In daily life, a person engages in a wide variety of activities. In accomplishing ordinary tasks, such as brushing the teeth, the individual takes for granted that the task will be completed and may have an experience of satisfaction after completing this routine task. Upon completion of a more difficult task such as fixing a mechanical device like an automobile, the person may experience a number of self-descriptive cognitions and affective responses such as being worthwhile, efficient and creative. In completing the task, the individual utilizes the operation of the agency which, similar to Bandura’s socio-cognitive definition (Bandura, 2018), consists of goal setting, motivation, expectancies, and evaluation of the results.
The concept of agency may be usefully applied to individuals in the negative syndrome. These individuals tend to avoid any activity other than those essential for life. Individuals with the negative syndrome tend to perceive the outside world as threatening and see themselves as inadequate. Consequently, these individuals find a modicum of safety by withdrawal from any context that might evoke unpleasant feelings. Thus, any prior motivation towards a goal is now replaced with avoidance. A protective wall is built that enables them to remain apathetic but at the cost of perpetuating the negative view of themselves and the outside world and surrendering any expectations of having pleasurable feelings.
A cross-sectional analysis of the negative syndrome indicates that the construct of the agency is muted or non-existent. It is notable that when the driving force of agency is deactivated, the individual experiences an attenuation of the various functions that are in the service of agency, specifically, attention, memory, executive function, visual perception, and cognitive processing. These functions are crucial to the entire mobilization of the individual and can be activated in the course of therapy. The anticipation of events that contain emotionally laden constructs often has commonplace meanings such as proud, worthwhile, useful, constructive, effective, empowered, etc. Importantly, these meanings can be powerful stimuli for activating the agentic process. The use of such labels following a personally worthwhile activity such as helping others, aids in changing, at least temporarily, the individual’s negative view of the self to that of being a good person. Often in this population, the application of such terms in a religious context may provide the initial impetus needed to stimulate an individual’s situation.
The shift from an active mode to the withdrawal mode, including the sparing of resources, may be viewed in a broader context of the fight-flight paradigm to danger. The retreat to the supposed protection of the withdrawal constitutes another defense mechanism against the expectation of continuing exposure to tormenting voices and dangerous environments. In this context, the conservation of resources against an enduring danger is perceived as necessary.
1. The functions of personality such as attention, memory, etc. are in the service of agency.
2. The agentic organization, including the energy which propels it and the neuropsychological functions that service it, constitutes the total resources available to the individual
3. As noted previously, these resources (agency and the other parts of the personality) are available but are temporarily muted and thus must be accessed and activated in the negative syndrome.
4. The psychosocial approach seems to provide access to the residual resources in this syndrome. Specifically, agency may be activated by meaningful activities that imply worthwhileness, goodness, efficacy, etc.
Bandura, A. (2018). Toward a psychology of human agency: Pathways and reflections. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 130–136.