8 What is Subtle About Social Interaction?

If social interaction / psychology was straightforward, then life wouldn’t be complicated and it wouldn’t take 18 years of emotional development in order to become an “adult”. How people socially interact develops and changes throughout their lives, so there must be very complicated factors present in social situations. People can deceive, play mind games, say completely appropriate or inappropriate things, act retarded or sophisticated, be friendly or isolated – and all of those things are just a few aspects of all the psychological factors involved in social interaction. There are many things to consider that play a role in interaction.

Emotion plays a role in interaction, people could be feeling one thing and presenting another emotion. Emotions determine how people feel which could change what they might say or act like. Judgements, prejudices, self-concepts and other thoughts play a role in what people are thinking and that influences behavior and the emotions that occur. What happened to the people involved leading up to the social interaction plays a role in how they are feeling and what they might say, what they did that day or the last week. Taking that further, their entire life history plays a role in who they are and what they have to talk about. Social interaction could be considered subtle and precise or it could be considered rather simple. Once a child can talk he can socially interact rather well fairly quickly. Animals and babies even know basic social skills, they know to greet people (friendly or hostile), they know the basic emotions involved and act in sophisticated ways. They can run when afraid, be happy and respond to positive input and affection, or even play simple games. Advanced social interaction could be considered much more complicated than that or not that much more complicated at all.

People generally act in a similar manner socially, the ways they behave are fairly simple to understand. People can act in a hostile or gentle manner, be excited or happy or sad and angry. There are different ways of thinking (based on who you are), and different ways of interacting with people. Everyone wishes to be liked, chosen or respected, but to achieve this, one must be ‘visible’. Social visibility requires in turn the adoption of points of view which are original, and which are maintained with constancy and vigor. People have an image of themselves that they wish to present to others.

It is possible that people enter into relationships and associate with each other because they are similar (or think that they are). In this perspective, similarity is considered the foundation of social bonds. Individuals enter into relationships and association when they discover – or assume – that they have something in common and are similar, at least in some respects. Individuals will engage in behavior aiming to bring closer to them those with whom they are comparing themselves. It is those who are the most different who must make the required effort to get close to others. People might like other people with similar attitudes to themselves more so than people with attitudes which differ greater. There is a social desirability of personality traits and attitudes (those that are similar or not similar). In sum, similarity appears to be linked to interpersonal attraction only so far as the consequences of this relationship are psychologically rewarding. So people like to be different in order to differentiate themselves, but they are also attracted to others with similar attitudes and ways of thinking as themselves.

People are similar and different, in social situations, difference and similarity are sought simultaneously. This is so in behavior which has been referred to as the ‘superior conformity of the self’ (or the ‘PIP effect”). (PIP from primus inter pares (first amongst peers or equals)) The self-image is thus central in the determination of behavior tending towards both differentiation and non-differentiation. Everyone is normally able to establish a cognitive discrimination between the self and others, and also among other people. Consequently, the search for identity is made through the assertion of difference and its recognition by others.

Character Traits 

For instance, character traits are subtle because they are more related to social interaction and personal behavior than personality traits, because character traits are more related to the consistent attitudes and behaviors of a person than personality traits are. Character traits are complicated because it can be hard to understand the nature of a persons various character traits. Consider, for example, someone who presents him- or herself as a generous person. He or she may truly care about others and wish to share with them or alternatively may have learned that the appearance of generosity will gain approval from others and therefore help him or her to deny their inner greedy, covetous, or angry nature. Since it can be hard to understand why someone has one character trait, it would therefore be even harder to understand why someone has all the character traits they have (as observed by other people) – and how those character traits result in their behavior in social interaction.

Character traits describe ways of relating to people or reacting to situations or ways of being. A trait will bring together references to the person’s moral system (whether dishonest, a cheat, or a liar), to his or her instinctual makeup (impulsive), basic temperament (cheerful, optimistic, or pessimistic), complex ego functions (humorous, perceptive, brilliant, or superstitious), and basic attitudes toward the world (kind, trustful, or skeptical) and him- or herself (hesitant). So someone could be responsible (instinctual makeup), giving (basic attitude toward the world), fearless (basic attitude toward him- or herself), mean (moral system) and skillful (complex ego function).

The Communication of Emotion

Understanding what you are feeling is important in part because you might or might not reveal those feelings in conversation. Recognition of what we are feeling means that we acknowledge the significance of some event, which may also be an interpersonal interaction. There is a possibility of multiple emotions experienced virtually simultaneously or in rapid oscillation as we consider different aspects of the person or situation. Recognition of the different features that often interact with one another in a social situation allows for a richly faceted appraisal, and one’s emotional experience is similarly more complex. Sometimes we might be aware that we are “unaware” of some of our feelings.

Just as understanding what we are feeling helps with self-disclosure of those feelings, knowing what the other people you are with are feeling also is obviously an important aspect in social interaction. The better we understand our own feelings, the more we can understand others because people have similar experiences of feelings. The better people understand how and why people act the way they do the more they can infer what is going on for them emotionally. One person in a social interaction may not be saying what they are feeling but the other people may be capable of figuring out or inferring what they are feeling. Showing an understanding of what other people are feeling shows an ability to empathize, as well as showing that you are sensitive and compassionate. How we infer others’ emotions, and, for that matter, how we reflect on our own, depends on what we believe to be the causes of these emotional experiences. We identify certain emotions associated with certain behaviors and come to understand that if someone does this or that thing, then they are going to feel this or that as a response.

How emotion is communicated in a relationship is very important to social interaction. Based on the type of relationship, different types of emotion is going to be communicated. In a loving relationship, the emotion love is going to be communicated, for instance. This skill requires individuals to take into account several aspects of the relationship’s dynamics (1) the interpersonal consequences of their emotional communication within the relationship for themselves and for the other, (2) how they maintain the relationship quality (e.g., equilibrium), or alter it (e.g., be deepening or attenuating it), and (3) how they apply power or control within the relationship. So if you express anger the circumstances might change based on the type of relationship. How you maintain the relationship will also be important after a display of anger. Also, obviously how power and control is applied in the relationship is going to be an issue when anger (or other emotions) are displayed.

How emotion is used by individuals to guide communication production is complicated. Some individuals disregard their own affective reactions until the level of arousal becomes so high that it cannot be ignored. They then may act according to their emotional response, but they might not know why. It is mere reaction, not considered communication production. Others might actively engage their affective state, readily recognize and consult their feelings in making decisions. Thus, some people orient to their communicative world through their emotions- hence the label “affective orientation”.

Attachment Styles

If people differ in their motivation to maintain positive relationships with others, then we can expect people who show higher levels of such motivation to perform more positive, constructive behaviors in various ways more so than their peers. There is also something called attachment style – which is a persons characteristic pattern of expectations, needs, emotions, and behavior in social interactions and close relationships. Depending on how it is measured, attachment style characterizes the way people behave in a particular relationship (relationship specific style) or across relationships (global attachment style). Someone can be secure in their attachment style and find it relatively easy to get close to others and depend on them. Someone could not be secure but be avoidant, uncomfortable being close to others, doesn’t trust them completely, and doesn’t allow themselves to depend on them. Someone could also have an anxious attachment style and are nervous about how close people get to them and worry their partner doesn’t love them or want them.

Gender Identity

There is a wide range of constructs that represent culturally based masculine and feminine self-definitions. These constructs can be recognized in terms of three facets of masculinity and femininity: representations of oneself as (1) possessing gender-typed personality traits and interests, (2) having male-typical versus female-typical relationships to others, and (3) being a member of the category of women or men, as that category is defined within a given society.

Gender identity, like gender roles, encompasses qualities that are regarded as typical or ideal of each sex in a society. Gender identity can thus refer to descriptive gender norms, defined as what is culturally usual for women or men in a society. In the descriptive sense, gender identity is the construal of oneself in terms of the culturally typical man or woman. Gender identity can also refer to injunctive (prescriptive) gender norms, defined as what is culturally ideal for women and men. In the injunctive sense, gender identity is the construal of oneself in terms of the best of male or female qualities.


Neuroticism, as a fundamental trait of general personality, refers to an enduring tendency or disposition to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average person to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depression. They respond poorly to environmental stress, are likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and can experience minor frustrations as hopelessly overwhelming. They are often self-conscious and shy, and they may have trouble controlling urges and impulses when feeling upset. (McCrae and Costa, 2003)1


Embarrassment is the state of mortification, abashment, and chagrin that washes over us when social life takes an awkward turn and we suddenly face the prospect of undesired evaluations from others. It typically strikes without warning and causes startled, self-conscious feelings of ungainliness, conspicuousness, and befuddlement. Embarrassment is usually sudden, automatic, and brief; it hinges on the realization that one has made some misstep or that an interaction has gone awry, but such appraisals occur without deliberation or reflection, and embarrassment can be in full flower before one ever thinks things through.

