Frameworks – Organization Behaviour

Although organization behaviour is extremely complex and includes many inputs and dimensions, the cognitive, behaviouristic, and social cognitive theoretical frameworks can be used to develop an overall model. After the theoretical frameworks are examined the last section presents an organizational behaviour model that conceptually links and structures the rest of the text.

Cognitive Frame work

The cognitive approach to human behaviour has many sources of input. The micro-oriented in the next part provide some of this background. For now, however, it can be said simply that the cognitive approach gives people much more credit than the other approaches. The cognitive approach emphasizes the positives and freewill aspects of human behaviour and uses concepts such as expectancy, demand and intention. Cognition, which is the basic unit of the cognitive framework, can be simply defined as the act of knowing an item of information. Under this framework, cognitions precede behaviour and constitute input into the person’s thinking perception, problem solving and information processing. Concepts such as cognitive maps can be used as pictures or visual aids in comprehending a person’s understanding of particular and selective elements of the thoughts (rather than thinking) of an individual group or organization.

Behaviour to be the appropriate unit of analysis, behaviour is purposive, that it is directed towards a goal. Animals learned to expect that certain events would follow one another. For example, animals learned to behave as if they expected food when a certain cue appeared learning consists of the expectancy that a particular event will lead to a particular consequence. This cognitive concept of expectancy implies that the organism is thinking about, or is conscious or aware of, the goal.

Contemporary psychologists carefully point out that a cognitive concept such as expectancy does not reflect a guess about what is going on in the mind; it is a term that describes behaviour. In other words, the cognitive and behaviouristic theories are not as opposite as they appear on the surface and sometimes are made out to be. Despite some conceptual similarities, there has been a controversy throughout the years in the behavioural sciences on the relative contributions of the cognitive versus the behaviouristic  framework. As often happens in other academic fields, debate has gone back and forth through the years.

Because of the recent advances from both theory development and research findings there has been what some have termed a cognitive explosion in the field of psychology. For example a recent analysis of articles published in the major psychology journals found by far the greatest emphasis is on the cognitive school over the behavioural schools starting in the 1970s. Applied to the field of organizational behaviour a cognitive approach has traditionally dominated units of analysis such as personality and attitudes, motivation, and goal setting. Very recently there has been renewed interest in the role that cognitions can play in organizational behaviour in terms of advancement in both theory and research on social cognition. This social cognitive process can be a unifying theoretical framework for both cognition and behaviourism. However, before getting into the specifics of social cognitive theory, which serves as the conceptual framework for this text, it is necessary to have an understanding of the behaviouristic    approach as well.

The behaviouristic theory in psychology and its application to organizational behaviour, its roots can be traced to the work of Ivan Pavlov and John B Watson. These pioneering behaviourists stressed the importance of dealing with observable behaviours instead of the elusive mind that had preoccupied earlier psychologists. They used classical conditioning experiments to formulate the stimulus response (S-R) explanation   of human behaviour.

A recent study drawing from publication citations and a large  survey of psychologists  ranked Skinner  as the most influential psychologist of the 20th Century. He felt that the early behaviourists helped explain respondent behaviours (those behaviours elicited by stimuli) but not the more complex operant behaviours.  In other words, the S-R approach helped explain physical reflexes; for example when  stuck by a pin (S) the person will flinch ( R) or when  tapped below the kneecap (S), the person will extend the lower leg ®. On the other hand, Skinner found through his operant conditioning experiments that the consequences of a response could better explain most behaviours than eliciting stimuli could. He emphasized the importance of the response-stimulus (R-S) relationship. The organism has to operate on the environment (thus the term operant conditioning) in order to receive the desirable consequence.  The preceding stimulus does not cause the behaviour in operant conditioning; it serves as a cue to emit the behaviour. For skinner and the behaviourists behaviour is a function of its contingent environmental consequences.