Cooperation, concession, or coercion: considerations in the expectation of compliance
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020
Author: Louis G. Foltz, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, Warner Pacific University, USA
As a six-year-old, when
told to wash my hands before dinner I would often enter the bathroom, stand
over the sink, turn on the water, wait for a minute or two, sprinkle a little
water on the towel, and congratulate myself upon clandestine defiance of immediate
authority. Also at that same age, as an upstanding member of the Lincoln Elementary
"Bluebird" reading group, I was extremely cautious in my reading aloud as I
wanted so desperately to gain a loving smile from the beautiful Miss
Reichenberg, my first grade teacher.
On those frequent
occasions when I was discovered by my mother in the act of ablutionary
deception, I would be exiled for the evening to my bedroom, suffering the
dreadful fate of micro-starvation by missing my dinner. I was, however, sufficiently
calculating in my dirty-handed attempts to only take the risk when such dinner
items as liver, broccoli, or asparagus were being served; thereby merely
opening the potential for the exchange of negative reinforcements - eat liver
or starve. And I always extravagantly washed my hands on the nights when we ate
If my word pronunciation
were to stumble during my reading of Fun with Dick and Jane during
Bluebird Group time, Miss Reichenberg would still give me a loving smile." But
I would misinterpret her gesture as an expression of pity rather than the affirmation
of my human value - which it was.
The term: "compliance"
has emerged from its routine, customary applications in denoting our essential
local, regional, and national legal mandates, economic obligations and
institutional contracts to presently shout a dire plea to a vulnerable
world-wide population for defense against the global pandemic caused by the
deadly coronavirus. "Compliance" with mandates for handwashing and isolation
are now critical activities for slowing down the inevitable spread of the
disease; thereby assisting hospitals in sustaining their capacity to treat the
severely afflicted. Epidemiologists tell us that compliance with virus
precautions is not a matter of "wanting to", but rather of "having to".
In deliberation over
existing and potential expectations for "compliance", two perspectives must be
simultaneously evaluated: the reasons and mechanisms behind the directive and
the reasoning of those who are expected to comply." The social and moral value
of the stringency embedded in the mandate must be harmonized with the opportunities
and restrictions placed upon the subjects, as well as the latitude and
consequences of non-compliance. As an example: from a child"s compliance in
washing hands before dinner to washing hands to curb epidemic, from the
short-term consequence of isolation in the bedroom as punishment to long-term
isolation at home as prevention, the psychological considerations involved in
the analysis of compliance remain very similar.
An initial observation
of the two perspectives involved in "compliance" can easily be seen in an
authoritative, but hardly technical, source - The Oxford Dictionary of the
The action or fact of complying with a wish or command.
The property of a material undergoing elastic deformation or (of a gas) change
in volume when subjected to an applied force. It is equal to the reciprocal of
These common definitions
foreground the difference in starting points for consideration of the
ramifications in generating an agreement or demand for compliance. The first
definition focuses emphasis upon those who are acting in response to an urging
for compliance." Statistically, those people and their behavior may be said to
form the dependent variable of the social experiment (e.g. willingly or unwillingly
- "washing your hands"). The second definition may be seen to focus upon the
design of the agreement. In research terminology, their decisions may be seen
to structure the independent variable. (How to move someone to wash their
hands. What consequences will they envision to encounter if they do not? How is
subversion of the mandate prevented?) Since formal and informal instructions
for compliance begin with consideration of the need for compliance and
construction of the resultant design, we first address Oxford"s second definition.
This second definition
has common general understanding in the physical sciences and statistical
research where "elastic deformation" is known to be the result of the successful
application of "force" upon a "material". Keeping the challenge as simple as
possible (and usually conceded to be defined too simply), reductionistic
philosophy is applied to designs for affecting compliance with an assumption of
maximum population homogeneity of the qualities comprising the material to be
made "compliant"." (Every portion of the same element is the same). Physical
elements and materials cannot vary from one occasion to another under identical
circumstances (controlled variables) in their level of "reciprocal stiffness". Water
is "H2O": a liquid between 0oC. and 100oC. at 72 mm sea level pressure.
But people are not a
passive substance." Influences of culture, cognitive maturity, and the
influence of family upon unique personalities are often accepted to be beyond
consideration in the design of mandates affecting larger groups of people which
comprise varying, and often conflicting, worldviews and moral values.
