Every day we feel like we are detached and emancipated from our environment - we feel as individuals. However, empirical research over the past few decades has made it increasingly clear how extensive the impact of our social environment is.
Let us look at evolution: The requirements of living together in ever larger groups accompanied the development of the human neocortex, the neural basis of autonomous thinking and acting. Socio-neurological examinations show that processes that aim to monitor the status of our group relationship are constantly running in our cerebrum. We are constantly neural-collectively networked.
We are group entities through and through - even the structure and functioning of our special central nervous system obviously offers evidence of this.
Shared experiences are reinforced - as a study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University, New Haven, reveals
An already completed research project examined interesting relationships in the same subject area. In two studies published a few weeks ago, the researchers - Erica J. Boothby, Margaret S. Clark, and John A. Bargh - found that sharing experiences with people with whom we do not communicate directly increases their own experience. In this way, both pleasant and unpleasant experiences are perceived more intensively without having to exchange ideas with others about the topic or event in question.
Concept of the research
In study 1, study participants tasted pleasant-tasting chocolate. They judged the chocolate in company to be more tasty and more flavorful than in situations where other people were present who did not try chocolate.
Although this finding was consistent with the researchers' hypothesis that shared experiences are reinforced compared to non-shared, this first study was not sufficient to assess the merits of the researcher's hypothesis. Shared experiences could be perceived as fundamentally more pleasant and not “strengthened” in the strict sense. Study 1 was apparently not meaningful enough to confirm the “reinforcement hypothesis”.
For this reason, the researchers developed a study 2. Participants tasted uncomfortably bitter chocolate. Result: They assessed the taste of the chocolate significantly more negatively when they consumed it with other people at the same time compared to situations in which another person was present but was busy with other things. This result actually supported the reinforcement hypothesis and contradicted the thesis that shared experiences are only perceived as more pleasant.
Greater acceptance and intensive mentalizing by sharing experiences
To put it in a nutshell: The study was concerned with the extent to which the experience of a stimulus is influenced by the fact that people only know that other people have the same experience at the same time, without exchanging information about their inner experience with them.
Although both studies were primarily aimed at determining the extent to which minimal social conditions can increase people's experience without direct communication between the persons concerned, two further aspects were examined in the context of the two studies:
1. Collection - There is a presumption among researchers that in their experience of stimuli, individuals feel more engrossed when they share these stimuli with others.
2. Mentalizing - Another assumption is that experience-sharing scenarios cause people to put themselves in the experience of other people present - mentalize - which increases the intensity of the shared experience.
The two studies confirmed these two assumptions.
Conclusion of the researchers:
People spend time together every day while not communicating directly with each other. In this way, our social life unfolds to a large extent in silence. Though still, people still share experiences. The resulting, animated "mental space" has a strange quality: good experiences tend to get better - bad experiences get worse.
The studies provide further evidence of how strongly individuals are exposed to social mechanisms. As seen, strong effects appear even when there are no direct communication processes. Kurt Lewin and Robert F. Bales tried to imagine such influences as a social field in which human consciousness processes, interactions and actions take place.
Individualistic explanatory approaches - such as those common in economics, for example - are increasingly proving to be unrealistic abstractions.
The study gives an idea of how strong our subjective imagination is: We continuously imagine what is going on in others and adjust our attitudes and our actions accordingly. - A gift that on the one hand helps us to orientate ourselves quickly in social situations and to react quickly. On the other hand, imagining the thoughts of our fellow human beings without reinsurance - for example through a conversation - poses a great danger. We can be wrong about our imaginations and ascribe completely inappropriate things to our fellow humans.
Fortunately, we are not dependent on this "subjectivism": If it matters, we can ask questions or look for other sources of information to check our imagination. We not only have the gift of imagination, but also the often uncomfortable gift of being realistic.
Admittedly, it is exhausting to check plausible spontaneous thoughts in order to possibly have to revise them. - It is always healthier for our psyche and our relationships in the medium term.
Source: Psychological Science 2014, Volume 25 (12) pp. 2209 - 2216