Symbolic Interactionism Theory

Symbolic Interactionism Theory
People will react to something according to the meaning that that thing has for them (the meaning being created through our interactions with society, culture, and other people). People define situations based on their own personal experiences and sense of self. Two people can be in the exact same situation and have different interpretations of what is going on.

Symbolic Interactionism helps us understand miscommunication.

Overarching theme for Symbolic Interactionism Theory
1. Meaning is a central element of human behavior.
People will react to something according to the meaning the thing has for them. We learn about meaning through interaction with others. As people come into contact with different experiences, they interpret what is being learned.

2. Because humans are active social beings who interact with others based on their meaning of a situation, they must have a sense of self.
A human infant is asocial. Once individuals develop a sense of self, this will provide motivations for future behavior.

3. The environment of an infant has symbols and values that were assigned at birth.
Individuals are influenced by society. People learn the rules and values of society through everyday interaction with that culture.

Terms and Concepts for Symbolic Interactionism Theory
Symbols, interaction, gestures, social norms, rituals, roles, salience, identity

Symbols
Their meaning is given to us by the ways we see others using them.

Interaction
A social behavior between two or more individuals during which some type of communication occurs that causes each person to react to the situation and subsequently modify their behavior.

Gestures
Non-verbal communication that represents something else

Social norms
Expectations about how to act in certain situations

Rituals
A collection of social norms within a family

Roles
A set of social norms for a specific situation

Salience
The amount of value or importance we place on our prescribed role in our lives.

We divide our time among each of our roles based on the amount of salience that role has in our lives. A person has multiple identities. Identities are ordered in a salience hierarchy, defined as the likelihood that an identity will be involved in a variety of situations. Salience helps us link commitment and role choice.

Identity
The roles that are most salient in our lives define our identity

3 Key Components of Communication
meaning
language
thought

Miscommunication in Families
Secrets
Family secrets push people away, creating distance and disintegrating relationships
Secrets promote superficiality and prevent healing
Secrets hurt more than the immediate people involved
Why are secrets detrimental?
Superficial communication
Creates distance
Will eventually blow up
Prevents Healing

Belief Systems
Enable people to create their reality through selective perception and organization of experience. Relating these patterns to self and relationships generates life meaning.
Evolve through a process of interactive feedback and are generated through mutual experience.
Is a major foundation of relationships.
Shared beliefs help create, define, and maintain relational systems.

What do clinicians need to be aware of when working with belief systems?
It is important for clinicians to be aware of the “loaded” software associated with people who have belief systems.

How is God used in Triangling?
God is used to diffuse tension or create unity. Seeing their relationship through divine perspective facilitates their stepping out of their emotionally reactive position to become more detached neutral observers of their system. Couples use the divine triangle to foster responsibility, maintain neutrality, and nurture relationships.

Give an example of an unhealthy triangle.
When you triangle with God to make a point rather than sharing your feelings and thoughts.

A wife is needing more attention from her husband. She decides to “triangle” God in and uses Him to prove a point: “Heavenly Father said that you are supposed to love me like Christ loves the Church! You should be planning a date night!

Give an example of a healthy triangle
A couple tries to decide how to use their tax return. After they have reviewed the costs and benefits of a particular purchase they decide to bring God in and pray for a confirmation.

“I have been missing you lately and I need some adult conversation. Would you block off some time to spend together Friday night?”

What must exist for the perpetuating of shared beliefs in religious marriages and to structure God-coupled triangles?
The blending of key words, symbols, histories, language, rituals, storytelling, and histories in defining God’s relationships with couples.
Language – the nature of questions asked and the solutions proposed for problems. How the couple describes and interprets the “hand of God” in the mundane and extraordinary events of life. Religious couples depict God as united with the marriage in a “divine triangle”—the marriage is belonging to God. Language ratifies the belief that God is a member of the marital system.
Rituals – ceremonies that are rich in symbolic meaning that communicate God’s interest and involvement in the marriage. Highly routine sequence of family life that reinforces rituals and support the belief system. Prayers invoke God’s guidance in their day and provide accountability and gratitude at its close.
Histories – Stories become metaphors of the God-couple relationships and become symbolic in providing an enduring, stable, and resistant to contradictory information.

