Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pondering the Value of Generalizing About Human Psychology

I find it very enlightening when people share very strong general opinions about the qualities of other people. Comments like "Oh, people will always try to stab you in the back." Or "Love is what motivates everyone."
These general opinions of others always seem to tell me more about the speaker's own identity than anything else.

Pathfinder, from a comment on yesterday's post.
I'm not really sure what Pathfinder was referring to specifically in his comment ... whether it was the general tone of the post, some specific statement I made, or something from one of the other comments. He's a smart and thoughtful guy, so I'm looking forward to learning more about what he was responding to. In any case, it brings up an interesting question that started off as a reply in the comment section but grew beyond the scope of the comment, so I'm posting it here.

I agree that attributing any extreme quality to all people is likely wrong-headed. I think that people share the same palette of human potential, but in widely different proportions. I also agree that when we make statements such as the examples in his comment, they can reflect projections of our own state of mind more than what's really going on in the hearts and minds of others. Nevertheless, such points of view can also spring from generalizing our life experience, which is one of the foundations of human intelligence (as Pathfinder wrote about in his post yesterday about pattern recognition.)

Unless one is willing write off practically all psychological theories, it's likely that one would have to agree that there are at least some psychological processes that are shared by most humans. Since the human mind springs from our shared biology, I think that makes sense. As far as I know, most if not all psychological models of identity agree that one's sense of self is impacted by the environment, especially human interaction. Although this is most profound in early developmental stages it also applies throughout one's life (with the possible exceptions of the Dalai Lama.)

I do not believe that everyone reacts in the same way to specific environmental factors. Some people break down and cry at even the hint of a criticism. Others barely notice or respond with renewed self-confidence. There is great variance related to the level and frequency it takes for any environmental stimulus to cause a modification in one's self-image, or to bring to the surface subconsciously held beliefs about oneself that had been repressed.

That said, my purpose in writing on this topic was not to articulate a universally valid theory of identity, but to share some of what I've pondered in response to my own experience in the ebb and flow of social networking. I also hope that it will remind people to be conscious of their own use of social networking and how their actions may impact others.


Anonymous said...

That comment of mine was simply what popped into my mind after reading your very thoughtful post on identity formation. You prompted me to think about all the different facets of identity and the techniques I personally use to learn more about what people are really like. So I figured I'd share one of my observational findings. :)

Botgirl Questi said...

Ha. I try to make a habit of checking in on my pattern recognition, so I'm glad I asked!