The Psychological Spectrum

Individual differences in motivation and performance may be analyzed at multiple, loosely coupled, levels of generality. These levels reflect the time frame over which behavior is sampled. Over short time periods (e.g. the milliseconds of an evoked potential study), situational constraints are extremely important. As the sampling frame is increased (e.g., to the seconds of a reaction time study), energetic components of motivation as well as strategic tradeoffs of speed for accuracy become more important. At somewhat longer sampling frames (e.g. the tens of minutes of a typical psychology experiment), individual differences and situational demands for sustaining performance take precedence. At even longer intervals, differential sensitivities to positive and negative feedback affect task persistence and choice. At much longer intervals, individual differences in preference affect occupational choice and the allocation of time between alternative activities. At all of these levels it is possible to distinguish between effects related to resource availability and to resource allocation. Although an adequate theory of motivation and performance should explain behavior at all of these levels, motivational effects at intermediate time frames have been most frequently examined. In particular, the focus of this chapter are those motivational effects that can affect the link between thinking and doing within periods of several minutes to several hours.

1) Levels of analysis and the psychological spectrum. Psychological phenomena occur across at least 12 orders of temporal magnitude. Cognitive and motivational theories at each frequency make use of directional and energetic constructs. Outcome measures may be organized in terms of their temporal resolution as well as their physiological emphasis. (Adapted from Revelle, 1989).