Social Anxiety

In contrast, social anxiety is fretful disquiet that stems from the prospect of evaluations from others in the absence of any predicament. It occurs when we believe ourselves to be subject to real, implied, or imagined social evaluation, and it takes the form of nervous concern for what others may be thinking, even when nothing has gone wrong. Unlike embarrassment, social anxiety often occurs over long periods of time, gradually waxing and waning. It depends on contemplation of social settings that portrays them as daunting and intimidating, so it is usually gradual, prolonged, and mindful (rather than automatic).


Shyness occurs when social anxiety is paired with reticent, cautions, and guarded social behavior. Shy behavior may range from mild inhibition, involving bashful timidity or wary watchfulness, to stronger distancing behavior that can include total withdrawal form social settings. That is a broad range, and no one pattern of behavior reliably distinguishes shyness form cooler, calmer states (such as those associated with introversion) that lead one to be quiet and reserved in the absence of any anxiety. Shy behavior may thus seem ambiguous to observers; it is obviously not gregarious and convivial, but whether it derives from shy trepidation, a mild manner, dullness, or unfriendly lack of interest may be hard to judge.

Proneness to Shame and Proneness to Guilt

How do people react to their own failures and transgressions? People vary considerably in how they feel when they recognize that they have failed or behaved badly. For example, given the same event–say, hurting a friend’s feelings–an individual prone to guilt would be likely to respond by ruminating about the offensive remark, feeling bad about hurting a friend, and being compelled to apologize and make up for it. A shame-prone individual, instead, is likely to see the event as proof that he or she is a bad friend–indeed, a bad person. Feeling small and worthless, the shame-prone person may be inclined to slink away and avoid the friend for fear of further shame. When people feel shame they feel bad about themselves- “small”, however when people feel guilt they feel their conscience and feel morally bad that they did something wrong or are “guilty”. The two are so different there can be “shame-free” guilt and “guilt-free” shame.

People can also blame other people instead of feeling shame for themselves, or maybe people that suffer from the pain and self-diminishment of shame may become defensive and angry and attempt to deflect blame outward. Because shame and guilt are painful emotions providing negative feedback for wrong-doing, it is often assumed that both motivate individuals to do the right thing. That isn’t necessarily the case, however, someone could experience a lot of shame and still do lots of bad things (or do lots of bad things and not experience any shame).

Goals, Motivation and Perception

Social interaction can be motivated by a number of different drives. Motivation will affect the perceptual activity that takes place. The social situation in which A sees B at a party, or in some other open setting, and is deciding whether or not to interact with B. The problem here is one of predicting B’s behavior – will B be a sufficiently entertaining and agreeable person to talk to? Is he likely to be able to tell A the way? etc. The prediction here is about behavior which is relevant to A’s goals in this particular situation, and whether B is likely to be able to help him to realize these goals.

If A decides to initiate an encounter with B, A’s initial problem is to select an appropriate interaction style from his repertoire that is suitable for B. If A behaves differently to others of different sex, age and social class (as everyone in fact does), he needs to be able to categorize B in terms of these variables, and whatever others are salient for him. At this stage then A is concerned with certain demographic and personality variables in B; once this is done that particular perceptual task is over, though some revision be made in the light of further experience of B.

During the encounter itself, A is concerned with eliciting certain responses from B, or with establishing and maintaining some relationship with B. In order to do this, A needs continuous information about B’s reaction to his own behavior, so that he can modify it if necessary. A may simply want B to like him, or he may have other quite personal motivations with regard to B, or A may want B to learn, buy, vote, or respond in terms of mainly professional goals which A has. In either case A needs to know what progress he is making with B. He may be concerned with B’s attitude towards himself, with B’s emotional state, with B’s degree of understanding, or with other aspects of B’s response.

In some situations A’s main concern is with B’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs or values. This is obviously true of social survey interviews, but in many more informal situations people want to find out how far their own attitudes have social support from others, and how far their ideas about the outside world are correct. People want positive reinforcement and feedback about their ideas and themselves.

In other situations, for example interviews for personnel selection and personality assessment, the main object may be to assess personality, either in order to understand its clinical origins, or to decide upon its suitability for a given job. In other situations, such as law courts, or interviews with administrators, it is more a matter of deciding what sanctions to apply; here the personality is matched against some social norm of the behavior that is required.

The effect of interpersonal attitudes

If A knows B well he will have already formed a detailed impression of B, and knows which styles of behavior to use with him. He will notice any deviation from B’s normal behavior, and interpret it as a temporary state or mood. Similarly A will be able to interpret B’s behavior better – he will know when B is anxious or cross better than could someone who has not met B before. Generally speaking the better A knows B the more accurate his judgments of B’s personality are. This is not always so, since A and B become involved in an intricate relationship, and A’s judgement can become highly distorted.

If A likes or dislikes B, his judgments of B become systematically affected. If he likes B he will perceive B as liking A, more than he actually does. If A likes B, he also tends to see A in a favorable light, and bias all judgments in a socially desirable direction. This may be the result of interaction: if A likes B he will behave more pleasantly towards B, and elicit more favorable behavior from B.

If A likes B he will see B as more like himself and having more similar attitudes than is really the case. This effect is called assimilation, or simple projection; it would be expected that if A and B are really alike, A’s judgments will be more accurate.This kind of projection is quite different from the Freudian kind – in which people fail to see their shortcomings in themselves, and instead believe that other people suffer from them.

If B behaves aggressively towards A, this affects A’s perception of B in an interesting way. The immediate effect is for B to be seen as aggressive, and to be judged unfavorably in other ways. However, this effect may be mitigated when the causes of B’s aggressive behavior can readily be seen. This is an excellent example of the shift from personal to impersonal causation. If A thinks that he has done badly on a task, for which B could reasonably blame him, he will feel less negative towards B.

Sources of Aggression

Various environmental stressors can lead to aggression – when the social rules are broken or subjects are exposed to stressors such as extremes of heat or noise for long or unpredictable periods of time. Consistent invasions of a comfortable personal space, working under crowded conditions or living in a densely inhabited area can often lead immediately to aggression. The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that the blocking of goal-directed behavior leads to aggression. However, experimental results show that only when goal blocking is severe and arbitrary or unjustifiably enacted does it lead to aggression. The perception of why a goal was blocked may be inaccurate. The situational conditions that lead to heightened arousal facilitate overt aggression under certain circumstances (such as competitiveness, loud noise, social conditions with exercise (dancing), etc).

Sources of Altruism

The number and actions of bystanders can influence altruistic behavior. When a subject is alone he or she might be more likely to respond to cries of help than when in the company of others. Also the activity of the other people in the situation influences behavior. Observing others helping might make one more likely to help. Reinforcement in one situation can lead directly to helpfulness in a another situation afterwards, while negative reinforcement would probably lead to the person helping less in the second situation. If the situation is ambiguous and it is hard to define if the situation needs a helping response would inhibit altruism. Therefore the greater the familiarity with the situation and the greater feeling of certainty of the social rules would probably lead to increased chance of altruism. Cultural rules, characteristics of the victim, or cost of help are also obviously factors.

Sources of Assertiveness

The most important determinant of assertiveness is an individual’s power or status. This may be based on his position in an organizational hierarchy or in an informal group, his social class, or his age. In general it seems that it is more difficult to be assertive (rather than passive or aggressive) with people of greater power, more dominant role and higher status than with people of lower power, etc. That is probably more true of negative assertion – refusing requests, disagreeing, responding to criticism – that of positive assertion (though that may also be difficult). People are more assertive and assume positions of leadership when they are more competent at the task in hand, or know more about the topic under discussion that the others present. Females may be less assertive than males in responding to members of the opposite sex.

Sources of Attraction

The probability of friendship or attraction developing is determined in part by the structure of the environment – the physical distances between people at work, in housing or at recreation, and the time periods between periods of interaction. Environmental conditions have a direct influence on our emotions which in turn affects our attraction to others. Gouaux (1971)2 found experimentally that subjects in an elated mood tended to be more attracted to a stranger than subjects in a depressed mood, irrespective of the fact that the stranger was not responsible for the mood state of the subjects. Griffitt and Veitch (1971)3 found that under conditions of high temperature and high population density, measures of liking or disliking were more negative than under more comfortable conditions. Veitch and Griffitt (1976)4 found that the hearing of broadcasts of good news led a subject to like a stranger, while after hearing bad news, subjects showed dislike of a stranger. Role expectations may determine the circumstances under which certain behaviors lead to attraction.

