Flags as affordances

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Chapter 11 endnote 73, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

All of your predictions are shaped not just by direct experience but also indirectly by television, movies, friends, and the symbols of your culture. [...] As another example: a Confederate battle flag, which symbolizes racism to many people, flying atop a statehouse building and even appearing as part of a couple of state flags...

Stereotypes can be enshrined by symbols. A flag, like a word, can efficiently evoke a cascade of predictions. Symbols fly under your radar: they silently conjure an entire ideology of cultural tropes that shape predictions and make certain actions more likely in a real, physical way.

Flags and other symbols are an example of what psychologists call secondary control (as distinguished from primary control).[1][2][3] Primary control rests on a person's own decision-making, whereas secondary control occurs when actions are encouraged or discouraged (made easier or more difficult) by the surrounding context. Flags create affordances (propensities)[4][5] to think, feel, and behave in a certain way.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Weisz, John R., Fred M. Rothbaum, and Thomas C. Blackburn. 1984. "Standing out and standing in: The psychology of control in America and Japan." American Psychologist 39 (9): 955­-969.
  2. Morling, Beth, and Sharrilyn Evered. 2006. "Secondary control reviewed and defined." Psychological Bulletin 132 (2): 269­-296.
  3. Azuma, Hiroshi. 1984. "Secondary control as a heterogeneous category." American Psychologist 39 (9): 970-­971.
  4. Fiske, Alan Page, Shinobu Kitayama, Hazel Rose Markus, and Richard E. Nisbett. 1998. "The cultural matrix of social psychology." In The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th edition, volume 2, edited by Susan. T. Fiske, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 915–981. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Ramstead, Maxwell JD, Samuel PL Veissière, and Laurence J. Kirmayer. 2016. "Cultural Affordances: Scaffolding Local Worlds Through Shared Intentionality and Regimes of Attention." Frontiers in Psychology 7 (1090): 1-21.