The concept of the self will be explored in this essay – where it comes from, what it looks like and how it influences thought and behaviour. Since self and identity are cognitive constructs that influence social interaction and perception, and are themselves partially influenced by society, the material of this essay connects to virtually all aspects of psychological science. The self is an enormously popular focus of research (e.g. Leary and Tangney, 2003; Sedikides and Brewer, 2001; Swann and Bosson, 2010). A 1997 review by Ashmore and Jussim reported 31,000 social psychological publications on the self over a two-decade period to the mid-1990s, and there is now even an International Society for Self and Identity and a scholarly journal imaginatively entitled Self and Identity.
The concept of the “self” is a relatively new idea in psychological science. While Roy Baumeister’s (1987) painted a picture of a medievally organised society where most human organism’s reality were fixed and predefined by rigid social relations and legitimised with religious affiliations [family membership, social rank, birth order & place of birth, etc], the modern perspectives adopted by scholars and innovative psychologists has been contradicting such outdated concepts. The idea of a complex & sophisticated individual self, lurking underneath would have been difficult, if not impossible, to entertain under such atavistic assumptions of social structures affecting an individual human organism.
However, all this changed in the 16th century, where momentum gathered ever since from forces such as:
Secularisation – where the idea that fulfilment occurs in afterlife was replaced by the idea that one should actively pursue personal fulfilment in this life
Industrialisation – where the human being was increasingly being seen as individual units of production who moved from place to place with their own “portable” personal identity which was not locked into static social structures such as extended family
Enlightenment – where people felt they were solely responsible for choosing, organising and creating better identities for themselves by overthrowing orthodox value systems and oppressive regimes [e.g. the French revolution and the American revolution of the late 18th century]
Psychoanalysis – Freud’s theory of the human mind unleashed the creative individual with the notion that the self was unfathomable because it lived in the depth of the unconscious [e.g. Theory of social representations – theory invoking psychoanalysis as an example of how a novel idea or analysis can entirely change how people think about their world (e.g. Moscovici, 1961; see Lorenzi-Cioldi and Clémence, 2001). [See: Psychoanalysis: History, Foundations, Legacy, Impact & Evolution]
Together, these and other socio-political and cultural influences lead to society thinking about the self and identity as complex subjects, where theories of self and identity propagated and flourished in this fertile soil.
As far as self and identity are concerned, we have noticed one pervasive finding in cultural differences. The so called “Western” world involving continents such as Western Europe, North America and Australasia, tend to be individualistic, whereas most other cultures, such as in Asia, South America and Africa are collectivist (Triandis, 1989; also see Chiu and Hong, 2007, Heine, 2010, 2012; Oyserman, Coon and Kemmelmeier, 2002). Anthropologist Geertz puts it beautifully:
“The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated, motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.”
Geertz (1975, p.48)
Markus and Kityama (1991) describe how those from individualistic cultures tend to have an independent self, whereas people from collectivist cultures have an interdependent self. Although in both cases, people seek a clear sense of who they are, the [Western] independent self is grounded in a view of the self that is autonomous, separate from other people and revealed through one’s inner thoughts and feelings. The [Eastern] interdependent self on the other hand, unlike in the West, tends to be grounded in one’s connection to and relationships with other people [expressed through one’s roles and relationships]. As Gao explained: ‘Self… is defined by a person’s surrounding relations, which often are derived from kinship networks and supported by cultural values based on subjective definitions of filial piety, loyalty, dignity, and integrity’ (Gao, 1996, p. 83).
From a conceptual review of the cultural context of self-conception, Vignoles, Chryssochoou and Breakwell (2000) conclude that the need to have a distinctive and integrated sense of self is “likely” universal. However from individualist and collectivist cultures, the term “self-distinctiveness” holds a set of very different assumptions. In the individualist West, separateness adds meaning and definition to the isolated and bounded self. In the collectivist & Eastern others, the “self” is relational and gains meaning from its relations with others.
A logic proposed by analysing historical conceptions of self with an account of the origins of individualist and collectivist cultures along with the associated independent and interdependent self-conceptions may be related to economic policies. The labour market is an example where mobility helped the industry by viewing humans as “units” of production who are expected to shift their geographical locations from places of low labour demand to those of higher demand, along with their ability to organise their lives, relationships, self-concepts around mobility and transient relationships.
Construction workers eat their lunches atop a steel beam 800 feet above ground, at the building site of the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.
Independence, separateness and uniqueness have become more important than connectedness and long-term maintenance of enduring relationships [values that seem to have become pillars of modern Western Labour Culture – self-conceptions reflect cultural norms that codify economic activity].
However, this logic applied to any modern human organism seems to clearly offer more routes to development [personal and professional], more options to continuously nurture the evolving concepts of self-conception through expansive social experience and cultural exploration, while being a set of philosophy that places more powers of self-defined identity in the hands of the individual [more modern and sophisticated].
Now that some basic concepts and origins of the “self” along with its importance and significance to psychological science has been covered, we are going to explore two creative ways of learning about ourselves.
Firstly, the concept of self-knowledge which involves us storing information about ourselves in a complex and varied way in the form of a schema means that information about the self is assumed to be stored cognitively as separate context specific nodes such that different nodes activate different ones and thus, different aspects of self (Breckler, Pratkanis and McCann, 1991; Higgins, van Hook and Dorfman, 1988). The concept of self emerges from widely distributed brain activity across the medial prefrontal and medial precuneus cortex of the brain (e.g. Saxe, Moran, Scholz, and Gabrieli, 2006). According the Hazel Markus, self-concept is neither “a singular, static, lump-like entity” nor a simple averaged view of the self – it is a complex and multi-faceted, with a relatively large number of discrete self-schemas (Markus, 1977; Markus and Wurf, 1987).
Most individuals tend to have clear conceptions of themselves on some dimensions but not others – generally more self-schematic on dimensions that hold more meaning to them, for e.g. if one thinks of oneself as sophisticated and being sophisticated is of importance to oneself, then we would be self-schematic on that dimension [part of our self-concept], if not then we would not [would not be part of our self-concept – unsophisticated]. It is widely believed that most people have a complex self-concept with a large number of discrete self-schemas. Patrice Linville (1985, 1987; see below) has suggested that this variety helps to buffer people from life’s negative impacts by ensuring enough self-schemas are available for the individual to maintain a sense of satisfaction. We can be strategic in the use of our self-schemas – Linville described such judgement colourfully by saying: “don’t put all your eggs in one cognitive basket.” Self-schemas influence information processing and behaviour similarly to how schemas about others do (Markus and Sentis, 1982): self-schematic information is more readily noticed, is overrepresented in cognition and is associated with longer processing time.
Self-schemas do not only describe how we are, but they are also believed to differ as we have an array of possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986) – future-oriented schemas of what we would like to become, or what we fear we might become. For example, a scholar completing a postgraduate may think of a career as a lecturer, writer, entrepreneur, politician, actor, rock musician, etc. Higgins (1987) proposed the self-discrepancy theory, suggesting that we have 3 major types of self-schema:
- The actual self – how we are
- The ideal self – how we would like to be
- The ‘ought’ self – how we think we should be
Discrepancies between the actual, ideal and/or ought, can motivate change to reduce the discrepancy – in this way we engage in self-regulation. Furthermore, the self-discrepancy and the general notion of self-regulation have been elaborated into the regulatory focus-theory (Higgins, 1997, 1998).This theory proposes that most individuals have two separate self-regulatory systems, termed Promotion and Prevention. The “Promotion” system is concerned with the attainment of one’s hopes and aspirations – one’s ideals. For example, those in a promotion focus adopt approach strategic means to attain their goals [e.g. promotion-focused students would seek ways to improve their grades, find new challenges and treat problems as interesting obstacles to overcome. The “Prevention” system is concerned with the fulfilment of one’s duties and obligations. Those in a prevention focus use avoidance strategy means to attain their goals. For example, prevention-focussed students would avoid new situations or new people and concentrate on avoiding failure rather than achieving highest possible grade.
Whether an individual is more approach or prevention focussed is believed to stem during childhood (Higgins and Silberman, 1998). Promotion-focus may arise if children are habitually hugged and kissed for behaving in a desired manner and love is withdrawn as a form of discipline. Prevention-focus may arise if children are encouraged to be alert to potential dangers and punished when they display undesirable behaviours. Against this background of individual differences however, regulatory focus has also been observed to be influenced by immediate context, for example by structuring the situation so that subjects focus on prevention or on promotion (Higgins, Roney, Crowe and Hymes, 1994). Research also revealed that those who are promotion-focussed are more likely to recall information relating to the pursuit of success by others (Higgins and Tykocinski, 1992). Lockwood and her associates found that those who are promotion-focussed look for inspiration to positive role models who emphasise strategies for achieving success (Lockwood, Jordan and Kunda, 2002). Such individuals also show elevated motivation and persistence on tasks framed in terms of gains and non-gains (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998). On the other side of the spectrum, individuals who are prevention-focussed tend to recall information relating to the avoidance of failure by others, are most inspired by negative role models who highlight strategies for avoiding failure and exhibit motivation and persistence on tasks that framed in terms of losses and non-losses. After being studied in intergroup relations (Shah, Higgins and Friedman, 1998), the regulatory focus theory was found to strengthen positive emotion related bias and behavioural tendencies towards the ingroup when in the context of a measured or manipulated promotion focus. Prevention-focus strengthens more negative emotion-related bias [haters] and behavioural tendencies against the outgroup (Shah, Brazy and Higgins, 2004).
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The second way of learning about the concept of self is through the understanding of our “many selves” and multiple identities. In the book, The Concepf of Self, Kenneth Gergen (1971) depicts the self-concept as containing a repertoire of relatively discrete and often quite varied identities, each with a distinct body of knowledge. These identities have their origins in a vast array of different types of social relationships that form, or have formed, the anchoring points for our lives, ranging from close personal relationships with other professionals, mentors, trusted friends, etc and roles defined by skills, fields, divisions and categories, to relationships fully or partially defined by languages, geography, cultures [sub-cultures], groups values, philosophy, religion, gender and/or ethnicity. Linville (1985) also noted that individuals differ in terms of self-complexity, in the sense that some individuals have more diverse and extensive set of selves than others – those with many independent aspects of selves have higher self-complexity that those with a few, relatively similar, aspects of self. The notion of self-complexity is given a rather different emphasis by Marilynn Brewer and her colleagues (Brewer and Pierce, 2005; Roccas and Bewer, 2002) who focussed on self that is defined in group terms (social identity) and the relationship among identities rather than number of identities individuals have.
