In a recent post Gwerley covered Constructive Developmental Theory, and Subject-Object Notation.  I'll be going through a basic description of the ideas, as well as adding related ideas from the Four Player Model.

Constructive Developmental Theory:

Constructive Developmental Theory is a Theory of Mind that splits the development of people into five levels, though the levels each have a unique set of advantages/disadvantages, not being "better" or "worse" than one another.1  This theory is largely based on if the individual is subject to something or able to hold it as an object using meta cognition, such that each level holds the previous levels as special cases.2  This progress makes it so a higher order mind will notice things a lower order cannot.

  • First Order/The Impulsive Mind

    • An impulsive mind has only it's reflexes as an object.
    • At this level an organism3 is still sorting out sensory input, and does not yet have a theory of mind.
  • Second Order/The Instrumental Mind

    • As an Instrumental Mind the being is able to understand the difference between self and other.
    • Though second order minds understand the concept of self they are subject to their wants, needs and desires.4
    • At this level the person has only one viewpoint. (Solipsism)
  • Third Order/The Socialized Mind

    • The Socialized mind is able to hold as an object their emotions, needs and desires.
    • This level is subject to cultural in-group/out-group pressures.
    • They are defined by their relation to society.
      1. This relation makes them susceptible to the wants and needs of others, making them likely to try and do/say what [they think] others want.
      2. Their reliance on society and authority makes them good followers.
    • 58% of adults are on this level.

*With the bulk of people being on this level it's important to keep status with them.  Failure to do so risks loosing momentum on any movement you're working on. (Trans humanism, Cryonics or FAI being the three that jump to mind with this community.)

  • Fourth Order/The Self-Authoring Mind

    • The Self-Authoring Mind is able to hold as an object the environment it belongs to. 
    • Self-Authors are still subject to their own ideologies.
    • They are defined by what they think of themselves in relation to their ideologies as a static unchanging state dependent on their ideology. (The "self" can change if the ideology does.)
      1. This makes them able thinkers. (Provided they have knowledge of the subject matter.) allowing them to oppose things they think are wrong as their sense of self is not dependent on their relation to the community.
      2. This freethinking also makes them hesitant followers unless they reach the same conclusions on their own. 
    • 35% of adults are on this level

*While less essential than Socialized Minds, Self-Authoring Minds are a good indicator that your movement is healthy and still able to adapt to changes.  Being the primary source of said changes fourth order minds are important in order to avoid things like an Ann Rand cult.

  • Fifth Order/The Self-Transforming Mind

    • The Self-Transforming Mind is able to hold as an object the relation between ideologies, including their own. 
    • This subjects them to the relation between the ideologies, and the search for a solution to their contradictions.
      1. The Self-Transforming Mind is the point at which much of the advice on this site start to make sense as something other than just "it just works."
      2. It allows changes to self akin to harry's occlumancy training in HPMOR "Anyone you can imagine you can be." 
    • 1% of adults are on this level

 *The most useful and the least essential of the groups.  They are able to fill any role needed, but are made fully redundant by a enough lower order minds in the necessary roles.

5I was unable to find the six percent not accounted for above.

Subject Object Notation:

Subject-Object Notation is a way of showing where relative to two incompatible ideas you are.  For example:

The Instrumental Mind (2) and The Socialized Mind (3)

  • 2: At this level one will view the world as self and other, unable to make further differentiation when trying to understand motivations and information. (Solipsism)


  • 2(3): They understand that others have thoughts and feelings, but they are unable to understand them.


  • 2/3: Those they are close to can be partially understood, but much is lost in the primitive understanding of others.


  • 3/2: This is the tipping point between other people think things differently from me, and this person thinks this, that person thinks that, and I think this.  This change also incurs the shift from self-centered to belonging to the tribe.


  • 3(2): This level allows generalization across large groups and focus on the individual.  While still occasionally self-centered an individual at this level will be aware of and bend to social pressure.


  • 3: At this level a person is able to understand the various different motivations of others, however they are subject to tribal status, being defined by what others think of them, and treating an entire out-group as homogenous.  (Republicans are so.../Democrats are so.../Religious people are so.../atheists are so...)



Using Subject-Object Notation on Constructive Developmental Theory yields 21 unique "levels" of development.


1 1(2) 1/2 2/1 2(1)

2 2(3) 2/3 3/2 3(2)

3 3(4) 3/4 4/3 4(3)

4 4(5) 4/5 5/4 5(4)


Four Player Model:

Movers: The ones making changes to the current group behaviour.

Follower: Those who are continuing the current move.

Opposers: Those correcting the current move.

Bystanders: The ones watching for anything else the group should be looking out for.


Socialized Mind

Self-Authoring Mind

Self-Transforming Mind


This a rare state for a Socialized Mind.  The inherent risk to status makes even potentially large gains less appealing.

A natural role for a Self-Authoring Mind, being independent of the group allows them to propose changes, though that is limited by their beliefs and ideologies.

Much the same as Self-Authors Self-Transformers are suitable for filling the role of mover, though with larger amounts of resources to draw from.


At this level people are defined by tribal status making them excellent followers.

Following is not a role a level 4 will fall into unless they arrive at the conclusion on their own.

While not as difficult as it was as a Self-Author following is still the weakest point of the higher levels due largely to the absence of cultural influence in personal thought.