Goffman’s theory of self-presentation

Goffman’s book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956) has rightly been very influential in the study of the effect of self on social interaction. His theory is that interactors need information about one another for a number of reasons; this information is not directly available but must be inferred from gestures and other minor cues; the impressions formed are however deliberately manipulated in order to create perceptions that are more favorable than is warranted; there is a considerable element of conscious deception. Interactors try to establish a ‘working consensus’ in which certain perceptions of each other are agreed and there is a common definition of the situation. This deception is often necessary for the maintenance of a working social system, and is in the interests of both parties. Impression formation is achieved in the course of quasi-theatrical performances by individuals and groups, in the ‘front’ regions of homes and places of work, for the relevant ‘audiences’; there is collusion between team-members, e.g. the members of a family receiving guests; they interact informally in the back regions and do not manipulate impressions for each other; in the absence of the audience they discuss the secrets of their performance, and express attitudes towards the audience different from those expressed in the presence of the audience. There is constant danger of mistakes, in which the performance is discredited and reality shows through; this completely disrupts the interaction and causes embarrassment; the audience cooperates to prevent this happening by being tactful, and not going into the back regions.

This constitutes a theory about social behavior; it postulates that social behavior is like the behavior of actors, in that behavior is enacted to generate impressions for an audience. It is present very persuasively by evidence from literary sources such as George Orwell on waiters and Simone de Beauvoir on women, and from sociological case studies and books about professional groups such as house-detectives and undertakers. For example he cites Orwell’s book Down and Out in Paris and London:

  • It is an instructive sight to see a waiter going into a hotel dining-room. As he passes the door a sudden change comes over him. The set of his shoulders alters; all the dirt and hurry and irritation have dropped off in an instant. He glides over the carpet, with a solemn priest-like air. I remember our assistant ‘maitre d’hotel’, a fiery Italian, pausing at the dining-room door to address his apprentice who had broken a bottle of wine. Shaking his fist above his head he yelled (luckily the door was more or less soundproof), ‘do you call yourself a waiter, you young bastard? You a waiter! You’re not fit to scrub floors in the brothel your mother came from.’
  • Words failing him, he turned to the door, and as he opened it he delivered a final insult in the same manner as Squire Western in Tom Jones.
  • Then he entered the dining-room and sailed across it dish in hand, gracefully as a swan. Ten seconds later he was bowing reverently to a customer. And you could not help thinking, as you saw him bow and smile, with that benign smile of the trained waiter, that the customer was put to shame by having such an aristocrat to serve him (Orwell, 1951)5

Goffman did not produce any evidence in the form of experiments or sociological field studies to support his thesis, nor did he present the elements of it in the form of clear, testable hypotheses. It may help to focus attention on the empirical predictions from the theory if we consider some possible lines of criticism, which could be settled by evidence.

  1. Does social interaction involve as great an element of deliberate, conscious deception as is postulated? It is in fact people like waiters and undertakers who fit the model best, and there is no doubt that there is an element of window-dressing in most professional performances. This need not however be conscious, and Goffman admits that after a time the personality adjusts to fit the mask. Self-enhancement on the other hand is based more of self-deception than on deception of others. It may be suggested that the dramaturgical model applies quite well to confidence men, has some application to some aspects of professional performances, and very little application to everyday life.
  2. Are there really front and back regions is most establishment? Visitors to factories are usually shown over the entire establishment’ hospitals and university departments have no obvious division between front and back. There are areas where people live their private lives and don’t want to be disturbed, and there are comfortable board rooms for long meetings, but this is not a matter of front and back. Private houses are an intermediate case. Visitors are shown into the sitting-room and perhaps the dining-room and are allowed to use a lavatory; they are not usually (except in the middle West) so welcome in the kitchen, or the bedrooms. It may be suggested that the the distinction between front and back applies well to institutions offering a service to the public, such as hotels and shops, but not so much to other places.
  3. Is the difference in behavior to other members of the ‘team’ and to the ‘audience’ correctly interpreted in terms of collusion over impression management? It is often the case that P behaves differently to person A and B, but this does not necessarily indicate that he is being bogus to one of them. He relates to each by developing a synchronizing social system (a ‘working consensus’, as Goffman would say), and those will be different in each case depending on the personality and position of the other. Impression management is involved in each. The waiter behaves with skill, in order to elicit the desired reactions form the customers; his behavior with the books is managed also, as they too have to be controlled. Goffman is probably right however in postulating an on-stage-off-stage dimension, in which behavior in the more off-stage situations is more spontaneous and relaxed, more vulgar and intimate than behavior on-stage.
  4. Does the acting model fit ordinary social behavior? The actor follows a script which he has learnt; in everyday life behavior is more spontaneous. Again, professional performers such as salesmen are like actors, in that they do have a script, but even they have to improvise to some extent. Actors only respond to one another in respect of timing. All social situations have rules, but they do not have a script; indeed it is one of the unspoken assumptions of social interaction that what is taking place is entirely new and spontaneous.

So how much of social interaction is “natural”? People obviously can’t act how they really want and reveal their true selves in ordinary social interaction. There has to be an understanding of equality in order to people to get along. If people acted naturally, they would try to be dominant over the other people present. There are many factors that occur that people need to adjust to and “act” accordingly to. You can’t just go into a social situation and do everything you want and have everything your way – you need to act and change your manner to a certain extent at least.

The Looking-Glass Self
  • As we see our face, figure and dress in the glass and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another’s mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims and deeds, character, friends and so on, and are variously affect by it …the thing that moves us to pride of shame is not the mere mechanical reflections of ourselves, but imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind. (Cooley, 1902)

The concept Cooley articulated in this passage is referred to as the Looking-Glass Self. According to him, just as we make contact with our image in a mirror by knowing that it is a reflection of ourselves, so when we make contact with others we see our own images reflected in their actions by the ways they approach and react to us. Here the term “contact” does not refer to direct physical touching, of course, but to a symbolic meeting of minds through the medium of imagination. Sometimes imagination alone, of how others would react to us, is enough to affect our behavior.

If you talk to your mother on the telephone and she tells you how lonely she is and how much she longs for you to visit her, you understand this request through your own qualities reflected in her request. The qualities may be ideas of your obligations toward your parents, or even more generally your views of kindness and being a good person. Your own feelings about being alone, and the opposite, of enjoying the comforts of companionship, are mirrored in her request.

You may decide not to visit, but you and your mother have contacted each other in a symbolic act. Although we rely on our own particular ways of knowing, the social sense of knowing, which Cooley called society, depends on the imaginative reflection of ourselves in others. When you imagine turning down your mother’s request, you hear her disappointment or the disgust in her reply. What is heard really is your own understanding of how you would act if the positions were reversed. You hear over the telephone line your ideas about yourself as a good son or daughter, or as a responsible adult. Thus one way to think about society is as a result of individual minds in reflective contact.

This theory of the Looking-Glass self is basically just saying that there is a certain amount of inner reflection and thought about everything that happens to you socially and otherwise. You see everything about yourself when you interact with someone, you reflect on what happens and ask, “what does this mean to me”, “how does who I am factor into this”, “what qualities do I have that influence my feelings as a response to this person”, “how does who I am and my life experience matter in this situation”, “what aspects of my life and who I am matter to this interaction and my feelings about it”. If someone is talking to you and they make you feel a certain way, you may reflect on that and say that it is a result of certain qualities you have, you may bring up various feelings you have that relate to the conversation or the situation that are relevant. There is an enormous amount of things meeting someone can cause you to think about, you can think about your entire life, who you are and your personal attributes and characteristics (especially those that are relevant in this instance). There is a large amount of self-reflection in any interaction. There is a deeper reflection of the conversation or what is occurring than may seem. You think about the significance of the topic at hand to your own life, to the life of the person you are talking to, to the interaction. You also think about your feelings and their feelings and how these matter in the context.

Your (and their) life, feelings, and attributes aren’t the only things to think about more deeply in social interactions. You can think about the appropriate way to behave, what generalizations you are making about yourself and them, what the expectations of the other person are and how you should appropriately adapt your behavior, if it is “set” to see certain kinds of behavior in certain situations from certain types of people.

Maslow and Psychological Needs

Maslows hope was to develop a more inclusive theory on motivation that would find commonalities in seemingly dissimilar motives through the discovery of their common core. Such clusters of variables, Maslow felt, were based on five core elements that were related to each other in the form of an ascending hierarchy of prepotency. These five sets of needs, each of whose functional appearance was contingent on the relative prior satisfaction of those needs believed to be more basic, were termed the physiological, safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization needs.

The Physiological Needs.On the first level, Maslow included a range of simple biological needs recognized by all physiologists. On this most basic level are the needs for food, sex, water, optimum levels of salt, oxygen, and temperature, as well as the need for sleep, relaxation, and bodily integrity. Maslow began with these organismic demands both in order to be complete in his accounting of the body’s requirements and to point out the obvious fact that no further psychological development is possible if they have not been attained. Many fields, ranging from physiology to anthropology, describe the organism’s behavior during the state of physiological deprivation. These needs are so basic, in fact, that little variation in complex social behavior can be accounted for in terms of the search for these rewards.

