Chapter 3

The roles of the operational and executive systems

This chapter spells out in more detail the characteristics of the OS and the ES that interact with the external environment to co-determine human behaviour. It is not concerned with the biological mechanisms that underpin the functioning of the two systems, although I believe that all proposed mechanisms and processes in the theory are biologically realisable. The distinction between the OS and ES is designed to provide a theoretical framework to help us better understand the challenges and possibilities of improving self-regulatory processes. From a Public Health perspective, the focus is on self-regulatory processes directed towards adopting and maintaining lifestyles that are increasingly consistent with the kind of lives we believe are desirable, rather than with what we feel impelled to do. This involves acting to achieve imagined futures, rather than being constrained to simply adapt to present circumstances.

The focus of this chapter is on how the two systems work and the functions they serve. Dual-process approaches have been a part of our attempts to understand the limits of humans to act rationally since antiquity [1]. As noted in Chapter 1, within cognitive and social psychology, there has been a renewed interest in this way of thinking, largely as a result of an inability to explain all human behaviour in terms of rational processes. In a similar way, behaviourist theories that emphasise lower level, non-rational ...

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