May 10th, 2008
|12:02 pm - Exploring Deep Seated Reactions|
From this and many similar studies, it's become increasingly clear over the last decade that most decision-making happens at an unconscious or pre-conscious level, where various "subroutines" within our minds make many decisions and then our conscious mind attempts to explain &/or justify this decision as the one that was sensible or right.
In any case, two nights ago, teaotter and I were talking about some of the automatic assumptions or subroutines we each have for various sorts of decisions. We worked out two – dealing with unfamiliar situations that are not obviously dangerous or threatening, and dealing with conflict.
While specific circumstances can, of course, over-ride these impulses, in the absence of anything that obviously demands a different response, we each have responses that are quite standard and predictable (as does almost everyone else). When Becca is faced with an unfamiliar situation, she typically observes it and waits for further information as to whether it's useful, problematic, dangerous, or whatever. I'm not at all like that. In the absence of any obvious threats, I'm a strong neophile and fairly trusting (of both the intentions of others and in my own luck). Therefore, I pretty much always investigate or otherwise move towards the situation to see what advantage or enjoyment can be gained from the new situation. For both of us, this strategy applies to everything from meeting new people to investigating some object we find lying on the side of the road, and is remarkably consistent.
Our reactions for dealing with (typically non-violent) conflict (real violence of any sort is something we both have very little experience with) are even more standardized and apply to everything from arguments with loved ones, to minor incidents with strangers in public, to on-line arguments. Becca's first response is non-violent aggression: which ranges from attempting to be firm to yelling. If that fails, Becca attempts to leave the situation as rapidly and completely as possible. Once again, my own reactions are exceptionally different. My first reaction is to submit, meaning that I apologize, defer, or otherwise attempt to defuse the situation. Becca likened this to the way a non-dominant cat will submit by rolling over on its back, but keeping its back feet ready to claw, which is pretty much what I do. If submitting or deferring doesn't work, then I attack, first to try to get the other person to apologize, relent, or back off, and if that fails, I continue to attack in the hope of driving the other person away so I don't have to deal with them.
In practice, this means that Becca goes from being stern and forceful, to yelling, to leaving, while I apologize and use non-confrontational and submissive body language, and if that doesn't work, I start with stern and forceful and move to yelling with great speed.
On a related note, I'm reminded of a time 6 or 7 years ago, when Becca, I, and our close friend Daire were at a nearby mall seeing a late evening movie. We left the mall by the back entrance, going out through a double set of doors, with a small antechamber in-between. The first set of doors going out were locked except for one door out of four. So, when we got in the antechamber, Daire wondered out loud if the outer doors were locked and if the inner door might not be able to be opened from the outside (thus trapping us). In an instant, we all reacted before the door behind us closed. Without thinking, I moved forward to try to see if the door from the antechamber to the parking lot was actually open, Daire held the door behind us open, and Becca moved to see if the phone located in the antechamber actually worked. None of us thought about or discussed these reactions, we just acted, and it very much showed up our own habits of thought and action (in general, when something new presents itself to Daire, he retreats and observes it and is naturally far more wary and less trusting than I or even Becca is.
In any case, while I have little interest in changing my responses, I find it exceptionally useful to know what they are.
Current Mood: contemplative
I have a deep-seated wariness. My little brother once thought it would be fun to jump out and surprise me when I came out of a movie theater bathroom. He did. I blacked his eye, although fortunately I recognized who he was in time to restrain the force I used...
I love new things and new situations, although sometimes I feel a level of apprehension about threats it feels like it could almost kill me. My basic subroutine is probably something like, "Stay alive, hang on to what you have, keep your eyes open and trust your whiskers." I am by nature territorial, and also very aware of other people's territory.
awesome post. i've been thinking about conflict resolution a lot lately.
lately, i have been wanting not to be walked all over.
my responses to conflict are either to run or to try and diffuse it at any cost.
So, did the outer doors open? :}
Yep, I had that door open before the one behind me closed, which only served to reinforce the idea that my particular response is a highly adaptive one :)
I am neophobic. In new places, I won't leave my companion's side if given a choice, for fear I will get lost and not be able to find my way back. In new situations that are structured, I am not comfortable until I learn the social rules and time constraints of the situation. I will not eat food of unknown provenance until I read the ingredients label or otherwise verify that there are no pistachios or cashews in it. (I am allergic to cashews and pistachios, so my neophobia is adaptive there.)
Luckily, I am also extremely friendly and gregarious. I can (and have been!) plunked down by myself in a group of strangers, struck up conversations, and been perfectly fine. I actually do better in unstructured situations than structured ones, since I do not fear punishment for violating a rule. Until last year, I have seldom had the opportunity to experience this, since I spent all my time at school (as a child) or work (as an adult), at home, or at religious activities, which are even more rigidly structured than school or work.
I'm still getting used to the idea that not everything has to happen at a certain time or that every group does not have to have a leader or a hierarchy.
I have a weird combination of neophilic and neophobic traits. It comes out on the neophile side, but with serious quirks. I mentioned in a recent entry that people tend to either think I am laid-back, or high-strung, depending on whether they encounter me in a situation I've planned for or not. But I can plan for multiple possibilities in a situation, and oddly, I'm fine as long as I know what they are (including the chance of catastrophic failure. An unknown possibility of negative consequences is always more frightening to me than a known possibility of serious negative consequences.)