They argued that individuals have a complex social identity if they have discrete social identities that do not share many attributes but a simple social identity if they have overlapping social identities that share many attributes [simple]. For example, when Cognitive Psychologists [cognitive psychology explores mental processes] study high-level functions such as problem solving and decision making, they often ask participants to think aloud. The verbal protocols that are obtained [heard] are then analysed at different levels of granularity: e.g. to look at the speed with which participants carry out mental processes, or, at a higher level of analysis, to identify the strategies being used. Grant and Hogg (2012) have recently suggested and empirically shown that the effect, particularly on group identification and group behaviours of the number of identities one has and their overlap may be better explained in terms of the general property of social identity prominence – how subjectively prominent, overall and in a specific situation, a particular identity is one’s self-concept. Social identity theorists (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) argued 2 broad classes of identity that define different types of self:
(i) Social Identity [which defines self in terms of a « particular » group membership (if any meaningful ones exist for the individual)], and
(ii) Personal Identity [which defines self in terms of idiosyncratic traits & close personal relationships with specific individuals/groups (if any) which may be more than physical/social, e.g. mental [strength of association with specific others on specific tasks/degrees]
The first main focus question here is asked by Brewer and Gardner (1996), ‘Who is this “we”?’ and distinguished three forms of self:
- Individual self – based on personal traits that differentiate the self from all others
- Relational self – based on connections and role relationships with significant/meaningful others
- Collective self – based on group membership [can depend of many criteria] that differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’
More recently it has been proposed that there are four types of identity (Brewer, 2001; Chen, Boucher and Tapias, 2006):
- Personal-based social identities – emphasising the way that group properties are internalised by individual group members as part of their self-concept
- Relational social identities – defining the self in relation to specific other people with whom one interacts [may not be physical or social only] in a group context – corresponding to Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) relational identity and to Markus and Kitayama’s (1991) ‘interdependent self’.
- Group-based social identities – equivalent to social identity as defined above [sense of belonging and emotional salience for a group is subjective]
- Collective identities – referring to a process whereby those who consider themselves as « group members » not only share self-defining attributes, but also engage in social action to forge an image of what the group stands for and how it is represented and viewed by others.
The relational self [for those who choose to be defined by others at least] is a particularly interesting concept as it can also be considered a particular type of collective self. As Masaki Yuki (2003) observed, some groups and cultures (notable East-Asian cultures) define groups in terms of networks of relationships. Research also revealed that women tend to place a greater importance than men on their relationships with others in a group (Seeley, Gardner, Pennington and Gabriel, 2003; see also Baumeister and Sommer, 1997; Cross and Madson, 1997).
In search for the evidence for the existence of multiple selves which came from research where contextual factors were varied to discover that most individuals describe themselves and behave differently in different contexts. In one experiment, participants were made to describe themselves on very different ways by being asked loaded questions which prompted them to search from their stock of self-knowledge for information that presented the self in a different light (Fazio, Effrein and Falender, 1981). Other researchers also found, time and time again, that experimental procedures that focus on group membership lead people to act very differently from procedures that focus on individuality and interpersonal relationships. Even “minimal group” studies in which participants are either: (a) identified as individuals; or (b) explicitly categorised, randomly or by some minimal or trivial criterion as ‘group’ members (Tajfel, 1970; see Diehl, 1990), a consistent finding is that being categorised tends to lead people to being discriminatory towards an outgroup, conform to ingroup norms, express attitudes and feelings that favour ingroup, and indicate a sense of belonging and loyalty to the ingroup.
Furthermore, these effects of minimal group categorisation are generally very fast and automatic (Otten and Wentura, 1999). The idea that we may have many selves and that contextual factors can bring different selves into play, has a number of ramifications. Social constructionists have suggested that the self is entirely situation-dependent. An extreme form of this position argues that we do not carry self-knowledge around in our heads as cognitive representations at all, but rather that we construct disposable selves through talk (e.g. Potter and Wetherell, 1987). A less extreme version was proposed by Penny Oakes (e.g. Oakes, Haslam and Reynolds, 1999), who does not emphasise the role of talk but still maintains that self-conception is highly context-dependent. It is argued that most people have cognitive representations of the self that they carry in their heads as organising principles for perception, categorisation and action, but that these representations are temporarily or more enduringly modified by situational factors (e.g. Abrams and Hogg, 2001; Turner, Reynolds, Haslam and Veenstra, 2006).
Although we have a diversity of relatively discrete selves, we also have a quest: to find and maintain a reasonably integrated picture of who we are. Self-conceptual coherence provides us with a continuing theme for our lives – an ‘autobiography’ that weaves our various identities and selves together into a whole person. Individuals who have highly fragmented selves (e.g. some patients schizophrenia, amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease) find it very difficult to function effectively. People use many strategies to construct a coherent sense of self (Baumeister, 1998). Here is a list of some that we have used ourselves.
Sometimes we restrict our life to a limited set of contexts. Because different selves come into play as contexts keep changing, protections from self-conceptual clashes seem like a valid motive.
Other times, we continuously keep revising and integrating our ‘biographies’ to accommodate new identities. Along the way, we dispose of any meaningless inconsistencies. In effect, we are rewriting our own history to make it work to our advantage (Greenwald, 1980).
We also tend to attribute some change in the self externally to changing circumstances [e.g. educational achievements, professional circle, industry, etc] rather than simply internally to construct who we are. This is an application of the actor-observer effect (Jones and Nisbett, 1972).
In other case, we can also develop self-schemas that embody a core set of attributes that we feel distinguishes us from all other people – that makes us unique (Markus, 1977). We then tend to recognise these attributes disproportionately in all our selves, providing thematic consistency that delivers a sense of a stable and unitary self (Cantor and Kihlstrom, 1987). To sum up, individuals tend to construct their lives such that their self-conceptions are both steady and coherent.
One of major elements in the conception of self, is the ability to communicate through language and its varying degrees of granularity that hold a major role in social identity.
The remaining part of this essay will focus on the power and importance of language as the essence of the human being.
The Essence of the Modern Human Being: Language, Psycholinguistics & Self-Definition
Human communication is completely different from that of other species as it allows virtually limitless amounts of ideas to be expressed by combining finite sets of elements (Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2005; Wargo, 2008). Other species [e.g. apes] do have communicative methods but none of them compare with human language. For example, monkeys use unique warning calls for different threats, but never combine these calls on new ideas. Similarly, birds and whales sing complex songs, but creative recombination of these sounds in the expression of new ideas has not occurred to these animals either.
As a system of symbols, language lies at the heart of social life and all its multitude of aspects in social identity. Language may be at the essence of existence if explored from the philosopher Descartes most famous quote, “Cogito Ergo Sum” which is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”, as thought is believed to be experienced and entertained in language. In expressing his discourse, Descartes based the science system on the knowing subject in front of the world that it constructs and represents to itself – a system that would later also be the basis for many of the concepts of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis.
The act of thinking often involves an inner personal conversation with oneself, as we tend to perceived and think about the world in terms of linguistic categories. Lev Vygotsky (1962) believed that inner speech was the medium of thought and that it was interdependent with external speech [the medium of social communication]. This interdependence would lead to the logical conclusion that cultural differences in language and speech are reflected in cultural differences in thought.
In the theory of linguistic relativity devised by linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, a more extreme version of that logic was proposed. Brown writes:
Linguistic relativity is the reverse of the view that human cognition constrains the form of language. Relativity is the view that the cognitive processes of a human being – perception, memory, inference, deduction – vary with structural characteristics – lexicon, morphology, syntax – of the language [one speaks].
Rene Descartes was not only one of the most prominent philosophers of the 17th century but in the history of Western philosophy. Often referred to as the « father of modern philosophy », Descartes profoundly influenced intellectuals across Europe with his writings. Best known for his statement « Cogito ergo sum » (I think, therefore I am), the philosopher started the school of rationalism which broke with the scholastic Aristotelianism. Firstly, Descartes rejected the mind-body dualism, arguing that matter (the body) and intelligence (the mind) are 2 independent substances (metaphysical dualism) and secondly rejected the causal model of explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with science-based observation and experiment. The philosopher spent a great part of his life in conflict with scholastic approach (historically part of the religious order and its adherents) which still dominated thoughts in the early 17th century.
Rene Descartes (1596-1659) / Image: Université Paris-Descartes
Communication & Language
The study of communication is therefore an enormous undertaking that draws on a wide range of disciplines, such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, linguistics, socio-linguistics, philosophy and literary criticism. Social psychologists have tended to distinguish between the study of language and the study of non-verbal communication [where scholars agree both are vital to study communication (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Holtgraves, 2010; Semin, 2007)]; with also a focus on conversation and the nature of discourse. However the scientific revolution has quickly turned our era into one hugely influenced by computer-mediated communication which is quickly turning into a dominant channel of communication for many (Birchmeier, Dietz-Uhler and Stasser, 2011; Hollingshead, 2001).
Communication in all its varieties is the essence of social interaction: when we interact we communicate. Information is constantly being transmitted about what we sense, think and feel – even about “who we are” – and some of our “messages” are unintentional [instinctive]. Communication among educated humans comprises of words, facial expressions, signs, gestures and touch; and this is done face-to-face or by phone, writing, texting, emails or video. The social factors of communication are inescapable:
- It involves our relationship with others
- It is built upon a shared understanding of meaning
- It is how people influence each other
Spoken languages are based on rule-governed structuring of meaningless sounds (phonemes) into basic units of meaning (morphemes), which are further structured by morphological rules into words and by syntactic rules into sentences. The meanings of words, sentences and entire utterances are determined by semantic rules; which together represent “grammar”. Language has remained an incredibly and endlessly powerful medium of communication due to the limitless amount of meaningful utterances it can generate through the shared knowledge of morphological, syntactic and semantic rules. Meaning can be communicated by language at a number of levels, ranging from a simple utterance [a sound made by one person to another] to a locution [words placed in sequence, e.g. ‘It’s cold in this room’], to an illocution [the locution and context in which it is made: ‘It’s cold in this room’ may be a statement, or a criticism of the institution for not providing adequate heating, or a request to close the window, or a plea to move to another room (Austin, 1962; Hall, 2000)].
Linguistic mastery therefore involves dexterity at many levels of cultural understanding and therefore should likely differ from one individual to another depending on their personality, IQ, education and cultural proficiency in adaptation. This would lead to being able to navigate properly in the appropriate cultural context through language whilst knowing the appropriateness of the choice of words in term of “when, where, how and to whom say it.” Being able to master these, opens the doors to sociolinguistics (Fishman, 1972; also see Forgas, 1985), and the study of discourse as the basic unit of analysis (Edwards and Potter, 1992; McKinlay and McVittie, 2008; Potter and Wetherell, 1987). The philosopher John Searle (1979) has identified five sorts of meanings that humans can intentionally use language to communicate; we can use language:
- To say how something is signified
- To get someone to do something.
