chapter  5
18 Pages

Persons acting in worldly contexts

ByJEFF SUGARMAN, JACK MARTIN

Given the mission of disciplinary psychology to explain human behavior across the variety of social, cultural, and biophysical contexts in which it occurs, it might be expected that the focus of psychological investigation is persons acting in worldly contexts. However, historically and currently, seldom is such the case. Introspective, cognitive, and biological psychologies have taken the focal phenomena of interest to be thoughts, mental forms and functions, or neurophysiological structures and processes. Functional and behavioral approaches to psychology have investigated human behavior, but restrictively so, as responses of research subjects to highly contrived tasks in “stripped down” experimental settings purposefully denuded of practical, cultural, and historical relevance. Psychoanalytic, humanistic, phenomenological, and existentialist traditions frequently have been preoccupied with the inner experiences, desires, and tensions of persons rather than with their activity in the everyday contexts in which their lives are composed. Even evolutionary psychologists, who might be expected to emphasize the worldly activity of persons when theorizing about psychological selection and adaptation, appear instead to favor a combination of narrative speculation and mathematical modeling. As this brief synopsis shows, past and present psychological scientists have looked to explain individual human action and experience primarily through an interior mentalistic focus or environmental restriction and simplification, not in terms of persons acting in everyday worldly contexts.