How is the belief system and God-couple relationship sustained?
1. Personifies the Deity
2. Guides the marital relationship as it sets a pattern for marital behavior
3. Characterizes God’s interest and intimate involvement in the marriage

Triangulation
It is revealed through observing emotional process rather than content. Is an emotional process.

Triangles
The relational structure that results from humanity’s emotional reactivity in combination with the tendency to avoid conflict, even at the cost of failing to resolve problems.

Undifferentiation
The emotional reactivity (in response to anxiety) that drives the process.

Level of differentiation
Is determined by the degree to which persons can keep emotional and intellectual systems disentangled. The lower the level of differentiation in a couple, or the greater the entanglement of emotional and intellectual systems, the greater the propensity toward emotional reactivity and trangulation.

Differentiated
Members of three-person systems but not engaged in triangulation. They promote the couple relationship, not the triangle. Partners who are differentiated keep the “problem in the relationship from which it is attempting to escape,” and work for resolution there. This results in engaging in three simultaneous processes:
1. maintaining a relationships with each person in the triangle by having ongoing regard and empathy with profound respect for the marital boundary
2. achieving emotional neutrality
3. disentangling from the conflict and promoting couple responsibility for its resolution

Neutrality
Entails awareness of one’s own emotional reactivity and control of “automatic responses.”

Responsibility
Requires behavioral and verbal communication between partners that invites acceptance of each person’s responsibility for the problem and recognition that resolution to the problem needs to preserve the boundaries of the marriage rather than drawing in third parties. It models a problem-solving rather than problem-avoiding orientation to relationships, and it guards the couple’s boundaries.

Coalition Triangles
Both partners attempt to draw a third person into alliance against the other partner. Compromising the relationship in two ways:
1. they displace God from a neutral position
2. They avoid sharing responsibility and focus on blame
God-couple triangles is when each spouse competes intensely for the allegiance of God, but neither is assured that they have it. They are attempting to shift the balance of power and focus on blame, guilt, and sin rather than working on change and growth.
1. use the authority they are speaking for God.
2. Rely on distortions of the bible

Displacement Triangles
Couple conflict is diffused through displacement of anxiety onto a third person, who then becomes the focus of the couple’s negative energy.
God couple Displacement creates a pseudoharmony -focusing on religion and God kept them from dealing directly with each other.
They project responsibility for marital problems onto God
Couple is drawn together through their union against “religion”.

Substitutive Triangles
The relationship with a third person substitutes for and diverts from the original dyadic relationship. They rally in support of a common cause, sick or needy triangle person.
In God-couples substitutive triangles, manage anxiety by distancing from their marital partner and striving for surrogate intimacy with God. Triangulation exists when the relationship with God is anesthetic enabling endurance. Detriangulation exists when the relationship with God empowers the person to work patiently toward resolution of problems in the marriage.

How can therapists work with couples in martial therapy who have a God-couple relationship triangle?
Invite couples to describe their individual and shared interpretations of God’s relationship with their marital system. They can then assess the construction of this triangle with God.
Coalition – Point out “From your perspective, it sounds like God is entirely on your side. Do you think that God has more understanding and empathy for your wife’s position than you think?”
Displacement – “Are you really angry at God or angry at yourselves for your marital distress?
Substitutive – Encourage them to reconsider God’s goals for the marriage, and invite them to consider whether, in the process of building God’s Kingdom, God is willing for them to forfeit their marital satisfaction.

What are the historical Pragmatic Philosophers roots of Symbolic Interactionism
• viewed the world as something that was always changing
• argued that social structure is constantly changing and developing
• suggested that meaning comes not from objects themselves, but from our interactions with objects
• showed an ideological commitment to progress and to democratic values

Grounded Theory Methodology
Is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the construction of theory through the analysis of data. Grounded theory is a research methodology which operates almost in a reverse fashion from social science research in the positivist tradition.