- To express feelings and attitudes
- To make a commitment
- To accomplish something directly
Language is a uniquely human form of communication, as observed in the natural world, no other mammal has the elaborate form of communication in its repertoire of survival skills. Young apes have been taught to combine basic signs in order to communicate meaningfully (Gardner and Gardner, 1971; Patterson, 1978), however not even the most precocious ape can match the complexity of hierarchical language structure used by a normal 3-year-old child (Limber, 1977).
Language has been called a human instinct because it is so readily and universally learned by infants. At 10 months of age, little is said, but at 30-month-old infants speak in complete sentences and user over 500 words (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006). Moreover, over this very 20 month period, the plastic infant brain reorganises itself to learn the language of its environment(s). At 10 months infants can distinguish the sounds of all languages, but by 30 months, they can readily discriminate only those sounds to which they have been exposed (Kraus and Banai, 2007). Once the ability to discriminate particular speech sounds is lost, it is very hard to regain in most, which is one of the reason why most adults tend to have difficulties with learning a new language without an accent.
Most intellectuals researching the evolution of sophisticated human languages turned first to comparative studies of the vocal communications between human beings and other lesser primates
Processes involved in the brain when speaking a heard word. Damage to areas of the Primary auditory cortex on the Left temporal lobe induce Language Recognition Problems & damage to the same areas on the Right produce deficits in processing more complex & delicate sounds [e.g. music, vocal performances, etc]. Hence, in Neuroscience, although it is not always the case, it can be generalised with a fair amount of confidence that Left is concerned with Speed, and Right is focused on Complex Frequency Patterns.
[e.g. apes / monkeys]. For example, vervet monkeys do not use alarm calls unless other similar monkeys are within the vicinity, and the calls are more likely to be made only if the surrounding monkeys are relatives (Cheney and Seyfarth, 2005). Furthermore, chimpanzees vary the screams they produce during aggressive encounters depending on the severity of the encounter, their role in it, and which other chimpanzees can hear them (Slocombe and Zuberbuhler, 2005).
A fairly consistent pattern has emerged in the study of non-human vocal communication: There is a substantial difference between vocal production and auditory comprehension. Even the most vocal non-human primates can produce a relatively few calls, yet they are capable of interpreting a wide range of other sonic patterns in their environment. This seems to suggest that non-human primates’ ability to produce vocal language is limited, not by their inability to interpret sounds, but by their inability to exert ‘fine motor control’ over their voices – only humans have this distinct ability. It also confidently suggests that human language has likely evolved from a competence in comprehension already existing in our primate ancestors.
The species specificity to language has led to some linguistic theorist to assume that an innate component to language must be unique to humans, notably Noam Chomsky (1957) who argued that the most basic universal rules of grammar are innate [called a “Language Acquisition Device”] and are activated through social interaction which enables the “code of language” to be cracked. However some other theorists argue for a different proposal, believing that the basic rules of language may not be innate as they can be learnt from the prelinguistic parent-child interaction (Lock, 1978, 1980), furthermore the meanings of utterances are so dependent on social context that they seem unlikely to be innate (Bloom, 1970; Rommetveit, 1974; see Durkin, 1995).
Motor Theory of Speech Perception
The motor theory of speech perception proposes that the perception of speech depends on the words activating the same neural circuits in the motor system that would be activated if the listener said the words (see Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner, 2009). Support for this theory has come from evidence that simply thinking about performing a particular task often activates the similar brain areas as performing the action itself, and also the discover of mirror neurons, motor cortex neurons that fire when particular responses are either observed or performed (Fogassi and Ferrari, 2007).
Broca’s area: Speech production & Language processing // Wernicke’s area: Speech Comprehension
This seems to make perfect sense when solving the equation on the simple observation that Broca’s Area [speech area] is a part of the left premotor cortex [motor skills/movement area]. And since the main thesis of the motor theory of speech perception is that the motor cortex is essential in language comprehension (Andres, Olivier, and Badets, 2008; Hagoort and Levelt, 2009; Sahin et al., 2009), the confirmation comes from the fact that many functional brain-imaging studies have revealed activity in the primary or secondary motor cortex during language tests that do not involve language expression at all (i.e., speaking or writing). This may also suggest that fine linguistic skills may be linked to fine motor skills. Scott, McGettigan, and Eisner (2009) compiled and evaluated results of recorded activity in the motor cortex during speech perception and concluded that the motor cortex is active during conversation.
Since the unique ability of a high degree of motor control over the vocal apparatus is present only in humans, communication in lesser non-human primates are mainly gestural rather than vocal.
This hypothesis was tested by Pollick, and de Waal in 2007, who compared the gestures and the vocalisations of chimpanzees. They found a highly nuanced vocabulary of hand gestures being used in numerous situations with a variety of combinations. To conclude, chimpanzees gestures were much more comparable to human language that were their vocalisations. Could this simply suggest that primate gestures have been critical stage in the evolution of human language (Corballis, 2003)?
On this same note, we may focus on the already mentioned “Theory of Linguistic Relativity” (Whorf, 1956) which states that our internalised cognitions as a human being, i.e. perception, memory, inference, deduction, vary with the structural characteristics, i.e. lexicon, morphology and syntax of the language we speak [cultural influence shapes our thoughts].
In support of of Sapir and Whorf’s position, Diederik Stapel and Gun Semin (2007) refer poetically to the “magic spell of language” and report their research, showing how different categories in the language we speak guide our observations in particular ways. We tend to use our category of language to attend to different aspects of reality. The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that language entirely determines thought, so those who speak different languages actually perceive the world in entirely different ways and effectively live in entirely different cognitive-perceptual universes. However extreme this suggestion may seem, a good argument against this assumption would be to consider whether the fact that we can distinguish between living and non-living things in English means that the Hopi of North-America, who do not, cannot distinguish between a bee and an aeroplane? Japanese personal pronouns differentiate between interpersonal relationships more subtly than do English personal pronouns; does this mean that English speakers cannot tell the difference between relationships? [What about Chong, Khan, Balaraggoo, Tyrone, Vodkadinov, Jacob, Obatemba M’benge and Boringski – where would you attribute their skills in the former question?]
The strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is believed to be the most extreme version to be applicable to the mainstream, so a weak form seems to better accord with the quantitative facts (Hoffman, Lau and Johnson, 1986). Language does not determine thought but allows for the communication of aspects of the physical or social environment deemed important for the community. Therefore in the event of being in a situation where the expertise in snow is deemed essential, one would likely develop a rich vocabulary around the subject. Similarly, should one feel the need to have a connoisseur’s discussion about fine wines, the language of the wine masters would be a vital requisite in being able to interact with flawless granularity in the expression of finer tasting experiences.
Although language may not determine thought, its limitations across cultures may entrap those ‘cultured’ to a specific one due to its limited range of available words. Logically, if there are no words to express a particular thought or experience we would not likely be able to think about it. Nowadays such an idea based on enhancing freedom of expression and the evolution of human emancipation, a huge borrowing of words across languages has been noted over the years: for example, English has borrowed Zeitgeist from German, raison d’être from French, aficionado from Spanish and verandah from Hindi. This particular concept is powerfully illustrated in George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which a totalitarian regime based on Stalin’s Soviet Union is described as imposing its own highly restricted language called “Newspeak” designed specifically to prohibit people from even thinking non-orthodox or heretical thoughts, because the relevant words do not exist.
Further evidence over the impact of language on thought-restriction comes from research led by Andrea Carnaghi and her colleagues (Carnaghi, Maas, Gresta, Bianchi, Cardinu and Arcuri, 2008). In German, Italian and some other Indo-European languages [such as English], nouns and adjectives can have different effects on how we perceive people. Compare ‘Mark is gay’ [using an adjective] with ‘Mark is a gay’ [using a noun]. When describing an individual, the use of an adjective suggests an attribute of that individual; whereas a noun seems to imply a social group and being a member of a ‘gay’ group. The latter description with a noun is more likely to invoke further stereotypic/prejudicial inferences and an associated process of essentialism (e.g. Haslam, Rothschild and Ernst, 1998) that maps attributes onto invariant, often bio-genetic properties of the particular social category/group.
Paralanguage and speech style
The impact of language on communication is not only dependent on what is said but also by how it is said. Paralanguage refers to all the non-linguistic accompaniment of speech – volume, stress, pitch, speed, tone of voice, pauses, throat clearing, grunts and sighs (Knapp, 1978; Trager, 1958). Timing, pitch and loudness (the prosodic features of language; e.g. Argyle, 1975) play major roles in communication as they can completely change the meaning of utterances: a rising intonation at the end of a statement turns it into a question or communicates uncertainty, doubt or need for approval (Lakoff, 1973). Underlying emotions are often revealed in prosodic features of speech: low pitch could signify sadness or boredom, while high pitch could communicate anger, fear or surprise (Frick,1985). Naturally fast speech often reflects power and control (Ng and Bradac, 1993).
To gain further understanding of the feelings elicited by different paralinguistic features, Klaus Scherer (1974) used a synthesizer to vary short neutral utterances and has had individuals identify the emotions that were being communicated. Fig. A shows how different paralinguistic features communicate information about the speaker’s feelings.
In addition to paralinguistic cues, communication can also happen in different accents, different language varieties and different languages altogether. These are important speech style differences that have been well researched in social psychology (Giles and Coupland, 1991). From social psychology, the focus in language is mainly on how something is said rather than on what is said, with speech style instead of speech content; whereas discourse analytic approaches also place importance on what is said.
Fig. A | Emotions displayed through paralinguistic cues
Social Markers in Speech
Most individuals have a repertoire of speech styles that is automatically or deliberately tailored depending on the context of the communicative event. For example, one would tend to speak slowly, use short words and simple grammatical constructions when dealing with foreigners and children (Clyne, 1981; Elliot, 1981). Longer, more complex constructions along with formalised language varieties or standard accents tend to be used in more formal contexts such as an interview or a speech.
In 1979, Penelope Brown and Colin Fraser categorised different components of a communicative situation that may influence speech style and distinguished between two broad features:
- The scene (e.g. its purpose, time of day, whether there are bystanders or an audience, etc)
- The participants (e.g. their personality, ethnicity, chemistry between them)
It is important to note however that individual differences have a major role to play in this objective classification of situations as different individuals may not define the similar “objective” situations similarly. For example, what is deemed formal for some may simply be common place to others; this subjective perception of objective situations has an effect on one’s chosen speech style.
