A social interaction is any situation in which two or more people are related, implicitly or explicitly. Interactions are the basis of all complex social systems, such as groups or societies, and therefore also form the basis of the study of social psychology.
Interest in social interaction in the field of psychology began in the mid-twentieth century, when phenomena such as altruism, aggression, helping or obedience behaviors began to be studied. Specialists realized that all of them could only be understood in the context of interactions and began to study their influence on individuals.
There are different theories of social interaction, and several authors have tried to understand how this phenomenon works and its influence on people. For example, for Vygotsky, it is a fundamental element in the psychological development of the individual, while for constructionist psychologists it is the basis of personality formation.
For this reason, we can study social interaction from various points of view. In this article, we will look at some of the most accepted theories about this phenomenon, as well as studying the different types of interactions that we can find.
Theory of social interaction
Since the beginning of the study of social interaction, several ideas and theories have emerged about this phenomenon and its importance in our lives. However, while there are many differences between all of them, there are some points on which most agree.
On the one hand, most theories of social interaction define this phenomenon as a voluntary and explicit exchange that takes place between two or more people. During the event, participants can use language to express views or convey messages, but they can also exchange in a purely non-verbal way.
In addition, social interaction can occur on several levels. The most basic would be one in which there is only one exchange between two people and, therefore, most authors consider this type of interaction the basis for understanding all social phenomena.
However, it is also possible to study interactions at higher levels, such as those that occur between groups and individuals, between different groups or even at the level of an entire society.
Not all researchers agree with this definition of social interaction. For some experts, this phenomenon can occur completely unconsciously and indirectly, as, according to them, people would communicate all the time, even when we don’t intend to.
Thus, according to the proponents of this theory, social interactions would occur in a multitude of different contexts, including those in which there is no explicit communication. For example, in public transport, all passengers in a car interact with each other, even if they don’t talk or look at each other.
On the other hand, some authors go a step further and claim that it is possible for intrapersonal social interactions to occur, in which only one individual would participate. This would occur between different parts of a person’s mind, as when emotions are communicated with reason.
If there is one point on which all branches of psychology agree, it is the importance of social interaction for our development and well-being. According to all research in this regard, communication with other people, being part of groups and exchanging opinions and data with other individuals is fundamental for human beings.
However, different authors have different theories about the true extent of the importance of social interaction. For example, for constructionists, our relationships with others are the most important factor in shaping our personality, our beliefs, or our way of acting.
Other currents, such as the humanist or the evolutionist, also recognize the importance of social interaction in our development, but give it less weight, considering that there are also innate factors that largely determine how we are.
Types of social interaction
It is possible to study social interactions from many different angles, so it is not easy to classify them uniformly. However, in this section we will look at one of the most accepted ways to categorize them.
– Intrapersonal relationships
We have already seen that some authors consider that an interaction can occur between different parts of a person’s mind. These can basically be of two types: directives and crusades.
In directive interactions, there is no conflict between the two parties who are communicating, so the person can act without this involving cognitive dissonance.
On the contrary, in cross interactions, the individual must choose which part he will pay more attention to, the most typical example of this being the conflict between reason and emotions.
– Person-to-person relationships
The first type of social interaction itself is the one that occurs when two individuals communicate and influence each other. As in the previous example, the nature of this type of relationship will depend on whether the objectives of the participants are aligned or if, on the contrary, there is a conflict between them.
– Person – group relations
The next level of social interaction has to do with the relationship between a person and a group. At this level, the important thing is to study which of the two entities most influences the other: if the group dominates the person, we will be in a relationship of conformity and if the opposite occurs in one of the leaders.
– Group – group relationships
The last level recognized by most authors is the interaction between groups. In this sense, the two possible scenarios are conflict and cooperation. In addition, within this level it would also be possible to study all the above items, thus being able to examine a group focused on each of its members or as a whole.
Examples of social interactions
– Intrapersonal interaction: a person who wants to lose weight wants to have ice cream, but rationally knows he shouldn’t.
– Person-to-person interaction: a couple is in conflict because one of them wants to move to a city on the coast, while the other prefers to live near the mountain.
– Person-group interaction: in a company, employees are unhappy with the management of their boss, because he is not able to listen to their suggestions and tends to impose his point of view in the face of any conflict.
– Group-group interaction: two nations go to war over a land conflict, wanting to occupy the same extension of territory by force.