Long ago, careful observers of humans and other organisms noticed that certain variables that should vary as environmental conditions changed actually did not vary much within the organism. For example, shelves remain stocked despite customers buying products. Control theory arose as one explanation for the mechanism that keeps variables, like stocks, stable. Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists have come to find the explanation provided by control theory to be useful for conceptualizing and understanding a great deal of work-related phenomena.

The specific mechanism described by control theorists contains three parts:

  • A function translates the state of some variable (e.g., state of stock on shelves) into a perception or signal that can be compared with a desired perception or reference signal (e.g., fully stocked) represented within the organism.
  • A ...
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