Supra Programs

Chapter 10

At the beginning of life, we are entirely dependant on the innate emotional programs and those of the senso-motor type. From that time onwards, the building and executing of the ad hoc programs, together with the maturation of the brain and the accumulated experience, result in the building of numerous new programs. Each of these new programs is usually a crystallization or integration of the results of the repeated execution of similar ad hoc programs, in similar conditions and/or with a similar purpose.

The new programs are usually "stronger" or "of higher status" than those previously built - including the innate ones. In most circumstances the new programs inhibit the innate ones or actually substitute for them. Because of this difference in status, Bowlby calls them supra-plans. For the same reason, many scientists call them supra-programs or other similar names.

For instance, all the healthy newborn babies cry when slapped (and thereby clear their air channels). However, a baby that has grown a bit, and is more than a few months old, can easily learn to inhibit crying in situations where the pain involved is not too intense. Moreover, the same baby can learn to emit heart breaking cries even on occasions where he has slight or no physical pain at all. It seems that most babies try this from time to time, in order to get the desired results from caring figures.

The supra-programs are also experienced as being more powerful than the original ones. This is so, because when one becomes conscious of a conflict between programs of different kinds, the new ones and logic are frequently the winners. (Sometimes, the act of attending to the conflict is what decides which will be the victor; other times, people just remember better logical solutions.)

Most of the time the "new" programs are really a stable organization of a few of the old ones with the addition of new routines and options. The more advanced a program is, the less the weight in it of the original mode of operation and the more parts in touch with the awareness. Consequently, the new programs seems to be less emotional and oriented more and more towards the future.

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The construction of supra-programs

The greatest number of the supra-programs are constructed "spontaneously" during growing up, mostly with the "help" of socialization11 and mainly during early childhood, but also through adolescence and young adulthood. Some are the result of relatively free experience and experiments initiated by the individual. A bigger number result from "modeling".

In most of the cases we copy the supra-programs of others because of identification and other emotional ties with them. Others are the result of our in-built tendency to absorb information embedded in the situation even if its emotional quality is neutral or nearly so.

During maturation, and more so in adulthood, an increasing number of the new versions of operating programs seem to be the result of less substantial activities. Among these which contribute an increasing share to the "pool" of "building materials" are: contemplation, imagery, passively absorbed information, learning, activations of programs in a "theoretical manner" in the imagination (without their behavioral components), etc.

The relationship between various components or steps of the new programs is more complicated and of a less rigid order than in the innate programs. The triggers that can activate them are more diverse. They seem to have more then one version each, which often differ only slightly from each other.

A small number of the programs are built as intended by "agents of socialization" as a result of their direct activity. For example, the building of a program of positive regard towards relatives results from the repeated pressure of parents applied in the irrefutable demand: "Say thank you to aunty".

The culture of mankind includes the knowledge and customs required for the intentional activities aimed at molding the innate and acquired emotional programs. Some of the activities involved do not have a name of their own. They are usually applied informally, by family members, peers, friends and other acquaintances, mainly during childhood and adolescence but also throughout life.

Other influences have more specific names like: Psychotherapy, Chemo- therapy, Education, Punishment, etc. and are usually applied by people of authority who have special status in the social system.

The main aim of these activities is to induce changes in the undesirable aspects of supra-programs in the individual. Their targets are mostly those programs that are deemed noxious, harmful or destructive for the individual, for those who are related to him, for those in authority or for the system in general.

However, the more profound results of socialization are usually quite different from those expected by the agents. In the above example, when the pressure is applied "too successfully", the results tend to be a specific program of submission, and many other non-specific ones related to manners. More often than not, the results are a general supra-program of yielding to authority and another one of avoidance of relatives. That of positive attitude to relatives is less likely to materialize as a result of this kind of intervention.

Still a smaller number of the new programs are built throughout life, as a result of deliberate learning, including the one responsible for the habit of inserting a small plastic card into a crack in the wall, in order to get a number of colored pieces of paper!

next: The Emotional Supra-Programs

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2008, November 15). Supra Programs, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from

Last Updated: July 22, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD