Monday, June 5, 2017

Understanding Human Nature: The SCOPES Model

Mike Schmidt where Greensburg KS Tornado took his house 2007
What I call the SCOPES model is an organization of and an elaboration on the way many psychologists conduct comprehensive assessments for patients. I find the approach helpful because it guides us in thinking about ourselves and others in terms of multiple dimensions rather than just one or two labels that can lead to misunderstanding or worse.

SCOPES is an acronym for five dimensions of human nature within a social context. 

SCOPES is also a metaphor for looking with an intent to carefully observe people in a richer and more diverse way than we do with a cursory glance. Once I name the six dimensions you will see how they reflect the common ways we speak about ourselves and others. What makes this aapproach uncommon is that it takes effort to look beyond that which is immediately evident and consider multiple dimensions before making “snap” judgments.

A camera metaphor may help. People are like cameras operating on default settings. Modern cameras have multiple settings but usually come with defaults. Once given life via a charge, the camera is ready to use in auto mode. In sophisticated cameras, various settings are adjusted in response to a button press, screen input, or other environmental information such as location and what’s in front of the lens.

By the time we reach elementary school age, our biological “hardware” has been modified by our experiences resulting in customized settings that enable us to adapt to our environments. Some adapt better than others. Parents, teachers, friends, and others work to “shape” us—adjust our settings throughout life. But we are not left out of the process because we too attempt to change many settings—including some over which we have little control such as date of birth.

THE SIX COMPONENTS OF THE SCOPES MODEL

S   SPIRITUALITY

Spirituality includes religious and other ways people find meaning in life. Most organized religious faiths include specific beliefs and practices but these are integrated with each person’s experience. For example, a person’s dreams and visions or culture influence how they pray and what they identify as right and wrong. Atheists and those with nontraditional spirituality may describe meaningful experiences in the beauty of nature and music. For some, the spiritual dimension is so vital to their identity that it dominates their clothing, communicated beliefs, daily practices, interactions with others, and what they eat.

C   COGNITION

It doesn’t take long to form an impression of a person’s general intelligence. Sometimes we are awed and sometimes—not so much. But there’s more to cognition than solving problems on intelligence tests. We can include many neuropsychological processes such as memory, attention, language skills, visual-spatial skills as well as cognitive biases and prejudices. 

Some aspects of cognition have a huge impact on identity such as extreme deficits in attention span, incredible ability to solve complex problems, or persistent declines in memory for self and others.

O   OBSERVABLE BEHAVIOR PATTERNS OR PERSONALITY

I used the letter O so it works with the acronym. Essentially, people may be described in terms of a few or many durable traits like the famous Big Five: 
Openness: intelligent, imaginative, insightful
Conscientious: organized, thorough, planners
Extraversion: talkative, outgoing, energetic, assertive
Agreeable: forgiving, sympathetic, kind, affectionate
Neuroticism (v. stability) tense, moody, anxious

There are other traits or characteristics that may be added like dominance and psychopathy. People are different. We usually act in fairly predictable ways--habit patterns and traits that are part of who we are.

P   PHYSIOLOGY OR BIOLOGY

We all come with bodies and many of us with less than culturally desirable bodies protest that we are more than mere bodies. We want to be known for what’s inside. Nevertheless, our physiology is a critical part of who we are. Drives for hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex vary from person to person and those biological factors vary for each of us during a day, week, or year. Measures of biological status can change and influence other aspects of who we are- height, weight, blood pressure and more. Biology shapes our identity and we influence our biology and that of others.

We know that despite protests, people think of others in terms of a biological factor like blindness or deafness or another challenge. Some have a mental health diagnosis and are referred to by that diagnosis such as alcoholics or Schizophrenics. Some are known by a disease they have or survived such as cancer. One aspect of our entire personal identity can be a physiological status that is defining or confining. We know that we and others are more than a biological fact but somehow, we often fail to think beyond the “P” dimension.

E   EMOTIONS or feelings

Our emotions influence our identity and our judgments about others. There are many ways to show our emotions. Psychological scientists disagree on what may constitute core emotions. As a psychologist, I was tuned in to sadness, anxiety, and anger as well as joy and a sense of calm. More common emotions include fear, worry, hate, guilt, and that complex we call love. Feelings are critical to understanding who we are and why people do what they do.

S   SOCIAL OR OUR SPACE-TIME CONTEXT

The people in our lives and where we live out our day-to-day existence influences who we are even as we influence others. Our personal timeline is a factor too. We and others see common threads of who we are since childhood but we also see changes. Looking back, we may see events, people, or places that resulted in major changes in who we are today. Like many immigrants, the move from one country to another was a big deal for me and my parents.

Our relationships matter. Relationships affect our spiritual faith, thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns and even our health. A recently divorced cantankerous fifty-year old man with a history of alcohol abuse may feel anger, distress, and worry. A 35 year-old woman may feel happy and enjoy a sense of freedom as she boards a cruise with a friend. People are different in their relationships. Some feel liberated by divorce whilst others feel devastated. Some worry about finding a mate whilst others intentionally live a single life. Some prefer frequent interaction with friends whilst others require large periods of aloneness.

