Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Behavioral Context Projection

Have you ever read or seen Jurassic Park?  Remember how they recreated the dinosaurs?  They found old dino DNA in amber and used it to clone them.  At first glance, it sounds feasible.

However the DNA was incomplete.  And you can't clone something without complete DNA.  So - and here is the interesting part - they grafted amphibian DNA into the missing areas.

Why am I talking about this?  Because people do the same thing emotionally.  It is called behavorial context projection.

Humans are very social.  We function in families, communities, organizations, enterprises, cities, and countries.  We need to understand people to operate smoothly with them.  And so a great deal of our prefrontal cortex is used to read the emotions, foci, and intentions of others.  Most of this comes through nonverbal cues: facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, hand gestures, etc.

Even small children do this.  If a baby is playing with some toys, and you put your hands over his, what is the first thing he does?  He looks up at your face.  Are you angry or annoyed?  Or do you want to play with him?  He is trying to read your mind, as we all do every second we are with people.  

Autistic individuals cannot process this data.  And though they may be very high-functioning in other areas, this inability is socially debilitating.

So it is critically important for us to gauge what is going on in others' minds.  We go to great lengths to do so.

But here is the rub:

Sometimes the cues we receive (or at least the ones we choose to pick up on, consciously or subconsciously) are incomplete.  They are like that incomplete dino DNA.  So what do we do?  We fill in the gaps, just like in Jurassic Park.

But what do we use to fill in the gaps?  We use the emotional context that we know of for that person.  So if the person is a close friend, we have a large context with which to fill in the gaps.  We know "how they are."  But what if he is only an acquaintance?  Or someone we just met?  Then we have little to no context for that person.  So what do we use?  That is the question!

We use our own behavorial context!  Because, of course, everyone is like us.  And if not, they should be.  Or so the Pygmalion reasoning goes.  In actuality, though, no one is really like us... especially those of a different temperatment, culture, background, etc, etc.

In other words, this is what happens: We pick up on some nonverbal cue in someone we don't know that well.  In attempting to analyze that cue, we (consciously or unconsciously) reason "well, this is what I would mean if i did that."

So what happens?  Well, you recall what happened to Jurassic Park.

This is why so often, first impressions of people are very different from what we think of them after getting to know them.  Or if a friend of ours meets another friend for the first time and asks, "what's wrong with him?" We respond, "oh, thats just his way."    

Have you ever noticed how pleasant people notice the positive in others?  And how negative people notice the negative?  Granted, part of that is what we choose to focus on.  But I believe a part is also behavioral projection.  We are filling in the gaps in others' cues with our own emotional context.

What does all this mean?  There is nothing we can do to stop others from projecting their emotional contexts on us.  But we can realize that we are projecting ours on them.

So if you find yourself often disliking new people... maybe you dislike yourself.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Pygmalion Project

A friend recommended a book to me: Please Understand Me 2.  It is all about personality types.  Throughout history, people have divided personalities into 4 main types.  More recently, those 4 types have been subdivided, each, with 4 of their own subtypes.

The book includes a test to determine which type you are.  You can take an online version of it here:

At the end, you will get a four letter type.  There is also a link to a description of your type, along with its common name.

I took it and found that I am a Rational.  More specifically, a Fieldmarshal.  Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?

At first, the book was pretty dry.  But then I got to the chapter on Rationals.  Wow, it really hits the nail on the head!  It says that Rationals are obsessed with efficiency and refuse to expend effort on something that does not have a correspondingly valuable result.  Check!  It goes on to say that Rationals can get absorbed in things and so often appear to be cold and uncaring toward others.  Double check!  Here are some more:

"Some Rationals are seen as using a vocabulary which their listeners find pretentious and pedantic."
"Because of their focus on long-range strategies, they may, at times, be unware of the feelings of others."

I love it!

You might enjoy taking the test and then reading your type description.  Let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ben Got Baptized!

Ben got baptized yesterday!

He is the first from the English Group here to be baptized!  Excellent work, Ben!  We are all very proud!

We got it all on video for his family!

India Festival

Thursday night was the start of the India Festival here in Buenos Aires.  The Indian Embassy is sponsoring it and it includes shopping, food, and films.  But Thursday was the opening night, so there was a performance followed by a cocktail party.  We have some connections, so we got invited. :)

The performance featured singers and dancers from India, including a group from Goa.  So there was Hindi music as well as music from Goa which has a lot of Portuguese influence.  Check it out:

The cocktail party was very nice too.  Many VIPs were there including the Indian Ambassador, the deputy mayor, and some models.  Also, a friend of a friend won a trip to India!