APPLICATION OF BREHMS MODEL OF MOTIVATION TO PUBLIC
Ashley M. Tunstall
B.S., University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1994
M.A., University of Northern Colorado, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fidfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Public Administration
by Ashley M. Tunstall
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Public Administration
Ashley M. Tunstall
has been approved
Tunstall, Ashley M. (M.P.A.)
Application of Brehms Model of Motivation to Public Affairs
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Linda deLeon.
Cardiovascular effects as an indicator of motivational intensity and effort exertion
were examined in 66 undergraduate participants presented with a task that required
examining one article (Task A) in work period one, and either 1) one article-original;
one article-new or 2) two articles- one original; two articles- both new (Task B).
Participants were asked to imagine themselves as a policy maker or manager in need
of absorbing a set of ideas in a short amount of time to make an important decision.
Using Brehms integrative analysis, predictions were made that there would be a
crossover interaction pattern of responsiveness in work period two. During work
period two, values were in the expected pattern for Heart Rate, although the effect
weakly approached significance. ANOVAs on the Systolic Blood Pressure and
Diastolic Blood Pressure yielded no effects. Analysis of the Mean Arterial Pressure
data produced an article effect, with stronger responses among two article
participants. The initial data lend some cautious credibility to the idea that decision-
making processes in the public domain can benefit from both a central route and
peripheral route of processing.
This abstract accurately represents die content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
I dedicate this thesis to my daughter, Makara Nicolette Tunstall-Runge, whose
brilliant energy reminds me of lifes great possibilities.
My thanks to Linda deLeon for her enthusiasm and encouragement of this project.
My thanks to John C. Buechner for his belief in my ability to undertake this work. My
thanks to Floyd Ciruli for his willingness to jump into die middle of this project,
trusting that it is worthwhile. And, finally, my thanks to Rex A. Wright for his
unending friendship and flawless support over the last seventeen years without whom
this project would not have been possible.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Elaboration Likelihood Model...........................4
Brehms Model of Motivation............................5
Integrative Analysis of Effort and Cardiovascular Response.6
Determinants of Potential Motivation: Example..........9
Measurement of Cardiovascular Responses...............13
Baseline Cardiovascular Data..........................19
Work Period Responses.................................19
Possible Explanation of Findings: Experimenter Observations.. .24
Role of Interest in Public Issues...............24
Role of Literacy................................25
Real World Example.....................................26
Comprehensive Analysis of the Case.....................29
Comprehensive Focus on the Treatment Issues...........30
Not All Probation Officers Perform Alike..............31
Improving Heuristics and Conclusions..................33
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 Potential Motivation...................................8
3.1 Heart Rate.............................................22
LIST OF TABLES
Patterns of Predicted Systolic Reactivity for Perceived Ability..........12
Difficulty, Effort, and Likelihood Ratings...............................46
Baseline Heart Rate and Blood Pressure...................................47
Work Period 1: Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Change......................48
Work Period 2 : Blood Pressure Change....................................49
Ask a resident of Colorado whether it is better for politicians to make
decisions based on a thorough review of an issue or on reading a summary provided
by an expert and you are likely to hear that it is better to acquire more information
and then proceed in making an informed decision. What the citizen may not take into
account is how often decision-makers must make on-the-spot decisions for the
welfare of communities. For example, imagine that Denver citizens were the victims
of a terrorist attack where officials were unprepared to respond. In this instance,
citizens would expect immediate action. First responders and their commanders
would only be in a position to react and make decisions based on prior knowledge of
what they believe to be proper action to protect citizens against further harm. There
would not be time to seek out research articles and review them to learn how best to
proceed. In fact, anything less than immediate action would later be looked upon as
inhumane or unethical.
Alternatively, consider the international communitys reluctance to define the
1994 killings in Rwanda as genocide, notably a modem day tragedy in international
humanitarian politics. The Hutu Power Movement was responsible for orchestrating
and carrying out the holocaust that spanned approximately 100 days while the
international community argued over the definition of genocide (Gourevitch, 2004).
Had the international community decided quickly to define the acts as genocide, the
1948 UN Genocide Convention would have demanded action be taken before
800,000-900,000 people were slaughtered. By the time the international community
had worked out a decision based on debate and careful review, the movement had
begun and had ended, with enormous loss of life. The need for swift, less-involved
decision-making is clear in this example. The aforementioned examples, although real
and valid, do not provide perspective on the day-to-day challenges faced by many
working in the public domain.
One practical example can be found in juvenile courts across Colorado. When
a juvenile is taken into custody in Colorado, by law the juvenile has a right to a
detention hearing within 48 hours. At the detention hearing, it is decided whether the
juvenile will be released on bond with or without supervision, or whether the juvenile
must remain in detention pending further hearings. With sometimes only a brief
sketch of the juvenile and with very little information with which to make an
informed decision, judges must determine the level of risk the juvenile ostensibly
poses to the community. Based on that determination, the judge may weigh more
heavily the juveniles right to be out in the community unconfined versus the
communitys right to be protected against potential harm.
One might ask why this is important to consider. How important is it that we
understand the conditions under which a person will use a system of comprehensive
analysis (or a central route of processing) versus heuristics (or a peripheral route of
processing) in coming to relevant conclusions and decisions? It can be very
important, especially given the complexity of decision-making in the public domain.
One issue that is raised relates to ones capacity to make decisions and the role that
preparation plays in decision-making. Specifically under circumstances where a
single individual is given the power and authority to make important decisions, it is
even more critical to understand the role of preparation and use of comprehensive
analysis versus heuristics. As noted above, judges in Colorado are depended upon
every day in juvenile courts to make sound decisions. Many of those decisions are
made through the use of heuristics: previous knowledge or experience, current trends
and beliefs among other judges, perspective of other professionals briefly presenting
in court, pressure to adhere to a timely docket and to keep the flow of cases on track,
personal beliefs systems about the characteristics present in each juvenile, just to
name a few. One argument is that given time constraints and the impossibility of
comprehensive analysis across all domains, we should investigate more fully the role
of heuristics in decision-making and how to better the process by which we use
heuristics in the public domain. The field of social psychology may lend a hand in
understanding how to move beyond speculation as to the efficacy of the use of
comprehensive analysis versus heuristics in attempting to solve social problems.
Elaboration Likelihood Model
One well-investigated notion is the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Heuristic
(or peripheral) and systematic (comprehensive or central) modes of information
processing (Chaiken, 1980,1987; Chaiken et al., 1989; Chen & Chaiken, 1999; Fiske
& Neuberg, 1990 and Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) may offer an explanation as to how
one could influence the extent to which, and circumstances under which, we more or
less require different levels and quality of information to make decisions and take
action. Heuristic processing involves using source cues and knowledge structures
representing consensus view, or source expertise (Chaiken, 1980), requiring little
cognitive demand. Heuristic processing can also be called a peripheral route of
processing in that one does not engage directly and comprehensively ones resources
to become informed and learn about a particular issue or topic. According to Chen et
al. (2000) systematic processing, on the other hand, involves comprehensive and
analytic scrutiny of judgment-relevant information. It is also known as using a
central route of processing. The motivated heuristic and systematic processing model
has underpinnings in motivational structures. Specifically, it purports that motivation
plays two roles in determining which mode will dominate in a given situation: 1)
Level of motivation predicts which mode will dominate, and 2) the type of motivation
predicts (ibid., 44) the nature or direction of whatever cognition occurs. An
underlying principle is that people are economy-minded (e.g., Chaiken, 1980,1987)
and guided by least effort motives in their information processing. The model
implies that one will engage in in-depth analysis prior to making a decision to the
extent that the individual has the ability and to the extent that it is important to the
individual to make the decision. It implies that the less prepared people are, the more
likely they are to engage in peripheral processing, and less likely to strive carefully to
process information rationally and logically. In other words, the less prepared people
feel, the less likely they are to engage in in-depth processing, that is, to use a central
route of processing. An alternative view suggests that this might not be the case.
Brehms Model of Motivation
Brehm (1989) offers a theoretical view of motivational processes that may
provide guidance in establishing conditions under which one might be optimally
engaged to carry out instrumental behavior. Chaiken et al. simplify the role of
motivation in decision-making and information processing in the Elaboration
Likelihood Model by creating a 1:1 relationship between motivation and cognitive
modes of processing. Below I will describe the theory of motivation offered by
Brehm to explain conditions under which people are more or less task engaged and
will exert more or less effort to satisfy a goal. The theory calls into question the
notions of Chaiken et al. and provides a framework for understanding the complexity
of effort exertion across situations.
Integrative Analysis of Effort and Cardiovascular Response
The analysis is an integration of Obrists active coping hypothesis (Obrist,
1976,1981; Light, 1981) and Brehms theory of motivation (Brehm & Self, 1989;
Wright & Brehm, 1989). According to Obrist, as task engagement increases,
sympathetic influence on the heart and vasculature also increases. Support comes
from studies that show greater cardiovascular responsiveness where difficulty is
moderate than where difficulty is low or very high (Elliott, 1969; Obrist et al., 1978).
