Social Psychology

Taking a break from your regularly scheduled (and often missed) gaming blurbs, I wanted to expand a bit on the concepts of psychology and how it works with social interactions.  Granted, you could spend your entire life talking about just one part of the topic and I can do little justice in my tiny blog, but consider this an experiment in wall pasting.

Preamble.  I am a people watcher.  Introverted overachiever, never really had to work hard to get through in life, not much I’ve ever had a whole lot in common with the, ahem, common person up until I reached the adult workforce.  I mentioned this in a previous post a while back but I don’t really remember being a child and worry free, nor was there ever an “aha!” moment of adulthood.  It just sort of was always there.  The adult workforce is very similar to school, in terms of skill sets.  The difference is experience and wisdom.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time to move ahead at a rather quick pace.  I get to work with incredibly smart people on a daily basis.  I like the challenge.

So if you’ve read that you’ve likely come to some very basic conclusions about me.  If you read between the lines, you’ve likely applied certain psychological templates to me as well.  This is good.

For most people, when they meet someone new, they come to some quick judgment if they “like or don’t like” the other.  Most attribute this to a gut feeling.  Quite right!  This gut feeling is a personal metric system we use to gauge relationships, and the likely return on investment.  Or more plainly, we ask ourselves “is this person worth my time?”.  While we’re teens, we are learning to set a baseline for this metric and it will continue to be tweaked until the day we drop.  By the time you’re in the 20s, you’ll have a pretty solid baseline for all future relations.  Here’s the tricky part, the health of that baseline is impacted by psychology.

Your personal experience is the largest factor.  A single child is looking for something different than a child of 5 just as a broken home is going to provide a different mindset than one that is not.  Maybe your baseline is simply “will this person give me attention” or “will this person provide good discussion”.  If you’re a person of eternal optimism, then you’re likely not going to get a healthy relationship with a pessimist.

While everyone goes through a period of triage in their social circle, it’s important to realize that you can build new criteria over time.  This is more or less a testing phase, where you find a particular item you might not be interested in but give it a shot to see what comes of it.  With practice, you get better at handling that type of personality and you can try it more and more often.  You diversify your social abilities so that you have a different toolset for people that have type A personalities and those that have type B.  Along the way, in order to get better at this diversification, you learn more about those personalities and their driving forces.  “Why does that person need to please everyone?”, “why are they an adrenaline junkie?”, “why are they always smiling?”

I said earlier that I liked watching people.  Without meeting someone, I tend to find the common traits of character that they provide.  So for example the other day I saw a lady walking down the street.  Power skirt, 5 inch heels, ankle bracelet, no wedding band, blouse and jacket, straight shoulder length hair and a few other features.  So while I might not be 100% correct, based on my experience and location (world customs differ, naturally), I could deduce that she worked with people, was a middle-aged divorcee with at least 2 kids in their teens, a heavy smoker, a francophone, in need of attention and likely to respond positively to a flirtatious conversation.

To continue on the thought, it’s not that I like or dislike the person at this point; it simply gives me a reference point as to how I could start a conversation.  I’m not going to start with a story about a sports team but a chat about a night at the bar is probably going to work.  I do it so often now that I don’t even think about it.  It makes meeting new people a whole lot of fun since I don’t ever feel like I have nothing to say.

There really isn’t much of a closing statement here just that the concept of social interaction is factored by thousands of small and big factors and that our brains are able to take all of that data and within a few seconds, determine if we like or don’t like someone.  While we call it a “gut” reaction, it’s really one of the most complex decisions you’ll ever make without realizing you’re making it.

One day I’ll talk about how this social model works in cyberspace, where you lose 90% of the social cues due to not having a visual.

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