Macrocontingencies in Financial Markets

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

President, bSci21Media, LLC

If there is one single thing that influences our behavior on a day-to-day basis, it is money.

Think about it – when we are at work we are part of a business that produces a product or service exchangeable for money.  In the rest of our lives, we are constantly interacting with objects, events, and people that are products of, or in the service of, business.

The clothes we wear, the computers we use, and the food we eat, are all products of business.  Even the polluted air we breathe is affected by business in the form of negative externalities – a term Tony Biglan used to discuss unwanted side effects of business practices.

Your socioeconomic status, quality of life, marital stress – almost all of it is affected by business in some way.

This means that our behavior in the real world is, in one way or another, participating in and influenced by, markets and market forces.  Behaviorally, we can say we are participating in various macrocontingencies.

The macrocontingency was first discussed by Sigrid Glenn in 2004.  It refers to similar behavioral content across a number of people that produces a cumulative effect.  This behavior is called macrobehavior as we are looking at patterns across more than one person.

A classic example is air pollution.  Most people in the U.S. commute every day to work, and drive most other places.  As a result, we have a cumulative effect – air pollution.  When we drive our cars we are participating in a macrocontingency with air pollution as a cumulative effect.

Similarly, when we buy a product or service, we, along with millions of other people, are participating in various macrocontingencies.  One important cumulative effect of these macrocontingencies is revenue for the businesses that sell the products and services we buy.  For example, Apple recently reported lower than expected sales, which could subsequently cause concerns for investors, and potentially concern for the larger tech market.

Sales is a cumulative effect of macrobehavior.  Decreasing sales implies a lower prevalence of macrobehavior.  Together, they make up a macrocontingency.

The secondary effects on investors could subsequently affect retirement accounts, pension plans, and market speculators that could see effects ripple through the global economy — all of these things are macrobehavior affected by decreasing sales, each of which could have unknown cumulative effects of their own.

So we have macrobehavior that produces sales fluctuations – macrocontingency #1.  And then we have macrobehavior evoked by said fluctuations, which may participate in any number of macrocontingencies if their cumulative outcomes can be clearly articulated.

Of course, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive account of financial markets by any means, just a little slice from a behavioral science perspective.

What do you think of this analysis?  Do you think anything is missing?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org

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