One amazing point raised by Adrian Furnham (1986) is the fact that not only does one adjust speech styles to subjectively perceived situational demands, but one also seeks out situations that are appropriate to a preferred speech style. Contextual variations in speech style contains information about who is speaking to whom, in what context and on what topic? Speech contains social markers (Scherer and Giles, 1979). The most researched markers in social psychology are of group “memberships” such as society, social class, ethnicity, education, age and sex. Social markers are in most cases clearly identifiable and act as reliable clues to group membership. For example, most of the English can easily identify Americans, Australians and South Africans from their speech style alone, and (see Watson, 2009) are probably even better at identifying people who have been cultured in Exeter, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Essex! Speech style generally elicits a listener’s attitude towards the group that the speaker “represents” [at the exception of some non-mainstream individuals – as in any other group]. A mainstream media example could be the actress Eliza Doolittle’s tremendous efforts in the film My Fair Lady to acquire a standard English accent in order to hide her Cockney origins. This idea or concept is known as the match-guise technique, one of the most widely used research paradigms in the social psychology of language – devised to investigate language attitudes based on speech alone (Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner and Fillenbaum, 1960). The method involves individuals rating short speech extracts similar in paralinguistic, prosodic and content respects, differing ONLY in speech style (accent, dialect, language). All the speech extracts were spoken by the very same individual – who was fluently bilingual. The speaker is rated on a number of evaluative dimensions, which fall into 2 clusters reflecting competence and warmth as the 2 most basic dimensions of social perception (Fiske, Cuddy and Glick, 2007).
- Status variables (e.g. intelligent, competent, powerful);
- Solidarity variables (e.g. close, friendly, warm).
The matched-guise technique has been used extensively in a wide range of cultural contexts to investigate how speakers of standard and non-standard language varieties are evaluated. The standard language variety is the one that is associated with high economic status, power and media usage – in England, for example, it is what has been called received pronunciation (RP) English. Non-standard varieties include regional accents (e.g. Yorkshire, Essex), non-standard urban accents (e.g. Birmingham, North/South London) and minority ethnic languages (e.g. Afrikaan, Urdu, Arab, Hindi, Mandarin and other foreign minority languages in Britain). Research reveals that standard language varieties are more favourably evaluated on status and competence dimensions (such as intelligence, confidence, ambition) than non-standard varieties (e.g. Giles and Powesland, 1975).
There is also a tendency for non-standard variety speakers to be more favourably evaluated on solidarity dimensions. For example, Cindy Gallois and her colleagues (1984) found that both white Australians and Australian Aborigines upgraded Aboriginal-accented English on solidarity dimensions (Gallois, Callan and Johnstone, 1984). Hogg, Joyce and Abrams (1984) found that a similar scenario occurs in other linguistic cultures, for e.g. Swiss Germans upgraded speakers of non-standard Swiss German relative to speakers of High German on solidarity dimensions.
Language, Identity & Ethnicity
Matched-guise technique and other studies in linguistics have revealed how our speech style [accents, language, grammatical proficiency & voice] can affect how others evaluate us socially. This is unlikely to be due to the fact that some speech styles are aesthetically more pleasant than others, but more likely to be because speech styles are associated with particular social groups that are consensually evaluated more or less positively in society’s scale. Unless being acted, a person speaking naturally in the speech style of lower-status groups may lead to an evaluation similar to that of the group and their image [in terms of way of life] in society [for most mainstream cases & not expert assessors of individuality]. This simply suggests that processes associated with intergroup relations and group memberships may affect language and social behaviour among the mainstream crowd.
René Descartes (1596-1650) par C. Jacquand • Crédits : Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive / The Picture Desk – AFP
Howard Giles and Richard Bourhis and their colleagues employed and extended principles from the social identity theory to develop an intergroup perspective on the social psychology of language (Giles, Bourhis and Taylor, 1977; Giles and Johnson, 1981, 1987). Since the original analysis focussed mainly on ethnic groups that differ in speech style, the theory is called ethnolinguistic identity theory; however, the wider intergroup analysis of language and communication casts a much wider net to embrace all manner of intergroup contexts (e.g. Giles, 2012; Giles, Reid and Harwood, 2010).
Speech Style and Ethnicity
Although it is well know that ethnic groups differ in appearance, dress, cultural practices, and religious beliefs, language or speech style is often one of the most distinct and clear markers of ethnic identity – social identity as a member of an ethnolinguistic group (an ethnic group defined by language or speech-style). For instance, the Welsh and the English in the UK are most distinctive in terms of accent and language. Speech style, then, is an important and often central stereotypical or normative property of group identity: one of the most powerful ways to display your Welshness is to speak English with a marked Welsh accent – or, even better to simply speak Welsh.
Language or speech style cues ethnolinguistic identity. Therefore, whether people accentuate or de-emphasise their ethnic language is generally influenced by the extent to which they see their ethnic identity as being a source of self-respect or pride. This perception will in turn be influenced by the real nature of the power and status relations between ethnic groups in society. Research in England, on regional accents rather than ethnic groups, illustrates this (e.g. Watson, 2009) – some accents are strengthening and spreading and others retreating or fading, but overall despite mobility, mass culture and the small size of England, the accent landscape is surprisingly unchanged. Northern accents in particular such as Scouse and Geordie have endured due to low immigration and marked subjective regional pride of these respective communities. Brummie is slowly spreading into the Welsh Marches due to population spread, and Cockney-influenced Estuary English popular due to it being portrayed in mainstream middle-class films has luckily not influenced East Anglia and South East England – that have kept their grammar and granularity.
It should be noted that almost all major societies have a multicultural component with ethnic groups, however all contain a single dominant high-status group whose language is the lingua franca of the nation with ethnic groups whose languages are subordinate. However, in major immigrant economies such as the United States, Canada and Australia some of the biggest variety of large ethnic groups occur. Unsurprisingly, most of the research on ethnicity and language comes from these countries, in particular, Australia and Canada. In Australia for example, English is the lingua franca, but there are also large ethnic Chinese, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese communities – language research has been carried out on all these communities (e.g. Gallois, Barker, Jones and Callan, 1992; Gallois and Callan, 1986; Giles, Rosenthal and Young, 1985; Hogg, D’Agata and Abrams, 1989; McNamara, 1987; Smolicz, 1983)
Social categories such as ethnic groups may develop and maintain or lose their distinctive languages or speech style as a consequence of intergroup relations. However, categories do not speak. People speak, and it is generally done with one another, usually in face-to-face interaction. As mentioned earlier, when people interact conversationally, they tend to adapt their speech style to the context – the situation, and in particular the listener. This concept is the foundation of the speech accommodation theory (Giles, 1984; Giles, Taylor and Bourhis, 1973), which invokes specific motivations to explain the ways in which people accommodate their speech style to those who are present. Motivation involved for such adaptations may be a desire to help the listener to understand what is being said or to promote specific impressions of oneself.
Speech Convergence and Divergence
Radcliffe Square at Night, Oxford [Image: Y. Song]
Since most conversations involve individuals who are potentially of unequal social status, speech accommodation theory describes the type of accommodation that might occur as a function of the sort of social orientation that the speakers may have towards one another (See Fig. B). Where a simple interpersonal orientation exists (e.g. between two friends), bilateral speech convergence occurs. Higher-status speakers shift their accent or speech style ‘downwards’ towards that of the lower-status speakers, who in turn shift ‘upwards’. In this scenario, speech convergence satisfies a need for approval or liking. The act of convergence increases interpersonal speech style similarity and this enhances interpersonal approval and liking (Bourhis, Giles and Lambert, 1975), particularly if the convergence behaviour is clearly intentional (Simard, Taylor and Giles, 1976). The process is based on the supported idea that similarity typically leads to attraction in most cases (e.g. Byrne, 1971).
Fig. B | Speech accommodation as a function of status, social orientation and subjective vitality
Consider a particular scenario where an intergroup orientation exists. If the lower status group has low subjective vitality coupled with a belief is social mobility (i.e. one can pass, linguistically, into the higher status group), there is unilateral upward convergence on the part of the lower status speaker and unilateral speech divergence on the part of the higher status speaker. In intergroup contexts, divergence achieves psycholinguistic distinctiveness: it differentiates the speaker’s ingroup on linguistic grounds from the outgroup. Where an intergroup orientation exists and the lower status group has high subjective validity coupled with a belief in social change (i.e. one cannot pass into the higher status group), bilateral divergence occurs. Both speakers pursue psycholinguistic distinctiveness.
Speech accommodation theory has been well supported empirically (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles and Coupland, 1991). Bourhis and Giles found that Welsh adults accentuated their Welsh accent in the presence of RP English speakers (i.e. the standard non-regional variety of English). Bourhis, Giles, Leyens and Tajfel (1979) obtained a similar finding in Belgium, with Flemish speakers in the presence of French speakers. In both cases, a language revival was under way at the same time, and thus an intergroup orientation with high vitality was salient. In a low-vitality social mobility context, Hogg (1985) found that female students in Britain shifted their speech style ‘upwards’ towards that of their male partners. Accommodation in intergroup contexts reflects an intergroup or social identity mechanism in which speech style is dynamically governed by the speakers’ motivation to adopt ingroup or outgroup speech patterns. These motivations are in turn formed by perception of:
- The relative status and prestige of the speech varieties and their associated groups;and
- The vitality of their own ethnolinguistic group
One important factor that may actually govern changes in speech style is conformity to stereotypical perceptions of the appropriate speech norm. Thakerar, Giles and Cheshire (1982) distinguished between objective and subjective accommodation. People converge on or diverge from what they perceive to be the relevant speech style. Objective accommodation may reflect this, but in some circumstances it may not: for instance subjective convergence may resemble objective divergence if the speech style stereotype is different from the actual speech behaviour of the other speaker.
Even the “Queen’s English” is susceptible to some accommodation towards a more popular stereotype (Harrington, 2006). An analysis of the phonetics in the speech of Queen Elizabeth II from her Christmas broadcasts to the world since 1952 show a gradual change in the Royal vowels, moving from ‘upper-class’ RP to a more ‘standard’ and less aristocratic RP. This may simply reflect a softening of the once strong demarcation between the social classes – social change may sometimes be a catalyst for speech change. Where once she might have said “thet men in the bleck het”, she would now say “that man in the black hat”.
Red Queen Illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (Oxford Classics)
Speech accommodation theory has been extended in recognition of the role of non-verbal behaviour in communication – now called communication accommodation theory (Gallois, Ogay and Giles, 2005; Giles, Mulac, Bradac and Johnson, 1987; Giles and Noels, 2002), which acknowledges that convergence and divergence can occur non-verbally as well as verbally. Anthony Mulac and his colleagues found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards the amount of eye contact (now called ‘gaze’) made by their partner (Mulac, Studley, Wiemann and Bradac, 1987). While accommodation is often synchronised in verbal and non-verbal channels, this is not necessarily the case. Frances Bilous and Robert Kraus (1988) found that women in mixed-sex dyads converged towards men on some dimensions (e.g. total words uttered and interruptions) but diverged on others (e.g. laughter).
