Walter Mischel’s reducing valve

The following extract is taken from Walter Mischel‘s essay titled “Continuity and Change in Personality”, first published in volume 24 of American Psychologist in 1969.

“When we observe a woman who seems hostile and fiercely independent some of the time but passive, dependent and feminine on other occasions, our reducing valve usually makes us choose between the two syndromes. We decide that one pattern is in the service of the other, or that both are in the service of a third motive. She must be a really castrating lady with a facade of passivity – or perhaps she is a warm, passive-dependent woman with a surface defence of aggressiveness. But perhaps nature is bigger than our concepts and it is possible for the lady to be a hostile, fiercely independent, passive, dependent, feminine, aggressive, warm, castrating person all-in-one. Of course which of these she is at any particular moment would not be random or capricious – it would depend on who she is with, when, how, and much, much more. But each of these aspects of her self may be a quite genuine and real aspect of her total being.”

Mischel’s concept is that the human mind reduces multiple, competing perspectives down to one, clear and consistent view.

This bares similarity to Leon Ferstinger‘s physiological concept of ‘cognitive dissonance’, which describes the ‘mental stress’ experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.

Festinger believes that when experiencing cognitive dissonance, we seek to minimise the discomfort by reducing the inconsistencies of our thoughts.

It seems we like to believe in black or white.

One opinion or the other.

This way or that.

We default to one side, without really thinking about it.

It just happens.

Few take the time to do the opposite.

To pursue one opinion and the other.

But this is exactly what is required to truly justify an opinion.

Like Charlie Munger once said,

“You’re not entitled to take a view, unless and until you can argue against that view better than the smartest guy who holds that opposite view.”

Hey. I’m Alex Murrell. I'm a Planner at Epoch Design in Bristol where I help deliver highly creative, innovative and effective pack, instore and online communications for some of the world’s biggest FMCG brands. Want to know more? You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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