George Mead’s thoughts on socialization
• Social psychologist at the University of Chicago. Following his death, students compiled his lecture notes and published the book Mind, Self and Society.
Mead was heavily influenced by the pragmatists and behaviorists
• Reality doesn’t exist “out there” it is actively created as we act in and toward the world.
• How we perceive our environment, will determine how we act on it
• People remember and base their knowledge of the world on what has proven useful to them

It takes interactions with others to fully develop a sense of self and that this involved two stages.
• Play stage (simplified childhood role taking)—imitating the role of someone they know
• Game stage (much more complex)—involves taking many roles at the same time

I and Me (George Mead)
Self is not a thing, but rather a process based on constant movement between the “I” and the “Me”.
I being your automatic reaction to things and Me being the part of yourself that understands society’s rules and how you should react in a situation.
1. “I” = the impulsive, spontaneous, unpredictable part of the self (the spontaneous self)—immediate reactions to situations. Acting without thinking/usually preceded by emotions
2. “Me” = the thinking part of self (the social self – generalized other)—learned roles determined by interactions with others. Actions preceded by thought. Based on our goals, competencies, expectations of others in the environment (combined expectations of others is referred to as the “generalized other”)

Critiques of Symbolic Interactionism Theory
1. Key concepts difficult to define and confusing and thus difficult to test with research.
2. Concepts and ideas have not been combined into one central theory.
3. Does not give enough attention to emotions or the unconscious.
4. Places to much emphasis on the ability of individuals to create their own realities. There is not enough attention on the fact that we live in a world that we do not create ourselves.
5. The role of power is neglected.
6. Lack of attention to the role of biology.
7. It has the capability to grow and change with the times. It has the capability to focus on family interactions and the roles that individuals play in those social acts.

Salience
We divide our time among each of our roles based on the amount of salience that role has in our lives. Salience is a specification of self, elaborated from the multifaceted view of self. Person have multiple identities. Identities are ordered a salience hierarchy, defined as the likelihood that an identity will be invoked in a variety of situations. Linking commitment and role choice. Measuring the importance of their identities.

Contributions of W. I. & D.S Thomas (1928)
Thomas the Train is a kids show, “if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
– Premise of “definition of the situation”
– Stresses the importance of perceptions
– According to the pragmatists
1. Reality doesn’t exist “out there” it is actively created as we act in and toward the world.
– How we perceive or define our situation influences how we act or react to it.
– wrote a book with Florian Znaniecki that was the first to state that the family has a role in the socialization process and that families construct their own realities.
– coined the phrase definition of situation, which means you cannot understand human behavior without also understanding the subjective perspectives of the people involved in the interaction.

Contributions of Charles Horton Cooley (1902,1909)
Cooley (2 O’s in a row which look like glasses) “looking-glass self”.
Horton Cooley developed the “The Looking Glass Self”. The assessment of how others evaluate us, and the gestures they use toward us help us make a self-evaluation.
1. Individuals think about how they appear to others.
2. Individuals make a judgment about what the other person thinks about them.
3. Individuals incorporate those ideas into their own concept of self.
– Refined James’ idea of the self and self coming out of interaction with others.
– Gestures give impressions of how we appear to others
– Assessment of how others are evaluating us.
– Self- evaluation – pride or mortification based on other’s perceived assessments.
Note: The notion that the self is capable of reflecting on its own behavior was incorporated in Mead’s Mind Self and Society

Contributions of Herbert Blumer
He “blumer” or stumbled onto the term “Symbolic Interactionism”
– The first person to use the term symbolic interactionism
– A symbol is anything capable of having multiple meanings
– Symbolic interaction notes the process of interpersonal interaction which requires the sharing of symbolic meaning.
– credited with developing the three primary premises of symbol interactionism

Contributions of Mead
His name starts with M-E, so he had the “Me” and “I” idea.
The notion that the self is capable of reflecting on its own behavior was incorporated in Mead’s Mind Self and Society
– Two basic concepts underlying SI: “self” and “mind”
– Self: the ability to step outside yourself and treat yourself as an object in the environment.
– Describe the self (personal traits)
– Act toward yourself
Mind: Reflective thinking, making indications to self
• Defining the situation
• Giving meaning to objects and people within the situation
• Assessing alternative courses of action
• Anticipating consequences alternatives