Bilingualism and second-language acquisition
Due to the excessive and culturally destructive waves of migration caused by the exploitation of diplomacy and some corrupt mainstream media and politicians to promote mass migration, most major countries are now bilingual or multilingual, meaning that people need to be able to speak two or more languages with a fair amount of proficiency to communicate effectively and successfully achieve their goals in different contexts. These countries contain a variety of ethnolinguistic groups with a single dominant group whose language is the lingua franca – very few countries are effectively monolingual (e.g. Portugal and Japan) anymore – which may be reflected in the rise in cultural conflict and lack of social coherence.
The acquisition of a second language is rarely a matter of acquiring basic classroom proficiency, as one might in order to ‘get by’ on holiday – in fact, it is a wholesale acquisition of a language embedded in a highly cultural context with varying degrees of granularity to reach the levels of flawless/effective communication (Gardner, 1979). Second-language acquisition requires native-like mastery (being able to speak like a native speaker), and this hinges more on the motivations of the second-language learner than on linguistic aptitude or pedagogical factors. Failure to acquire native-like mastery can undermine self-confidence and cause physical and social isolation, leading to material hardship and psychological suffering. For example, Noels, Pon and Clément (1996) found low self-esteem and marked symptoms of stress among Chinese immigrants in Canada with poor English skills. Building on earlier models (Gardner, 1979; Clément, 1980), Giles and Byrne (1982) proposed an intergroup model of second language acquisition. There are five socio-psychological dimensions that influence a subordinate group member’s motivational goals in learning the language of a dominant group (see Fig. C):
- Strength of ethnolinguistic identification
- Number of alternative identities available
- Number of high-status alternative identities available
- Subjective vitality perceptions
- Social beliefs regarding whether it is or is not possible to pass linguistically into the dominant group
Low identification with one’s ethnic ingroup, low subjective vitality and a belief that one can ‘pass’ linguistically, coupled with a large number of other potential identities of which many are high-status, are conditions that motivate someone to acquire native-like mastery in the second language. Proficiency in the second language is seen to be economically and culturally useful; it is considered additive to our identity. Realisation of this motivation is facilitated or inhibited by the extent to which we are made to feel confident or anxious about using the second language in specific contexts. The converse set of socio-psychological conditions motivates people to acquire only classroom proficiency. Through fear of assimilation, the second language is considered subtractive in that it may attract ingroup hostility and accusations of ethnic betrayal. Early education, individual Intelligence, personality and aptitude may also affect proficiency.
This analysis of second-language acquisition grounds language firmly in its cultural context and thus relates language acquisition to broader acculturation processes. John Berry and his colleagues distinguished between integration (individuals maintain ethnic culture and relate to dominant culture), assimilation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and wholeheartedly embrace the dominant culture), separation (individuals maintain their ethnic culture and isolate themselves from the dominant culture) and marginalisation (individuals give up their ethnic culture and fail to relate properly to the dominant culture (Berry, Trimble and Olmedo, 1986).
Human brain specimen being studied in neuroscience professor Ron Kalil’s Medical School research lab. © UW-Madison News & Public Affairs 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller
While the only effective forms of adjustments that completely benefit a system remain « native citizens » [in terms of designing culturally fitting human organisms from the lower to the upper scale of society], and assimilation [the small number of culturally & educationally worthwhile & proficient organisms that manage to], the remaining could simply be qualified as burden to most systems, specially children deriving from economic migration [who are already being born in mass (in some cases) due to the higher fertility culture from their parents’ cultural origins, and who seem to want native treatment while not being able to culturally navigate with native-like proficiency (illogical demands with illogical cultural belonging). This ‘nomadic‘ generation of children whose parents initially moved from land to land for nothing else but the simple rush for cash from a socio-economic system with better financial prospects may unfortunately [at the exception of some illogical mainstream college-educated far-left human rights activists] be a scenario fitting with a parasitic ‘metaphoric example’, while to others [such as left wing economic policy makers], this could be what they cheaply describe as « modernism » & « cultural-enrichment« .
In a ‘psychological’ reality, from a social-psychologist’s perspective this may simply be described as a mass phenomenon that society is not used to dealing with and has not been monitoring effectively since the 1950s, to a point where confusion and sheer desperation sets for both native citizens and authorities when thinking of a « rational » solution that seems to be constantly destroyed by outdated, irrational and illogical human rights laws, forever unfavourable to major western societies while defending cheap unskilled migration originally from culturally and economically disastrous systems [e.g. the third world, middle east & some parts of Southern and Eastern Asia].
Thus, the consequences for second language learning can indeed be very dramatic and have a life changing impact. Most major economies today are fragmented due to linguistic barriers and cultural differences, furthermore, since language is refined from interactions, the lack of chemistry and coherence may well be a major factor in the drop in cultural and educational standards – not to mention a generation that does not seem to represent any values [cultural or philosophical] – but simply regional classroom proficiency and barely any granularity or refinement in the linguistic and cultural context of a heritage that comes with traditions ‘developed’ over centuries of civilisation.
Majority group members do not generally have the motivation to acquire native-like mastery of another language. According to John Edwards (1994), it is precisely the international prestige and utility, and of course widespread use of English that makes native English speakers such poor language students: they simply lack the motivation to become proficient. Itesh Sachdev and Audrey Wright (1996) pursued this point and found that English children were more motivated to learn languages from the European continent (e.g. French, German, Italian) than those from the Asian continent (e.g. Mandarin, Hindi, Russian, Urdu, Tamil, Arabic, etc) even though a fair amount of children in the sample were exposed to more Asian & African immigration [due to years of mediocre policies linked to cheap democratic governments & leftist agendas bent on promoting alien invasions – fragmenting societies & destructively shifting geographical compositions] than languages & cultures from Europe. A possible reason would be that English children perceive more prestige and desirability in mastering additional languages & cultures such as French, German & Italian instead of far-flung incompatible foreign ones [e.g. African Third world, Middle-East, Asia etc].
Communicating without words
Speech rarely happens in complete isolation from non-verbal cues. Even on a phone, individuals tend to automatically use a variety of gestures [body language] that cannot be ‘seen’ by the recipient at the other end of the phone line. In a similar fashion, phone and computer-mediated communication (CMC) conversations can be difficult precisely because many non-verbal cues are not accessible [e.g. users may interpret some messages as ‘cold’, ‘short’ or ‘rude’ when a participant might simply not be proficient at expressing themselves on a keyboard]. However, non-verbal channels do not always work in combination with speech to facilitate understanding. In some cases, non-verbal message starkly contradicts the verbal message [e.g. threats, sarcasm and other negative messages accompanied by a smile; Bugental, Love and Gianetto, 1971; Noller, 1984].
Agony, Torture, and Fright | Charles Darwin, 1868
Human beings can produce about 20,000 different facial expressions and about 1,000 different cues based on paralanguage. There are also about 700,000 physical gestures, facial expressions and movements (see Birdwhistell, 1970; Hewes, 1957; Pei, 1965). Even the briefest interaction may involve the fleeting and simultaneous use of a huge number of such devices in combination, making it unclear even to code behaviour, let alone analyse the causes and consequences of particular non-verbal communications. However, their importance is now acknowledged in social psychology (Ambady and Weisbuch, 2010; Burgoon, Buller and Woodall, 1989; DePaulo and Friedman, 1998), and doing research in this area has remained a major challenge. Non-verbal behaviour can be used for a variety of purposes, one may use it to:
- Glean information about feelings and intentions of others (e.g. non-verbal cues are often reliable indicators of whether someone likes you, is emotionally suffering, etc);
- Regulate interactions (e.g. non-verbal cues can signal the approaching end of an utterance, or that someone else wishes to speak)
- Express intimacy (e.g. touching and mutual eye contact);
- Establish dominance or control (non-verbal threats);
- Facilitate goal attainment (e.g. pointing)
These functions are to be found in most aspects of non-verbal behaviour such as gaze, facial expressions, body language, touch and interpersonal distance. Non-verbal communications has a large impact, yet it goes largely ‘unnoticed’ – perhaps since we acquire them unaware, we tend not to be conscious when using them. Most individuals acquire non-verbal skills without any formal training yet manage to master a rich repertoire of non-verbal behaviour very early in life – suggesting that huge individual differences in skills and uses should be noticed. Social norms can have a strong influence on our use of non-verbal language, for example, if one is delighted at the demise of an arrogant narcissist or foe, one would be unlikely to smile at their funeral – Schadenfreude is not a noble emotion to express [at least in most situations].
Individual and group differences also have an influence on, or are associated with, non-verbal cues. Robert Rosenthal and his colleagues (Rosenthal, Hall, DiMatteo, Rogers and Archer, 1979) devised a profile of non-verbal sensitivity (PONS) as a test to chart some of these differences. All things equal, non-verbal competence improves with age, is more advanced among successful people and is compromised among individuals with a range of psychopathologies (e.g. psychosis, autism).
Reviews conclude that women are generally better than men at decoding both visual cues and auditory cues, such as voice tone and pitch (E. T. Hall, 1979; J. A. Hall, 1978, 1984). The explanation for this seems to be rather social than evolutionary (Manstead, 1992), including child-rearing strategies that encourage girls more than boys to be emotionally expressive and attentive. One major question remains whether women’s greater competence is due to greater knowledge about non-verbal cues. According to Janelle Rosip and Judith Hall (2004), the answer seems to be ‘yes’ – women have a slight advantage, based on results from their test of non-verbal cue knowledge (TONCK). A meta-analysis by William Ickes has shown that when motivated to do so, women can become even more accurate: for example when women think they are being evaluated for their empathy or when gender-role expectations of empathy are brought to the fore (Ickes, Gesn and Graham, 2000).
Most individuals can improve their non-verbal skills (Matsumoto and Hwang, 2011), that can be useful for improving interpersonal communication, detecting deception, presenting a good impression and hiding our feelings [when required in some situations]. Practical books have been written and courses on communications has always had an enduring appeal. Why not try yourself out on the TONCK?
Non-verbal behaviour differs among individuals since most have different attachment styles thus different relationships too. In the case of intimate relationships, we would tend to assume that partners would enhance each other’s emotional security through accurate decoding of their individualistic non-verbal cues and responding appropriately (Schachner, Shaver and Mikulincer, 2005). Although there are data dealing with non-verbal behaviour in parent-child interactions and how they relate to the development of attachment styles in children (Bugental, 2005), there is less research focussing on how adult attachment styles are reflected ‘non-verbally’ in intimate relationships.
Discovering the Self
In turning our attention to ourselves, we begin to apply the psychological concept of self to the individual’s consciousness of his or her own identity. What does the “mind’s eye” see when it looks into the self – into that special mirror that reveals one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, i.e. our own private world we so often hide from others. Ancient Greeks who travel to the Oracle at Delphi for answers to their problems, found this message inscribed on the shrine: “Know Thyself”.