These factors (variables)
are, however, emphasized in creating compliance agreements (mandates) for
individual clients in the practice of psychotherapy, for family systems
therapy, and for some very small businesses or possibly village ordinances. But
the expansion of the subject population to include alternative worldviews
removes consideration of values not held in common. The larger the number of
cultural orientations, the more the compliance design becomes impersonal,
including universal behavioral expectations regardless of the individual"s
disposition toward the mandate. The larger the group, the less unique
consideration. A "society" is not a single "culture". An admittedly false
assumption of homogeneity is applied. A subject"s desire to comply becomes less
of an influence upon the mechanisms for enforcement. Consequences for
non-compliance become more literal and less an appeal to individual conscience.
The stability of the
ordinance for compliance may take precedence over the individual or collective
disposition of the subjects." At the family level, the classroom level, the
organizational level, as well as at the oblast or national level, the stability
of the commands for compliance and the prescriptions for reward and punishment
are sustained by the organizational structure. The overseeing group in a home
or workshop may negotiate compliance by the system of an Aristotelian democracy
- popular vote." A larager group, such as an oblast or nation, may sustain
legal compliance through a representative republican government. Authoritarian
regimes dictate compliance by fiat." Some homes and businesses have a family
monarchy which autonomously creates compliance structures, viewing it
culturally appropriate to do so.
Obviously, all success
in compliance is measured in the quality and quantity of solicited overt
behavior. And the simplest (and quite inadequate), commonly used psychological
model for "shaping" behavior is to be found in Operant Conditioning - its
primary research beginning three quarters of a century ago with B.F. Skinner
(1953). Quite outdated and lacking in any consideration of the potential for
human free will, this paradigm still finds itself in common use when compliance
is mandated rather than negotiated through dialogue with the persons and groups
needing to comply. Recognition of these categories in constructing and
evaluating compliance procedures for individuals - or assumed homogeneous
groups -is of value, not because of the paradigm"s accuracy but due to its
Reinforcement" Sustain behavior." (E.g.:
Washing your hands.)
Positive: Add a reward. (E.g.: Compliment on
clean hands. Provide
Negative: Take away an obnoxious presence.
Escape: Cease the on-going annoyance. (E.g.: Stop
nagging once hands are clean)
Active Avoidance: Add negative consequences. (E.g.: You
won"t be sent to your room if you properly wash your hands).
Punishment: Decrease behavior. (E.g.: Assembling in
large gatherings during the pandemic).
Positive Punishment Add Unwanted condition (E.g. Fines
for large gatherings).
Negative Punishment Remove Wanted Condition (E.g. Large
gatherings cause the closing of stores).
In matching compliance
agreements, "shaping protocols", to the categories of Skinnerian Behaviorism,
it is important to remember that the philosophy recognizes the effected
individuals and organizations (referred to as "organisms") as expressing potential
qualities of what Oxford had termed "reciprocal stiffness" - a degree of
potential pliability which is encountered in the procedures and consequences of
But the human condition
is seen by many to not be reducible to a mathematical formula. These qualities
of "organism" pliability return us to the first, and more human, definition for
"compliance" found in The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language: 1.
THE ACTION OR FACT OF COMPLYING WITH A WISH OR COMMAND." Deutsch and Gerard
(1955) were the first to apply the term "informational influence" to the study
of compliance." They refer to the desire for the individual to be in at least behavioral
(if not ethical) conformity with the group to which they identify. The power of
interpersonal, neurophysiological attachment first studied by Bolby (1969)
provides positive incentive to comply with commands which elicit cooperation
from the group in which the individual finds personal identity (a concept which
varies with culture)." And, conversely, bonding to the identified group compels
defiance when the group does so collectively. The Asch experiments (1951)
studying group persuasion toward individual compliance with statements known to
be incorrect are among the most famous examples of the power of informational
influence." Identity acceptance is a strong positive reinforcement and is
continuously employed in television and radio commercials - media appeals for
the purchase of merchandise and for participation in socially-desired behavior.
The individual"s level
of cognitive development has substantial influence in understanding
instructions given as well as comprehending the surrounding circumstances
involved with compliance. Cognitive sophistication determines the
interpretation of the feedback received from the behavior exhibited." With
regard to behavioristic designs for group compliance, the intensity of
necessity for the compliance and what the subjects are able to comprehend
determines the commands for individual and group frequently remaining there for a lifetime.
Sensori-motor conceptualization. Birth
is expressed in sequential physical movement.
to the mastering of language, thought is solely physical action.
erode to this level under very extreme stress and lose the ability to verbally
articulate; often resorting to physical violence.
behavior and physical defiance which cannot be assuaged with reason indicate
individual or group sensori-motor thought.