Unfortunately, Maslow’s use of the term “physiological needs” hindered the recognition of his most basic proposition: All of the needs described in his theory have their origin in the human organism. This term was an unfortunate choice, because it is in the consequences of the reward history of the later stages that the more interesting types of social behavior can best be understood.

The Safety Needs. The safety needs center around the requirement for an understandable, secure, and orderly world. Maslow ( 1970)6 categorized the various manifestations of the safety needs as the needs for: “security; stability; dependency; protection; freedom from fear, from anxiety and chaos; need for structure, order, law, limits; [and] strength in the protector” (p. 39 ). Underlying these apparently different states is the common factor of the “need for prediction and control,” as described so well by Seligman ( 1975)7. When these needs are not satisfied, a large variety of cognitive, emotional, and motivational conditions are created. Individuals may see other people and themselves, as well as the world in general, as unsafe, unjust, inconsistent, or unreliable. Hence, they seek for, or attempt to create, areas of life that offer the most stability and protection. Therefore, deprived safety needs appear in personality as beliefs about the world, states of discomfort, and desires to create a situation that solves these discomforts.

Love and Belongingness Needs. The love and belongingness needs center around the desire to experience intimate relationships with other people. Individuals motivated on this level desire contact, intimacy, warm and friendly relationships, and they function well in interpersonal situations. The central expression of this need is a clear desire for a warm companionate relationship, which encourages congenial activities on the basis of approximate equality among peers. It is important to recognize that, in Erikson’s terms, mutuality of involvement and concern is the central characteristic, rather than the behavioral criterion of two people spending time in close physical proximity to one another (e.g., Schachter, 1959). However, the expression of affection for those who take care of the person, or for those who are cared for, should be understood as a resultant of the satisfaction of other types of psychological needs.

Esteem Needs The esteem needs center around the issue of firmly establishing a high sense of self-worth, which is achieved both through the appraisal of actual competence in one’s own activities and through receiving the esteem of others because of one’s actions. Maslow ( 1970) classified the manifestations of this need into two subsidiary sets. First, there is “the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for mastery and competence, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom. Second,… the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), status, fame and glory, dominance, recognition, attention, importance, dignity or appreciation” (p. 45 ). Other manifestations of these needs are indications or expressed desires for self-reliance, selfacceptance, power, confidence, competition, trust in one’s own abilities or self, leadership, and autonomy.

The Need for Self-Actualization.The stage of self-actualization is the part of Maslow’s theory for which he is most widely known. It refers to one’s wish for self-fulfillment, after one’s earlier needs have been satisfied, and is expressed in those idiosyncratic ways most desired by the individual.



Abasement is the tendency to establish control and prediction of others’ actions by self-deprecating maneuvers. Feeling inadequate, inferior, incompetent, unlovable, unworthy, and “sinful,” such people appear to atone for their weakness through self-punishment, compliance, and passive surrender, as well as confessions of inadequacy and helplessness. By acting in such a seemingly self-defeating style, the self-abasing person actually attempts to control the degree of pain that he or she experiences, while simultaneously invoking the sympathy and pity of others. The function of such behavior is to set limits on unpredictability and retain some degree of control over events by forcing a reliable pattern of responding from others.


Dependency is another solution to feeling mistrustful, anxious, and insecure. This motive has as its goal the formation of a dependent bond with another person. Dependency is a psycho-social mode in which one passively or actively structures a stable subordinate relationship in order to feel secure, trusting, and calm. Extremely dependent people depend on others to help them “get” and “take” from the world in a predictable and controllable way, and they fear the loss of a powerful protector. Individuals with a strong motive for dependency fear being stranded to simply “get by” on their own. Thus, the safety motive of dependency will manifest itself in fantasy, emotion, and action as the need for union to restore or maintain some form of the basic sense of trust, which makes the world seem manageable.


What I am going to do now is provide an integrative analysis of the last few sections which were Maslow’s Needs, the peripherial variables that affect the social process, and Erikson’s Psychosocial stages. First off people have basic needs such as listed by Maslow – physiological, safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization needs. All of those are important to social interaction but they need to be considered in a larger psychological context. People want to feel good about themselves and achieve self-actualization, but they can do that through the discovery of Erikson’s Psychosocial Crisis. Trust, shame, guilt, inferiority, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity (some of the factors Erikson mentioned) all are components in the social process, and they all relate to Maslow’s Needs. This is so because in any interaction there is a deeper reflection of the self that occurs. Your primary motivations (Maslow’s needs) seeks introspection and development in Erickson’s psychosocial crisis (for instance, you seek belongingness (Maslows need) through the development of trust (Ericksons stage)). In addition, there are the peripheral variables of dependency, abasement, approval, authoritarianism, order, affiliation, machiavellianism, dominance, nurturance, achievement, and recognition.

On one hand someone could say about life or this book, “life isn’t complicated – I don’t need to know all this stuff about social interaction”. On the other hand, when one thinks more deeply and clearly it becomes obvious that there are many factors present in social situations that could use reflection. You need to understand how you are behaving, you need to notice how the other person is behaving, and you need to do this on a moment by moment basis. You need to come to conclusions based on that observation as well – potentially a lot of conclusions. You might need to modify your behavior based on your observation of the other person and the conclusions you reach. Furthermore, you need to notice the effect of this behavior on each person, on their emotions, and on the mood of the situation. One person might want the other person to like them, and is concerned with the attitudes, emotions, and types of understand the other person may have. The mood of a situation can vary from painful, difficult and not funny to humorous, joyful, and exciting. People could be getting along as equals, with shared understanding, or one person could be trying to dominate the other. The dominant person might also be getting along as a subordinate at the same time. The conclusions you reach, your attempt to modify your own behavior, your goals and motivations as a result of the presence of the other person, the mood and the emotions involved (pleasurable, painful, or others) and the type of relationship (dominant, subordinate, friendly) are all powerful and key forces involved in social interaction and worthy of conscious reflection.

Someone could also say, “there is an amazing amount of information and complexity involved in life and in social interaction, the emotions involved are powerful and real”. But what is this complexity and how do you notice when the emotions are present? Is there a simply way of describing the complexity, of summing it up? You can read this book and this chapter especially, that is the long version of the complexity involved. However it would be nice to have a more simple understanding for quick review. There are many different types of social situations that people can find themselves in. The location, people involved, and the setting are all factors that have a lot options and change the nature of the interaction in many ways (creating a lot of variety). You have to perform differently in each different situation and function at a high level each time. You have to be aware of the situation, of the behavior, emotions, attitude, mood, understanding, role, motivation, and needs of the people involved. Because of these factors (also the characteristics of the people, and if there is a conversation) there is a certain mood in every social situation – this mood would obviously be very complicated considering the number of contributing factors. Moods, therefore, are a lot more complex than just “happy” or “sad” or “angry” – there are tones and subtleties to situations and interactions that contribute to the feelings and atmosphere (or “mood”) present (it is a created environment – created by complex psychological factors (which are the thoughts of each person, their motivations, attitudes, feelings, personal characteristics, other circumstantial factors (the environment, setting, etc), and — obviously — their behaviors)).

Persistent themes in interpersonal relations: Authority, Subordinacy, and Equality

We should stress at this point the idea that authority, subordinacy, and equality are not isolated or easily separable experiences. Any individual in the development of his relationships with others and in the elaboration of his role performances is experiencing simultaneously the relevant tensions imbedded in a matrix of authority, subordinacy, and equality. Sometimes one of these three themes appears dominant in an interaction, and the others appear as background. Yet if interaction persists, the astute observer will see the relevance of all three issues in the unfolding of interpersonal relations.

The Nature of Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal interaction involves a complicated balancing act of the needs of the people involved, Phillips8 discussed how a person is skilled in this regard:

  • the extent to which he or she can communicate with others, in a manner that fulfils one’s rights, requirements, satisfactions, or obligations to a reasonable degree without damaging the other person’s similar rights, requirements, factions, or obligations, and hopefully shares these rights etc. with others in free and open exchange.

This next quote from Robbins and Hunsaker9 is rather obvious, in order to get better at socializing and learning social skills you need to practice:

  • To become competent at any skill, a person needs to understand it both conceptually and behaviorally; have opportunities to practice it; get feedback on how well he or she is performing the skill; and use the skill often enough so that it becomes integrated with his or her behavioral repertoire.

