The Process of Feedback

    Unless it is willfully made otherwise, everything in life, left to itself, goes from a state of order to disorder (Wiener, 1964).  When a machine is put into motion, it is not requisite that the machine should be expected to perform the same function, with the same precision, forever.  Eventually, the machine will begin to decrease in precision with greater and greater oscillations.  To insure that the machine can maintain accuracy, the machine needs to be equipped with the ability utilize feedback (Wiener, 1964). 

     “The control of a machine on the basis of its actual performance rather than its expected performance is known as feedback” (Wiener, 1964, p. 24). To equip a machine with feedback capability, the machine needs to be able to 1) perform a function, 2) have a sensor that measures the actual performance of the function, and 3) have the sensor connected to motor members that can correct the function when it has missed the intended mark (Wiener, 1964). 

Feedback with People

    Wiener (1964) believed that machines and humans both operate using feedback.  “In both of them, their performed action on the outer world, and not merely their intended action, is reported back to the central regulatory apparatus” (Wierner, 1964, p. 27).  Feedback with humans, as with machines, is imperative in daily functioning.  A person who is born deaf has difficulty adjusting their pitch when speaking because of their impairment in receiving feedback (McGarr & Osberger, 1978).  Likewise, a person who is blindfolded has difficulty walking in a straight line, due to their inability to register visual feedback ( Souman, Frissen, Sreenivasa, & Ernst, 2009).

    The feedback process with people can also be divided into three parts:  1) a message being sent, 2) sensory messages returning to the sender that let the sender know what message was actually received, 3) correction made by the sender to adjust for the difference in intended message received and actual message received.  Despite its corrective function, feedback does not ensure that adjusted accuracy will be performed perfectly.  When messages are sent and received there is always a degree of information that is lost (Wiener, 1964; Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967).  The loss of information decreases the ability of perfect adjustment. 

    Not all sensory mechanisms are equal in performance.  Some have a greater ability to receive and interpret messages than others.  Some people have a greater ability to hear tones in speech and music than others.  This inhibits or enhances their ability to recognize feedback nuances in pitch changes (Patel, Foxton, & Griffiths; 2005).  Differences in visual perception inhibits or increases a person’s ability to utilize feedback in playing sports, such as basketball, where perceptual discrimination is needed (Laurent, Ward, Williams, & Ripoll, 2006).  

Open and Closed Belief Systems

    Differences in reception and interpretation of feedback increase or decrease the ability of a person to utilize the information.  Some of the feedback a person receives will be lost in transmission.  Despite the loss in transmission, the person will still be required to interpret the information.  Information understood, by itself, cannot be interpreted without a belief system to interpret it with (Rokeach, 1960).  Some belief systems are more open than others.  A belief system that is open has a greater ability to receive and utilize information than a belief system that is closed (Rokeach, 1960; von Bertalanffy, 1969; Ehrlich, 1961; Davies, 1998; Rokeach, McGovney, & Denny, 1955).  The belief system operates under what Rokeach identified as three dimensions (1960).  The three dimensions are accumulatively open or closed (Rokeach, 1960).  

Belief-Disbelief Dimension

     Rokeach (1960) identified the first dimension as a belief-disbelief system.  The belief-disbelief system is asymmetrical, meaning that disbelief is not simply the direct opposite of a belief. "The belief system is conceived to represent all of the beliefs, sets, expectancies, or  hypotheses, conscious and unconscious, that a person at a given time accepts as true of the world he lives in.  The disbelief system is composed of a series of subsystems rather  than merely a single one, and contains all of the disbeliefs, sets, expectancies, conscious  and unconscious, that, to one degree or another, a person rejects as false (p. 33) ."

    Rokeach (1960) hypothesized that the belief-disbelief system differentiates between the degrees of acceptable and inacceptable information.  The more open a system is, the more it can acknowledge similarities between one message and another (Powell, 1962; Rokeach, 1960).  The more closed a system is, the more it groups information into categories of dissimilarities and excuses similarities as irrelevant (Powell, 1966; Rokeach, 1960).  Furthermore, in a closed system, evidence toward similarities is denied or excused (Rokeach, 1960). 

Central-Peripheral Dimension

        The second dimension that people use to interpret the feedback is the central-peripheral dimension (Rokeach, 1960).  This dimension delineates between central (more unmovable) beliefs and peripheral (more changeable) beliefs (Rokeach, 1960; Rokeach, 1970).  The beliefs are attached to one another with the peripheral beliefs attached to the more central beliefs in a way that a change in the central belief results in a change in the peripheral (Rokeach, 1963; Rokeach, 1970).

    The central beliefs are believed to be consistent, are not frequently challenged by others, and are perceived to also be frequently confirmed by others thus establishing a sense of permeability (Rokeach, 1960; Rokeach, 1970).  “These refer to all the beliefs a person has acquired about the nature of the physical world he lives in, the nature of the “self” and the “generalized other” (Rokeach, 1960, p. 40).  Residing in this core belief is a sense of comfort or anxiety about themselves and the world (Fillenbaum & Jackman, 1961; Hallenbeck, & Lundstedt; 1966). Rokeach, 1960;  Rokeach & Fruchter, 1956).  

    In the intermediate region of the central-peripheral belief system resides authority figures that people depend upon when interpreting the world (Rokeach, 1960).  Authority figures are deemed to be acceptable when many of their opinions reflect what the person already believes in.  Authority figures are determined to be unacceptable when many of their opinions do not reflect what the person already believes in (McGuckin, 1967).  Rokeach (1960) identified these terms as “opinionated rejection” and “opinionated acceptance” (p. 46).  The more closed a system is, the more a person relies on the source of the information instead of the content of the message (Mouw, 1969; Powel, 1962; Vidulich & Kaiman, 1961).  In a closed system, information from an accepted authority figure will be accepted and information from an unaccepted authority figure will be rejected (Michener, & Burt, 1975; Restle, Andrews, & Rokeach, 1964; Rokeach, 1960).  A person with a more closed system will also seek information from less sources before making a decision (Lambert, & Durand,1977; Long & Ziller, 1965). 

