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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Integrative complexity of English literary figures as a function of environmental factors Borrie, Carol A. Porter


The integrative complexity of various literary figures was examined as a function of certain personal and social stressors operating across their own life spans. Previous research concerned with the complexity of information processing as a response to the changing demands of the environment has focused on the strategies employed by individuals in political and/or decision-making contexts. The current study was designed specifically to investigate the information processing complexity of individuals who are unencumbered by the responsibilities associated with high-level decision making. The lives and personal correspondence of five eminent English novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were analyzed. It was hypothesized that the following factors should influence integrative complexity: stressful life events, changes in health, war intensity, and civil unrest. Each individual's life was divided into consecutive five-year time periods, and for each period personal correspondence was scored for integrative complexity. Using multiple regression analysis, the following results emerged: information processing complexity is positively related to age; illness and war intensity are both negatively related to complexity; and there is a positive correlation between civil unrest and complexity. In interpreting the relationship between complexity and both war intensity and civil unrest, it was suggested that the information flow in the environment is an influential factor in determining the ways in which individuals respond to these situations. In addition, a variable called terminal years was initially introduced into the analysis to control for possible biases resulting from the five-year analytical framework employed. It was subsequently determined that this variable served a function other than that which was originally intended. It emerged as a significant predictor of integrative complexity, the relationship indicating that complexity of information processing decreased shortly prior to death. ' This result was explained with reference to life-span developmental research that has shown marked performance decrements that appear to occur in close proximity to the death of those individuals studied. The current research has supported the general hypothesis that information processing complexity is affected by changing aspects of one's environment. The findings suggest not only that factors such as stress and information input affect cognitive processes, but that physiological factors such as ill-health also appear to be related to integrative complexity. It was advised that the results of this work should be interpreted with a certain degree of caution, particularly in light of the small sample investigated. This research however points to a number of interesting directions of inquiry that future studies in the area of complexity might pursue.

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