Installation Theory: Why your free will is not as free as you think

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A recently introduced concept to explain old problems, Saadi Lahlou, the Chair in Social Psychology of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE, argues that society channels your free will into behaviour deemed socially appropriate through settings.

In short, an installation is a setting in which people are expected to act predictably. Examples include airplane check-ins, where all passengers, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they think, generally all follow the same, predictable pattern of behaviour. So when you choose to take off your shoes and walk through the metal detector, your behaviour was channelled through 3 different determinants that affected your choices.

Physical Space-Before you make a decision, you naturally account for your physical activity.
For example when climbing the steps; an acceptable step is normally 0.88 of your leg length. So before you make your decision, you take into account the physical element of your choice


Inner Space-All objects represent something. 
This is a social construct. Why is it everyone can recognise tea, when all people come from different backgrounds, different cultures? It is due to what tea is represented as i.e. a pot and leaves which makes it easy to recognise and makes it efficient to move around in society


Social Spaces-Institutions set patterns of behaviour. 


What is social convention? As children we don’t know that stealing is bad. Society indoctrinates us with these values and conventions which help us to fit in smoothly in the grand scheme of things.

All three determinants make up installations. When people wash their hands before entering hospital wards, they do so due to a mixture of rules, the idea of hospitals being clean spaces and because there is a huge hand sanitiser right outside the door. All three determinants affect the thought processes that led to that one action. This channels our behaviour. 

The implications of such a theory, that one can influence people’s actions simply by repeatedly directing them to a certain course of action can be worrying. But Chair Lahlou, who led the research that culminated in this theory writes that these installations actually solves the problems of the fluid operation of society and society’s based on predictable behaviour. When everybody has the same reactions and actions, it is easier for society to function and for rules of acceptable behaviour to be set.

Installations are resilient. If any of the three determinants fail, the others can still channel our behaviour. 

So how can people be channelled into “good” behaviour? By improving installations. Installations can be improved through dual selections. Generating a huge amount of different options, the using thought experiments to test if the installations works in theory, then throwing it into the world and using physical trial and error to find which settings improve behaviour to most efficiently. 

If you’re reading this article and decide society is a prison….you are probably right. But at least you should be able to choose your terms of imprisonment by changing and improving installations.