For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Psychological effects of complex environments during the life span: A review and theory"

by Schooler, Carmi (1984)


This paper reviews evidence supporting a theory about the psychological effects of complex environments suggested by research on the causal relationships between occupational conditions and psychological functioning. The review indicates that environmental complexity leads to effective cognitive functioning across all stages of the life span. This effect has been found in both sexes, in several nations, and in species other than man. Although the evidence is not as extensive, environmental complexity also appears to lead to a self-directed rather than conformist orientation.

Key Passage

This analysis pointed to the importance for personality of the substantive complexity of work, the job condition most directly related to the complexity of environmental demands. Job conditions that facilitate occupational self-direction, particularly substantive complexity, increase men's intellectual flexibility and promote a self-directed orientation to self and society; jobs that limit occupational self-direction decrease men's intellectual flexibility and promote a conformist orientation to self and society. 6 To the extent that the necessity for using initiative, thought, and independent judgment represent complex environmental demands, these findings provide strong empirical support for the hypothesis that environmental complexity on the job increases adult intellectual flexibility and generates a self-directed orientation to self and society. These results consistently imply that the principal process by which a job affects personality is one of straightforward generalization from the lessons of the job to life off-the-job, rather than such less direct processes as compensation and reaction-formation. In doing so, they provide clear evidence that complex environmental demands directly affect the psychological functioning of employed American men by increasing their intellectual flexibility and promoting self-directed values and orientations. (p.263)


Complex Work, Social Psychology, Environmental Complexity, Psychological Functioning, Cognitive Functioning



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