According to Brehm (1989), there is a distinction between what an individual
would be willing to do and what an individual will do to satisfy a motive in terms of
amount of energy exerted. Brehm defined potential motivation as the peak of what an
individual would be willing to do. What should determine the potential motivation
level is the amount of need and value of the incentive. If need and value are high,
then potential motivation should also be relatively high. If need and value are low,
then potential motivation should also be relatively low. One final factor associated
with potential motivation is the perceived instrumentality of behavior. Potential
motivation should be relatively high if one feels a goal will be reached once a task is
complete. Actual motivation is determined by the difficulty of the instrumental
behavior as long as potential motivation is not surpassed and motive satisfaction is
perceived as within ones capabilities. If these two conditions are not met, then actual
motivation is expected to be relatively low. What ought to elicit relatively great
motivation is moderate task difficulty. This reasoning is consistent with Obrists
reasoning. Therefore, predictions for cardiovascular reactivity can be inferred from
Brehms theory of motivation. What elicits greater levels of cardiovascular response,
representing an increase amount of effort exertion, is the difficulty of the task.
Moderate task difficulty will elicit greater reactivity than easy task difficulty only
when the effort is justified by the need and value of the incentive along with a high
probability of motive satisfaction (Wright, Shaw & Jones, 1990, Experiment 2;
Wright et al., 1990, Experiment 1; Murray, Wright & Williams, 1993). See Figure
Figure 1.1 Potential Motivation
Determinants of Potential Motivation: Example
Need State, Incentive Value & Perceived Instrumentality of Behavior
A teenager is shopping for back-to-school clothes. All of her friends have the
latest Armani Exchange jeans. The teenager feels that she would rather die than go
back to school without the jeans (high need). The teenagers mother has given her a
budget of $200.00 to spend on back-to-school clothes. She is willing to spend all of
the $200.00 on the jeans so that all of her friends will think that she is super cool
(high incentive) and she is certain that she can find a pair of jeans for $200.00 (high
perceived instrumentality of behavior). That is, if she spends the $200.00 on jeans,
she will obtain the desired object. In this instance, potential motivation is high
because the teenager has a high need to avoid humiliation, she knows she will achieve
acceptance if she owns a pair of the jeans (high incentive) and it is certain that she
can obtain a pair of jeans for $200.00 (high perceived instrumentality of behavior).
Willingness to Act Versus Acting
While shopping at the mall, the teenager enters a store and learns that the
jeans are in stock, and are on sale for $75.00 for that day only. While she is willing to
spend the entire $200.00 to obtain the jeans, all she has to do to obtain the jeans is
expend $75.00. Therefore, action differs here from willingness to act in that fewer
resources have to be expended to achieve the desired outcome.
In contrast to the predictions of the Elaboration Likelihood Model, Brehms
integrative analysis suggests that so long as you view success of processing
information (central route of processing) as possible and worthwhile given the
importance of making a decision, then the lower ones ability, the harder you should
strive in order to compensate for your lack of preparation. In the current experiment,
it was predicted that when participants are presented with written material and asked
to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time, cardiovascular reactivity
should be proportional to level of potential motivation and task difficulty. Increased
levels of cardiovascular reactivity are reflective of effort exertion, up to the point
where success is perceived as no longer possible, or beyond the level of potential
motivation. To illustrate, the pattern of expected results are as follows. When
potential motivation and perceived ability are low under easy task difficulty
conditions, one would expect to see moderate levels of cardiovascular reactivity,
reflecting more effort being exerted during the task of learning information in order to
make an informed decision (suggesting a central route of processing, or systematic
thinking). When potential motivation and perceived ability are low under moderately
difficult task conditions, one would expect to see low levels of cardiovascular
reactivity, reflecting minimal effort exertion toward learning information to make an
informed decision (suggesting a peripheral route of processing, or heuristic thinking).
When potential motivation and perceived ability are high under easy task conditions,
one would expect to see low levels of cardiovascular reactivity, reflecting minimal
effort exerted given the need state and incentive value of the situation ( suggesting
peripheral route of processing, or heuristic thinking). When potential motivation and
perceived ability are high under moderately difficult task conditions, one would
expect to see moderate to high levels of cardiovascular reactivity, reflecting a higher
level of effort exertion in order to make an informed decision (suggesting a central
route of processing, or systematic thinking). Under these conditions, actual task
engagement and heightened effort will not be dependent simply on a level of
motivation to determine which mode of processing will be dominant, it will be
determined by an interaction of potential motivation and task difficulty, leaving
categories of various motivational states inconsequential. To illustrate the predicted
patterns of systolic reactivity, see next page.
Table 1.1 Patterns of Predicted Systolic Reactivity for Perceived Ability1
(Number of Articles)
(One Article) (Two Articles)
Moderate Reactivity Low Reactivity
Low Reactivity High Reactivity
1 Systolic reactivity is the dependent measure equivalent to how much one is task engaged, or exerting
Participants were 66 undergraduate students from the University of Alabama
at Birmingham (UAB) who were enrolled in an introductory psychology course.
Participants were recruited from sign-up sheets in a central location in the psychology
department offering course credit for participation (required of all introductory
psychology students). Data from four participants were excluded due to three
misunderstanding the instructions and one not following the instructions.
