An ecological view of four social contests investigated with a Lewinian methodology




Mullett, Jennifer

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The purpose of this research was to explore four social contexts and determine the kinds of events that specify information for interactive possibilities. Subjects' descriptions of their own videotaped interaction were analyzed for two types of convergence: agreement on the selection of the most important events and similar interpretations of the functional meaning of these events. These were compared to descriptions from independent observers. Critics of a hypothetico-deductive paradigm, particularly in social psychology, claim that experimental controls have eliminated most of what is social in experiments concerned with social interaction. The methodological principles of Kurt Lewin (1943/51) are here suggested as a possible solution to the design problems of abstraction, categorization and interpretation, and form the basis of this research design. In addition, the concept of "affordance", coined by Gibson (1979) to refer to the complementarity of an animal and its environment is adopted in this dissertation. The dynamic relations referred to by the concept of affordance make it well-suited to describe the reciprocal relations in social interaction. Gibson's ecological view can be extended to the social environment and integrated with the sociogenetic theories of Mead (1934) and Vygotsky (1978). The main conceptual hypotheses are as follows: (1) In social interaction, behaviour, gestures and speech constitute events that specify perceptual information for interactive possibilities. The concept affordance encompasses the reciprocal relations as well as the functional meaning of these events. (2) Situations that appear to be different on the surface have dynamic structures that are invariant. These structures or events are perceived by interactants and used to coordinate their interaction. (3) Social relations have been internalized such that the above perceived events have a functional meaning and operate as "signs" of that meaning. Results indicated that there are main events in a social interaction which are more meaningful to interactants than others, and, that there is convergence, both on which events these are, and their general meaning. Also, independent observers shown two of the dyads, identified the same main events as important and described them in a similar way as the original interactants. The conceptual and practical implications of an ecological approach, a Lewinian methodology and the ability of subjects to consistently report on the function and meaning of their own behaviour are discussed.



Environmental psychology, Social sciences, Methodology