Psychological Situation

The fourth variable in the prediction formula is the psychological situation (.v), defined as that part of the external and internal world to which a person is responding. It is not synonymous with external stimuli, although physical events are usually important to the psychological situation.

Behavior is the result of neither environmental events nor personal traits; rather it stems from the interaction of a person with his or her meaningful environment. If physical stimuli alone determined behavior, then two individuals would respond in exactly the same way to identical stimuli. If personal traits were solely responsible for behavior, then a person would always respond in a consistent and characteristic fashion, even to different events. Because neither of these conditions is valid something other than the environment or personal traits must shape behavior. Rotter's social learning theory hypothesizes that the interaction between person and environment is a crucial factor in shaping behavior.

The psychological situation is "a complex set of interacting cues acting upon an individual for any specific tune period" (Rotter, 1982, p. 318). People do not behave in a vacuum; instead, they respond to cues within their perceived environment. These cues serve to determine for them certain expectancies for behavior-reinforcement sequences as well as for reinforcement-reinforcement sequences. The time period for the cues may vary from momentary to lengthy; thus, the psychological situation is not limited by tune. One's marital situation, for example, may be relatively constant over a long period of time, whereas the psychological situation faced by a driver's spinning out of control on an icy road may be extremely short. The psychological situation must be considered along with expectancies and reinforcement value, in determining the probability of a given response.

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