Humans have the remarkable ability to pursue their goals and dreams despite all odds. Individual differences in proactivity seem to be correlated with performance and wellbeing measures. However, proactivity is a highly costly process: it demands to keep goals in working memory, to reflect on the future, to plan what can be done considering a multitude of factors and uncertainties. This project aims to develop and test formal theories of proactivity to understand not only why some people are more proactive than others, but also to understand why humans are proactive at all.
The first step in this project was to propose a formal measure of proactivity as the information we gain about a person’s behavior as we learn about their goals. In contrast, we define reactivity as the information we gain about their behavior as we learn about the stimuli and the environment they are exposed to. Our second step was to develop a meta control process model of proactivity and reactivity. Since proactivity has its costs and benefits, we propose that a meta controller would decide to engage in proactivity only when its benefits outweigh its costs.