You’ve probably heard it many times — our biology teacher in grade school was wrong to teach us we only have five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and scent. We have many more — though there’s disagreement how many exactly, the number is probably higher than 10 — from some which sit on firmer scientific ground, like the sense of balance or gravity in our inner ear, to some which are murkier and may fall into the myths and legends rubric, like your parents “feeling” when you’ve got yourself in trouble
How about emotions? Many researches have tried to answer this and everyone seems to be in agreement that one can’t enumerate all possible emotions as they’re virtually limitless, but could still distill what is believed to be the set of basic emotions leading to all of the others. However, even the number of basic emotions is disputed and ranges from as low as only 2 (pain and pleasure) to 11 or more (anger, aversion, courage, dejection, desire, despair, fear, hate, hope, love, sadness).
Being interested in human personality and what shapes it, I can’t stop but wonder if we’ve truly explored the effect of the emotions on what most people (including myself) call group identity — the main driver that seems to be shaping individual humans that belong to a given group to behave more alike, thus increasing the group coherence.
How is it possible that kids who don’t have a chance to attend the best schools or grow up in “not so nice” neighborhoods sometimes manage to “escape” from the grip of their environment and grow into adulthood to be regarded as well-mannered, successful, respected, etc? The opposite may happen as well — most parents would say it happens way too often — but the question of going from bad to good has a less obvious answer than what the common sense may suggest for the good to bad direction.
I find many people confusing the notion of peer pressure and peer group influence when it comes to the question what shapes their kids’ personality. They’re too quick to jump to the obvious conclusion: the kids go to school and this is where they socialize with their peers, so it is this interaction and pressure to conform to fashions and accepted trends among the peers in their school that ultimately has the biggest influence to them. The accepted wisdom, then, suggests the answer is simple, in their early school age years, the kids are shaped by their schoolmates!
It’s compelling to extend the same line of reasoning to the cases where the kids spend a lot of time doing activities outside school — like spending lots of time “on the street” with the neighbourhood kids, training for a certain sport for many hours each day, spending huge amount of time on Facebook and similar. To make the answer work for those case instead of referring to the school peers, we can just point at the peers in these other groups as the ones shaping the kids in question. If only this was so easy — good parenting would simply turn into a research to find the best school to send your kids to, or the best sports club to sign them into! While parents do this (including myself here too the answer is unfortunately not that simple.
Last night, I was watching a short clip made by the Department of Expansion about the Blind Children’s Center, a non-profit organization that is providing support to blind and partially sighted children in forms of early education, therapeutic services, etc.
The center provides and inclusive environment that consists of about 50% blind and 50% sighted children, providing unique opportunity for both kinds of children to socialize with the idea of blindness as something natural and acceptable. According to the people working at the center, this gives the blind kids an ability to attend traditional schools later in their lives and live successful lives without getting their disability limit their opportunities down to a handful of jobs which are traditionally available to blind people.
I have to admit that my knowledge of how the blind kids get education and are immersed into the daily live is very limited. As a student, while struggling to survive my freshman year financially I had an opportunity to lodge an inexpensive accommodation for one semester in the barracks of the School for visually impaired children – Dimitar Vlahov, Skopje, Macedonia.
What I remember from that period were the invisible walls that surrounded us, the sighted University students, from them, the blind kids struggling to get a chance for a normal live at a time and a country where people with disabilities already had very rough life. Granted, part of the reason for those walls was the school administration implementing separate entries into the barracks for us to enter without having to invade into the space for the blind kids, but I believe the blame was largely ours too, as we didn’t want to identify with those kids and felt only sorry for their condition — it took some “growing up” for me to be able to realize and admit this I guess.
In my earlier article I argued that by bestowing as much knowledge as possible on their kids, the parents can improve the odds for their kids making better choices in life and ultimately steer away from nihilistic behavior leading to problematic adult lives. This, of course, sounds neither prophetic nor would cause many to feel wizened by it — I can see many eyes rolling around thinking that I am just repeating common sense.
The reason why I think our children’s knowledge runs deeper than most of us assume is because we usually equate knowledge to the common subjects thought in schools like reading, math, etc. While those are important and many parents are already trying to help their kids acquire such skills before going to school, I don’t actually refer to them!
