Layers of Human Interaction

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—The basis for our behaviors

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Human interactions form the foundations of our social behavior and our social and cultural institutions. Understanding an architecture for human interactions can help us understand what we can change and what we cannot change and help us to better understand ourselves and others.

Objectives[edit | edit source]

The objectives of this course are to:

  • Better understand the foundations of human interactions,
  • Introduce an architecture for human interactions,
  • Clarify what human interactions you can change and what you cannot change,
  • Better know ourselves and others,
  • Improve our social interactions.

This course is part of the Emotional Competency curriculum. This material has been adapted from the page on An Architecture for Human Interaction, with permission of the author.

An Architecture for Human Interaction[edit | edit source]

An Architecture for Human Interaction

Many factors influence our behaviors. The model illustrated above organizes these factors into four distinct layers and considers the symmetrical nature of relationships that are currently influencing our behavior. We can easily change some of the factors that lead to our behavior and we can't change others. When analyzing your own behavior or that of others it is helpful to begin by determining which portions of this model are primarily responsible for the behavior.

Human Nature[edit | edit source]

The first layer, shown creating the foundation at the lowest level, recognizes that we are all human. Ducks quack, dogs bark, but humans speak, reason, are consciously aware of subjective experiences, are driven by our emotions, and share hundreds of universal characteristics regardless of our education, experience, social status, gender, race, ethnicity, or culture. As an example, sometimes humans are aggressive, sometimes humans are empathetic and altruistic. These intrinsic similarities are called human nature. Below this layer, and not shown, is human physiology, describing the physical and biological nature of our bodies.

Personality Traits[edit | edit source]

The second layer recognizes the intrinsic differences that make us each the unique person we are. These are our personality traits. These stable characteristics remain primarily constant throughout our adult life.

The five-factor model of personality identifies five factors and ten values characterizing personality types. These five factors and ten values (describing the extremes of each value) are as follows:

It can be helpful to determine your own personality traits, according to this model. Several measurement instruments are available that can help you gain insights into your personality type.

Learned Responses[edit | edit source]

The third layer addresses our responses that have been learned by conditioning. These are the habits, cultural differences, and even addictions we have learned throughout our lives. These learned responses are the results of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and other learned associations and they create (often implicit) long term memories that act as limbic attractors (described by Hebbian theory) to guide our (almost) automatic responses to many situations. These often drive our behaviors below our conscious level of awareness.

Cognition[edit | edit source]

Finally, we come to the top layer where our thoughts directly guide our choices. This cognition gives us the ability to choose our actions based on our beliefs, values, goals, motivation, and intent. Our agency is within this layer. Perhaps curiosity about layers above this one drive various spiritual pursuits.

Symmetry[edit | edit source]

At each of these layers, our behavior is also influenced by the nature of the relationships we are acting in. While relationships can have many characteristics, here they are organized horizontally according to their power structure, which refers to the symmetry of the relationship, demonstrated by the nature of reciprocity. Peers are equals. If behaviors throughout the relationship demonstrate you are an equal with the other person in the relationship, this is called a peer relationship, and the interactions are largely symmetrical. On the other hand, power is asymmetrical. If you feel you must defer or submit to the other person in the relationship this is called a power relationship, and the interactions are largely asymmetrical.  This dimension captures the idea “I am special” at one pole and the idea “We are all the same, we are all connected” at the other pole. This dimension is often so pervasive it becomes almost invisible.

Applying this Architecture[edit | edit source]

As you observe your own behavior, or especially the behavior of others, consider which of these four layers is most responsible for each action. That analysis can help you decide if this is behavior that can change or behavior that cannot change. We cannot change human nature, and we cannot change personalities. We cannot change reflexes. It requires a systematic program to extinguish habits and other responses learned from classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Therefore, only cognitive choices can be readily changed. Don't waste time trying to change what cannot be changed.

Quotations:[edit | edit source]

  • “Our confusion about who we are is certainly related to the fact that we consist of a large set of levels, and we use overlapping language to describe ourselves on all of those levels.” ~ Douglas R. Hofstadter.
  • “I am human, and nothing human is alien to me.” ~ Terence  

Recommended Reading[edit | edit source]

Students who are interested in learning more about layers of human interaction may wish to read these books:

References[edit | edit source]