The goals we pursue are not always conscious, and indeed one feature of skilled performance is that behaviour is often executed automatically. Once responses are learned they tend to become hard-wired or habitual. When we know how to drive, we no longer have to think about actions such as how to start the car, brake, reverse, and so on. Yet, when learning to drive, these actions are consciously monitored as they are performed. In the successful learning of new skills we move through the stages of conscious incompetence (we know what we should be doing and we know we are not doing it very well), conscious competence (we know we are performing at a satisfactory level), and finally unconscious competence (we just do it without thinking about it and we succeed). This is also true of interpersonal skills. During free-flowing social encounters, less than 200 milliseconds typically elapse between the responses of speakers and rarely do conversational pauses reach three seconds. As a result certain elements, such as the exact choice of words used and the use of gestures, almost always occur without conscious reflection. In relation to the negotiation context, McRae10 explained how: ‘Expert negotiators become so proficient at certain skills in the negotiating process that they do not have to consciously think about using these skills. It’s as if the response becomes second nature.’ However, an awareness of relevant goals does not ensure success. As expressed by J. Greene11:

  • action may not be so readily instantiated in overt behavior… the inept athlete, dancer, actor or public speaker may well have a perfectly adequate abstract representation of what he or she needs to do, but what actually gets enacted is rather divergent from his or her image of that action.

Skilled behaviours are goal-directed. They are those behaviours the individual employs in order to achieve a desired outcome, and are therefore purposeful, as opposed to chance, or unintentional. As Huang12 (2000:111) noted, ‘the purposes people bring into communication have important consequences on communication processes’. For example, if A wishes to encourage B to talk freely, A will look at B, use head nods when B speaks, refrain from interrupting B, and utter ‘guggles’ (‘hmm hmm’; ‘uh, hu’; etc.) periodically. In this instance these behaviours are directed towards the goal of encouraging participation.

Skilled behaviours must be interrelated, in that they are synchronised in order to achieve a particular goal. Thus the individual will employ two or more behaviours at the same time. For example, when encouraging B to talk, A may smile, use head nods, look directly at B, and utter guggles, and each of these signals will be interpreted by B as a sign of encouragement to continue speaking. Each behaviour relates to this common goal, and so the behaviours are in this way interrelated and synchronised.

Skills should be appropriate to the situation in which they are being used. The skilled individual adapts behaviours to meet the demands of particular people in specific contexts. Dickson13 (2001) referred to this aspect of skilled performance as contextual propriety. In their review of this area, White and Burgoon14 (2001:9) concluded that, ‘the most essential feature of human interaction is that it involves adaptation’. Indeed, linguistic conceptualisations purport that skill is mutually constructed through dialogue and so can only be understood by an interpretation of how narratives develop in any particular context (Holman15, 2000).

Competence, therefore, is more likely to the extent that communicators pursue both self-interests and the interests of the other person(s) involved. Persons who want to initiate a romantic relationship with another need to appear composed and expressive if the other person is to perceive them as competent. Composure displays the suitor as confident and focused, and the expressiveness leaves vivid impressions and helps the other person know them. These skills help people pursue their own goals. However, unless the other person is made to feel important through coordination and altercentrism, attraction is unlikely to follow. Coordination shows a concern for making the interaction more comfortable, and the altercentrism gets the other person’s interests involved in the conversation, and perhaps, the relationship. Thus, to be competent, interactants need to use their communication skills to promote both their own interests and the interests of the coparticipants.

Mutuality of Control

Another way to look at conversational processes is to examine the types of messages exchanged by relational partners (positive or negative in orientation) and how these messages serve to sustain or alter perceptions of the relationship. Because ongoing interactions provide opportunities for partners to assess relational growth and evolution, researchers have described episodes resulting in relationship change as turning points. Turning point research tries to isolate specific events or occurrences that prompt a change in the trajectory of the relationship. Often these turning points are explored by examining the reminiscences of relational partners.

A final theme involving interactional processes emphasizes the ways relational partners struggle to negotiate the parameters of the relationship that play out in day-to-day interactions. These discussions may explicitly or implicitly involve issues of control and dominance or the management of disagreements. Ideally, the interactions lead to mutual acceptance or general agreement about specific decisions and the way in which those decisions are reached. This mutuality refers to partners having a shared understanding of the way their relationship works.

One specific kind of mutuality, control mutuality, reflects consensus in the relationship about who is to take charge of specific relational issues. Indvik and Fitzpatrick16 (1986) noted that control involves relational partners’ ability to influence one another. Canary and Stafford17 (1994) defined control mutuality as the “extent to which couples agree on who has the right to influence the other and establish relational goals” (p. 6). They believed that information about control mutuality, along with trust, liking, and commitment, can be used to assess the nature of an interpersonal relationship and its stability.

This area includes legitimacy or the acceptance of one’s partner’s right to be controlling or domineering, exclusivity or the partner’s commitment to the relationship regardless of control issues, and dependence or the recognition of the partners’ interdependence in establishing control (Indvik and Fitzpatrick, 1986). Individuals in a relationship can exert control in ways that are adaptive and collaborative or they can manipulate both verbal and nonverbal messages to increase their own control of the interaction. Canary and Stafford (1994) maintained that a lack of “control mutuality or unilateral control is displayed in domineering behaviors” (p. 6) that are less productive for long-term relationships.

Dominance has been conceptualized as encompassing both verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are “recognized and interpreted by observers as part of an interactant’s attempt to increase his/her control of an interaction” (Brandt18, 1980, p. 32). Relational dominance has been characterized as “an emergent property of social interaction” and as having an immediate “relational impact” at the time the behavior was enacted during some “critical moment in the interaction” (Palmer and Lack19, 1993, p. 167). This suggests that dominance or control can be a product of the interaction between relational partners where one partner demonstrates her or his ability to exercise power, as well as a product of the other partner’s reactions to the dominance (Berger20, 1994). This reaction informs the perpetrator about her or his own ability to exercise control or domination. Outcomes of this process might include legitimate power (the right to influence others based on one’s status or role), linguistic power (providing reasonable explanations for the right to influence others), expert power (having specialized knowledge), referent power (others wanting to identify with the person), reward power (having the ability to meet others’ needs), or coercive power (the ability to shape others’ behavior; Berger, 1994).

The Emmers-Sommer21 (chap. 17) meta-analysis on sexual coercion supports Berger’s (1994) theorizing on the reciprocal nature of social power and control. Results on the perceptual aspects of sexual coercion indicate that men and women agree on the nature of important features of the coercive episode. Both men and women perceived sexual coercion as more justifiable for women who initiated the date, went to a man’s apartment, had a previous intimate relationship with the man, or consumed alcohol. In these situations, women tended to understand, if not endorse, men using control, power, and dominance to force sexual intercourse. Males’ reactions to women’s attempts to resist sexual coercion appear to be shaped by traditional sexual scripts. Women’s verbal and nonverbal protests are viewed as being disingenuous and a motivation to continue the sexual pursuit. The Emmers-Sommer meta-analysis explores controversies regarding who has the right to exert control, the acceptance of control or dominance by a relational partner, and the use of coercive control and intimidation in sexual episodes.

Sexual coercion is a particularly onerous example of the conflicts that may arise in relationships. Disagreements about appropriate use of influence and the means and ends justifying force and coercion are not always likely to be resolved to the satisfaction of one or both parties. Retzinger22 (1995) noted that “conflict does not always resolve differences, unify persons or groups or result in constructive change, sometimes it is destructive, erodes relationships, and ends in violence” (p. 26). Conflicts may result in enduring disagreements and profound emotions that warrant, in the view of one or both parties, the termination of the relationship.

A meta-analysis in this section addresses the use of conflict management strategies by men and women in intimate and nonintimate relationships. Gayle, Preiss, and Allen (chap. 18) examine the evidence for commonly held beliefs that men use controlling or competitive strategies in nonintimate relationships and withdrawal strategies in intimate conflicts, and women use compromising strategies in nonintimate relationships and coercive strategies in intimate relationships. They found that extraneous variables such as stereotypical attitudes and gender-role enactments may influence the contradictory pattern of effects in the primary studies. In addition to finding small effect sizes for sex differences in conflict management selection, Gayle et at point to emotional affect, situational constraints, and relational factors as areas meriting additional study. Much more research into interactional conflict processes is warranted.

In general, the research on control, dominance, and conflict reveals the necessity of a shared vision of the way a relationship is enacted. Partners negotiate the range of relational issues, including who has the right to exert influence, who may control relational resources, what goals and outcomes are preferred, and how conflicts or disagreements may be managed.