Measurement of Cardiovascular Responses
Cardiovascular assessments were made with a Dinamap Vital Signs monitor
(PRO 100), which estimates systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure
(DBP), and mean arterial pressure (MAP) using the oscillometric method and
computes HR by tabulating oscillations in its occluding cuff. This method of
measurement is widely accepted among researchers in psychology who conduct
experiments using cardiovascular reactivity as the dependent variable (Bemtson et al.
1993, Brehm & Self, 1989, Brownley et al., 2000, Gendolla et al., 2005).
Participation in the experiment was on an individual basis. Each participant
was greeted in the lobby of the psychology department and escorted to the
experimental chamber where they were asked to be seated at a table on which was an
informed consent statement covering the explanation of procedures, risks and
discomforts, benefits, confidentiality, withdrawal without prejudice, cost for
participation, alternative, payment for research-related injuries, questions and legal
rights. Each participant was left alone to review and sign the document Upon re-
entering the experimental chamber, the experimenter collected and signed the
informed consent statement as a witness and reiterated that the study is concerned
with the way people respond physiologically and psychologically when they perform
different tasks under different conditions. As such, it was explained that measures of
blood pressure and heart rate would be taken at intervals during the experiment and
that it was necessary to obtain baseline measures. The experimenter attached the
blood pressure cuff to the brachial artery of the left arm and began a 6 minute
baseline period, during which participants were told they could read popular
magazines and relax while measurements of blood pressure and heart rate were taken.
The experimenter returned at the end of the baseline period, removed the
magazines from the table and replaced them with envelopes marked Task A and
Task B which were placed directly in front of the participants. The participants
were told to open the envelope marked Task A and follow the instructions as soon
as the experimenter left the experimental chamber. Participants were monitored via a
closed-circuit television camera mounted in the top comer of the room from the
Task A instructions were the same for all participants. Participants were
instructed to study carefully the attached article, with the goal of learning as much
from it as they could in a period of four minutes. Participants were further guided by
suggesting that while reading they might imagine themselves as a manager or policy
maker who has a limited amount of time to absorb a set of ideas and facts in order to
make an important decision. The instructions further read that after four minutes had
passed, the participants may or may not be tested over the articles content. The
participants read the instructions twice and then pressed the call button to alert the
experimenter that they were ready to begin the four minute task period. The
experimenter came over the intercom and instructed the participants to turn the page
and begin reading the first article entitled Including Behavior in Health-Disparities
Legislation. Measures of blood pressure and heart rate were taken at the end of
minutes 1 and 3 of work period one.
At the conclusion of work period one, the participants were instructed to stop
reading and to open the envelope marked Task B and follow the instructions inside.
The instructions indicated that the second task would be similar to the first. The
participants were to study carefully a set of written material, learning as much as
possible in four minutes and were told that they would definitely be tested later over
the material. Some participants received instructions that there would only be one
article, which may or may not be the original one. Others received instructions that
there would be two articles, one of which may or may not be the original one.
In other words, in Task B, participants received one of four possibilities:
One Article (Original):
Including Behavior in Health-Disparities Legislation
One Article (New):
Gearing Up to Respond: Large-Scale Terrorism Drill
Two Articles (One original/One New):
Including Behavior in Health-Disparities Legislation and Gearing Up to Respond:
Large-Scale Terrorism Drill
Two Articles (Both new):
When Health Fears Hurt Health and Gearing Up to Respond: Large-Scale
Participants further read that success on the follow-up test would be defined as
a score of 70% or better, and that if they did not attain that level of performance, a
blast of noise would be presented through the speakers on the wall next to them and
continue for thirty seconds. Participants were reminded to imagine themselves as a
manager or policy maker who has a limited amount of time to absorb a set of ideas
and facts in order to make a decision. After reading the instructions twice, the
participants pressed the call button at which point they were told to fill out the
subjective measures questionnaire before proceeding with work period two. Once the
participants opened the envelope containing the two articles and began reading,
measures of blood pressure and heart rate were taken at the end of minutes 1 and 3 of
work period two. At the conclusion of work period two, the experimenter returned to
the experimental chamber and debriefed the participant.
It was expected that difficulty appraisals in work period 2 would be highest
for participants presented two new articles (Two-Articles/Original-No) and lowest for
participants presented only the original article (One-Article/Original-Yes), with
appraisals for the remaining participants falling in between. Statistically, this should
have been manifested in two main effects (one for the article factor and one for the
original factor), reflecting higher values when two articles were assigned and when
the original article was not included. The relevant difficulty and effort ratings are in
Table 3.1. It can be seen that the difficulty ratings did not follow the expected pattern
and, instead, were invariant across conditions. A 2 (article) x 2 (original) analysis of
variance (ANOVA) revealed no effects. Although the difficulty ratings did not
follow the predicted pattern, the effort ratings did. A 2 x 2 ANOVA on the effort data
yielded no effects. However, a directional (one-tailed) a priori contrast of values for
Two-Articles/Original-No participants with values for One-Article/Original-Yes
participants fell just short of significance, t (62) = 1.60, p = .06.
