OODA Alpha Part V: Orientation

Orientation directly determines action through implicit guidance and control (Boyd, 1996). While early attempts at describing orientation or implicit cognition were less than scientific (Adler, 1956, Freud, 1959), the components of orientation are now firmly grounded in the scientific literature. Orientation, or implicit thinking,is characterized by a relative lack in controllability, intention, or meta-cognitive awareness, or else by a relative improvement in processing efficiency (Bargh, 1994). Additionally, motivation is qualitatively superior when guided by orientation rather than decision.

The five theoretical components of Orientation in the OODA loop – genetic heritage, cultural traditions, previous experience, new information, and analysis and synthesis – have all been shown to affect human behavior. Genetic heritage drives species-typical adaptations such as language acquisition (Chomsky, 1957, 1965; Pinker, 2003), social behavior (Wilson, 1975; Bjorklund & Kipp, 2001), and epistemological development (Piaget, 1976; Karmiloff-Smith, 1992), while individual differences in genetic heritage appear to matter in linguistic skill (Kovas, et al., 2005; Thomas & Karmiloff-Smith, 2005; Dediu & Ladd, 2007), intelligence (Deary, Spinath, & Bates, 2006), ADD/ADHD (Ding, et al., 2002; Thapar, et al, 2007), shyness (Freedman & Freedman, 1969; Rosenberg & Kagan, 1989; Coplan, Coleman, & Rubin, 1998), political orientation (Alford, Funk, & Hibbing, 2004; Hatemi, et al., 2007). Evidence supporting the influence of cultural differences has been found in mathematics (Saxe, 1981; Andrews, 2007), biology (Medin & Atran, 2004; Atran, Medin, & Ross, 2005) and epistemology (Fu, et al., 2007) while socio-cultural effects on neurological function are being studied (Karmiloff-Smith, Scerif, & Thomas, 2002; Scerif & Karmiloff-Smith, 2005; Karmiloff-Smith, 2007). Likewise, the recognition that prior experience (Skinner, 1958; Vygotsky, 1978) is too widespread to merit discussion. Analysis and synthesis, the consequence of decision on orientation, is addressed in the next section while new information is covered under the discussion on disorientation.


Metacognition, which is central to rationality in decision, is weak to nonexistent for orientation (Schraw & Moshman, 1995; Moshman 2005). Self-monitoring is useful for special education students (Harris, et al., 2002; Zito, et al., 2007) as well as the general student population (Sinatra, 2001). However, individuals have a hard time knowing what they are thinking. Research on orientation, for instance, demonstrates that discrimination can be greater (Baron & Banaji, 2006), lesser (LaPierre, 1934), or more complicated (Durham, Baron, and Banaji, 2006) than might be expected from just verbal self-reports. The lack of introspection on discrimination is a special case on the lack of introspection generally. The inability of decision or System 2 to accurately describe orientation or System 1 is now well established (Wicker, 1969; Nisbett & Wiilson, 1977; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998; Nosek, 2007; Nosek, Greenwald, & Banaji, 2007; Nosek & Smyth, 2007).

Motivation leads to better outcomes when guided by orientation than when guided by decisions. When motivation is guided by orientation is is directed at the activity itself, while motivation decided upon is directed via a means-end analysis at some overriding objective (Harlow, 1953; White, 1959; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). Motivational orientation is related to better well-being and adjustment (Kasser & Ryan, 1993, 1996; Levesque, et al., 2004) and greater expertise (Koestner, et al., 1984; Vansteenkiste, et al., 2004). While internalizing a proper motivation is possible (Luyten & Luyten, 1981; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006), numerous studies have found that creating a decision-based orientation destroys or reduces motivational orientation (deCharms, 1968;Vansteenkiste, et al., 2004).


OODA Alpha, a tdaxp series
1. Abstract
2. Dual Processing Systems
3. The OODA Loop
4. Decision
5. Orientation
6. A Theory of Mind
7. Reorientation
8. Disorientation
9. Education
10. Instruction
11. Student Interaction
12. Creativity
13. Conclusion
14. Bibliography

One thought on “OODA Alpha Part V: Orientation”

  1. The issue you address regarding metacognition is an interesting one that deserves exploration.

    The revised Bloom taxonomy of educational outcomes outlines four knowledge types — factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive — and six process types — remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

    I'm not certain how well those map to our current understanding of how the brain actually works. (I'd be interested in thoughts on that.) But, we have a tendency to speak of “metacognition” as a process. The idea that we can literally think about thinking doesn't make sense to me intuitively. It seems to violate a cognitive-equivalent of the uncertainty principle.

    We can certainly “evaluate” our emotional state (in a very limited way, using cues from working memory) and “analyze” our actions to derive metacognitive “knowledge”.

  2. I've spent little time with Bloom (I think it is more popular in education as opposed to educational psychology), but I am aware of a similar division between declarative (factual/conceptual), procedural, and conditional learning.

    Metacognition can range from a learner knowing he cannot remember all the information, and so writes it down, to the creative expert who knows he is at his peak early in the morning, and so schedules his day around being in his studio at 5 AM.

    More precisely than just “thinking about thinking,” metacognition is the routing-around one's own incompetences.

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