Thursday, October 6, 2011

Human Information Processing Development

By: Gary J. Salton, Ph.D.
Chief: Research & Development

Professional Communications, Inc.

People are not born with the full complement of information processing skills. They are developed over time. The means by which a human develops this capacity has many dimensions. Physical maturation, hormonal changes, psychological processes, emotional reactions and “intelligence” are among the host of variables involved.(1)

The fact that human beings develop as information processors is typically acknowledged but not explicitly addressed. This paper attempts to remedy this condition. It does this by focusing on the sequence that the various information-processing capacities evidence themselves with individual growth.

Once a capacity is initiated it does not operate exclusively. Capacities that have already been established continue to be exercised and refined. The picture becomes one of increasing information processing complexity as the individual matures.

The paper uses deductive logic rather than evidence-based research. The reason is that the “I Opt” survey tool requires a 6th grade reading level. In addition it has not been fully validated for a non-adult population as it has for adults
.(2) However, deductive logic is a disciplined system. There is criteria by which it can be judged to be sound (the premise is true) and valid (i.e., conclusion follows from its premise). The reader can make this judgment without assistance. 

The first task any infant is figure out what is changeable in their world. In other words, they have to identify the variables and how they behave. The “I Opt” Reactive Stimulator (RS) style is an ideal strategy for this purpose. The input of this strategy is unpatterned and the output is action. Anything that captures interest is potential input – this applies whether the subject is adult or child. 
 For the adult RS, pursuing an “interesting” variable is guided by an objective or goal. For a the infant there is no “goal.” Anything that captures interest is a potentially relevant variable worth pursuing. The infant pushes, pulls, smells, tastes and feels in an indiscriminate fashion. In this process they discover the range of variables and get an idea of how they behave. But that’s not all that happens.

In this discovery process the concept of cause and effect becomes evident. Things behave as a result of something happening to them. The child pushes a ball and it rolls. They pull a string and the attached duck approaches. Effectively, every infant discovers a crude version of Newton’s second law. This is the raw material of any definition of “intelligence.”

Logically, the RS process MUST be the first stage. There is no other option. Unless variables are identified there is nothing to work with. As the inventory of variables grows, the child begins to assemble the capacity to enter a second stage—the Logical Processor.

Grasping a spoon is at first a random activity. Somewhere along the line the child learns that grasping the spoon, filling the bowl with food and moving it to the mouth is an efficient way of satisfying hunger. The child has effectively invented a process or procedure.

The “I Opt” Logical Processor (LP) style best characterizes this process. The LP strategy uses a structured input and an action output. The processes and procedures require particular variables (e.g., a spoon and food). Once these are available they can be strung together into a procedure (i.e., the manner in which a process is executed) that produces favorable outcomes with a high degree of reliability.

The LP style applies equally well to the adult as to the child. The relative certainty of outcome is the same in both cases. For the adult, the complexity of the processes and procedures increases. But the same attention to detail, the same intense focus and the same methodical approach applies in both cases.

Knowledge of the variables is a precondition for any process. Therefore he LP process MUST follow the first stage RS. The reason that it is second rather than a later stage is that it automatically provides the “room” to purse developments that offer less immediate, longer-range benefits. Gaining command of life facilitating procedures (e.g., eating, sleeping, basic social navigation, etc.) provides the opportunity for the child to expand options. It is a natural second step.

However, the accumulation of variables, processes and procedures carries a price. They must be managed. For example, which specific procedure is applicable in this particular situation? What situational variables are relevant? Handling the inventory of rapidly accumulating knowledge requires a new facility. As this inventory accumulates the next facet of information processing begins to appear.

Sooner or later the child is confronted with the problem of arranging some kind of accessible inventory of variables and procedural options. This condition demands intellectual organization. The way that this is done is best represented by the “I Opt” Hypothetical Analyzer (HA) style.

