Friday, 23 November 2012

"No man is an island" (Donne, 1624)

I thought I'd title this blog with a quote by John Donne as it seems to sum up the concept of affiliation very well; that human beings are programmed to seek out interaction with one another and "form close relationships" (Crisp & Turner, 2010 p266) that are both enjoyable and beneficial (Reader 3, p5).

The relevance of this concept to professional networking seems to be in:
  • understanding why we make certain affiliations
  • how each individual strives to achieve their ideal balance, and therefore their ideal network
  • why some people will seek out affiliations to a greater degree than others
  • what allows, or prevents, how actively a person can form, and then engage with, their network
Crisp & Turner talk about our need for affiliation as "providing us with a network of support" but also say that there are "chronic differences in people's desire to affiliate with others" (p266). This means that although making connections with other people is a fundamental part of being human, the degree by which each individual engages in affiliation will be very different. But why?
The main consensus seems to be that it is all to do with personality types (Crisp & Turner, Altman, O'Connor & Rosenblood, Buss), although it can also be affected by culture (Hofstede).

The type of person you are will determine where you comfortably sit on the solitary - interaction scale. For example, I'm quite a private person who likes to spend time on my own, and the time I spend with others generally needs to be when I desire it or I feel uncomfortable and anxious. If I were to put myself on the solitary - interaction scale, where 0 = solitude (i.e. no human interaction) and 10 = social interaction, it would probably look like this:

solitude                                         |                                                 social interaction
 0          1        2         3         4     me    5           6            7           8          9            10

This personal desire for solitude or contact is suggested by O'Connor & Rosenblood as operating according to the principle of homeostasis (Crisp & Turner, 2007 p267). O'Connor and Rosenblood call their theory the social affiliation model (or SAM) and liken it to the intake of calories: If I am hungry, I will eat until I reach my desired level of fullness, if I am lonely I will seek out my desired level of human contact and vice versa (O'Connor & Rosenblood, 1996 p513 - 514). They suggest that "social affiliation, like caloric intake, is relatively stable over time" but also that,
the various people with whom we interact, like the different foods that we eat, may provide us with different amounts of "social calories" or "social interaction units," which correspond to the quality of an interaction. Our optimal range of affiliation, therefore, may be affected more by whom we affiliate with rather than how long we affiliate... (p514)
I really like this concept as I am someone who likes to forge long-lasting bonds with people, rather than have lots of passing acquaintances, and who prefers to spend quality time or one-to-one meetings with friends or colleagues rather than quick interactions or social-network messaging.  I also feel that it explains the reason I have been at my current places of work for such a length of time, and why I don't have many Facebook friends!

An alternative model to SAM is the privacy regulation theory (or PRT) (Altman, 1975). In his theory, Irwin Altman suggests that each person requires a certain level of privacy, but that, contrary to SAM, these desires "fluctuate over time" (Crisp & Turner, 2007 p267). He goes on to say that our individual privacy needs affects four key concepts in people's willingness to affiliate:
  • personal space,
  • territory,
  • privacy and
  • crowding (1975, p3).
and that feelings such as isolation and over-crowding are what happen when "privacy mechanisms have not functioned effectively" (p3).
I particularly like this concept as it seems to explain my occasional feelings of "being trapped" in a social situation and the overwhelming desire I sometimes get to remove myself from a social situation that is "becoming too much."
Altman also discusses the way that people approach or deal with situations in order to help them to achieve or maintain their desired levels of affiliation. He says,
Based on past experience, immediate possibilities, and general personal style, a person or group sets a series of mechanisms in motion to adjust self-boundaries so as to realize the momentary desired level of privacy (1975, p8).
 The idea that things from my past and the options I have in the moment act, together with my personality style, to create a given reaction to my situation, really makes me think about both the way I engage with my network and the way I teach.  This links back to the reflection-on and reflection-in-action (Schon, 1987) we have previously looked at; if I look back on a past experience (in this instance a particular moment of isolation or social contact) and find it unsatisfactory I will put plans in place to stop it from happening again; if I am in a situation where I feel overwhelmed by isolation or contact I will implement a plan to even out the situation by using the tools and options available to me in the moment.
Another idea of Altman's PRT is that we use "a number of different behavioural mechanisms" to gain the equilibrium we require. For example, if I'm in a grumpy mood I might not look forward to a particularly noisy, energetic bunch of students but, when it comes to the class I end up teaching a group of angels. I have always, jokingly, put this down to the fact that I must have on my don't-start-with-me-I'm-not-in-the-mood face! However, I can see now that it probably has to do with what Altman calls "boundary-control mechanisms" - speech, voice intensity and tone, distance from others, control of objects - in short, the way I present myself that opens me up for social interaction or closes me down to it.

Another theory that I found I could particular relate to is that of Selection, Evocation, and Manipulation (Buss, 1987). Buss talks about the "three processes that are hypothesised to produce person-environment correspondence" (1987, p1215) and how,
people are not passive recipients of environmental presses, that persons actively avoid social situations and selectively enter others, and that persons elicit and manipulate the social behaviour or persons who reside in situations that have been selected (1987, p1220).
In relating this theory to my network I can see that I:
  • choose to enter groups which I feel are "my kind of group" 
  • avoid making connections which I don't feel fit in with my needs or desires
  • go to places that I know or feel "safe" in and avoid others that I think might be outside of my comfort zone.
  • choose people to affiliate with based on reputation, and whom I feel fit generally within my boundaries, i.e. that don't have extreme viewpoints.
  • adapt and manipulate to help me cope with a situation until it becomes one that I am comfortable with or one that helps me to achieve the desired end.   

To finish this blog I want to look at one more concept related to affiliation, although not from the viewpoint of professional networking.
In Deprivation and Satiation of Social Reinforcers as Drive Conditions (1957), Gewirtz & Baer write about how periods of isolation or social interaction changes the effectiveness of "the reinforcing effect of approval" (p165). They also use a food analogy to explain this idea; if I am hungry and no food is forthcoming my need for the food grows over time (if I don't have any social contact my need for approval grows), the length of time before I receive food is related to my behaviours as I try to get some (if I am deprived of approval for a long time I will try employing tactics to get it), and how I react to the food when it comes is also relative to time (if I have to wait ages for approval I will be all the more happy to receive it).
It reminds me of the child psychology module taken as part of my teaching exams, the puppy-training I did with my dog, and something that I think I remember Stephen Fry saying once - " too much is, by definition, too much!" As a teacher I really feel that effort should be rewarded but if I am too liberal in my use of praise the meaning will be lost from my words. However if I am too restricted with my praise will my students change their behaviours in order to elicit approval from me?

I'd be interested to know what anyone else thinks about this so here's the link to the full article.

Altman, I. (1975). The environment and social behavior (p. 46). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Buss, D. M. (1987). Selection, evocation, and manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1214.
Gewirtz, J. L., & Baer, D. M. (1958). Deprivation and satiation of social reinforcers as drive conditions. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 57(2), 165.
O'Connor, S. C., & Rosenblood, L. K. (1996). Affiliation motivation in everyday experience: A theoretical comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 513.
Turner, R. N., & Crisp, R. J. (2010). Essential social psychology. Sage Publications Limited.

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