Symbols
Anything that can have multiple meanings
• Symbols of “discipline”?
• “Looking glass self” – 3 elements
• Definition of the situation – assessment of the situation
• Roles
• Expectations for behavior of persons in a position
• Behavior of people in statuses or positions

Gestures
Gestures give impressions of how we appear to others
– Assessment of how others are evaluating us.
– Self- evaluation – pride or mortification based on other’s perceived assessments.

Mind
Involves talking things over in one’s mind (thinking)
– Indications of self prior to action.
– Should I do this or should I do that?
– Kronks mission
The decision on how to act is based upon:
– The “definition of the situation”
– Alternative lines of possible action
– The probable consequences
– How do consequences fit into one’s system of values and goals

Role Conflict
Possessing multiple roles, each one having different expectations (causes role strain)

Role Strain
Difficult in enacting one’s role due to multiple demands and insufficient resources

Symbolic Interaction
How we perceive or define our situation influences how we act or react to it.
Everyone has their own interpretation of situations and events based upon their own personal socialization.

Definition of the situation
Stresses the importance of perceptions

Example: while her time with me was what she considered important I didn’t consider it on the same level that she did.

Basic principles (assumptions) of Symbolic Interaction
• Thoughts are shaped by social interaction (socialization) in which individuals learn meanings and symbols.
• Human act toward things based on the meanings the things have for them.
• Meaning arises out of social interaction between self and others.
• Meanings can be modified depending on an individual’s interpretation of the situation
• Patterns of action and interaction make up groups and societies.

Role taking
Putting oneself in the place of the other

Role making
• Defining and communicating one’s role to others
• Improvise, explore, and judge appropriate of others rather than upon a set of previously learned scripts, or set of expectations
• Spontaneity in social roles

Role clarity
involves how early and clearly one understands expectations associated with their role.

Role ambiguity
degree of confusion regarding role expectations

Role Strain
difficulty acting according to one’s “role” because of demands/insufficient resources

Role conflict
possessing multiple roles, each one having different expectations (causes role strain)

Role consensus/dissensus
agreement/disagreement on what constitutes appropriate behavior for a role

Reciprocal roles
the mutual, opposite but complementary give-and-take involved in a role

Self – role congruence/incongruence
degree to which a role is congruent (or not) with one’s identity.

Self fulfilling prophecy
• pressures to conform to the expectations of others
• Circular patterns exists: individual enacts behavior, others tend to expect individual to act that way, individual gives into pressures
• (example: child shoplifts, we label shoplifter – a deviant, not to be trusted, act toward child based on suspicion, child feels pressure to conform, sometimes unconsciously to these expectations)

Families: What are their private understandings
• Usually based on shared history, perspective and interpretation of events
– Intersubjective meanings – the meaning we give to everyday life come from the same frame of reference. (generate their own private understandings)
– Families explain things the same way
– Families don’t have to explain things to each other
– Family members create a “sense that they share a common view” this keeps them in relationships with one another.
• Working with families – do they have this sense of a shared experience, may express that something is missing, but can’t be put into words
– Implications for the intervention: Personal Reflections Program
– Remarriage issues: two families coming together with different intersubjective meanings to everyday life.
• Self as agent – too focused on the individual, ignoring social institutions
– Overestimates the power of individuals to create their own realities, ignoring the extent to which humans inhabit a world not of their own making
• Symbolic interactionism has neglected the emotional dimension of human conduct
– Discuss feelings in the general sense as part of the “definition of the situation” but they quit at that point. Failing to identify the type of feeling or the degree of the emotional experiences
• Question of cross culturally relevance
– Can general laws be generated if symbols have different meaning cross culturally?