In view of the difficulty expectations, I expected likelihood of success ratings
to be lowest for Two-Articles/Original-No participants and highest for One-
Article/Original-Yes participants, with appraisals for the remaining participants
falling in between. This should have been manifested in two main effects reflecting
lower values when two articles were assigned and when the original article was not
included. Table 3.1 shows that means were consistent except in the One-
Article/Original-Yes condition, in which unexpectedly low likelihood estimates were
obtained. A two-way ANOVA produced an article x original interaction, F(\, 62)
5.29, p .03, reflecting two effects. First, values were lower for Original-No
participants when two articles were assigned, / (62) = 1.99, p = .05, but tended to be
higher for Original-No participants when one article was assigned, t (62) = 1.24, ns.
Second, values tended to be lower for Two-Article participants when the original was
not included, t (62) 1.08, ns, but was higher for Two-Article participants when the
original was included, / (62) = 2.17, p = .03.
Together, the subjective data provide evidence that the experimental
manipulations were effective. However, the manipulations appear to have been weak,
at best, which suggest that CV effects should be weak as well.
Baseline Cardiovascular Data
Mean baseline CV values are in Table 3.2. Two x 2 ANOVAs on the baseline
data yielded no effects.
Work Period Responses
CV response during the work periods was assessed as change from baseline
(Llabre, Spitzer, Saab, Ironson, & Schneiderman, 1991). Two sets of change scores
were computed by subtracting base values from the mean of values obtained in each
work period (periods 1 and 2). The change data were analyzed in the context of 2 x 2
It will be recalled that my central CV response predictions were twofold.
First, I expected no group differences in CV responsiveness during work period 1,
when all participants were performing the same task under the same conditions.
Second, I expected a crossover interaction pattern of responsiveness in work period 2.
Among One-Article participants, effort-related responses should have been stronger
when the original article was absent; by contrast, among Two-Article participants,
effort-related responses should have been stronger when the original article was
Work Period 1. Table 3.3 presents means for the HR and blood pressure
measures. As expected, ANOVAs on the data revealed no effects.
Work Period 2. HR means are in Figure 3.1, page 22. The figure shows that
values were in the expected crossover pattern, with a relatively pronounced original
simple effect among One-Article participants and a very weak original simple effect
among Two-Article participants. An ANOVA on the HR data produced an
As a guard against movement artifact, I omitted CV change values that deviated by more than two
standard deviations from the mean of their experimental group.
interaction that only weakly approached significance, F (1, 58) = 1.96,p = .17.
However, directional (one-tailed) a priori contrasts indicated that responses for One-
Article/Original-No participants were stronger than responses for One-
Article/Original- Y es participants, t (58) = 1.81, p = .04, and Two-Article/Original-No
participants, t (58) = 1.76,/? = .04. Responses for I wo-Article/Original-Yes
participants were numerically stronger than those for One-Artie le/Ori ginal No and
One-Article/Original-Yes participants, but those comparisons did not approach
Figure 3.1 Heart Rate3
Means for the blood pressure measures are in Table 3.4. ANOVAs on the
SBP and DBP data yielded no effects. On the other hand, analysis of the MAP data
produced an article effect, F( 1, 59) = 4.91,p .03, reflecting stronger responses
among Two-Article participants. Inspection shows that means were in a crossover 3
Figure 3.1. Heart rate change for One- and Two-Article participants under conditions where
the original article was- and was not included.
pattern somewhat similar to the pattern observed for HR change. However, simple
original effects did not approach significance for the One-Article participants or for
the Two-Article participants.
The current experiment was an attempt to gamer insight into the role that
motivational processes play in leading one to exert effortful behavior to make
informed decisions (central route of processing, or comprehensive analysis) versus
the use of heuristics (peripheral route of processing, or heuristic processing). The data
suggest that there is a slight trend toward support for the line of reasoning that the
Elaboration Likelihood Model is not necessarily sufficient to explain the role that
preparation plays in decision-making. The patterning of results suggests that, in fact,
it is possible that the notion that the less prepared one is (i.e. the less capable) to make
a decision, the more likely they are to engage in a peripheral route of processing is
Possible Explanation of Findings: Experimenter Observations
Role of Interest in Public Issues
One possibility is that the students of the university did not see the articles as
relevant to their daily lives or interests. I chose the articles based on what I perceived
to be relevant and exciting topics of the day. However, in doing so, there was inherent
bias as I am more likely to be interested in various topics related to social and public
policy than the average person at the undergraduate level who may, or may not, have
chosen an area of specialization at this point in their education. If this line of
reasoning is valid, it could be that the variance in student interest across topics would
be incredibly difficult to ascertain, and would lead to low potential motivation across
the conditions. Alternatively, it could be that lack of an incentive value would lead
one to view success as impossible, because one is not educated in the topics at hand,
and does not feel capable of learning the information in a short amount of time as
directed in this experiment. If that is the case, there should have been no significant
reactivity across conditions. Further research could focus on the role that interest and
investment in certain social issues plays in determining levels of potential motivation
and perceived ability.
