Global vs Local

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If you search the internet using the terms local and global you will find articles on almost every topic imaginable. Within the realm of psychology, the terms are commonly used in perception and information processing. I have found benefit in using these terms to understand problems and solutions as well as pairing solutions with the problems people report in therapy. It might be helpful to think of local problems as things that are fairly limited in time and frequency. Local problems aren’t always small or minor. They can be quite intense. Global problems are best thought of as patterns or trends. Again, severity isn’t the real issue.

Mary, usually a great student, gets a low score on a math test. Is this a local problem or a global problem? Based on the available information this is a local problem. There is no evidence that this problem involves any factors outside of the specific incident. Jared has received low grades in his math classes for the past several years. The existence of the difficulty over time suggests that this is more likely global. Judy is having trouble getting along with her coworkers, family, and friends. She has been generally irritable for several months. This is another example that is more global than local because the problem exists in more than one situation.

Mary, having a local problem, will likely be able to resolve the issue with a fairly local solution. Local solutions might include things like reviewing the test material, talking with the teacher, or doing some extra work with the specific concepts that were covered by the test. Global solutions such as dropping the math class, enrolling in a tutoring program, or changing her major would likely be excessive or overreactions to the problem. For Jared the opposite is really true. His problems are not likely to resolve by focusing on only the current topic in mathematics. The solution will need to be much more global. Since Judy’s problems occur within several relationships and settings, resolution focusing on broader concepts such as mood, intimacy, communication, or boundaries will probably be necessary.

When an individual has a local problem there is not likely going to be a serious consequence when a global solution is launched; however, the problem resolution could actually take a much longer time and will use more resources than in necessary. Conversely, if an individual has a global problem, as noted previously there is very little chance of resolution with a local solution.

Misperception is an important factor to consider. Susan’s son spilled soda on the living room carpet. Ellen recognized this as a local problem and had him clean up his mess. This was a logical consequence of his spilling. This scene could have played out a different way if Susan had perceived this as a global problem. Instead of focusing on how to resolve the mess, she could have focused on the event as an act of disrespect, disobedience, or incompetence. Then she would have searched for solutions that would correct those larger issues. The event would likely not have ended with just a towel or a mop.

Here are some questions to ask when considering whether a problem or solution is truly local or global.

  • How often does this problem occur (time)?
  • Does this happen in more than one situation (scope)?
  • Does this happen with more than one person?
  • Does this solution address the facts or the feelings?
  • Does this solution have an immediate impact or will it take time?
  • Does this solution change what is happening in one situation or many?

Remember, the goal is to use local solutions for local problems and global solutions for global problems.  The more accurate your perception, the easier it will be.


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