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Telic Dominance

An individual's tendency to spend more time in a particular motivational mode, may become an enduring personality characteristic or dominance (general disposition). At any time the person's current operational state (current disposition) may differ, according to way the person is perceiving and interpreting current circumstances.

To judge the degree of telic dominance, the following factors may be taken into account: seriousness - individual oriented towards 'important' goals, rather than goals that are simply excuses for ongoing pleasurable activities; planning - tendency to make detailed plans ahead rather than take things as they come; avoidance - tending to avoid situations that generate intense excitement.

Telic-dominant persons are cautious, serious-minded, use denial, detachment and planning when faced with arousal and experience arousal as unpleasant. They are self-conscious, inhibited, and limited in their sexual repertoire. They lack creativity and tend to behave obsessionaly, not being able to access the paratelic state. They tend to be more realistic but also less optimistic, and are more likely to fear failure than hope for success when faced with some task. This anticipation of failure leads them to engage in a higher level of planning and rehearsal; they're very conscious of time. They desire familiarity and stability, and also appear less humorous than their paratelic counterparts; dancing and parties are not their forte, and soft classical music is likely to be preferred. They look to introverted problem-focused coping ('I go over in my mind what I will say or do') and detachment ('I am waiting to see what will happen first') as their major strategies. Due to lack of arousal, little of the brain cortex is synchronised. There tends to be more sensitivity to pain and a risk of chronic muscle tension and heart and circulation problems as a result of over-sensitivity to life's daily contingencies. This is a 'middle class', professional or 'well-educated' way of approaching life (but of course the above description is an extreme case).

“Both telic and paratelic dominances are low arousal states, cut off from the real potential of in-depth living.”
Mirthful laughter is a particular experience within the paratelic state. Due to the contingency of wit and comedy, telic-dominant people will reverse to the paratelic state, and laughter helps towards the achievement of pleasant high arousal within that state.

The un-selfconscious paratelic-dominant person has the opposite motivations, tending to be rather directionless, fearing boredom and seeking sensations and thrills. They find it hard to reverse to telic relaxation perhaps because of past rejection of left-brain ways of thinking due to unpleasant experiences at school. It is a typical state for the 'working class' and many youth of today, who lack educational resources and have been brought up with TV as 'involvement without effort'. Smoking, boozing and over-eating, football pools and the horses, Sun page 3 and TV soaps, pornography, joy-riding, 'sex, drugs 'n rock 'n roll' are typical lifestyles. Cheap thrills and artless living, because there is no vision. Paratelic-dominant subjects engage in wishful thinking ('I hope a miracle will happen') and in focusing on the positive ('Look for the silver lining') as their coping styles.

Both dominances are low arousal states, cut off from the real potential of in-depth living. Both are other-determined, driven by fears and unmet needs, so they are ideal fodder for advertisers and are susceptible to all types of media influence. The telic-dominant fear involvement, being out of control and something bad happening. The paratelic-dominant fear low-arousal boredom but do not have the telic ability to envision worthwhile goals, and so seek ways to achieve arousal that do not require much effort on their own part.

Psychologists studying Reversal Theory did research at Sussex University, interviewing extremely telic- and paratelic-dominant personalities, in which they are asked to describe a particular (typical) day. The telic subjects tended to provide detailed, time-specific accounts, describing routines and goals leading to specific ends. The paratelic subjects provided highlights, not necessarily in time-order and sometimes exaggerated, spontaneously seeking out a greater variety of activity. Interestingly, the gender of subjects appears to make no difference to these tendencies.

The following extract is from a telic-dominant subject:

'All of my days go into each other, they look generally the same. I try to keep them this way. I like to work in routines. I found in the army, when I was there for one year, that routines let you stay as you are and become stronger as you are. I like this. So here is my yesterday:

'I got up at 10.00, went to the bathroom and washed my hands, then I went to the toilet, washed my hands again and then decided to have a shower. I brushed my teeth and then dried myself very thoroughly. I visited the gym for some weights and other training but because it was closed due to a problem with water I could not get exercise. This upset my routine. I went to the bank to collect my loan and then I telephoned my father to ask his professional advice about what to do with the money. He told me to send the loan papers to him and he will make the necessary arrangements. I then returned to my flat at 13.00 and ate an apple and drank a cup of citrus juice - people overeat, I look after my figure. People with whom I share a flat have a dog that I took out for a walk and a jog. I found this exhilarating and exciting. At 15.00 I took the dog into town to watch the final part of the student demonstration. The demonstration was about rents - I do not think such demonstrations achieve their purpose. It is better to find ways of paying your rent. On my return to the flat at 16.45 there was a letter saying I owed the landlord #3.00 for my last telephone bill. This was untrue. I had paid my bill. I wrote directly to him and jogged to the post office to post my letter. I was upset by the letter ... I did not expect it and it was a mistake. Such mistakes annoy me a lot - they must not be allowed to happen. I then prepared and ate my dinner and did my own daily exercise. I think it is important to keep the body healthy and not abuse it. At 17.00 I watched a TV program - for only 35 minutes. From 17.35 to 21.00 I worked on my translation of Stephens and Unwin. Because my head was full of this work, which is especially important, I stopped and took a walk to the shop for a very small bar of chocolate. At the shop a lot of people were watching Norway vs. Sweden at football. It looked interesting and people were excited but I had important work to do so I went back to my flat. I started work again but all were watching TV in the room above, cheering whenever a goal was scored. In the end the noise meant that I had to give up and join them in the football. Once it was finished I was able to get back and read some more. This I did until 01.30 when I went to bed. I slept almost straight away.

'My deadline for completing the translation is tomorrow. I need to finish this or else I will let down the others in my group, which I do not think I should do. I will also need to go to a lecture by Professor Adams. He is not a good teacher but it is essential to attend since he may say some things of importance to me in the future. I will try again to train in the gym and if I finish my translation I will go for a walk with the dog or go for a jog or watch TV. But nothing will be allowed to prevent me from finishing my translation; that will be the most exciting event of my week, not only my day! [slight laughter].'

The paratelic subject follows:

'Yes, well ... er... I overslept ... hadn't felt well the day before ... and, er, I needed to sleep ... so, er, I just slept in ... I don't think my clock worked ... but I slept in. I got to the reading room about an hour late. I was supposed to go to a lecture and to two tutorial groups but I did not bother. Instead I talked to a man who fancies me. I agreed with him that I would go to the pictures, so I went home and had a shower, washed my hair and sat in a sauna - it was good, and I was showing off a bit. I didn't think about the college ... why should I, I was having a nice time. Also I felt better by then, I told you I hadn't felt well. I had dinner with the man I mentioned, then my friend came round and we decided to drive her to the airport. It made me a little homesick - my friend, she is from the same town as me and she's going back for a few days. Then David took me to the pictures to see 'Fame' (again). I enjoy this film because it changes thread all the time - I like that. Then we went to his flat and had coffee and played Chinese Chess. We had sex and then I went home. I think he is serious about me but I am not serious about him. I got home really late ... very tired.

'Which day is tomorrow? Ah yes ... Friday. No ... Thursday, or is it? I don't know. I think I'll try to do some work today. Then I'll go to see a family in Brighton and stay with them for supper. They're old friends ... and I need a meal from them since I'm short of money! Mind you, I have been intending to go round for two weeks now, but something always happens.'

These document the widely differing values, motives and life-styles of these two extremes. It is not difficult to see how empathy would be difficult between them, and how such differences result in social, political and economic misunderstanding and intolerance.

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