Role of Literacy
It was striking to note that while running the participants through the
experiment, they often did not seem to grasp the meaning of the articles, and
sometimes the words. When debriefed, they often could not recall the basic premise
of the article(s). Additionally, while monitoring the participants over closed-circuit
television, many of them would appear to stay stuck in the first or second paragraph,
only scanning the balance of the article. The articles were carefully chosen for their
length so as to not overwhelm participants. The length of the articles should not have
presented a barrier to success. It is possible that the average reading comprehension
level is not at an acceptable standard. If this is true, it lends to even greater support of
basic literacy training programs and early intervention in our schools. Low reading
comprehension may exclude and marginalize a whole segment of people from being
able to participate effectively in many areas of the public domain: basic advocacy of
rights, voting behavior, pursuit of career opportunities, and civic engagement, just to
name a few.
Real World Example
As mentioned in the introductions, judges must often rely on heuristics to make
decisions in juvenile courts, with the exception of frill trials, which are uncommon in
this area. In order to use comprehensive analysis, judges would have to be subject
matter experts in the fields of child welfare, juvenile justice, probation, parole, mental
health, education, risk and assessment, vocational needs, life skills, law enforcement,
residential treatment and outpatient services. They must defer to previous experience
as a source cue for how to proceed on a given case, or defer some of their decision-
making to professionals whom they view as competent and able to make sound
judgments in these cases. Additionally, they must rely on what snapshots of
behavior at a given point in time tell us about the likelihood of risk in the future.
Probation officers (POs) are one such group to which the judges must defer
oversight and substantive decision-making. They are in a unique position to influence
behavior, both positively and negatively, in juvenile probationers. The difference
between turning behavior around and re-offending may lie not in the structured
mandates of the juvenile justice system, but in the authority allocated and the
delegated power given to probation officers by the court and the approach they take in
relation to case analysis. The court is the overriding authoritative figure, with
supervision of the case being diverted to the PO at sentencing. This is one practical
way that judges are able to divert from having to use comprehensive analysis in
determining how to make orders or proceed in a case. It would simply be impossible.
By nature of the number of cases in juvenile court, the court often cannot serve the
role of ultimate decision-maker and implementer of those decisions in juveniles
lives. My contention is that the success of POs in preventing recidivism lies in the
orchestrated use of sanctions (Wilson & Howell, 1993), along with the autonomy
given to POs in some judicial districts to impose certain interventions and services
upon juveniles, thereby allowing over the course of approximately two years, the PO
to engage in comprehensive processing regarding needs, risk and intervention
services where the judge was not able to do so. We would not want each judge to
attempt comprehensive analysis. It would impede the basic right to due process. Our
judicial system simply would be paralyzed if a central route of processing were the
standard in assessing a juveniles risk to the community initially. It would take
months to determine bond, for example. For obvious reasons, this would not be
desirable. In other words, heuristic processing is not only favorable forjudges
determining initial risk to society, it is absolutely mandatory. POs, on the other hand,
are able to use significant time and energy gathering background information,
assessing the efficacy of the information, and determining a course of action for the
juvenile over time. Whereas the judge must rely on short screening tools to judge risk,
the probation officer can follow the juvenile over time and take multiple, complex
factors into account when determining how to manage the case and modify
requirements. In fact, in a probation situation, using only heuristic processing would
impede a POs ability to serve the best interests of the juvenile.
Lets look at how heuristic processing in the context of probation would be a
liability through examining the differences between Jim and Sam.4 They were both
convicted on a 3rd Degree Assault charge at age 15 and were placed on probation for
2 years, a standard sentence imposed upon juveniles in Colorado, irrespective of
charge, on a first or second charge. Jim and Sam come from similar backgrounds and
both present with similar struggles: truancy, anger management problems and typical
defiant adolescent behavior. Jim and Sam were assigned to different probation
officers from the same department. One year later, Jim is at high-risk for being
sentenced to the Division of Youth Corrections which is the highest level of security
available in the State of Colorado. Sam is doing well and continues to meet the
conditions of his probation.
4 Names of the cases have been changed, but the facts remain true to date.
Comprehensive Analysis of The Case
It seems plausible that the challenge facing a juvenile after being placed on
probation is how to reconcile the difference in the values the juvenile holds while
performing antisocial acts (e.g., stealing, assaulting someone) and the value of society
to be safe and for its citizens to conform to behavior within socially acceptable
norms. One might assume that a central value of an offender at the time of the offense
could be extreme individualism (i.e. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, no
matter who I hurt.) if acting in the absence of a peer group, or extreme need to
belong if acting in the presence of a peer group that encourages the delinquent
behavior. Probation officers typically see their role as one that upholds community
safety, very similarly to the judges.
