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To What Extent Can I Determine My Own Destiny

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'To what extent can I determine my own destiny?' Discuss in the light of theories, ideas and research encountered in the course.

Do I act as I do through choice or are my actions influenced by factors beyond our control? This uncertainty has concerned psychologists for decades, consequently giving rise to the 'Autonomy versus Determinism' debate. By definition, autonomy is the belief that we are free to make decisions and thus control all of our actions, however determinism contradicts this view by suggesting that all of our actions are entirely determined by the external and internal forces operating on them. Nowadays It is now commonly documented by most psychologists that it is a combination of both autonomy and determinism that determines our behaviour however this leads to another question, 'to what extent can I determine my own destiny'? In order to answer this question this essay will firstly explore the autonomy versus determinism debate and consider how and why human action is determined and also if determinism prevents autonomy. This debate will be explore through different psychological perspectives. The trimodal theory by Richard Stevens will show how these perspectives can be integrated in an attempt to try and understand human action.

The determinist view that our behaviour is the result of some previous experience suggests that we have no free will to control our actions. As a result humanistic social psychologists have wholly rejected this idea and instead clearly supported the idea of autonomy. Autonomy basically means that we are free to choose what we do and that our behaviour is not constrained in any way. Carl Rogers (Wetherell, Still 1996:101) and Abraham Maslow (Stevens1 1996:152) enthusiastically believed that people implement choice in their behaviour and that the idea that we are not in control of our behaviour deprives us of our human characteristics. Rogers sees our personal world as being unique and believes it is sustained and improved by exercising autonomy. Maslow also supporting autonomy believes in a hierarchy of human needs i.e. when our basic needs such

as food, sleep, security, love, self esteem are met it is then that we can focus

more fully on developing our personal potential which leads to self-actualisation. Maslow found that 'peak experiences' (moments of high excitement, deep meaning etc) were times of intense self actualisation. Csikszentmihalyi (Stevens2 1996:157) did a similar study, his 'flow experiences' was interested in how people felt when they enjoyed themselves the most, it emphasized 'the importance of absorbing activity and the focusing of attention for psychological well-being'. (Stevens3 1996:169) The Langer and Rodin study (1976) (Lalljee 1996:121) based in an American nursing home shows the difference between two groups of elderly residents, those that were given the chance to be autonomous were found that being in control made a critical difference to their well-being and longevity. However the residents that believed their well-being was reliant on the nursing staff were found to be less happy and their mortality rate was higher. This highlights the fact that to have a happy life no matter what age we need to be autonomous.

Those in favour of determinism believe that behaviour is the product of internal or external forces over which we have no control. As a result, human behaviour is arranged and therefore determined. This idea is similar to that of scientific methods e.g. experiments. In an experiment we have the ability to manipulate the variables, according to determinism all behaviour is causal, by this we sense that the determinist feels we have the opportunity of controlling all human behaviour.

Supporting the determinist view is the biological approach, according to biological social psychologists our behaviour is solely determined by our biological systems, they argue that we are genetically determined. Cox and Klinger 1988 (Toates 1996:55) among others support genetic determinism, what they propose is that we are not only physically determined by our genes but that our genetic make-up determines our behaviour as well. The Cox and Klinger study of alcohol on rats and humans illustrated that there are individual differences on the ingestion of

alcohol in regions of the brain. It was thought that these differences

may be genetic in origin and may determine if we had a tendency to be addicted

to alcohol. Biological psychologists believe that 'behaviour depends upon the nervous system, but the state of the nervous system depends in part upon the environmental context, including social factors'. (Toates 1996:82)

The above statement leads us to consider the evolutionary approach and the social constructionist view that we are determined by society. Charles Darwin's (1859) theory of evolution attempts to explain the origins of bodily structures and behaviour, he states that 'in the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment'. (Darwin, cited in Burrow 1968) This is a very deterministic view arguing that our genes have control over behaviour as well as our physiological processes since they have been naturally selected over the generations. The social constructionists believe that the culture be are born into determines our destiny by shaping the self and our future relationships. Winch (1958) (Dallos 1996:221) maintains that we all have a group of people that we regularly encounter and from this group we choose our friends he classes this as our 'field of eligibles'. As we can not choose when we are born, our parents, what culture we are born into, these decisions will influence our field of eligible. An example of how society can shape and determine our destiny is seen through the personal account by anthropologist Dorrine Kondo (1990). As a Japanese-American child Dorinne Kondo was socialized into acquiring an American cultural sense of self, however while working in Japan she found she was torn between the American culture she had adapted to and the Japanese culture she was trying to associate with. During her social interaction within the Japanese culture Kondo revealed an intertwining of the self with the social environment, she spoke about 'acquiring new patterns of thought, new internal monologues, self-descriptions and new positioning of self in relation to other people.' (Wetherell, Maybin 1996:224) Dorinne Kondo's social and cultural interactions

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