The HA style uses a structured input similar to the procedurally-oriented LP. This means that particular (vs. random) elements of the environment are sought and used. But the output moves from the LP’s “action” to a “thought” orientation. In other words, an HA activity can be engaged in without affecting anyone else.

HA style development begins as an organizing procedure. The child begins to arrange things in some kind of order. This process is most visible when applied to variables. For example, toys are arranged in some kind of order. Less visibility, the child also begins arranging procedures. For example, teeth are brushed before climbing into bed. Ultimately the child begins extending this process into a purely intellectual realm. This is most easily illustrated by extending the bedtime example.

An established 8PM bedtime is initially a non-issue. For the child it is a given. A universal. A fixed constant. But then information flows in from a playmate. Their bedtime is 8:30PM. Suddenly it is discovered that the bedtime constant is really a variable. The parent begins to hear justice pleas. But that is not the end. This apparently inconsequential bit of new knowledge proceeds to ramify through a lifetime.

The child has discovered that constants are sometimes not really constant. What other seemingly fixed items can be changed? They need a way of testing things. They soon discover that the question of “why” satisfies this need.

They ask “why” and get reasoning as a response. A causal sequence (i.e., “be-cause” = “by the cause of”) is typically offered. For example, “you have to go to bed so you can be ready for school tomorrow.” It will not be long before the child figures out that there is no school on Saturday. With that insight the rationale for an 8PM bedtime has lost some of its validity. They have gained new knowledge directly applicable to their life. Parents begin to hear reasoned arguments. Life gets more complicated for everyone.

The adult using an HA strategy employs the same technique. Logical streams are tested against each other to establish validity. New knowledge is gained when inference permits a logical extension into previously unexplored areas. This is a kind of “in the box” thinking which discovers previously unrecognized relationships between known items. The value of this “in the box” kind of knowledge can be considerable.

For example, Michigan State University researchers fashioned a new anti-malaria vaccine by combining a disabled cold virus with an immune system-stimulating gene.(3) Both the virus and gene were known. Combining these “known's” produced new knowledge. For someone with an exposure to malaria this new knowledge is a “life or death” gain. There is nothing trivial about "in the box" thinking.

The combined RS, LP and HA styles are all that is needed in a stable environment. The processes of life would proceed. Incremental improvements will be enjoyed in the form of a continuous improvement gathered through the application of HA knowledge extensions. But an additional capacity is needed to realize major advances or to successfully confront significant environmental dislocations. That strategy is the idea-oriented Relational Innovator or RI strategic style. It is the fourth information processing strategy in the human developmental sequence.

The Relational Innovator or RI style combines the RS style’s unstructured input with the HA’s thought-oriented output. The absence of structure means that any variable that captures attention is potential input. Since input is not restricted, unexpected relationships (i.e., creativity, originality, etc.) are a natural outcome.

The RI output is thought-based strategy. New associations, systems, schemes, networks and other forms of variable organization can be created without the threats inherent in action. In other words, things can be proposed without “doing” anything. Because the both input and output are unrestricted there is a higher probability that the ideas will be of a quantum or profound nature. The RI strategy produces natural “out of the box” thinking.

Adults employing this style are often responsible for major changes. They are the people who offer new systems of thought (e.g., Albert Einstein), create entirely new classes of products or services (e.g., George Washington Carver) or influence the social structure of entire societies (e.g., Gloria Steinem of the early woman's movement). They can alter the variables the RS considers, the procedures the LP employs and the analytical structures of the HA. They are natural “game changers.”

Children can begin to deploy this strategy once they have gained some command of the HA strategy. The unpatterned input of the RS strategy acquired at the onset of life gives rise to unusual connections. This is the source of the often-recognized “creativity” in young children. But it is creativity without consequence. An unusual connection (i.e., a new idea) does not necessarily translate into a useful result.