Accountability is clearly a value that the PO brings to the relationship as it is
the highest value of the court and judicial system as a whole. A PO is unable to ignore
such a glaring mandate and they are often attracted to the position because the
mandate is congruent with personally held values. However, the astute PO
understands that if behavior change is to occur, they must go beyond the mandate of
accountability at all costs (a heuristic belief) to put the right amount of pressure on
the juveniles to change while not overwhelming them so that they give up. One way
to regulate distress among juvenile probationers while also holding them accountable
is to use varying degrees of sanctions to redirect their attentionidentifying the
underlying reasons why the juvenile offended and making adjustments to lifestyle in
order to promote prosocial engagement in society. For example, if a juvenile were to
violate probation by smoking a cigarette, the PO might order that the juvenile
complete ten hours of community service in a nursing home, perhaps with residents
suffering from lung cancer or some other smoking-related disease. The experience
might catch his or her attention, but wouldnt overwhelm the juvenile to the point that
he or she feels no control. In the same situation, stress could have exceeded a
tolerable range if the PO had gone back to court to request that the judge give the
juvenile 45 days in detention.
Comprehensive Focus on the Treatment Issues
It could be that a juvenile committed assault because he or she was being
bullied at school. Although a victim of bullying, in the eyes of the law, the juvenile
would still be guilty if he or she lashed out and attacked another person. Using a
heuristic mode of processing, a judge would be unable to act differentially toward the
juvenile during initial court hearings and would need to sentence the juvenile in
accordance with how the judge normally sentences a juvenile for assault. However,
as the PO gets to know the juvenile, the PO would understand that the real work
would be to focus attention on eliminating the bullying, thereby removing the cause
that provoked the assault in the first place. In this instance, an arbitrary intervention
such as individual therapy with a focus on childhood issues would not be what is
needed to prevent further assaults from taking place. The behavior is not being driven
by unresolved childhood issues. The issue is that the juvenile is being bullied. The
PO, in a position to dive deeply into the issues, is serving a potentially life-changing
role for a juvenile. That is, the PO can focus attention to the right issues, at the right
time. The judge is unable to do that, nor would we want that to be the role of the
The PO can also monitor the effects the sanctions have on behavior. Using the
previous example, if the juvenile completed the community service and smoked a
pack of cigarettes upon leaving the nursing home, the PO might know that not enough
pressure was placed on the juvenile.
Not All Probation Officers Perform Alike
Sams probation officer exceeded the minimum requirements of contact with
him in a given month. She believes that the best way for Sam to succeed is to allow
him to take accountability for his actions through the use of sanctions when he makes
mistakes, but to support him in his development by reserving harsh punitive measures
as a last resort. The more the PO gets to know Sam, the more she believes that he will
learn to better control his actions by experiencing immediate consequences, yet still
having to engage in the community prosocially. She believes that sending him to
secure detention for every violation will not force him to consider alternative
behavior. In secure detention, he would not have to do any work to effect behavior
change. Research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (1998) has shown the deterrent
effect of detention to last approximately 48 hours on a first stay. Subsequent detention
stays have a negligible effect on recidivism. The real work is in the community, under
the conditions of daily life. Doing the therapeutic work within the context of the
family, peer group and school is where the real challenge lies.
Jim, on the other hand, is assigned to an old-school PO who is very punitive
and has not bothered to learn the case or the facts that led to the assault. Each time
Jim was brought into court for minor violations, he was sentenced to 45 days in
detention. It is plausible that with all other factors being relatively equal, the approach
to supervision is a tool that either promotes a trusting relationship that can then be
used to foster behavior change, or that can be used to foster avoidance. In the case of
Sam, the PO was comprehensively involved and was able to closely moderate the
circumstances by which Sam responded to the stress of impending sanctions. Using
only those sanctions that represented the least amount of restriction given the
violation, Sam experienced immediate consequences for his inappropriate actions,
while still being encouraged and motivated to explore and clarify values. The least
amount of restriction given a charge of 3* Assault is commonly thought to be home
detention with an electronic ankle monitor and supervision by a pre-trial release
program while in the community. However, there are times that the least amount of
restriction given the offense is actually secure detention, specifically if the charge is
considered a crime of violence and the community is determined to be at imminent
risk. Through refixsing to threaten the harshest of sanctions, the PO showed an in-
depth understanding of Sam on a consistent basis while maintaining a sense of
In the case of Jim, the probation officer took the authority allocated by the
court and fully ignored the responsibility to go beyond the use of heuristic processing
in order to set up circumstances to promote the highest likelihood of behavior change.