A Review of the information up to this point

The chapter began describing basic factors of interpersonal interaction and everyone’s desire for individuality and social visibility; next it discussed character traits; how emotion is communicated in an interaction; various definitions of types of social behavior such as neuroticsm, attachment, social anxiety, gender identity, shyness, embarrassment, and shame; sources of aggression, altruism, assertiveness and attraction; goffman’s theory of self-presentation, which outlined how he thinks people are like actors on a stage, consciously and deliberately making their actions and behavior tailored for certain recipients; the theory of the looking-glass self, which demonstracted how there is a deeper inner reflection in any conversation of yourself, your life experience, your feelings, your qualities, and the other persons as well; Maslow outlined various major and basic needs people have such as physiological, safety, love and belonginness, esteem, and self-actualization; in addition to Maslows needs there were various peripheral variables that affect the social process of dependency, abasement, approval, authoritarianism, order, affiliation, machiavellianism, dominance, nurturance, achievement and recognition; there was Erikson’s psychosocial crisis, which were qualities that people seek to achieve their major needs from (Malsow) – the qualities were trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity and integrity. I then showed the simplicity of social information by summarizing a lot of its content – by saying how that there are tones and subtleties to situations that contribute to the mood present, these are created by the thoughts, attitudes, motivations, feelings, personal characteristcs, other circumstantials factors (the environment) and (clearly) the behaviors of the people involved. Then I mentioned that autority, subordinacy, and equality are persistent themes in interpersonal relations. Next I discussed social skills, because at this point it should be obvious that they are important – behavior is goal-directed, interrelated, learned (conscious) or innate, and people can be very competence and composed or not so. Finally, I discussed “mutuality of control” – which shows the factors involved in authority, subordinacy and quality. People have an understanding of how dominant, influential, controling and manipulative each partner is – they can exert control in ways that are adaptive and collaborative or they can manipulate both verbal and nonverbal messages to increase their own control of the interaction.

Message Types in Communication

  • There are greeting and leaving messages “hello” “goodbye” etc.
  • There are polite questions, “how was your day”, “how are you doing”
  • There are compliments, “you look good”, “nice to see you” etc
  • There are messages of good-will, “have a good day”, “wishing you well”, “have a good one”
  • Some messages can refer to the persons personality attributes or strengths and weaknesses – “he is nice”, “man or iron man”…
  • People can discuss relationships and how attracted people are to other people – “got his goat”
  • Improving life messages – “let’s reach higher”
  • Positive, negative, and neutral comments
  • Messages of doom, or hope – “The Dangerous Age”
  • Messages that communicate someones experience
  • Messages that talk about what someone did at some time (recently or not)
  • Sentimental messages – “Home Is Where The Heart Is”
  • Bitter-sweet statements or expressions – “it’s ironic”
  • Important or significant statements – “the big move”
  • There are statements that reflect hurt (or emotion) – “A Woman Scorned”
  • There are personality statements as metaphors that can simultaneously communicate occupation (among other things) – “The Wolf Of Wall Street”, “Lady Of The House”
  • Statements that suggest you do something (related to someone or something) – “Pity The Poor Working Girl”
  • Romantic statements or discussions, “Burning Kisses”
  • Statements of opinion – “It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dog”

Harry Stack Sullivan (Sullivan 1953) outlined various developmental epochs in his book “The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry” (it is a little difficult to read, but I have put my analysis and interpretation after it):

  • What we have in our minds begins in experience, and experience for the purpose of this theory is held to occur in three modes which i shall set up, one of which is usually, but by no means certainly, restricted to human beings. These modes are the prototaxic, the parataxic, and the syntaxic. I shall offer the thesis that these modes are primarily matters of ‘inner’ elaboration of events. The mode which is easiest to discuss is relatively uncommon–experience in the syntaxic mode; the one about which something can be known, but which is harder to discuss, is experience in the parataxic mode; and the one which is ordinarily capable of any formulation, and therefor of any discussion, is experience in the prototaxic or primitive mode. The difference in thses modes lies in the extent and the character of the elaboration that one’s contact with events has undergone. (p. 28-29)
  • The prototaxic mode, which seems to be the rough basis of memory, is the crudest-shall I say-the simplest, the earliest, and probably the most abundant mode of experience. Sentience, in the experimental sense, presumably relates to much of what I mean by the prototaxic mode. The prototaxic, at least in the very early months of life, may be regarded as the discrete series of momentary states of the sensitive organism, with special reference to the zones of interaction with the environment. By the term, sensitive, I attempt to bring into your conception all of those channels for being aware of significant events–from the tactile organs, in, say, my buttocks, which are apprising me that this is a chair and I have sat in it about long enough, to all sorts of internunciatory sensitivities which have been developed in meeting my needs in the process of living. It is as if everything that is sensitive and centrally represented were an indefinite, but very greatly abundant, luminous switchboard; and the pattern of light which would show on that switchboard in any discrete experience is the basic prototaxic experience itself, if you follow me. This hint may suggest to you that I presume from the beginning until the end of life we undergo a succession of discrete patterns of the momentary state of the organism, which implies not that other organisms are impinging on it, but certainly that the events of other organisms are moving toward or actually effecting a change in this momentary state. (p. 29)
  • This is just another way of saying that absolute euphoria and absolute tension are constructs which are useful in thought but which do not occur in nature. These absolutes are approached at times, but almost all of living is perhaps rather near the middle of the trail, that is, there is some tension, and to that extent the level of euphoria is not as high as it could be. (p. 35)
  • From the standpoint of the infants prototaxtic experience, this crying, insofar as it evokes tender behavior by the mothering one, is adequate and appropriate action by the infant to remove or escape fear-provoking dangers. Crying thus comes to be differentiated as action appropriate to accomplish the foreseen relief of fear. (p. 53)
  • Thus the juvenile era is the time when the world begins to be really complicated by the presence of other people.(p. 232)
  • This giving up of the ideas and operations of childhood comes about through the increasing power of the self-system to control focal awareness. And this in turn comes about because of the very difficult, crude, critical reaction of other juveniles, and because of the relatively formulable and predictable manifestations of adult authority. In other words, the juvenile has extraordinary opportunity to learn a great deal about security operations, to learn ways of being free from anxiety, in terms of comparatively understandable sanctions and their violations. (p. 233)
  • I would guess that each of the outstanding achievements of the developmental eras that I have discussed will be outstandingly manifest in the mature personality. The last of these great developments is the appearance and growth of the need for intimacy- for collaboration with at least one other, preferably more others, and in this collaboration there is a very striking feature of a very lively sensitivity to the needs of the other and to the interpersonal security or absence of anxiety in the other. Thus we can certainly extrapolate from what we know that the mature, insofar as nothing of great importance collides, will be quite sympathetically understanding of the limitations, interests, possibilities, anxieties, and so on of those among whom they move or with whom they deal. (p. 310)

His discussion of the three “modes” of experience is important, it is similar to a discussion on consciousness. The prototaxic mode seems to be awareness of the senses, and this awareness of what you are feeling gives rise to an understanding from these feelings of your environment or whatever it is they are feeling. That is why babies mostly experience the world in this mode, because they are not capable of thought they mostly just feel and that gives rise to their awareness of the world. Saying that the modes are types of ‘inner’ elaboration of events is just saying that there are different ways of experiencing the world. The prototaxic is the most basic and primitive, which is why it relates to the senses the most, the other modes are probably more thoughtful – derived from knowledge or thought.

Saying that there are absolutes of tension and euphoria is important. It is important to say that in order to help understand that people can be in extremely pleasurable states or extremely painful states. Most of the time for most people they are in the middle somewhere, but it is very useful to note the extremes in order to help recognize and understand that pain and pleasure are there to certain degrees and changing all the time.

He discusses that crying helps the baby avoid “fear-provoking dangers”, because it gets tender affection from the mother. He is describing it as a learned process, the child learns to cry because it helps relieve fear and is also positively reinforced by affection from the mother. It is useful to think of social behavior in this kind of way, there are larger more important motives behind social behavior other than what may seem if you just look at the obvious motives. Certain things help relief fear or the “foreseen relief of fear”, a lot of social behavior can be seen as avoiding fear and anxiety. Those components are not normally thought about as factors, but it makes sense that they are. Getting a friend, or saying hello could be seen as the foreseen relief of fear if you consider that otherwise you might be in pain without doing those things.

His type of thinking about social interactions, by relating it to anxiety and fear, is obvious is his explanation of the juvenile era as well – he postulates that “In other words, the juvenile has extraordinary opportunity to learn a great deal about security operations, to learn ways of being free from anxiety, in terms of comparatively understandable sanctions and their violations.”, he is saying that the juvenile functions like the baby crying gets attention from the mother, the juvenile might feel threatened by authority and the rules they impose on him or her and therefore could learn a lot about how to be free from anxiety by learning how to navigate those rules. That is a deep analysis, usually when someone thinks of a parent imposing rules on a child they don’t analyze it in terms of their social development, however it makes sense to think about it that way as well. The rules of the parents become a part of the child’s life, it is how a child lives, there are authority figures in children’s lives that are probably at least as important for their emotional development as their peers. And an important part of their interaction with these authority figures is the rules that are imposed upon them, it is an important part of how a child lives – the nature of how adults and authority figures interact with them.

