Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Corr I 427
Feedback/psychology/Carver/Scheier: Approaching a goal illustrates the principle of feedback control. A feedback loop involves four sub-functions (Miller, Galanter and Pribram 1960(1); MacKay1966(2); Powers1973(3); Wiener1948(4)): an input, a reference value, a comparison, and an output.
A reference value is a goal. The input is compared to the reference value. Any discrepancy detected is called an ‘error signal’. We treat the output here as behaviour, but sometimes the behaviour is internal.
If the comparison detects no discrepancy, the output remains as it was. How detection of a discrepancy affects output depends on what kind of loop it is. In a discrepancy reducing loop, the output acts to reduce the discrepancy. Such an effect is seen in attempts to reach a valued goal, maintain a desired condition, or conform to a standard.
There also are discrepancy-enlarging loops, which avoid the reference value rather than approach it. The value in this case is a threat or an ‘anti-goal’, for example, a feared or disliked possible self (Carver, Lawrence and Scheier 1999(5); Ogilvie 1987(6)). >Affect/Carver/Scheier.
Corr I 428
Some feedback processes have no explicit representation of a reference value. The system regulates around a value, but no value is represented as a goal (Berridge 2004(7); Carver and Scheier2002)(8).
>Self-regulation/Carver/Scheier, >Control processes/Carver/Scheier, >Goals/Carver/Scheier, >Criteria/Carver/Scheier, >Affect/Carver/Scheier.


1. Miller, G. A., Galanter, E. and Pribram, K. H. 1960. Plans and the structure of behaviour. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
2. MacKay, D. M. 1966. Cerebral organization and the conscious control of action, in J. C. Eccles (ed.), Brain and conscious experience, pp. 422–45. Berlin: Springer-Verlag
3. Powers, W. T. 1973.Behaviour: the control of perception. Chicago, IL: Aldine
4. Wiener, N. 1948. Cybernetics: control and communication in the animal and the machine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
5. Carver, C. S., Lawrence, J. W. and Scheier, M. F. 1999. Self-discrepancies and affect:incorporating the role of feared selves, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25: 783–92
6. Ogilvie, D. M. 1987. The undesired self: a neglected variable in personality research, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52: 379–85
7. Berridge, K. C. 2004. Motivation concepts in behavioural neuroscience, Physiology and Behaviour 81: 179–209
8. Carver, C. S. and Scheier, M. F. 2002. Control processes and self-organization as complementary principles underlying behaviour, Personality and Social Psychology Review 6: 304–15


Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier, “Self-regulation and controlling personality functioning” in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Carver, Charles S.
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009


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