A Simple Model of Performance

Over the past year I have worked on grounding John Boyd’s OODA loop in modern psychology. Both here, and more often in academic drafts, I have described Orientation as System 1 or intuitive cognition, Decision as System 2 or deliberate cognition, Observation as perception and Action as behavior. I still think that the OODA model, or something very much like it, is probably the best high-level conceptual model of the human mind that we have available.

However, it does not help us understand what causes variance in the population, in most tasks. The reason for this is that it does not directly address the issue of Motivation. To use a computer metaphor if Orientation or System 1 is the hard drive, controller cards, and BIOS, while System 2 is RAM, then Motivation is the hypervisor, or that thing that controls the ability of everything else to engage in behaviors to achieve a goal. Motivation, or the hypervisor, is useful because it regulates System 1/Orientation/Long-Term Memory’s and System 2/Decision/Working Memory’s control of behavior, which in turn affects performance. A model of cognition that does not include performance misses both motivation’s regulation of behavior, and motivation’s direct impact on performance. A model derived from Horn et al. (1993) may give us a way forward:

The cognitive components of this model can each be broken down into sub-components. Long-term memory includes both procedural knowledge (how to ride a bike, how to tie your shoes) and declarative knowledge (how you would answer questions: what is a bike? what are shoes?). Many tasks require procedural and decalarative knowledge to operate together. Working-memory includes visual working memory, which is in tasks such as imagining the rotation of objects in three-dimensional space, and verbal working memory, which is used to remember lists, numbers or names. As far as I can tell, motivation loads from both self-efficacy, the believe that as of now you can perform specific tasks to reach a goal, and attitudes, especially the enjoyment of a thing (as it relates to consumption) and desire to block out the world (as it relates to production).

This leaves the question of where the Central Executive is. John Sweller has argueed that it exists in Long-Term Memory, and indeed that no central executive is conceivable other than one that operates through a darwinistic random process within System 1 / Orientation. Alan Baddeley asserts it is a third component of working memory, alongside visual and verbal working memory, because central executive functions appear to tax working memory capacity. Albert Bandura asserts that humans are “agents,” and their Central Executive agency must rely within their Motivation. I don’t know.

The harmonization of John Boyd’s OODA loop with this model of what actually predicts performance is an important task for the field of psychology, especially if it can account for creativity. I hope somebody does it.

6 thoughts on “A Simple Model of Performance”

  1. Hi Dan,

    I enjoyed this very much, and now I’ll be pondering that central executive question more than I’d like…


  2. Why does there need to be a central executive?

    Why non a competitive process from different sub-agents like Minsky’s Society of the MInd (though it has been 20 years since I read it).

  3. Hm, that would explain the voices in my head Pslog.

    Seriously though. Every time somebody applies the OODA like this, it shows the astounding insight and vision of John Boyd. Keep up the great work and posts Dan.

  4. In my mind the OODA model doesn’t correlate very well to the computer hardware analogy, but I do think it corresponds well to a software system model, which also seems to me to incorporate into it the problem of motivation.

    Memory in a computer is really just a repository for data. The processor is the engine of the computer, and without a program to run, the engine is just idling. Operating systems and Hypervisors, which are also just operating systems, are really software programs whose goal is really to provide access to computer resources for application software programs.

    The analogy that makes sense to me is that motivation is a measure of the effectiveness of the mental software system, in effect the mental programming, that is being built and stored by an individual over time. The programming defines goals and criterion for goals and implements the logic and procedures of the goal seeking mechanism. Using the OODA model as the basic architecture for the mental software system then makes a lot of sense to me.

    It would seem to me that the mental software process would work something like this.

    Observe: receive external data.

    Orient: categorize the external data and correlate it with germane data from memory, when such data is available, and choose processing logic that is appropriate (like a software sub-routine) to the goal seeking objectives.

    Decide: selected procedures and logic is applied to the data to determine what, if any, action is appropriate. When action is appropriate to achieve a goal, then proceed to the implementation of the action, otherwise, return to observing.

    Action: take the appropriate action.

    So, motivation in this analogy would correlate to the creation and storage of these goal seeking sub-programs in an individual. And one of the tough questions to answer is what is the stimuli that causes one to create this goal seeking mental software.

    I don’t know if any of this makes sense to anyone but me. But these are my thoughts about it.

  5. Ar,

    Ha! That made me think of the Walter Jon William novel Aristoi [1] where a future human evolved/advanced society has among other things harnessed the power of multiple personality syndrome as a useful tool. From Wikipedia:

    “One feature of this novel is that the Aristoi can split their minds into daimones, or “limited sub-personalities”, all which can operate as independent mental entities subjugated under the will of the main ‘self’ of the Aristoi.”

    So if you are hearing voices, don’t think “I’m going crazy.

    Think – “I am evolving”.

    Or maybe both.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristoi_(novel)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *