Living Control Systems Publishing; dedicated to Perceptual Control Theory, a new conception of how all living things function

Search Living Control Systems

Applications: Learning from PCT

  In People as Living Things, Runkel writes extensively on management issues in the first several chapters of PART VII, The Social Order.
   In Effective Personnel Management, Jim Soldani reports on results from applying PCT.
   See also Management and Leadership: Insight for Effective Practice by Dag Forssell.

Discussing my first draft of this web page, Phil Runkel wrote me: "PCT asserts principles about living creatures and about the process of life. It applies not only to psychology, but to any “ology” dealing with life: physiology, neurology, medicine, etc. And it also applies to any endeavor to profit from knowledge about how living things function: sociology, anthropology, politics, counseling and psychiatry, education, etc. (Part of the “etc” is my own field of social psychology.) And it applies to any field that mimics living things, such as robotics. We could call MOL an application to counseling, psychiatry, psychology, schooling, etc.

In The Myth of the Madding Crowd, Clark McPhail debunks old ideas about crowd mentality and introduces PCT to explain how action by individuals add up to group behavior.
   17 sociologists have collaborated on a volume entitled Purpose, Meaning and Action: Control Systems Theories in Sociology Edited by Kent McClelland and Thomas J. Fararo. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Here is an excerpt from the introduction.

  In The Death of Jeffrey Stapleton, Hugh Gibbons introduces PCT and uses it to explain a case. At his website,, Gibbons explores the universal underpinnigs of law, explaining the underpinnings of will, intent, in terms of PCT.

Control theory has been discussed among psychologists ever since Norbert Wiener introduced cybernetics in the 1940s. Unfortunately some representations have been so unworkable that it has gotten a bad reputation among many psychologists, while some have become enthusiastic advocates of the one version that works: PCT. Here is one carefully reasoned account of the place of control-theoretic thinking in psychology by Jeffrey B. Vancouver (2005). The Depth of History and Explanation as Benefit and Bane for Psychological Control Theories. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 38-52.
   A recent application of PCT to psychiatric problems is spelled out in this work by Warren Mansell (2005): Control Theory and psychopathology: An integrative approach. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Volume 78, Number 2, June 2005, pp. 141-178(38)

Resolving psychological distress
Using the Method Of Levels, MOL, a helper does not act as an expert and offers no advice, but merely encourages the helpee to think about his or her topic from above, a higher level, which often leads to insight and the resolution of inner conflicts. See The Method of Levels and Chapter 30 in People as Living Things.

Education, Learning
Control in the Classroom, by Timothy A. Carey introduces PCT in an easy to read style and provides teachers insight into the hows and whys of their students motivation.
    Runkel writes extensively about schooling and education in chapters 37 and 38 of People as Living Things. Chapter 39 deals with the school "discipline" program Responsible Thinking, RTP, created by Ed Ford.
   Recent papers that apply to education, parenting, interpersonal relations, and clinical diagnosis and intervention by Timothy A. Carey and W. Thomas Bourbon are (2004): Countercontrol: A new look at some old problems." Intervention in School and Clinic, Volume 40, Number 1, September 2004, pp. 3-9., (2005): Countercontrol: What do the children say? School Psychology International, 26(5), 595-615. and (In press, 2006): Is countercontrol the key to understanding chronic behavior problems? Countercontrol, first mentioned by B. F. Skinner, is a significant problem in schools and life. It is readily understood from a PCT perspective.
    In The Dilemma of Enquiry and Learning, Hugh G. Petrie resolves Plato’s dilemma by reasoning based on PCT.
    In the anthology Ways of Learning and Knowing, you can benefit from Hugh G. Petrie's life-long contributions to education in a series of papers and chapters, all based on PCT.
    Yong Zhao and Gary Cziko discuss teachers as purposeful individuals and explain how their personal hierarchy of goals and references affect their adoption of technology in the classroom in Teacher adoption of technology: A perceptual control theory perspective. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 5-30 (2001).

Personal relationships
In chapter 28, The social environment, Runkel writes about how oral communication works, interpersonal conflict, cooperation and competition, resolving conflict, trust and cooperation, and love. Freedom From Stress by Ed Ford is an early work introducing and using PCT

Infant development
Frans Plooij has reported on the mental growth and development of infants from birth through the first 18 months of life using the framework of PCT. See The Wonder Weeks at this site and for much more detail comprehensive presentation at

Since PCT reverse engineers people, it follows that it provides insight into how to design robots. See the BYTE articles listed here and Richard Kennaway's website, where he reports on robot designs. The Little Man, Arm with 14 degrees of freedom and Inverse Pendulum, listed among PCT Tutorials and Simulations are also relevant here.

PCT is what Cybernetics would have been if people involved in Cybernetics had understood how control works. See Comment by Mary and papers on The Wiener Feedback Model—A Strategic Error,   The Cybernetic Revolution in Psychology,   A Cybernetic Model for Research in Human Development, and Control Theory and Cybernetics, all reproduced in Living Control Systems and Living Control Systems II. See also Underpinnings of PCT; Systems Theory and PCT.

Artificial Intelligence & Philosophy: The Frame Problem
A PCT Approach to the Frame Problem by Erling Jorgensen. The perspective and result compared to the definition below is dramatically different. The Frame Problem simply vanishes.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a definition of the Frame Problem:
To most AI researchers, the frame problem is the challenge of representing the effects of action in logic without having to represent expicitly a large number of intuitively obvious non-effects. To many philosophers, the AI researchers' frame problem is suggestive of a wider epistemological issue, namely whether it is possible, in principle, to limit the scope of the reasoning required to derive the consequences of an action.

Gary Cziko has written two works on evolution where he argues that in order to understand the evolution of adaptive behavior, one must understand that perceptual control systems and reference levels evolve, not specific behaviors as generally believed in ethology and evolutionary psychology. See: Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution and The Things We Do: Using the Insights of Bernard and Darwin to Understand the What, How and Why of Behavior.

© 2004–2017 Living Control Systems Publishing
Dag Forssell, Webmaster
dag at livingcontrolsystems dot com