Pre-operational (semiotic) conceptualization. Age
of sufficient mastery of language to be understood.
that can be said can be real. E.g.: fairy tales, Father Christmas.
world is magical. External physical laws are not as much "real" as the world
expressed by those holding authority and power.
is fueled by personal love or personal threat. (At six years old I would strive
to gain my teacher"s smile.)
in the "other" - group or individual - is a function of the assumed efficacy of
the person or group expecting compliance.
who are reduced to, or sustaining, pre-operational thinking are susceptible to
believing in the illogical messages of people in power.
about emotionally-loaded situations is not logical. For example: the alcoholic
who does not comply and stop drinking states that he or she can stop any time
they wish. They are not lying." They actually, magically, believe it.
Compliance commands or
expectations addressed to individuals or groups embedded in sensori-motor or
pre-operational thinking cannot appeal to sensibility. It is not there.
Appealing to the rioting crowd or appealing to the emotionally upset alcoholic
must be a directive clearly demonstrating behavioral physical consequences."
Otherwise, the directive will not be recognized, much less obeyed.
Concrete operational conceptualization." Late
external world is consistent. The internal world and personal or group logic
are now held to consistent reason and frequent suspicion.
balance of reciprocity is understood. The world can be analyzed from the viewpoint
of another individual or the worldview of another group.
world remains material and linear. The strength and value of metaphor is not
available to making decisions. The here-and-now, deliberated in a temporal
sequence, makes sense.
may appeal to reason for cooperation more than to gain reluctant coercion.
Consequences need not be material but can be a realization of the moral good.
But the behaviors must remain specifically articulated. Generalized
instructions ("do the right thing") cannot result in specific behavioral
The difference between
pre-operational and concrete operational measures for effective compliance is
easily seen through comparing the types of classroom rules which elicit
compliance in the first years of primary school with those which are successful
in secondary school. The former set calls for continually soliciting explicit
physical movement." The latter expects reasonable, understood, planned
thought is the most commonplace level of logic among mature adults, as higher
levels are rarely encountered in adult interactions and, therefore, rarely
exercised. Commercialization of the media to solicit a maximum audience employs
this level of literal, sequential logic in the presentation of a majority of
its offerings. In parallel, a caution must be given to business organizations
in their deliberation over policy and procedures as it is common for the
structure and values of the company to entrench at this level of narrowly-defined
overt procedures and situational ethics.
Corporations and other
organizations encountering extreme financial misfortune are susceptible to
"downshifting" in the same way as are individuals; finding collective emotional
distress to cause the restricting of policy decisions to pre-operational,
magical thinking." Corporate reason evaporates." Expectations for compliance
are magically seen as unreasonable. Fairytales of justification for illegal
behavior are tempting, and sometimes put into practice. Appearances of
stability are conserved while the corporate behavior erodes in its ethic." Like
the alcoholic, the corporation which tells itself that its intentions remain
noble and that it can stop clandestine non-compliance at will is not lying. It
is practicing collective magical truth. The established legal consequences (the
positive or negative behaviorist punishment) for such desperate company
behavior must be constructed in a way to be understood at this lower level of
collective mentality. Using Skinner"s model consequences could include
"Positive punishment" - fines and/or imprisonment and also "Negative
punishment" - losing the business license.
Formal operational thought." Potentially adolescence
world is comprised of more than a sequence of linear instances.
systems are seen to be more "real" than physical examples.
can be mentally manipulated without physical trials.
conceptual systems can be considered simultaneously rather than in linear
patterns of behavior can be identified.
hypothesizing directs the value of compliance.
are generalized to systems of ethics rather than addressing specific behaviors.
The constitution of a
governing body, such as the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, is written at the formal operational level so that the document encompasses a
single metaphor of democracy which can be applied by the courts to specific
instances of "concrete operational" compliance.
Dealing with specific
cases, requests for compliance which are exhortations, such as to "do the right
thing in these categories of situations," are meant to encompass a wide variety
of specific, physical behaviors." They also appeal to an orientation toward a
cooperative ethic which would self-identify specific opportunities for
But since the sustaining
of formal operational thought is universally rare - and simply not possible for
many people - public appeals during the present pandemic which exhort: "Stay
safe" or "Mind your distance" are of little value as compared to the concrete
operational: "Wash your hands several times a day" or: "Walk two meters apart".