To have a material effect the new idea must be framed in terms of a system, theory or some other organized framework. The child’s experience with the HA style provides knowledge of what constitutes “adequate” causal (i.e., cause and effect) reasoning. For example, a child might be able to envision herself as a fairy princess and trans-mutate a frog into a prince. This is deemed “pretend” because there is no specification on how this feat is to be accomplished, why the chosen process works or evidence (i.e., action) that it has in fact occurred.

Contrast this with Einstein’s proposition of the space-time dimension where space can be “bent” and time can be slowed or even stopped. At its inception this was as an outlandish of an idea as our fairy princess. The difference is that Einstein was able to fit his ideas into a framework—the Theory of Relativity. This caused his ideas to be taken seriously between the theory’s publication in 1905 and its confirmation by Arthur Eddington in 1919. Without Einstein’s what causes what and why explanation Eddington would never had undertaken the arduous confirmation (i.e., measuring the shift of star position during a solar eclipse).

The child accumulates an inventory of the “why’s” while expanding their HA capacity. At some point the child asks whether the “why’s” they know are the only possible “why’s.” Or they might encounter a situation that has no “why.” That is the point at which they begin to explore speculative alternatives of the RI style.

The environment determines the extent to which speculations are pursued and the depth with which they are specified. This environment includes schools as well as home, neighborhood and other situations in which the child can find themselves. But mother nature does not leave important things to chance. She uses biology to insure that everyone has at least some RI capacity.

The “rebellion” characterizing the teenage years is the tool by which that is accomplished. The child begins to reject the prescriptions of the parents and often their teachers. With this the established frameworks of navigating life are discarded (usually a temporary condition). Since life must go on, they child has to fashion some kind of alternative.

Mother nature provides by creating a compelling need for the child to immerse themselves in cohort specific relations. Peer associations become a primary guide. But peers carry the legacies of their different past environments. The relatively simple family world is replaced by a disjointed and perhaps chaotic milieu of shifting friends and associates each carrying a different message.

Puberty thus automatically provides a totally new environment in which things must be “sorted out.” This is a thought-based activity. Analytical HA capacities can handle some of this. But the typical chaos (both biological and social) is likely to generate totally new and unexpected (for the adolescent) relationships. With this the opportunity to explore the RI capacity automatically arises. Everyone leaves adolescence with at least some RI capability.

There is none. The hypothesized sequence with which the various styles develop does not in anyway suggest their relative importance. All of the styles are required for both the individual and for the human species to continue to exist and prosper.

The value of a particular style depends entirely on the situation in which it is applied. A surgeon would do well to have a substantial disciplined LP capacity. An entrepreneur benefits from a responsive, action-oriented RS ability. The high idea-oriented RI capacities of professors are well suited to their knowledge creation role. Engineers and scientists need a substantial HA capacity to figure out the complex issues that they confront daily. So which is the “more important” societal strategy? The obvious answer is that they all are.

In final analysis the order in which the strategic style capacities are developed says nothing about their value in adult society. Those who attempt to define one or another style as inherently more worthy are simply displaying their ignorance.

(1)The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Jean Piaget as well as many other pioneers in this subject area. The author has undoubtedly benefited from and assimilated elements of this knowledge in the course of his education. However, he has not studied them and they were not explicitly referenced in the development of this theoretical extension of “I Opt” technology. Scholars will undoubtedly find parallels and distinctions. To the extent that these contribute to the advancement of knowledge, they are welcomed – whether favorable or not to the author’s interest.

(2)Soltysik, Robert (2000), Validation of Organizational Engineering: Instrumentation and Methodology, Amherst: HRD Press.

(3)Michigan State University (2011, September 29). Modified vaccine shows promise in preventing malaria: Vaccine uses immune-stimulating gene. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 29, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/09/110926131810.htm

(4)The Relational Innovator (RI) hypothesis invites empirical testing. It suggests that children whose “rebellion” is characterized by encountering the most unexpected or disjointed (not good or bad, just variables that do not fit in with past experience) will tend to develop greater RI ability. They simply will have more practice and thus develop a greater command of the strategic style.