SCOPES and HUMAN NATURE

The SCOPES model is a way of organizing information about ourselves and others. It is a way of recognizing we are complex beings who change in many ways. We respond to others and our environments in ways that change us. And we have an effect on others and our environment. At any given point, a few dimensions may be more important than others such as when we feel depressed at the loss of a loved one or celebrate a birthday.

We should also be aware that activity in one or two dimensions affects the other dimensions even when we are not aware of the effects. A loud noise like a gunshot can produce fear, thoughts of safety, memories of past terror, crouching, increased heart rate and even a cry for divine intervention.

Notes

I have applied this model to moral-social judgments in A House Divided and elsewhere.
Those familiar with psychology will recognize the common Cognitive-Affective-Behavior constructs in Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy and attitude theory. Most clinicians have coursework in the biological basis of behavior. Some, but not all, also consider spirituality as relevant to understanding people and their well-being. Many will also recognize the importance of the environment, which I include in the Social dimension. I have also been influenced by the BASIC-ID of Arnold Lazarus—a part of his work in Multimodal Therapy and Kurt Levin’s field theory or concept of lifespace.

Sutton, Geoffrey W. A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016. Also available on AMAZON.


Is Your Moral Lens in Focus?



I used Autofocus to capture this tiger in India

News reports documenting the killing of children tug deeply at our most basic impulse to care for the young and vulnerable. Many of us identify unfair treatment and at least give a nod of support to those who seek to remedy injustice. It is no secret that people disagree about the right way to solve social problems. Matters of right and wrong are the stuff of morality. And matters of right and wrong often connect people with similar religious and political beliefs.

I have drawn upon the research of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues when writing about moral perspectives as formulated in moral foundations theory. The six moral foundations provide a useful way to consider various social-moral issues. In this post, I review the six moral foundations. In A House Divided, I applied these six foundations to show how different tribes of Christians argue about such divisive issues as birth control, abortion, and sex education.

I begin with a metaphor. The human moral response is like setting the focus on a digital camera. Many of us view life using autofocus. That works most of the time when we live in the culture where we were raised. But at other times, we need to reset the focus to a particular option or do the hard work of manual focus.

It turns out that most people draw upon a few options when arguing about morality. People have their favorite settings. Some use more than others. According to Haidt and his colleagues, liberals tend to rely on two or three settings—Care/Harm, Fairness, and sometimes Liberty. While not excluding these two or three options, conservatives may select from another two or three—Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.

Unlike cameras, when it comes to humans, we have powerful emotions like love, fear, and anger driving the arguments for right and wrong. Some of us hammer away at one or two points regardless of what others say. Unfortunately, when people latch on to a reason or two, they don't let go. Once committed, other reasons are ignored.

The Six Moral Foundations

1. Care/ Harm
Caring is motivated by the complex emotion of love and affection. Loving parents also become very angry when perceiving threats to their families and loved ones. The natural love that embodies care and protection for children can be expanded to kinship groups and cultures. It is not surprising that family metaphors arise in religious and political writings.

2. Fairness and Justice
We learn about playing fair as children. Those who break the rules are punished in various ways. Most learn it is wrong to cheat. Cheating and discrimination are close. People who seek justice may often use peaceful means yet righteous anger can flare and motivate more aggressive action.

3. Authority/Rebellion
Respect for authority is not only a strong moral impulse but it can be foolhardy to rebel in some settings. For some, the moral value of respecting those in authority is a core value. Feelings of respect for authority can be increased by feeling fear and awe. Disrespect can lead to powerful and destructive righteous anger toward the disrespectful. Look for words such as respect, deference, arrogance, pride, awe, humility and authority.

4. Loyalty/Betrayal
Loyalty is motivated by love and betrayal by hate. Some people constantly test the nature of their relationships in terms of loyalty and betrayal concerns. At the national level, betrayal is treason.

5. Liberty/Oppression
People are motivated to be free, independent and unbound. Laws, policies, and unwritten social norms can restrict where certain classes of people can live and what they can do. People celebrate the joy of freedom following oppression. Righteous anger leads to overthrowing oppressive regimes.

6. Purity, Sanctity/Impurity, Disgust
Children learn early in life to clean up and avoid germ-infested matter. We humans have a built-in yuk response to various bodily fluids and other substances. It isn’t long until lessons about being physically clean generalize to call certain behavior or activities dirty, filthy, perverted, disgusting, and unclean. And it is not much of a leap to label people who engage in such behavior or activities as unclean, unworthy, disgusting, perverts, and so on. Religious and social rules as well as laws banning certain activities can be the result of motivations to purify a culture. In the extreme, righteous anger using the language of cleansing is a thinly veiled way of disguising the killing of people as a moral duty.

To find how we agree or disagree we must listen to the reasons given and pay attention to the power of emotion. But then we will still need a way forward by relying on principles and weighing consequences.

Resources

Haidt, Jonathan. The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. Psychological Review 108 (2001) 814–834.

Sutton, Geoffrey W. A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016. Also available on AMAZON.


Read a review of Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind.

Find more about examining cultures at this website 

 https://sites.google.com/site/dividedchristians/