Social Skills – Social Perception – Network Effects

Friday, August 22nd, 2008 at 9:22 pm.
by pre.

Imagine for a moment that you’re standing talking to a friend, with your back to the door. The door opens and you see your friend look up at the door and her expression changes. As you see the smile on her face you know instantly that whoever has just walked in behind you is friend, not foe. You know more than this really, the complex set of signals your friend is giving both to you and to the new arrival behind you reflect both your friend’s relationship with the person in the doorway and your relationship with each of those people. If you know the person to your rear well, you can quite probably guess who they are just from your friend’s reaction, before she says a word.

This is the network effect in social perception. Reading someone reading someone, reading the second (even third, forth etc.) order signals reflected from one person in your community to another. Your subconscious is processing these kinds of signals and influencing your mood all the time, at least all the time you’re not alone.

Last week we mentioned that hens can establish a “pecking order” without each having to interact with every other member of the brood. The network effects of social perception play a great part in how this is achieved. Charlie the Chicken can tell by watching Carl the chicken when he’s around Conan the chicken that Carl thinks Conan is higher in the chain, thus Charlie only has to beat Conan (or lose to Carl) in order to know the positions of all three. Charlie doesn’t have to actually see a fight between Conan and Carl to know it’s happened, to read the result from their behaviour towards each other.

The network effects of social perception play an even more complicated role in human hierarchy than they do in chicken consecution. Chickens just need to establish their linear pecking-order while you have to establish your position in a multi-dimensional array of differing orthogonal social scales. So you do this all the time, processing people’s opinions of each other, collating them, taking them into account.

When people talk about the ‘vibe’ at a gathering, a party perhaps, a conference or a meeting, they’re mostly talking about these network effects. About how the mood of each person spreads to those they interact with, how their impression of the mood of the people around them spreads similarly. This constant exchange of information, of mood and impression, is mostly subconscious, so people can perhaps be forgiven for thinking the feelings it pushes up into their consciousness are “vibrations in the astral plane” (which is what ‘vibe’ means), but of course there is no astral plane to vibrate. There’s just people, interacting.

Similarly, these network effects lead to what some call the “contact high“. If everyone around you is happy and friendly towards each other you will in turn subconsciously trust their judgement and assume everything is happy and friendly. Incidentally, you will also be entirely right, they ARE all friendly and happy — even if it’s just because they’re reading the same thing from everyone else.

Your Aim

Which brings us nicely to the usefulness of our social perception of network effects. Clearly it’s useful to pay attention to these things, and thus to learn to perform them better. But it’s also useful to know where this information comes from. If you understand it’s a reflection of the opinion of the people around you then you will treat it with a more appropriate level of scepticism and distrust than if you think it’s information coming direct from the Elder Gods in the Astral Plane. You may even see ways to subtlety influence key people and have the effects of that influence cascade around the network, multiplying as they go. We’ll expand on that in our second lap around the spiral.

In the mean time, as you listen to the “Social Perception” track, try to concentrate on occasions when you noticed the network effect taking place. Likely when you were talking to someone about a third party, either present or not. Try to recall how that person’s body-language was effected by their opinions of that third person. Try to guess the opinions based on those tells.

Guided Meditation File 7 – Social Skills – Social Perception
Backing Music “After All” By Blu
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