In his discussion of what characteristics a mature person would have, he mentions that intimacy would be important, and again puts emphasis on anxiety, that they would be sensitive to the anxiety of the other person as well as limits, possibilities and interests. It makes sense that a more developed person would be more intimate because they are more developed and capable of greater intimacy, also, to be intimate you would need to be mature. He keeps bringing up the importance of anxiety – it is important for social development and it would be an important thing to be sensitive about as well.

Types of Communicators

Some people are more competent at communication than others, however, it is hard to assess this trait. It could be argued that some people are more competent because they are assertive, Machiavellian, rhetorically sensitive, versatile, empathic, or androgynous. Maybe some people have more knowledge, have better performance, or are more effective than others. There are some communication behaviors that are more competent or appropriate than others for a given situation, or the communicator may be more competent. A person who has trait-like communication competence is generally competent in communication across different contexts, receivers and time. A person who is context-based communication competence, however, is a person only competence within a given context (competent under some circumstances but not others) but (in that context) across receivers and time. A person who has situational communication competence is competent in a given context, with a given receiver or group of receivers, at a specific time. The individual may or may not be communicatively competent in any other context, with any other receiver or receivers, at any other time. So someone with context-based communication competence may be competent in clubs, someone who is has situational communication competence may only be competent on his birthday, in a club, with certain people. A person who has trait-like communication competence is generally competent everywhere.

Three personality traits were looked into for qualities of personal effectiveness in communication in a study done by (McCroskey23 et all) – the traits were if someone was neurotic or non-neurotic, introverted or extroverted, or psychotic or non-psychotic:

  • A consistent pattern emerged across the three studies. Specifically, the results seem to indicate that non-neurotic extroverts are not shy or apprehensive about touch, tend to perceive themselves as more competent, view themselves as assertive and responsive, and express greater degrees of self-acceptance. Neurotic introverts report apprehension about communication, perceive themselves as less immediate, rate themselves as having a lower affect orientation, and somewhat higher levels of verbal aggressiveness. Neurotic participants report less self-acceptance. Neurotic non-psychotics report a greater degree of affect orientation, more apprehension about communication, and lower verbal aggression. Neurotic psychotic extroverts tend to be compulsive communicators and report greater tolerance for disagreement. Psychotics are non-responsive, and tend to report higher levels of verbal aggressiveness, argumentativeness and assertiveness. Finally, psychotic non-neurotics tend to have a greater tolerance for disagreement and are less likely to identify themselves as compulsive communicators.

Some of the qualities measured were views of competence, affect orientation, aggressiveness, self-acceptance, and apprehension about communication. Being “competent” in communication would seem to be rather simple, if someone has an idea or thought then they can simply express it, there might be some things getting in the way of that like self-acceptance, apprehension, assertiveness, and having a positive or negative affect orientation. If you have negative affect, expressing an idea you have could become complicated because you would then be unsure if you are going to have a positive response. Communication then becomes a social thing, it isn’t about the ability to express yourself, it is about you being nervous because of the social situation, which would then effect your ability to communicate.

How do you relate and compare what is going on socially to what is being communicated? In some situations there is little going on emotionally and it is just a straightforward conversation, like in a debate or formal conversation. In other situations there are a lot of emotional, social variables that complicate the situation and what is going to be communicated like at a party. There are a lot of circumstances that can vary greatly at a party that would effect what types of communication occur. A lot of social subtleties and complications. At a formal debate, or a business conversation, there might not be so many complications. The purpose there is clear and what needs to be communicated is simple, there aren’t a lot of emotional factors that are going to influence what you say, it is just about business and you have simple, clear objectives (unlike in most social situations where the emotional, psychological factors of the situation can complicate what is going on). In a social situation you could potentially raise any topic for communication, you have to pick the right thing to say out of an endless option of choices (in addition, you have to factor in the people there and each of their complex psychological makeups). In a business interaction you only have a few options based on the business objective in the situation, and what type of person you are talking to isn’t as complicated or as much of a factor. I’m not saying all business interchanges are simple, I’m just using it as an example to show how much easier interaction is when you know what needs to be said and you don’t necessarily have to pick the exact right thing (or “entertaining” thing) from an endless number of options of things to say.

One of the goals of communication is to seek affinity, but how do people do this in an interaction? Do people pay close attention to the other person, show sensitivity, be responsive, or include them in their social activities? A study was done by (Richmond24 et all) titled, “Affinity-Seeking Communication in Collegiate Female-Male Relationships” – here are two of the concluding paragraphs:

  • The results of the study indicate that there are differences in college male and female affinity-seeking strategies. Significant differences were found on all but three of the twenty-five strategies, with distinct female-male patterns emerging for approximately half of them. The interpretation of these differences in terms of dominance/submissiveness, proactive/reactive or self-oriented/other-oriented continua, however, must be approached with caution. Females were more likely to ask questions and elicit others disclosures, to pay close attention and be responsive while listening, and to show sympathy and sensitivity toward the other’s problems and anxieties.Males were more likely to present themselves as an important figure able to reward association with themselves. Both males and females were concerned with “looking good” to the other, with females more concerned with physical attractiveness and males with presenting an interesting self through who they are, where they’ve been and who they know. These findings appear to characterize females as reactive and other-oriented and males as proactive and self-oriented.
  • Males, however, were more likely than females to complement the other, treat them like an important person and engage in self-concept confirmation, and to give assistance-such as getting a drink or taking the other’s coat-or advice (altruism), strategies which, although perhaps the more proactive of those categorized by Bell and Daly as “concern and caring” (along with elicit other’s disclosure, listening, supportiveness, and sensitivity) indicate other-orientation on the part of the males. Females indicated a greater likelihood of inclusion of other in their social activities and groups of friends, introducing him to her friends and making him feel that he belongs; males indicated greater likelihood of setting up encounters with the other person and of “putting [themselves] in a position to be invited to participate in [the other’s] social activities” (self-inclusion). It is difficult to assess whether the essential element differentiating male and female responses on these strategies was the female focus on the other (inviting him along) and the male focus on himself (putting himself in a position to be invited) or the females active vs. the males reactive approach to initiating encounters with other friends. Similarly, females indicated they would avoid playing “one-upmanship” games and would assume equality while males indicated they would try to reinforce similarity by expressing views similar to the other’s, agreeing with the other and avoiding behavior which might suggest differences. The goal of these strategies is similar. Both females and males appear to be concerned with the similarity/equality issue with the male-selected strategy somewhat more reactive.

What I find interesting is that you probably can only do a few things well in a social interaction, females tend to focus on doing some things, and males on others. Females showed sympathy and sensitivity and males tended to present themselves as an important figure. You could try to do both of those things, but I think clearly if you focused on one instead of the other you would present a more cohesive personality then if you tried to show that you did two different things with communication. The lesson there is that if you present one side, the message is going to be more clear for that side then if you tried to present multiple personalities, attitudes or characteristics. Males put more focus on putting himself in a position to be invited, while females made the other feel like they belong (inviting him along). The male response shows a greater interest in power, by treating the other like an important person and trying to reinforce similarity (this would get them in a position to be invited), while the females indicated they would avoid playing “one-upmanship” games and would assume equality (instead of the interest in power by the males). So what is learned from this is that there are styles of communication and interaction, while there are an endless number of things to pick from to say in a social situation, what you do pick is probably going to go along with your personality and how you present that personality and its characteristics to the world.


Someone could have an emotional reaction to someone or something someone does, that is different from having an attitude change, or it could be that the emotional reaction causes a change in attitude. Also, people make evaluations about the other person or about what they are saying or is going on, which could call upon a set of stored knowledge the person already has or be a completely new idea or set of thoughts about the person or thing going on. It makes sense that evaluations would have occurred before, however, since everything in an interaction is not completely new each time – therefore people make evaluations and assessments (come to conclusions during an interaction) about other people’s behavior or something else about what is going on – and they are assessments that are similar to ones they have made in the past in similar situations. When someone makes an evaluation, they are likely to have an attitude adjustment because their opinion or thoughts about what is going on has changed. An example of such an evaluation might be “this person is not easy to get along with, I don’t know if I like him or her, I might have to stop talking to them” – once a person makes such an evaluation of the other person, their attitude is likely to change. They have probably made evaluations like that in the past with other people, so have learned how to change their attitude and what other conclusions to make once they make that assessment. They also take in new information and construct an opinion based on the current situation, in addition to having learned assessments that they call upon. People can consider readily available information (what is going on in the social interaction they are currently in) and integrate this information into an overall attitudinal judgement.