Centuries later, it was William James who in 1890, set the stage for the modern resurgence of psychology’s interest in the self. In studying what he called “the mind from within”, James distinguished three aspects of the self: the material, the spiritual and the social.
The material self is our awareness of the physical world: our body and the people and things around us.
The spiritual self is the part that “thinks of ourselves as thinkers” – the inner witness to events.
And the part of the self that focuses on the images we create in the minds of others is called the social self.
While it was William James who pioneered the scientific concept of the self, many earlier philosophers and writers had also recognised this dimension of human nature. Some psychologists believe that the gradual separation of a young child from its mother, a process called individuation, is essential for developing a unique sense of self and a healthy personality – failure to acquire an independent self-identity may lead to psychological problems.
Today many psychologists are keenly interested in studying the self, however there was a time when psychology focused almost exclusively on behaviour – there was no place for anything as fuzzy as the concept of self. Even to Freud, the conscious self was little more than a weak, passive link in his triad of Id, Ego and Superego. Freud defined the Id as a primitive, unconscious part of the personality where drives and passions originate. The Superego restrains the Id. For Freud the Superego is a combination of the conscience and the ideal self. The ego, our conscious self of self-identity, moderate between the Id and Superego – between our primitive impulses and our sense of moral obligation. Freud was much more interested in the dramatic confrontations between the unconscious Id and Superego, than he was in the conscious processes of the ego [which we believe accommodates many basic principles of Cognitive Psychology, although not sufficient to explain a complete model of the mind, behaviour, drives and motivation as it tends to ignore the unconscious processes].
Carl Rogers in the 1960s placed a much greater emphasis on aspects of the conscious self [the conscious Ego]. Rogers led the humanistic movement, which was hugely responsible for psychology’s return to the self. In contrast to Freud’s view of a conflicted, impulse driven creature, Rogers offered a vision of psychological growth and health. There exists within the healthy individual, a capacity for self-understanding, for self-direction, for guiding behaviour in self-directed ways, which can be tapped if the right conditions [e.g. resources, education, commitment, training, etc] are provided.
In other words, the individual does have the capacity and a potential for self-development, change and integration [eventually leading to assimilation in various “cultural” contexts, i.e. linguistic, socio-behavioural, philosophical, geographic, etc] – which does not need to be supplied from the “outside world”, but rather learnt and developed from within the individual. As Jacques Lacan beautifully puts it in describing the mirror stage, one unfortunate outcome of the stage is that individuals tend to look outward and not inward in their search for identity – such external orientation toward individuals’ own identity is doomed to fail.
One great historical example of self-development, change and integration is Paul Léautaud, the son of an indifferent father and an absent mother, who never had any formal literary education and left school at 15, worked in all kinds of small jobs to live, and educated himself by reading all the great authors voraciously late at night. Eventually, he would become part of the literary crowd and be pivotal in the discovery of Guillaume Apollinaire, even if he would not publish much himself. He was an « Écrivain pour hommes de lettres » in his own words [French for: « Writer for men of letters »]. To have the freedom to write, something that meant the world to him, he accepted a badly paid job at the Mercure de France, where he was charged for a short time to be a drama critic under the name of Maurice Boissard; he would make himself known for his frankness, his mocking and subversive mind. Léautaud went through hard times financially but never allowed his problems to become an obstacle to his literary aspirations, stating « Quand je marque mes dépenses chaque jour, quand j’inscris 20 francs, il y a 15 francs pour les bêtes et 5 francs pour moi. Je vais avec des souliers percés, du linge en loques et souvent sale par économie, ce qui est une grande souffrance pour moi, je mange insuffisamment et des choses qui me répugnent, je porte mes vêtements au-delà de toute durée et toujours par économie ou impossibilité de les remplacer, je ne m’achète rien, je ne m’offre aucun plaisir, aucune fantaisie. Je vais même peut-être être obligé de cesser de m’éclairer à la bougie pour travailler, ce qui me plaît tant. Voilà ma vie à 52 ans accomplis ou presque » [French for: « When I mark my expenses every day, when I enter 20 francs, there are 15 francs for the animals and 5 francs for me. I go with pierced shoes, ragged clothes and often dirty by economy, which is a great suffering for me, I eat insufficiently and things that repel me, I wear my clothes beyond any duration and always by economy or impossibility to replace them, I buy nothing, I offer myself no pleasure, no fantasy. I may even have to stop lighting myself with candles to work, which I like so much. This is my life at 52 years or so. »] Solitary, collecting abandoned animals in his pavilion in Fontenay-aux-Roses and living in poverty himself, he devoted himself for more than 60 years to his Journal, which he called literary, where he recounted, day by day, under the direct impression, the events that affected him: « Je n’ai vécu que pour écrire. Je n’ai senti, vu, entendu les choses, les sentiments, les gens que pour écrire. J’ai préféré cela au bonheur matériel, aux réputations faciles. J’y ai même souvent sacrifié mon plaisir du moment, mes plus secrets bonheurs et affections, même le bonheur de quelques êtres, pour écrire ce qui me faisait plaisir à écrire. Je garde de tout cela un profond bonheur. » [French for: « I only lived to write. I only felt, saw, heard things, feelings, people only to write. I preferred this to material happiness, to easy reputations. I have even often sacrificed my pleasure of the moment, my most secret happiness and affections, even the happiness of a few people, to write what made me happy to write about. I keep a deep happiness from all this.« ] He was also elitist, and in terms of the mind and the absence of prejudice, he puts himself above most of his contemporaries, declaring: « Sorti de l’école à 15 ans, mis aussitôt à travailler comme employé par mon père, ayant appris seul ce que je peux savoir, m’étant donné seul la culture que je peux avoir (je n’ai jamais cessé), m’étant perfectionné seul comme écrivain, cela n’a pas fait de moi un démocrate. Tout le contraire : un aristocrate. Je l’entends par mon esprit, ma façon de penser et de juger. » [French for: « Leaving school at 15, immediately made to work as an employee by my father, having learned alone what I can know, having alone given myself the culture that I can have (I have never stopped), having perfected myself alone as a writer, that did not make me a democrat. Quite the opposite: an aristocrat. I mean it by my mind, my way of thinking and judging.« ] A great admirer of Stendhal, he readily acknowledged a taste for egotistical exploration: « J’ai un grand penchant […] à parler de moi, de mes souvenirs. Aussi, dans mes songeries, j’aurai passé ma vie à me revivre » [French for: « I have a great inclination[…] to talk about myself, about my memories. Also, in my thoughts, I will have spent my life reliving myself« ]. He thought that good writing should have the qualities of tone, the sensitivity, of a certain personality and that the great brand is to write in complete relationship with the man we are and that it causes fire works. Léautaud’s last words before dying were, « Maintenant, foutez-moi la paix. » [French for: « Now, leave me alone. »] Marie Dormoy, whose lover he had been, became his universal legatee and executor and helped to publish and make known his Literary Journal after his death. The style of the journal is natural and spontaneous. Léautaud practiced, without vulgarity, a living French, a delicious mixture of writing and orality, through a stream of emotional, reactive and lively thought. For those who discovered Leautaud’s voice in his famous radio interviews, the reader has the impression, on each page, of hearing it. Few writers have been able to create the plastic dynamism of the French language as he has. A man of the eighteenth century lost in the first twentieth century, he had the dryness, naturalness and ease of the great masters of French prose before Chateaubriand. Paul Gilson, director of the Services artistiques de la radio would say: « Nous n’avons jamais eu d’entretiens aussi vivants, intéressants et qui aient un pareil succès. » [French for: « We have never had such lively, interesting and successful interviews. »] It seems that Paul Léautaud’s life can be resumed in one quotation from Adèle de Bellegarde, which is « Je n’ai réussi qu’une seule chose, vivre selon mon goût » [French for: « I only managed one thing, to live according to my taste. »]
Traduction(EN): « I only managed one thing, to live according to my taste » – Adèle de Bellegarde
Marcel Gauchet put it well by explaining that when one lives in a world structured by republican meritocracy and when one is a good student, one knows that there are paths to social ascension.
Hence, in the humanistic view, we find a self that is striving towards personal fulfilment – a guiding force that moves us towards positive actions and enhancements imbued with a kind of virtue that gives humans kinship with the angels. For psychologists, the next step after describing the properties of the self has been to explore just how this dynamic mental structure works in controlling behaviour. Researchers who study the self usually speak of the self-concept: the individual’s awareness of his or her continuing identity as a person. This self-concept is viewed as an internal regulator of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It interprets and organises our ongoing experiences. It reflects on how our present actions compare with our standards and expectations, and it affects our performance by providing plans, scripts, goals and incentives.
We tend to organise our beliefs and information about ourselves in terms of schemas, or knowledge clusters. For example, to some people, gender schemas are all-important – masculinity and femininity dominate their thinking. To others, “weight schematic” may be more important, where they may be trying to lose weight and perceive others primarily in terms of being fat (out of control) or being thin (having it all together). Our self-schema or self-image can have a powerful impact on our behaviour. If our self-image is good, we try to live up to our standard: we try harder and succeed more often. If our self-image is bad, we tend to adjust downward, and end up failing more often. So, self-image can work for or against us. Along this line, Albert Bandura of Stanford developed what he calls the theory of self-efficacy, a new theory of how the self works which can help us understand how some people translate promise and passion into optimal performance. In this experiment, researcher Delia Cioffi would give one subject the task of improving production at the model furniture factory. She would tell the subject that his ability to make good decisions for the factory is based on innate intelligence and ability. The higher one’s basic capacities in the skills, the better one will perform. Nowadays however computer programs tend to ease this process. The next subject is told that complex decision-making is an acquirable skill, and that his performance can improve through his own efforts. In any new skill, one does not begin with faultless performance, but the more one practices formulating and testing decisions, the better one gets at it. The first subject who believes that decision-making is a measure of his intelligence proceeds cautiously and sets lower goals for himself and is frustrated by an increasing number of incorrect decisions. His confidence is measured by the number on the lower left of the screen which keeps falling, as does his sense of efficacy. The second subject, however, sees early mistakes as a necessary part of learning. He profits by them and his performance improves. He sets higher goals for himself, and his response to questions about confidence demonstrate an increasing sense of his own efficacy.
The issue is not what you have, but how you use what you have. From this point of view, we can see that we can have the same competencies and subskills and use them poorly, adequately, or extraordinarily, depending on our self-belief. So for this reason, we can often predict people’s accomplishments better from their self-belief rather than from just their past attainments.
Up to this point we have been focusing on the part of the self which focuses inward to assess its capabilities. But there is another aspect of the self that focuses outward to get an understanding on the impression being created in others. This outward focus, the awareness of the social self, asked the questions: “How am I coming across? What impression am I creating? Do you see me the way I see myself? Do you see me the way I would like you to see me?”