This explicit behavior is seen to be acts of reasonable, specific compliance in
the eyes of the concrete operational adult majority." And preoperational
thinkers, comprised by individuals of all ages, will comply due to the voice of
authoritative power through consideration of the consequences of
In the anthropological
investigation of individual and small group compliance within the larger
society, it is of value to make a definitional distinction between a "culture"
and a "society"." A useful overgeneralization can be formed from the work of
Levi-Strauss and then later work by Geertz to address a "culture" as being
composed of individuals who share an almost-common worldview and its resultant
morality; sustained by repeated use of a linguistic structure and specific
perspective on personal identity. If one is noncompliant to a cultural norm,
the psychologically healthy individual develops an overt or covert personal
sense of shame. Cultural non-compliance affects identity. But for some
cultures, social non-compliance may not elicit any shame at all. Non-compliance
in a society is not necessarily immoral. (An example might be the eating of
specific animals or parts of an animal forbidden by a particular cultural understanding
and cultural edict may not be illegal behavior in a multi-cultural society.)"
Non-compliance in a culture is immoral to that group of people. "Informational
influence" supersedes law.
A "society" can be
defined for this monograph as a geographic or an ideological region involving
the social interactions within and between more than one culture and their
corresponding worldviews." The expectations for compliance within a society may
or may not be considered moral by members of the included cultures." Therefore,
the compliance essential to sustain a society is based upon expectation for
explicit behavior and not upon internal sense of right or wrong. The constant
maintenance of a specific and understood legal structure (commonly applying the
behavioristic paradigm) is critical for the sustaining of a society. The many
recent international instances of governmental social collapse demonstrate the
cohesion of cultural conformity over and against reductionistic consequences
for defying social compliance.
One additional element
which must be considered in the psychology of compliance is the variety of
cultural teaching regarding individual identity." Many Asian cultures work to
instill the notion of personal identity as being found first in one"s location
within the family and then within the culture." An analogy might be in
comparing the individual to a finger on one hand where the whole of an
individual"s identity is the entire functioning body." Eastern naming order,
with the family name coming first, is an indicator of this more corporate
understanding of identity." The Russian patronymic name gives a less intense,
but still strong example of the placement of the individual within the physical
and emotional welfare of the consanguineous family"s single identity.
As opposed to the
effortful instruction in singular individuality which is a hallmark in western
cultures, the positive or negative consequences of compliance in Asia involve the physical and emotional welfare of the extended family group." Formal and
informal mandates for compliance must consistently keep in mind who (singularly
and collectively) is complying." Who (singularly and collectively) is addressed
by the consequences? Is the family honored or shamed by actions of compliance
- - -
presents but a few of the interwoven factors involved in considering the
psychology of compliance. An immediately relevant example of this network of
expectations can be seen in the educational system of all nations." The
classroom, as well as in the case of the local and national government,
functions as a multi-cultural society." The Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington D.C. cites over one hundred ethnic groups living in the country." The school and
university, as is also the case with business and public service organizations,
must comply with a network of regulations involving partner institutions and
governmental oversight organizations to ensure the quality of measured
performance expected at each level.
In classrooms comprised
of a unique, small, and identifiable set of cultural worldviews, the smaller
number of students might be given a greater opportunity to provide input toward
the shaping of interactions toward an established set of universal compliance
standards, recognizing the small set of perspectives which are brought into the
small setting. But with increasing size, the opportunity for student influence
on procedures logistically diminishes. At the level of the multi-classroom,
multi-program school or university, procedures for meeting compliance standards
increasingly diminish the opportunity to employ the first of Oxford"s definitions and must resort to the cold manipulations defined by the second.
with institutional and government expectations is vital to the longevity of not
only institutions of education, but those of health, commerce and industry as
well." The behavioral models used by the nation must be enforced and perpetually
reviewed to maintain the wellbeing of the society and must be reasonable, having
positive and negative consequences clearly presented." But it cannot be assumed
that all citizens will recognize or appreciate the reasoning for the statutes.
Yet why individuals do not or cannot understand, or why they disagree, must be
rigorously investigated and appreciated as well.
The year 2020 begins
with both a "bang and a whimper". But to contradict T.S. Eliot, the world is
not ending. This is an extremely rare occasion where nations with adversarial
political viewpoints find themselves unifying over critical steps to minimize
the human toll from the worst pandemic in one hundred years." The common
advisory is not philosophical." It is viral. And the need for world-wide
compliance with life-saving behavior is universally demanded.
Go wash your hands.
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Geertz, C. (2017) The interpretation of cultures 3rd. ed. Hachette Book
Lévi-Strauss, Claude (1966), The Savage Mind." University of Chicago Press
Piaget, J. (2007) The Psychology of Intelligence. Routledge
Skinner, B.F. (1953) Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020