re: the nature of "construct"

W Ramsay (
Fri, 7 Jun 1996 09:37:16 +0100


You reply:

>Dear Bill,
>Earlier tonight you wrote:
>>To help illustrate my problem, I'm happy to admit that my cat construes (a
>>hypothetical cat for the moment, more's the pity). There are situations in
>>which she apparently makes a choice, and not always the same choice in the
>>same situation. However, any owner who thinks that his cat necessarily
>>construes him and his behaviour should try crouching down, sideways on,
>>about 5 or 6 metres from the cat to talk to her. Do this next to her and
>>she'll probably get set for play or petting; do it at a distance and you get
>>a ball of fur, claws and aggression. Some people would call the latter an
>>anticipation based on a wired-in construct, which is, in my view, silly.
>>PCP is best seen, for me, as having its own range of convenience, just like
>>any of its constructs, and its actually easier to analyse the cat's
>>behaviour, in both cases, in terms of evolution and conditioned reflexes.
>>Trying to make PCP a kind of Procrustean bed for all behaviours does it a
>>great disfavour.
>Good grief. At the start of this snippet you say you think your cat _can_
>construe. Halfway through you qualify this by excluding construal of
>yourself and your behaviour. (So what _does_ your cat construe?) Then you
>say that an explanation in terms of a "wired-in construct" is silly, which
>would seem to deny the very fundamentals of what a construct is by the
>simple expedient of the dirty word, "wired in", thereby ignoring the
>possibility of a construct as a distinction quite independent of the medium
>(verbal or otherwise) in which it's expressed. And finally you suggest that
>conditioned reflexes are a more useful way of explaining your moggy's
>Which of four different hares are you intending to start with _those_
>particular assertions, at least 2 combinations of which would seem to be
Quite right, Devi. I am suitably chastised. The students have me doing it
I think that the inclusion of 'always' after 'necessarily' makes a
difference, as in:

"... any owner who thinks that his cat necessarily _always_ construes his
behaviour .. "

and I have no problem with wired-in behaviour as a concept, only with the
idea that the cat, which has no choice in the matter of responding to apparently
(from its point of view) aggressive behaviour, thereby makes no distinction
in an active sense. Of course it responds differently to the two
situations, but its the _behaviour_ that makes the distinction, not the cat,
in the 'aggression' situation. (Thiks: does a started hare construe?) If
this isn't as clear as it might be, could I call on whoever it was said that
whether the rat in a Skinner box presses the lever is more to do with the
psychology of the lever than the psychology of the rat?

On of ours (cats, not rats) used respond to 'bending down close to it' and
go into play or flight mode depending on whether it anticipated a visit to
the vet or the cattery. The construct was 'basket present <-> basket
absent', presumably, and it was applied in a variety of 'basket present'
situation, such as physical presence, or human seen sneaking it through the
hall or creaking in the next room. Of course, a really devout Skinnerian
would mutter about discriminative stimuli ...

>(Quite apart from anything else, _everyone knows_ that cats construe but
>dogs can't. They also like plain crisps. Cats, I mean.)

Couldn't agree more. Funny, I construed you as a 'possible cat person'!



Bill Ramsay,
Dept. of Educational Studies,
University of Strathclyde,
Jordanhill Campus,
G13 1PP,

'phone: +44 (0)141 950 3364
'fax: +44 (0)141 950 3367