Cette statistique montre les critères de choix les plus importants lors de l’achat de livres audio parmi les consommateurs français en 2017. On y apprend que près de 70 % des lecteurs accordaient une très grande importance au sujet des livres audio lors du choix. Un peu moins de la moitié des lecteurs considéraient la voix de l’interprète comme un critère très important. / Source: Statista France
« Je suis officier de la Légion d’honneur, je n’en tire pas de vanité. Je vous dis ces choses parce qu’aux yeux de certaines personnes cet accessoire vestimentaire confère à ceux qui le portent un certain prestige. Cet attribut me donne le privilège d’être écouté respectueusement par les imbéciles. Les autres ne me prêtant quelque attention qu’à cause de mon talent, de ma carrière ou de mon passé. » [Traduction(EN): « I’m an officer of the Legion of Honor, I don’t get any vanity out of it. I say these things to you because in the eyes of some people this clothing accessory confers a certain prestige on those who wear it. This attribute gives me the privilege of being listened to respectfully by imbeciles. Others only pay attention to me because of my talent, my career or my past. » – Professeur Lambertin (joué par Louis Jouvet) / Un Extrait du film, Entrée des artistes (1938)
To better explain this part about self-presentation, we are going to explore the arts, particularly drama which addresses the nuances of self-presentation. As a former student of literature and drama, I will use the example of the drama teacher who trains young individuals and actors in self-presentation skills to help them convey an impression to an audience. How does this work? Well, we are going to use the concept of status, which has to do with how we manipulate the affect of our self to one another. The content in a given circumstance may be the same, however the way in which I choose to speak to you [the way I use non-verbal cues, i.e. body language] may affect my relationship to you.
These status transactions, come in different aspects, and here we are going to discuss some of them.
The first of these would be eye contact, as it is commonly known that eye contact is a useful device in asserting oneself.
The second variable is of course whether or not one’s body is moving in a sustained way or whether it has jerky movements. As soon as a person starts to move in jerky ways it also affects his or her speech, as it is hard to sustain sentences when for example one is moving there head up and down. Many people tend to speak uncomfortably while moving at the cost of their status [e.g. Uh, as soon as, um, I begin to move my body in, uh, jerky ways – it also affects my speech you notice, It’s hard to uh, sustain sentences when I’m moving, uh, kind uh… but, but it, uh…. At the cost of their status in some cases]. A third kind of jerky motion we notice often is people touching the face, their hair or their hands, which conveys a sense of nervousness – which again would be lowering their status as a speaker]. In other words, anything we might consider to be nervous gestures would be in the category of lowering one’s status. So, the prototype for high status would be someone who is basically calm and composed, and who speaks in complete sentences, breathes deeply, makes eye contact and [uh?] does not have any particular jerky mannerisms.
These factors in interactions are known as status transactions, and they take place all the time between all kinds of people. They are a form of interpersonal communication where individuals establish their degree of social status and power, and demonstrate as well as anything the social aspects of the self-concept. To manage the impressions we create in others, we all engage in what is known as strategic self-presentation – how we present ourselves to others so that they perceive us in the way we see ourselves. Society reacts to us according to the context our behaviour has created [e.g. profession(s), values, education, language(s), nationality(ies), etc], then we see the way they respond to us, which confirms our original belief about the kind of individual we truly are [have become through growth and development]. It is a closed circle – what researcher Mark Snyder has called “behavioural confirmation”. Our beliefs, our sense of self, create their own reality. That is why depressed people elicit negative reactions and tend to be treated as if, in fact, they are inadequate in most aspects of normal life. While extroverts create an easy-going social climate in which others tend to respond positively to them.
There is also an intimate connection between self and culture [please note that culture here may be related to many fields, e.g. language, profession, clubs, private circles, orientations, identities, musical circles, arts, etc] – culture can be defined objectively [scientifically] as behavioural patterns individualised to a particular select group.
When we talk about the self, we are referring to the way in which the biological organism/being becomes a person. Becoming a person [human being], is largely a social endeavour, and there is nothing more social than language, which creates a social bond, as Jacques Lacan also pointed out. We can be a biological being [a primate] all by ourselves but to become a person, to become a self, we must engage with or take on or incorporate the cultural meanings, cultural ideas and practices of a particular group or groups [for individuals who have the chance to be bi or tri-cultural] and all these are learnt by language in its different forms. We must use these to become a person as it would be impossible to be a self by ourself. We can be a biological entity, but to be a person with a sense of self, we normally do it in some set of culture specific ways.
Culture can be seen not as biologically based, but rather socially based. It is a set of behavioural patterns and attitudes that we adopt as a means of defining who we are depending of where we are and who we want to be.
Traduction(EN): « The day when I will stop questioning, learning, creating and innovating, will be the day that I will be dead. » -Danny J. D’Purb / © 2018
Many tend to think of “culture” as an entity inside people, similar to some sort of essence. Taking myself as an example, I qualify myself as bi-cultural, being a Franco-British individual, and since the majority of people do not have the chance to receive the heritage of two European empires, I will focus on the French side. Many people tend to think about us French [yes, the heirs of the language of Hugo, Molière, Chateaubriand & Balzac] as having some kind of French genes, or French traits or some kind of French attributes that make us French. It is absolutely not true, as culture is “what we choose to do”. And so, as the French school of thought, which has always been avant-garde in structuring minds to the French family; if we take an individual and guide him or her to connect with and use French ideas/concepts, and French ways of perceiving, feeling, behaving and doing things [i.e. values], then eventually that person will become French. Similarly, if I took that same person and placed him or her in the British context, that person will then become British in that sense [at least the science of Psychology in 2019, has enough evidence that I have collected throughout the dpurb.com website, to show that such a scenario depending on the individual’s abilities should be scientifically and psychologically valid – the mainstream people at large are still to embed and share this principle to open new perspectives to their own lives and in doing so allow themselves to grow psychologically and culturally].
Culture is simply a set of common ideas and common ways of doing things – although each culture has its sub-cultures that may vary [e.g. geographically, linguistically, artistically and philosophically].
We can view culture and self as a collaboration where each has an effect on the other: culture shapes self and the Self also has the power to shape culture. This idea is known as mutual constitution and it is reflected in the artefacts of all societies through art, literature and languages of all societies. It also affects each individuals differently in their choice of identification, consumption and adoption of particular products of culture. For example, having been brought up in a society with a Franco-British heritage, it was my choice to shape my self with French literature, arts, journalism, music, heritage, along with Oxford English, literature and heritage as a foundation to establishing myself as an individual with a self of Western European origin, and to make the region a place that I call home. As Jacques Lacan beautifully placed it:
«…en disant que seule la perspective de l’histoire de la reconnaissance permet de définir ce qui compte pour le sujet.
Je voudrais, pour ceux qui ne sont pas familiers avec cette dialectique que j’ai déjà abondamment développée, vous donner un certain nombre de notions de base. Il faut toujours être au niveau de l’alphabet. Aussi vais-je prendre un exemple qui vous fera bien comprendre les questions que pose pour la reconnaissance, et qui vous détourne de la noyer dans des notions aussi confuse que celles de mémoires ou de souvenir…
…un refoulement est autre chose qu’un jugement qui rejette et choisit. » – Jacques Lacan
« by saying that only the perspective of the history of recognition allows the definition of what matters for the subject.
I would like to, for those who are not familiar with that dialectic that I have already abundantly developed, give you a number of basic notions. We must always be at the level of the alphabet. So I will take an example that will make you understand the questions posed for recognition, and that distracts you from drowning it in notions as confusing as those of memories or souvenirs…
…a repression is something other than a judgment that rejects and chooses. » – Jacques Lacan
Most of us are exposed to thousands of images in a given day, which many go by our conscious [not the unconscious] senses unnoticed. While these images discarded by our attention are deemed unnecessary, they collectively shape our thinking about how to be a person [a model to follow], how to be a self [the chosen self]. Take Richard Dawkins, Oscar Wilde, or William Penn for example; it is quite clear that none of those characters would be qualified as the boy next door. And they have been taken here as examples because, as myself, none of us of English heritage [specially those with the educational elements to optimise their output in life] choose to be the “boy next door”. This may also be said in the French realm for those with a French heritage like myself, with examples such as René Descartes, François-René de Chateaubriand, Napoléon 1er, Jacques Lacan, Pierre Bourdieu, Francis Cabrel or Florent Pagny, since none of these Frenchmen would also qualify as the “boy next door”. This is because none of us of French heritage with the educational capacity to optimise our output in life would choose to be the “boy next door” – the French culture is known for its heritage embedded in the “grandeur d’esprit et de l’être”, as Charles de Gaulle famously said: « Un peuple comme le nôtre accoutumé aux malheurs comme aux gloires, sait reconnaître les États qui forment avec lui, l’équipe de la liberté. » [Translation: “A people like ours accustomed to misfortunes as well as glories, knows how to recognize the states that form with him, the team of freedom.”]
We can thus conclude confidently that intelligent and reasoning beings are unlike unchangeable objects such as coins or stones, but are bodies of flesh, blood and bones with a malleable brain, hence individuals construct themselves based on their choices and abilities and are not absolute copies of their parents, siblings, or relatives [even if they may happen to share some personality traits such as for e.g. IQ, intelligence, creativity, temperament, etc], neither are they simply products of exposure to their social circle, acquaintances, or « direct/initial » environment – as the reductionist and deterministic minds of pure cognitive-behavioural psychology wrongly assume [although a wide range of simple and basic vital behaviours can be explained from the cognitive-behavioural perspective in terms of Stimulus and Response, e.g. using the toilets, but complex thought processes of creativity and individuality in various aspects of mental life remain problematic to their branch of psychology]. This is because individuals are unique just like their finger prints, blood type and eyes, and this extends to their tastes, desires, direction, choices, field, creative influences, artistry, identities and parcour. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci’s father was not the productive and creative genius that his son was, but he may have shared some degree of intelligence that he passed to his son through his genes; Rafael Nadal’s parents cannot serve and destroy the world’s best tennis player like he does; Victor Hugo’s father was an imperial general and a military person, not the prolific writer and literary master that his son was; Napoleon’s father did not have the personality or imperial vision of his son but married his wife Maria Letizia Ramolino when she was 14 and was a man in law, however he may have had a good sense of judgement in matters related to the management of society that Napoleon inherited; Jacques Lacan’s father was a business man who simply dealt in oil and soap and was not the academically cultured and innovative theorist in psychology that Jacques Lacan was; the father of Sigmund Freud was a poor and unsuccessful wool merchant, and did not have Sigmund Freud’s creative intelligence in psychology; the family of Carl Jung was very modest financially and were not the deep thinker and theorist that Carl Jung was; Pascal Picq, the author of « L’homme est-il un grand singe politique? » was born to parents who worked in the market, and whose father later worked in transportation while his mother became a factory worker, they were not affiliated to the prestigious « Collège de France » as their son would later be; and Pierre Bourdieu, the author of « Langage et pouvoir symbolique » was the son of a man who came from the the small peasantry of Béarn, a daily farmer who then became a postman without leaving his rural environment, and was not the gifted researcher, thinker and speaker that his son Pierre would grow up to be. And if we were to also extend these examples to the spiritual domain for Christians, we can also note that the father of Jesus Christ was a wood worker, not the prophet, messiah, philosopher and founder of Christianity that his son Jesus was, he also did not walk on water, turn it into wine and restore sight to the blind, perhaps on the same religious note for those who see science as the systematic study of God’s works, it may be perfect to quote Michael Langlois: « Si Dieu nous a créés avec un cerveau, c’est pour qu’on s’en serve ! » [which is French for « If God created us with a brain, it’s so we can use it! »]. These examples to show that individuals are unique and not absolute copies go on and on, and although they are obvious, it seems that reminding the masses of the reality of individual psychological construction in our world is the job [or burden] that destiny has placed on my shoulders.
Hence, an individual will never be what others believe or want them to be, whatever the size of the crowd, because individuals are creative and adaptive organisms with the ability to make conscious decisions about their lives and identities, and can leave their initial enviroment for new locations, adapt and recreate themselves to be part of a new society [there are too many examples in 2019 to cite] depending on their desires and abilities, or they can also simply visit places for the sake of exploration without adapting or being part of them.
Traduction(EN): “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” -Fritz Perls, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist who coined the ‘Gestalt therapy’
In most modern and enlightened societies of Western European heritage, we are a culture of individuals, a society of unique people who besides their individual characteristics and differences manage to synchronise and work together in matters of national importance without it being restrictive to our personal liberties and choices from one person to the other. To be a person generally means to be connected [even indirectly, e.g. through arts and literature] to others. However, taking the metaphor of a golf competition to explain the picture, we cannot all win the contest. Clearly, one person will win and others will still perform well while some will need training to reach a decent standard although not within competitive categories. However, in an advert promoting golf, no company would only show one golfer by himself on all its adverts, but rather they show and promote many golfers, happy to be together. Hence, the way to be a person in modern society seems to be a part of it [directly or indirectly, all representatives of the society but with varying degrees of skills and abilities].
As with myself, having pushed the limits of my Franco-British heritage to the academic stage globally, more and more people are slowly getting the opportunity to be bi or tri-cultural. It is not a simple thing to do or accommodate, but it will be the task of more and more people in the world if individuals are to overcome their limitations in perception, feeling and understanding, and experience the world from the finest cultural & linguistic lenses to explore their different senses on a planet that is more accessible in its depth through the magic of modern media [e.g. internet, multimedia experiences, high definition packages, distance learning, virtual reality, audiobooks, and even university lectures online [e.g. Les cours de Michel Butor] that is changing the processes of learning at a speed never seen before.
The reasoning person, being the intelligent being who has infinite worth and dignity would logically try to assimilate into the best heritage / linguistic-culture(s), knowing that the world is not flat and that we have natural masters and natural slaves, where intelligence is the only thing that distinguishes them – as Immanuel Kant also concluded. Like the analogy of humans, who being more intelligent than other living creatures, have become the supreme beings at the top of the food chain to rule over our planet. If we also side with this evolutionary logic, the best and most sophisticated society or societies [in terms of language, education, philosophy, heritage, etc] should by the laws of meritocracy have the privilege to guide and/or inspire the human civilisation to create a singular society/human empire in synchronisation with itself in the future as our civilisation evolves and comes to terms with its insignificance as a mortal bunch of organisms on a small, depleting and lonely planet in the universe without a spare planet to colonise that could still be wiped out and never remembered like the dinosaurs with an asteroid at any moment.
Modern psychological research has shown that we are reflections of all social interactions that mark us throughout our life and these interactions do not only come in the physical form, but also through arts, film, modern media and literature, all these create symbolic desires that affects each individual differently. And those who choose who and what shapes them, will tend to be inspired by those they admire [this extends beyond minor interactions such as the fishmonger at the market place or the coconut seller at the beach, but reaches as far as the mind goes up to the highest level of culture through exposure directly or indirectly (modern media) and breaches barriers once thought impossible]. As Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic writings also suggest – relying heavily on linguistic theory and intellectual trends in late 20th-century France, such as the structuralist movement – our sense of self is a tissue of identification with people we have known [directly or indirectly exposed to, e.g. mentors, fictional characters, authority figures, artists, etc], and the only wholeness we imagine ourselves to have is a fiction, a comforting and self-deceiving way of narrating our personal story, since our “selves” are profoundly “de-centred”.
The greatest child psychologist of all time, Jean Piaget argued that all forms of social interaction [which also includes artistic exposure] in the process of learning play an important role in « cognitive growth ». Bernard Lahire pointed out that differences in cultural education [i.e. various forms of artistic exposure] have an impact on the developing child and leads to inequalities early in life, i.e. the child exposed to finer artistic experiences (e.g. literature, music, film, digital experiences, etc) has a better chance of developing a sophisticated mastery of language early in life than the child who is not. This does not mean that all individuals are doomed for failure because of their inadequate early development, as some gifted or dedicated individuals do catch up on their linguistic development later in life.
Crédits : Youst – Getty
However, one of the greatest challenges to individual cultural identity remains the overcoming of bigotry. The prejudices of a superior heritage can eat away the self-regard of inferior cultures, languages and heritage. Prejudice is a form of psychological genocide that works across generations and contributes to the despair, drug abuse and violence we see in communities whose cultural identities are under siege. This can be seen through high levels of depression, alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans for example. Hence, an agreement that respects the achievements, strengths and individuality of others would likely ease the tensions with inferior cultures who may have more to gain in assimilating into superior ones. Diplomacy and empathy will also help in the transition to adopting new patterns of living if we [as a group of organisms on planet Earth] take the direction that leads to a synchronised civilisation/empire in the future, looking into space for new planets to ensure our existence and continuity as a space race.
In the face of adversity we have seen another side of the self that creates new realities, transforming life into art. This is what Alfred Adler called the creative self. Throughout history, men and women have put their creative imprint on anything that can be shaped, coloured and re-arranged. Even in the depths of despair, Jews who were imprisoned in German deportation camps [that had been heavily damaged by allied bombings, and cut off from receiving rations due to bombed train tracks while the lack of sanitation led to outbreaks of typhus which killed thousands], still managed to create art on whatever scraps of paper they could get their hands on to give meaning to the incomprehensible horror of their lives at that time.
However, research from Brandeis University that explored the creativity of two groups of girls aged 7 to 11 from the community centre of an apartment complex has found that people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest and enjoyment, the satisfaction, the challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures (Amabile, 1982).
So, now, you have learnt some of the ways in which intellectuals, academics and psychologists try to follow the Delphic Oracle’s exhortation to “Know Thyself.” We have explored a number of aspects and dimensions of the self, some of which may be known readily – although not accurately – through empirical investigations [e.g. using basic constructs for variables such as traits in questionnaires of quantitative empirical research that remain questionable in terms of construct validity and internal consistency], while others [such as the impact of art on the mind and implicit learning] can only be explained theoretically [since traits too can be modified, affected or changed through an individual’s desires or external influence (e.g. arts) and evolve into different behaviours through cultural evolution as we move further into human history]. We have also seen how we differ in our self-concepts from one individual to another, and how our behaviour differs as a result [e.g. the choices we make as unique organisms/individuals with unique fingerprints and brain chemistry].
The concluding thoughts are logically the fact that men and women who make the choice and who have the necessary education and intelligence to guide them, build themselves and gain the ability to change cultural and national registers & identity, when they have the capacity for development, the linguistic heritage and the genetics of intellect with a mastery of expression and speech. It is only then that they manage to represent a nation or an empire [or two?].
In 2019, as far as ‘The Organic Theory’ [which focuses on the singularity of the individual organism] is concerned, there is no debate between intellectuals in psychology, but simply the discovery of the new mechanical / scientific perspectives that it introduces to explain the psychological and philosophical conception of the individual – as Carl Sagan phrased it, ‘Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge’.
Construction [training], which ‘can be’ mechanical and structured in its application [e.g. distance learning by text / video / audio], develops indirectly to create and give a socio-cultural dimension to the individual once the desired skills have been fully adopted, mastered, and deployed in life. The term ‘social’ is also far too vague to be important as such… the term ‘social’ can simply be defined as the interaction [of all types] between organisms. So the term ‘social’ is not really valid scientifically and it lacks precision itself since it may refer to a wide range of variables. What we are left with then is only the individual’s choices, language(s) & abilities of personal development [e.g. cultural & psycholinguistic synthesis]: the major factors in the psychological & philosophical explanation of his/her singular conception [to note that each conception is unique to the individual human organism such as his/her fingerprints, skull shape, or body structure: singularity]. Thus: training, meritocracy, order and love [simple… in theory].
However, the concept of self is not an overnight process but a gradual, systematic and intelligent process involving calculated, precise and minute adjustments to one’s inner thoughts, thus, over time [this depends on individual abilities], changing one’s cognitive schemas, personality, identity and linguistic proficiency. It is a process hugely dependent on individual motivation, education, dedication, capability, IQ and socio-psychological proficiency. This is also reminiscent of some of the writings of Diogenes Laërtius, which is likely a stoic interpretation that compares athletic training to psychological and moral training which consequently highlights the idea of a form of asceticism in construction which implies a « Ponos« [a labour and/or a challenge].
Fundamental to the concept of self, language(s) is the essence of identity because it creates a social bond and it is also fundamental to all forms of social activity and discourse which lead to cultural belonging, and thus, cognitive schemas related to internalised emotions and thoughts that allow one to navigate efficiently within the particular cultural theme and become part of the societies related to the languages. Together, psychology, linguistic culture, personality and intelligence are the core foundations of individual conception – to sum it up beautifully for colleagues in innovation, science and psychology out there, “It is not what is in the book and brain that counts, but the ability to turn it into a believable logical reality and promote psychologically valid human concepts/identities.”
Images: (i) Sébastien Bourdon par Hyacinthe Rigaud (1733) | (ii) René Descartes par Sébastien Bourdon (1671) | (iii) René Descartes par Alessandro Lonati (2016)
Translation (EN): « Has grandiose results by narrow lanes » / Source: Le Petit Larousse 2018 / Les locutions étrangères gravées dans nos mémoires ont la magie des formules oubliées dont le charme va croissant lorsque l’alchimie des mots nous est plus mystérieuses. Elles ont l’autorité de la chose écrite. / Mot de passe des conjurés au quatrième acte d’Hernani, de Victor Hugo. On n’arrive au triomphe qu’en surmontant maintes épreuves.
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