Individuals at this level do not oppose without prompting, and will likely try to smooth over any mover/Opposer conflict.

At least as much as Moving, Opposing suits a 4th order mind, because even if they agree they are able to play Devil's Advocate as disagreement doesn't undermine their sense of self.

Opposing is a role Transforming Minds fill with little work.  The vast amount of viewpoints they can hold allow them to freely choose a good response to Movers.


Similar to opposing third order minds don't make very good bystanders, as that would necessitate leaving the group thought process that defines them.

A Self-Author is a suitable, if slightly biased, Bystander for much the same reason they are good Opposers.

This is the role that this level truly excels in due to the shear number of viewpoints they are able to use.


Authors Notes:

1The lack of "better" levels seems to indicate that each level is a local optima with at least a few required for a stable society.

2This would seem to indicate that higher orders are capable of everything that a lower order is, motivation not withstanding.

3This level includes both human babies and animals.

4In addition to children some animals have pack/herd/pod mentalities that would appear to be at least 2(3).

5I would predict 5+ percent in level 2, and only the wild children in level 1, (those children who are raised by wild animals) with even some of them as level 2.

*This is the relation to Four Player Model

Attributions: - Three highest levels of CDT - less detailed description of all five - Assorted links - Kantor's Four Player Model - Subject-Object Notation - CDT more in depth


17 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:54 AM
New Comment
[-][anonymous]7y 18

I'm someone from a background of the neobehaviorist perspective in psychology with some cognitivist leanings. I usually just dismiss work like this offhand as most likely pseudoscience. Strike one is that this work is partially derived from theories which I already know to be pseudoscience such as Maslow's theory of self-actualization. Strike two is that he is dismissive of many elements of behaviorism. However, I'm willing to be persuaded. What are the key elements of falsifiability within these theories? What experimental research has been conducted to test the validity of these theories; either in whole or in part? It doesn't help your cause that your in-depth link contains in the abstract:

Although the literature has produced a number of propositions, the notion that a leader's order of development should impact his or her leadership effectiveness or managerial performance has generated the most research. We found mixed support for this proposition as well as a number of limitations in the research in general. To have a greater impact on the leadership field, constructive-developmental theory needs to generate more robust research, to link more clearly with on-going streams of leadership research, and to explore the contribution of aspects of the theory beyond individual order of development.

Ok, I'm sorry if this post looks like it's speaking for CDT being correct. As listed in the header this is written based on Gwerley's post, and was intended to simplify the idea. (and add context to better imagine it)

I felt the idea sounded like it would be something to look into, as at least the first two levels seem like they are (more or less) correct. (I still wouldn't think this would be a terribly useful theory if applied to humans only, as the orders of mind seem like they're more evolutionary (notes 3 and 4) than developmental.)

I felt the idea sounded like it would be something to look into

Then why didn't you look into the evidence for it before writing a post?

3 reasons:

  1. I'm the dumb kid on the block when it comes to less wrong. (If any of the census or my behavior in posting something that signals against the Less Wrong tribal stance are any indicators.)

  2. I'm not (yet) a scientist, and I couldn't find any studies on this. Take into account that less wrong is "heavier" in scientists than usual for an online community, and I hoped that it would be something someone would either know about or find interesting.

  3. This is the discussion forum, and I was hoping that there might be just that, discussion.

In this case, the problem is that you accept the theory based on it seeming reasonable and not based on it making any useful empiric predictions.

You also haven't make another case for the usefulness of the model.

Beliefs have to pay rent and you haven't demostrated how this model pays it's rent.

You make hard statements like "35% of adults are on this level (The Self-Authoring Mind)" without indicating where the number comes from. Is this a number from a study based done in the US? Europe? Is the number simply made up?

Use of numbers like that is a mark of pseudoscience. It seems like you simply believe those numbers without critical reflection.

You find that there are well received posts on LW about psychological issues such as Brianne's post What its like to notice things that are coming directly out of academic psychology and scientific studies. Posts like that are still welcome because they are based on Brianne's own empiric experience. Brianne doesn't try to put numbers on things that can't be well supported.

There's no use to talk about models that don't have personal experience of the author that indicates the usefulness of the model or scientific experiments that back up the model.

Minor point: The colloquial use of "deconstruction" is very vague. I suggest "analysis" or "description".

Are there really good statistics about what proportion of people are at these levels?

Shouldn't there be something about how consistently a person can maintain one of the higher-numbered points of view?

Fixed, thank you.

Timothy Leary's version goes up to eight.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs ... on acid!

Its worth a read for sheer comedy value IMO.

If that's what it takes, I just wanted people to look this over and say what they thought, otherwise I wouldn't have posted to Discussion.

In case it wasn't obvious, I was laughing at Timothy Leary's version, not yours.

Thank you for the clarification, but it doesn't bother me either way.

In which of those categories do you see yourself? [pollid:804]

So far the rarest group is the most common group. Who'd a guessed?

That might be due to my reference to HPMOR, and it's tribal signaling. In hindsight that may have been a poor decision.

Given that this is supposed to measure complexity of thinking and were at LW, I don't think the results contradict the stated numbers.

It just as far of the norm as LW's IQ numbers are in the census.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

In which of those categories do you see yourself?


[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply