Monday 23 May 2011
Psychology of Social Objects
What kind of act is reading a newspaper? Cleaning your teeth? Driving a car?
Learned behaviour. It is learned from others and shaped by the social and political norms that surround you – and which you take on personally.
Thus a newspaper is more than a text: it is a social object. Some call this a ‘badge’. Cars act as badges in the same way, though small private acts like teeth cleaning have social value yet are not direct badges – they cannot be instantly observed by others.
A social object says something about you to others. It also stimulates messages to you about yourself.
Broadly, social objects have the following characteristics:
They acquired their presence in your life based on a mixture of precipitating events (your dad may have read the newspaper you now read), your self-perception, your understanding of the norms of behaviour, your sense of your status (actual or aspired to) in the group. Usually the key to this adoption is a form of copying or mimicry of someone else’s behaviour.
Once a social object has acquired desirability, it initiates the process of building a habit or repeated behaviour with regard to it. That habit is based primarily in the early days on a Governing Belief.
Typical Governing Beliefs about the meaning of the social object like a newspaper might be: makes me look smart, makes me feel empowered, makes me appear well-informed, makes me look part of the elite, singles me out from the crowd. A car says that you’re devil-may-care, conservation conscious, rich, steady, fast, depending on which you choose.
However, these beliefs are not Absolute Facts: they are contingent. Being as we are, social animals and responsive to others’ view of us, we seek out confirmation of our beliefs and signals. This is done by a process that looks like this:
Free Download of Model here: Habits & Social Objects
These things change over time too: in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s cigarette smoking was regarded as evidence of sophistication and social grace. Increasingly thereafter, smoking came under attack on health-related issues as the links between cigarettes and lung cancer became clear. So the governing belief that smoking was cool came under more and more attack from new information. Ultimately that led to a paradigm shift – smoking came to be seen as the opposite of cool – as foolish. That paradigm shift is still not universal: in places disconnected from mainstream medical influence, smoking is still seen positively. In poorer parts of our communities too, smoking is more prevalent.
If you are asked to explore habitual or repeated behaviour, like shopping, reading a paper, going on holiday, travelling to work, going for a pizza, this model can really help to explore where the possibilities and problems lie. The double-loop allows you to see how a habit, even though established, can be gradually undermined by changing norms and governing beliefs. These shifting perceptions can be based upon many momentary impressions, particularly of other’s reactions to you, or realizing that you are not getting enough functional value even though your social object is cool in image terms! For example, your fast car is uncomfortable and burns petrol like a bonfire. In this way the value of social objects is continually undergoing modification.
Posted by roy at 8:18 am. No comments
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