During the coarse of an interaction or, for example, a conversation, someone might change their attitude many times, there might be large attitude changes or small ones. They change their attitude when they have an emotional reaction (generated from the other person most likely) or make an assessment or evaluation of the other person, their behavior, or what is going on (the conversation most likely). The nature of their evaluation might be similar to evaluations they have reached in the past, so it is a learned response or attitude change. That person might just happen to change his or her attitude in such a way when someone does such a thing, it is just what they do. A person might also generate a new attitude based on a new situation and new information they have gathered in this situation. When I say people make evaluations during interactions, I mean they reach conclusions about the other person, form ideas and opinions of them, their behavior and the interaction. These “evaluations” occur all the time and, since they can be natural and unconscious to a large extent, are going to be influenced by the persons previous experience with forming conclusions, opinions and ideas during an interaction. This means that not all the opinions and ideas you reach during an interaction (and their resulting attitude changes) are going to be completely under your awareness (conscious). That makes sense, of course you don’t know all the times you change your attitude and all the assessments of the the interaction you are making during the interaction, the point is, however, that you are making them and they are influencing you behavior. Your attitude can change without you directing it, that shows that you are reaching conclusions and having evaluations and assessments during an interaction that you aren’t completely aware of.

People come to conclusions about how good or bad elements of the interaction are during the course of the interaction. These conclusions might result in an attitude change. The conclusion (assessment) might be stored, it may be a conclusion you come to frequently and each time you change your attitude in a similar manner. Or it might be that during an interaction you reach completely new conclusions about what is going on and change your attitude in new and different ways from how you changed it in the past. Of course each time is going to be at least a little different, it is really a matter of degree. Here I am discussing the “conclusions” people reach during an interaction, however, if you were to ask someone how many conclusions they reached during an interaction they would probably say none. The conclusions aren’t completely conscious – in an interaction your opinion is changing about the interaction all the time, you change your attitude continuously, each time you don’t take note of that. Sometimes they are conscious – an example would be you saying, “this person is bad, i’m going to have a negative attitude towards him or her from this point on in the conversation”. Conclusions and evaluations like that occur all the time without your awareness, they are a natural part of an interaction. People might also change their behavior based off of these conclusions and evaluations they reach about what is going on, not just change their attitude or opinion (beliefs).

Some evaluations people can make can be of “approval or disapproval”, or the “attribution of good or bad qualities”. Your emotional responses and beliefs which help influence your evaluations and attitude changes might also have a history- your beliefs were probably formed from past interaction, and your emotional responses are probably mostly learned ones. Your beliefs may also change right then in the interaction, what is going on could change your opinions right then and have resulting attitude changes at that time. What are your motivations for having various attitudes? People naturally have attitudes, based upon what they are thinking at the time, they are going to have a certain attitude from their current mindset in an interaction. This mindset is formed by your reaction to what is going on, which is influenced by your beliefs and who you are (and “you are” a product of your behavioral history, so your beliefs and emotional responses are going to be mostly learned).

What does having an attitude do? It could facilitate the management and simplification of information processing, help achieve desired goals and avoid negative outcomes, maintain or promote self-esteem, or convey information about your values and self-concepts. An attitude might serve any one of those purposes, for example an attitude that comes from a core value belief you have might help you express your values, or an attitude that you formed because of a belief of your self-worth could help serve your self-esteem, for example. Your attitude can be favorable or unfavorable, it shows judgement and a goal – for instance if you are nice you have reached the judgement to be nice and you have a goal you plan on using your attitude for, your attitude is favorable.

Attitudes, Communication and Personality
  • A persons attitude changes can be attributed to their unique personality and their personality type
  • There can be multiple attitude changes in a short period of time during an interaction
  • Attitude can change from various causes, such as the content of an interaction which might include a conversation, or other interpersonal behaviors (your attitude can change when you’re not interacting with a person as well though, obviously)
  • Attitudes can vary in strength and duration – also how noticeable the attitude is to the people in the interaction
  • Attitudes are considerably more complicated than simple affect orientations such as being nice or mean, there is a whole host of psychological factors that contribute to a certain attitude (though on the surface it seems as if attitudes are simple – when you look at someone they are easy to read on one hand, but mysterious and complicated on the other)

What makes an attitude? Why are attitudes important?

There are many psychological factors that contribute to how an attitude is formed and how it functions in an interpersonal context:

  • Attitudes can show a certain level of affect
  • Attitudes are influenced by person perception
  • Attitudes can be influenced by the emotions someone is feeling during an interaction, if you are feeling a certain way that is going to affect your attitude
  • Attitudes are therefore related to feeling, what you are feeling helps contribute to your attitude – if you are feeling sad you might have a depressed looking attitude, for instance
  • What the person is focusing on in an interaction is going to contribute to his or her attitude, if you are focusing on being mean then you are going to have a mean attitude, for instance. This means if you are not focusing you might not have an attitude at all.
  • Attitudes have various levels of goodness and badness, directed towards various objects in a social encounter such as the other person, something they said, something they are being shown
  • Attitudes therefore contain information, if you have a bad attitude, that shows your feelings towards the object that is the cause of your bad attitude. Also, simply displaying more affect is more communicative as well because you are being more intense.
  • There are as many attitudes as there are emotions and feelings, if you are feeling one thing then you could say that that is your attitude. Feelings are very complicated, and therefore attitudes are equally as complicated.
  • Sometimes an attitude can be very noticeable, obvious, annoying or not so.
  • Interactions are basically people displaying some sort of affect or attitude continuously, but the affect/attitude is not constant and singular, it is complicated and multidimensional – it changes constantly and is on one hand very simple to understand, and on the other very complex.
  • If you think about it, the entire interaction is displayed in someones attitude, what they feel and what they think about what is going on is displayed in their attitude, an attitude is therefore just a reflection of what that person is thinking, it is the personality they are presenting to the world.
  • People are basically just deliverers of attitude, they think and feel, but those are expressed through their attitude and affect, which are very similar, the emotions you display (your affect) and your attitude are basically the same thing. This is so because your attitude is what you are feeling directed at the world, and your feelings are all directed at the world (to various degrees).
  • Your feelings are directed at the world because other people can read your feelings to a certain extent. You could say that your attempt to communicate your feelings to someone else is your attempt to have an attitude.
  • Attitudes and the feelings that make them up are therefore communicative, attitudes communicate what you feel – and sometimes you do this deliberately or you may have an attitude you are completely unaware of.
  • In fact, feelings are present all the time in people, so therefore they are communicating their feelings all the time in complex ways, showing a complex, changing attitude all of the time.
  • Whatever you are feeling at any time could influence your attitude at that time – your attitude is just the feelings you have that you are presenting or trying to communicate to someone (or some number of people) – or you could be putting on a fake attitude and not really be feeling those things, but I would say in such cases your “putting on” the attitude would generate feelings that come from that attitude even if you are making the attitude up.
  • So attitudes come from your feelings and thoughts, they are composed of certain ideas or feelings that you wish to display in an emotional way. For instance, if you are feeling sad you may show an attitude of lack of interest. Feelings are thus related to attitudes, you choose to display an attitude that shows what you want to communicate – you want to communicate a lack of interest so you act like you are bored, that is an attitude, however, since this attitude comes from you being sad part of your “bored” looking attitude is going to have elements of sadness, you might also be feeling bored to some degree. So what you are feeling caused you to generate an attitude that reflected those feelings and what you wanted to communicate because you were feeling those things. Your attitude may be made up, you may not feel that way, or maybe you just wish to communicate something with an attitude and you don’t feel anything about it – it is a non-emotional attitude, and maybe you aren’t even emotional or have feelings for the cause of you deciding to generate this non-emotional attitude.
  • Attitudes are something that you are communicating to another person or other people that have associated and related feelings. If you want to be rude to someone you could have a “bad” attitude, you are communicating that you want to be rude and mean to them. There are also going to be certain feelings you have that are related to that attitude, you might feel like you really dislike the person, or that they are a loser – or maybe you don’t feel anything at all about the person or people and just wish to show a negative attitude.

Perception of social situations

Another important thing to note is a persons perception of social situations. Considering how complicated an interaction is, how someone assesses that interaction and what they thought occurred is going to be complicated as well. The individual’s interpretation of different situations plays an essential part in his adjustment to reality, i.e., for his satisfaction and social relationships. How intense the person believes the interaction was is a big perception people can make as well I would think. What kinds of responses do individuals make with what intensity in which kinds of situations?


In the final analysis, then, the self is an interpersonal tool. More precisely, it is an instrument that people fashion and modify to improve their chances for being included by other people in desirable social groups, ranging from multinational corporations to marital dyads. The self does not exist in a vacuum, independent of social ties, nor does it develop out of itself alone. It is a remarkably sensitive and powerful adaptation to the unstable but terribly important world of interpersonal relations.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Interpersonal Relations Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book