-matter for psychology.

 all their behavior will follow as a reasonable, meaningful, purposeful response to the person's phenomenal field.

One motive

Snygg and Combs' understanding of motivation:  "The basic need of everyone is to preserve and enhance the phenomenal self, and the characteristics of all parts of the field are governed by this need."  

The phenomenal self is the person's own view of him- or herself.  This view is developed over a lifetime, and is based on the person's physical characteristics (as he or she sees them), cultural upbringing (as he or she experiences it), and other, more personal, experiences.

Note that it is the phenomenal self we try to maintain and enhance.  This is more than mere physical survival or the satisfaction of basic needs.  

And note that we are talking not only about maintaining, but about  enhancing  the self.  We don't just want to be what we are.   We often want to be more.   Snygg and Combs' basic motivational principle contains within it Alfred Adler's ideas about compensation of inferiority and striving for superiority, Abraham Maslow's self-actualization, and all sorts of related concepts.

We become "more," according to Snygg and Combs, by means of  differentiation,  a process that involves pulling a figure out of a background.  

Learning is not a matter of connecting a stimulus and a response or one stimulus with another or even one response with another.  Learning is a matter of improving the quality of one's phenomenal field by extracting some detail from the confusion, because that detail is important, is meaningful, to the person.

The example shows how nicely the theory applies to both developmental and social psychological issues.  As children and as adults, alone or in the presence of others, we maintain and enhance our sense of who we are by refining and re-refining the differentiations we make.

Applied psychology

Snygg and Combs address clinical concerns by adding the concept of threat.   Threat is "the awareness of menace to the phenomenal self".  Ideally, the threat is met with appropriate actions and new differentiations that enhance the person's ability to deal with similar threats in the future.

Snygg and Combs also pay a lot of attention to education, and meaning is their favorite term here.  Learning occurs when the differentiations involved have direct relevance to the individual's needs, that is, when learning is meaningful to that individual.

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