It’s been a while since I have written my last article so I thought I should secure my inner peace by making a public vow: No matter how busy life gets I shall not give up writing on this blog! There, I said it so I hope this will, if not motivate me, then keep gentle pressure on me not to drop the ball on writing, unlike some New Year’s resolutions from the past involving such mundane issues like diet, exercise and similar
While I was busy playing the game of “real” life, I still kept some of my interests, like reading, afloat. Being busy kept my mind active even when going to bed, so I had opportunity to think about few things that have bothered me and I want to write here about one in particular.
Very recently — just as I was conceiving the idea of this and the articles to follow — a friend of mine used the words “to encourage a different way of thinking” about my reaction with my two daughters when they got hurt in some way. This helped me frame the premise I want to elaborate on:
Could parents act in a way that opens the kids minds to alternative perspectives and encourages them to approach the problems in their lives in different ways from the “accepted” wisdom in their environment, e.g. their peer group?
Furthermore, could this, if applied consistently through the age the kids are growing up, have a lasting impact and allow the parents to grab few percent from the influence of the peer group in the tug of war for shaping their kids behavior?
Goal: bring the three organs together
I’m faced with a challenging task — how can I paint a complete, yet easy to understand, picture of the three systems involved in the human personality development working together to make YOU the persona you are — at the same time very different than ME in many aspects, but still similar enough in many others?!
It is challenging because my goal is to reach to the casual reader who have some understanding how evolution works and is curios enough to learn the brain’s role in our behavior. And I think I somewhat failed at this task in my previous articles explaining the Relationship, Social and Status organ! I’ve got some feedback from few people that would fit my target profile that following my line of thinking was challenging for them at times because it was too technical or hard to understand without previously having read books like The Nurture Assumption, How The Mind Works, etc.
While I still want to bring an engineering angle and discuss feedback loops and data storage, retrieval and matching processes, I decided to take a different approach in this article and tell a story instead of drawing diagrams and discussing how could certain traits like group identification or differentiation come about through evolution! Let me start by introducing you to my three key actors in the story — Maven, Connector and Salesman.
Couple years ago my older daughter (age 4 at the time) got a nice Winnie the Pooh toy as a birthday present. It is one of those educational toys where Pooh asks a question and you need to press some picture to give an answer. As a good citizen that follows rules, every time I played with my daughter using this toy, I would turn it on, listen to Pooh suggesting to choose a type of game, press a button of choice and play. It never occurred to me what would happen if I don’t choose a game type — until last night when I played with my baby daughter (16 months) and the same Winnie the Pooh toy. Actually, it was not me who did that, it was my baby daughter. It took a baby who doesn’t care about rules to curiously poke around the toy and discover you don’t have to choose a game type to start playing with the toy — and I’m pretty sure I would have still obligingly follow the instructions for as long as my daughters wanted me to play with them and that toy.
This little “toy incident” set me thinking and raised few interesting questions in my mind. Why are kids born extremely curious, but loose that curiosity as they grow older? Who influences them to become less curious? Was there any evolutionary benefit to adult humans to learn and (almost) blindly follow rules?
If you have ever watched a baby — especially between 12 months where they’re getting more mobile and until the age of 2 or 3 when they have amassed enough vocabulary to have meaningful conversations with their parents — you must have been amazed (or frightened ) at how many things they can stuff in their mouth, how many places they can poke their fingers in, how quickly they can turn the house up-side down, …
Goal: describe the Status organ
In this set I’d like to discuss the following question: “If the Social organ makes us more alike, how come we’re still so different?” After all, I personally suggested that even identical twins turn out to be very different people with distinct characteristics and desires — see the introduction about Laleh and Ladan in set 1.
When discussing the Social organ in set 3 I didn’t mention one intriguing side-effect to our behavior caused by the drive to conform to the groups norms and customs. That is the drive to be different from people belonging to other groups. Not only that, but to often feel certain level of repulse for the behavior of those people or even get downright competitive, or worse, aggressive towards them — with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics behind us one just has to think of the sport fans supporting different teams, though other examples are abundant around us, including religious, racial, gender and similar intolerance.
I mentioned that symbols play a powerful role in the group identification, but our own behavior is the ultimate signaling to the other members of our group that we belong to or identify with the same group. The side-effect of using the behavior as a signal for group identification is that for it to be successful as a group passport, it needs to be distinctive enough so that members of other groups don’t mistake it as a passport for another group. Therefore, the behavior between any two different groups — when exposed to each other through e.g. shared social interactions — enters some kind of arms race that ultimately leads to group differentiation, causing each group to adopt behavioral norms that are very different from the other group — even if the groups are artificially created using a superficial criteria like choosing different names as in the famous Robbers Cave Experiment.