3 primary premises of the symbolic interaction theory
1. Our actions are based on the meaning we give to situations, events, people, etc. An individual develops a self that has two parts. The “me” that consists of objective qualities and the “I” that is the subjective awareness of self. People will react to something according to the meaning that the thing has for them.
McDonalds represents to one person as a symbol of greasy, fattening food. To another it is a place of comfort, happiness, and a place to go to relax while children play.

2. The meanings arise from the interaction process. They arrant fixed but are negotiable and changeable. People must also “take the attitude of the other” to be able to anticipate what the other persons will do and decide how they should respond. Once individuals develop a sense of self, this provides motivation for future behavior.
Humans are reflexive – we reflect on what we’ve experienced and use this as a guide for future behavior.

3. The meanings we give to situations are the result of the interpretive procedures we use. People are able to interact effectively only if they can communicate using a common language (shared symbols). Individuals are influenced by society. People learn the rules and values of society through everyday interactions within their culture.

Critiques of symbolic interaction theory
Lacks basic set of assumptions, concepts, and organized guidelines like other theories.
Doesn’t give enough attention to either the importance of emotions or the role of the unconscious.
Has too much emphasis on people’s abilities to create their own realities and not enough attention to the fact that we live in a world we didn’t create ourselves.
The role of power is neglected.
Lack of attention to the role of biology.

Strengths of symbolic interaction theory
Provides a great framework for organizing or influencing research.
Has the capacity to grow and change with the times (applicable across time).
Focuses on family interactions and the roles that individuals play in those social acts.
Social interactionism reminds us that we are all social beings, playing role and learning from one another.

Which of the following statements was stated as a critique of Social Exchange theory:
A) It ignores altruistic behavior
B) Its terms are used to define one another (tautology)
C) Humans don’t always act rationally
D) All of the above
E) None of the above

How can we apply symbolic interaction theory?
We can view social interactions between individuals within relationships and families, and can provide meaning as to why individuals act and react the way they do in certain situations.

The historical foundation of symbolic Interactionism can be traced to William Issac Thomas, Charles Cooley, Herbert Blumer and George Mead. Choose one of them and provide their main contribution?
Thomas: Definition of the Situation
The definition of the situation is again how individual people interpret a situation, that people will define that situation differently. That reality depends on how each person defines that situation.

Cooley: developed the “The Looking Glass Self”. The assessment of how others evaluate us, and the gestures they use toward us help us make a self-evaluation.

Blumer: coined the term “Symbolic Interactionism”. A symbol is anything capable of having multiple meanings. A symbolic interaction notes the process of interpersonal interaction which requires the sharing of symbolic meaning.

Mead: was interested in how individuals construct meaningful behavior. Self is constant movement between I and me. “I” (the spontaneous self)—immediate reactions to situations. The Me is the thinking part of ourselves. That’s the part when you think about, “should I do this?” What would other people think?

There are three different trees for each of the different philosophies of science or paradigms of: positivism, interpretive, and critical or conflict. What does symbolic interaction theory stem from?
This is the quintessential theory for interpretive. It’s the “it depends’ theory. We react based on how we interpret things. It depends on how you see it, your culture, your background, what works for you.

False
A basic assumption/tenet of symbolic interaction is that we cannot assume to understand behavior simply by knowing or understanding the meaning that the action has for the person.

E) All of the above
According to Symbolic Interactionism Theory, the researcher or practitioner should:
A) Pay attention to how individuals interpret events
B) Consider how cultural meanings affects social behavior
C) Look for commonly shared signs and symbols
D) a and b
E) All of the above

B) game stage
The concept of socialization includes the process of learning the symbols, beliefs, and attitudes of our culture. According to Mead, when we become socialized to play our roles in society and we understand how our roles fit in with the roles of others, we are in the:

A) play stage
B) game stage

B) Does not propose how families can improve
Which of the following is NOT a critique Symbolic Interactionism Theory?

A) It’s not really a completely integrated theory
B) Does not propose how families can improve
C) It doesn’t focus enough on the hard facts that we live in a world that we do not create.
D) People find the concepts confusing
E) Doesn’t give enough attention to emotions

True
One of the critiques of Symbolic Interactionism Theory is that it lacks attention to the role of biology in human behavior

A) True
B) False