        The peripheral content of the central-peripheral dimension is more fluid and easily changed.  These beliefs are often challenged by others. It is these beliefs that govern the moment to moment decisions that people make.  The peripheral beliefs are connected to beliefs stemming from the intermediate region (Rokeach, 1960). 

Time-Perspective Dimension

    The third dimension is the time-perspective dimension.  This dimension allows a person to focus on past, present, and future events in interpreting and utilizing new information (Rokeach, 1960).  This dimension is very important when discussing feedback.  The adaptation of an organism comes not from the experience of a single feedback event, but rather from learning that takes place from a series of feedback events (Ashby,1960; Wiener, 1964).  The ability to operate on a culmination of past, present, and future orientations is varied to the degree that a person is open or closed minded (Rokeach, 1960.  


    “Every stable system has the property that if displaced from a state of equilibrium and released, the subsequent movement is so matched to the initial displacement that the system is brought back into the state of equilibrium.  A variety of disturbances will therefore evoke a variety of matched reactions (Ashby, 1960, p. 54).”  Such actions are not thought to be determined by chance but by determinism on the part of the organism (Ahsby, 1960; Wiener, 1964).

      A stable state of equilibrium can be defined as “one from which the representative point does not move.  When the primary operation is applied, the transition from that state can be described as ‘to itself’” (Ashby, 1960, p. 46).  This means that as behaviors occur they continue to converge around a central point and are maintained within bounds.  When behaviors merge away from a certain point and exceed bounds, they are no longer in a state of a stable equilibrium.  The ability of an organism to match its displacement and maintain a stable equilibrium within its essential bounds is known as adaptation (Ashby, 1960).  

    When one person receives feedback from another, there are multiple messages being conveyed through verbal and nonverbal messaging (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 196). There is also a myriad of environmental factors that are associated with the context in which the message is being received (Ashby, 1960; Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967).  The message by itself must be considered within the context that it is presented for it to be understood appropriately (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967). 

     A person that is able to interpret feedback adequately must be able to identify which of the variables being presented in the message and context are non-essential and which are essential.  Ashby (1960) identified the essential variables as the ones that are necessary to maintain the stability of the system.  The non-essential variables may be present but have a small impact on the system and will not readily affect the stable equilibrium if changed (Ashby, 1960).

   Rokeach (1960) gave a detailed description of the process of identifying essential variables. "We assume that, in any situation in which a person must act, there are certain characteristics of the situation that point to the appropriate action to be taken.  If the  person reacts in terms of such relevant characteristics, his response should be correct, or  appropriate.  The same situation also contains irrelevant factors, not related to the inner  structure or requirements of the situation.  To the extent that response depends on such irrelevant factors, it should be unintelligent or inappropriate.  Every person, then, must be  able to evaluate adequately both the relevant and irrelevant information he receives from  every situation.  This leads us to suggest a basic characteristic that defines the extent to  which a person’s system is open or closed; namely, the extent to which a person can receive, evaluate, and act on relevant information received from the outside on its own     intrinsic merits, unencumbered by irrelevant factors in the situation arising from within     the person or from the outside (p. 57)."

    A person that maintains a stable equilibrium must be able to be adaptive to any changes that take place so as to match any displacement to the equilibrium and maintain the essential variables within the bounds of a central area (Ashby, 1960).  Every time the person attempts to correct any displacement, the actual result will not match the intended result.  The person will know the difference between the intended result and the actual result through the process of feedback (Wiener, 1964).  The interpretation of the feedback and the subsequent action to be taken will be determined by the person’s belief system that he operates on (Rokeach, 1960).  The more open the belief system, the more accurate the person will be interpreting and utilizing the feedback.

    Studies have shown that people with an open belief system have exhibited higher degrees of adaptability than people with a closed belief system.  Taylor and Dunnette (1974) found that open minded industrial managers exhibit less risk taking, more information searching, and a longer period of consideration before a decision is made.  Hospitalized psychiatric patients are able to utilize treatment and discharge at a faster rate when they are more open as opposed to closed minded (Ehrlich & Bauer, 1966).  Open minded individuals suffering from the onset and progression of blindness were able to accept the condition faster and adjust at a higher rate when compared with closed minded individuals (Hallenbeck & Lundstedt, 1966).  Open minded individuals also show greater adaptability in tasks related to utilizing new information (Rokeach, et al., 1955).

    Studies have also shown that an open minded person has a greater ability to adapt in a person to person relationship.  Open minded teachers were found to have better relationships with their students (Johnson, 1966).  Open mindedness was found to be positively correlated with being fired less, receiving more promotions, and exhibit a higher degree of client care for Nurses and Psychological Technicians in an inpatient facility for children (McCloud & Kidd, 1963).  People with a high level of open mindedness are perceived as more empathetic, positive toward others, and have better interpersonal sensitivity (Burke, 1966; Saltzman, 1967).  An inverse correlation between compromise and relating to others was found with being closed minded (Druckman, 1967; Zagona & Zurcher, 1965).  Bolmeier found that parents with a high level of closed mindedness were found to have high school children who scored higher on maladjustment in the Minnesota Counseling Inventory, than parents of a lower level of closed mindedness (1966).  


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