When Jim made a mistake, she used the harshest sanction available, which resulted in
Jims stress level reaching extremes whereby he gave up. He took every chance to
resist the authority of the PO, thereby ultimately avoiding real change. No trust ever
emerged since the PO met with Jim minimally. Jim never gained insight into his
criminal behavior. With community safety and accountability being the mandates of
the court and probation, Sams PO succeeded in facilitating change at the highest
level, while Jims PO failed miserably. Punitive authority and heuristic case analysis
did not prevail or meet the overall goal: to reduce recidivism and increase community
safety and accountability, while the initial decision of the judge to sentence in the
same way was correct, with only minimal input or analysis.
Improving Heuristics and Conclusions
In the public domain of the judicial setting, improving heuristics would
involve concentrating on improving and modifying initial risk assessment by judges
through the use of quick, yet precise, screening instruments that accurately predict
community safety risk. By investing money in doing so, society would benefit greatly
through improved confidence that judges are making sound heuristic decisions when
allowing a juvenile to return to the community. By the judges seeing the value of
passing supervision of a case on to a probation officer and allowing more
comprehensive analysis to proceed as to how to best impact behavior change in
juveniles, the system is allowing both modes of processing to accurately serve the
best interests of juveniles. In other words, each mode has its place and should be
valued. By combining the methods of processing in one case, the juvenile benefits by
receiving what he or she needs in order to prevent recidivism and further infiltration
into the juvenile justice system. The community benefits by being protected from
further potential harm and by preventing the need to expend tax dollars on
incarceration, which is far more expensive over time than investing in proper
screening instruments and supervision costs in the community.
Through my experiment, I offered a lens through which to consider an
alternative to the view that values and empirical judgments cannot co-mingle for
any length of timethat the presence of one means the absence or exclusion of the
other. The integrative analysis offered by Brehm provides a potential way to think
about preparation and involvement in decision-making, and could be widely
applicable in structuring the way in which public institutions set up decision-making
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Difficulty, Effort, and Likelihood Ratings
(Articles-Difficulty) One Two
(Original-Ability/Prep)Yes No Yes No
Difficulty 5.00 5.06 4.76 5.07
Effort 6.25 7.28 6.94 7.40
Likelihood 5.25 5.94 6.47 5.33
Ns 16 18 17 15
Note: Means are covariance-adjusted for baseline levels.
Table 3.2 Baseline Heart Rate and Blood Pressure (No Differences Predicted)
Group One Two Three Four
HR M 80.8 77.4 76.4 78.0
SD 11.82 7.69 11.24 12.93
N 15 17 16 14
SBP M 108.5 110.6 108.1 113.8
SD 12.93 12.82 7.13 16.60
N 15 17 15 15
DBP M 63.7 60.4 63.2 67.5
SD 7.77 8.76 6.46 9.91
N 15 18 16 15
MAP M 81.0 80.8 78.9 84.0
SD 10.20 10.28 6.57 11.96
N 15 17 16 15
Note: SBP = systolic blood pressure; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; MAP = mean
arterial blood pressure; HR = heart rate; M= mean; SD = standard deviation; N = cell
Work Period 1: Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Change (No Differences Predicted)
(Articles-Difficulty) One Two
(Original-Ability/Prep)Yes No Yes No
HR M 2.57 2.03 1.19 1.54
SD 4.47 4.23 4.39 3.61
N 15 17 16 14
SBP M 0.57 1.97 0.13 0.67
SD 6.05 6.95 2.42 4.45
N 15 17 15 15
DBP M 2.57 3.69 0.90 2.40
SD 1.86 5.87 3.91 3.68
N 15 18 16 15
MAP M 1.40 2.85 1.97 2.53
SD 4.28 5.30 3.49 4.82
N 15 17 16 15
Note: SBP = systolic blood pressure; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; MAP = mean
arterial blood pressure; HR = heart rate; M= mean; SD = standard deviation; N = cell
Work Period 2: Blood Pressure Change
(Articles-Difficulty) One* Two*
(Original-Ability/Prep) Yes No Yes No
HR M 1.87 4.32 2.16 1.89
SD 3.49 3.55 4.42 3.73
N 15 17 16 14
SBP M 0.43 -.0.09 1.00 -0.97
SD 4.70 4.61 3.77 7.47
N 15 17 15 15
DBP M 1.73 3.06 1.63 2.60
SD 3.67 4.93 4.31 6.08
N 15 18 16 15
MAP M -0.77 0.91 3.19 2.40
SD 4.11 4.49 4.39 6.27
N 15 17 16 15
Note: SBP = systolic blood pressure; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; MAP = mean
arterial blood pressure; HR = heart rate; M- mean; SD = standard deviation; N- cell
Ns. Predictions were for higher change scores in one article (new) participants than when the same article was present in
Task B. Predictions were also for higher change scores in the two article condition (one original and one new).