The subject of social interaction is of enormous importance. It must be borne in mind that human beings are always gregarious, that is, they cohabit in communities. Therefore, they are living beings that are in constant social exchange .

This aspect has become in great demand in the fields of study of psychology. How human beings interact depends on a host of factors. Equally, the type of interaction determines other things. In other words, this type of interaction has both sides of a coin: it is both cause and consequence.

Towards a conceptualization 

” Social interaction ” is a topic of utmost importance for the human sciences.

The understanding of this grammatical articulation goes through defining the notion of “interaction”. This term comes from the computer field .

It happens that when you begin to develop the graphical user interface, which allows you to enter data and obtain responses on a personal computer (PC).

Under this premise, the interaction involves a round-trip process, the so-called “ feedback ” between two systems: the user, on the one hand, and the computer, on the other.

In this sense, the word leads to the idea of a mutual and reciprocal action between two or more agents or people .

For example, J. Maisonneuve indicates that ” interaction takes place when a unit of action produced by a subject A acts as a stimulus for a unit of response in another subject, B, and vice versa . ” That is, B’s reaction in turn becomes an incitement for A. 

Interacting also implies influencing

The “interaction” includes the idea of “influence “; but, the term is significantly determined by reciprocity, a return behavior, which is what gives it the “ inter-active ” character. [See: Maisonneuve, J. (1968), La dynamique des groupes , Paris: PUF, p. 51.]

Perceiving a person does not imply an act of “interaction”, but it is essential that there be some type of exchange that implies some modification of the actors.

Human interaction understood as a space-time process involves influence of a social nature. The “social interaction”, although it is redundant, is the bond that manifests itself between individuals, essential for the group existence and of the same society .

Precisely, this kind of action-reaction does not end in an equivalent and symmetrical response , but enters a loop (interactive feedback) that intensifies human interrelations.

Opinions on it in psychological and sociological fields

Maisonneuve affirmed, in 1973, that “ the field of psychosociology itself seems essentially that of“ interaction ”[Maisonneuve, J. (1974, trans. Cast.), Introduction to psychosociology , Madrid: Morata, p. 12).

Later, Gergen, in 1981, indicated that “social psychology is a discipline in which human interactions and their psychological foundations are studied in a systematic way” [Gergen, KJ (1986, Second Edition), Social Psychology , New York: Springer-Verlag , p.5].

The interest of Social Psychology is more conflictive than that pointed out by these two concepts. The object of study of this discipline seems to be that of social interaction without more; however, the term “social” seems to be the point at which there is no consensus.

The “social” is commonly referred to the analysis of the variables that determine the relationships of a person -or a group of them- and an object . The “social” is a dimension of the stimuli classified as “social” and non-social. And the “social” is also understood as a trait of people who are socially different in their forms of response and behavior.

To these notions S. Moscovici adds a third dimension: Social Psychology would be focused on the construction and functioning of the social relationship and its primary role not only in individual psychic functioning but as a factor of inflection of social affairs.

The social dimension: the key to understanding many things

The important thing then is to highlight the social dimension in all human encounters (including the most intimate one), since any interhuman relationship involves socially situated and differentiated “interactors”.

More specifically, all social interaction involves a social context that determines a way of acting and a series of codes , norms and manners that in turn allow communication and its regulation [See: Petit, Cristina. Coord. (2004), Introduction to Social Psychology for tourism studies , Buenos Aires: Editorial Brujas, pp.15-16].

The influence of context on social interaction is not a simple intervention, but rather a dialectical link. Human interaction is the area in which social relations take place each time and are permeated and altered by the context, constituting new social ties.

So much so, that many studies in this regard focus on understanding the context. In other words, there is a “deterministic” notion of social interaction. What does this mean? Well, it is considered that said interaction is a consequence of the environment where people develop.

  1. Mauss has justly said that social groups are constituted by a diversity of particular consciences that act and react on one another. It is through the study of these “interactions” that societies are known [See: Gane M. (1988) , On Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method , London: Routledge, p. 63]. Herein lies the complexity of the “social” component.

Dimensions of social interaction

“Social Interaction” is – as has been seen – a broader concept than is regularly believed . It is a total social construct. M. Mauss assured that it is a phenomenon in which the entire society and its institutions are involved and in which various dimensions interact, both psychological and sociocultural.

The “Social Interaction” is a conscious relational process between individuals, an exchange, which generates some kind of orientation or affectation of their behaviors. Between people a certain relationship is generated. This process of interaction between the members of a specific group produces a network of relations that produce sociocultural organization.

Understood as an integral phenomenon , social interaction includes the entire society and its institutions, where the psychological, social, communicational, cultural, ethical , legal dimension intervenes .

Social interaction is not only then a process of interpersonal communication , but it is also a construct framed in a temporary space of a cultural nature. That is, variables that often go unnoticed influence:

  • A temporal factor: each era has specific canons of behavior. Social interaction in the Middle Ages is not the same as during the 20th century. 
  • A spatial factor: territories influence. It is not the same to interact in coastal areas than in high mountain ranges. Nor is it the same interaction between inhabitants of a desert, which occurs in people who live in polar climates.
  • A cultural factor: culture has a significant influence. If you travel to a Muslim country, it happens that you cannot freely interact with females. On the other hand, social relations with women in the West are more fluid.
  • A subjective factor : there are people who are more given to interact. An outgoing personality is best handled in this area. Likewise, the state of mind is decisive. A person with depression does not usually want to share with more people, but tends to isolate himself.

As you can see, what is interactive is a balance between external situations and the particularities of individuals . Therefore, it is a subject that is studied in a broad way: verifying the sum of its edges and factors.

Other considerations about this topic

It is undeniable that the interactive is permeated by codes and social rituals. It is worth emphasizing that human relationships are embedded in an “institution (understood, in a system), which implies communication schemes, behaviors, values and purposes.

Social relations are driven by this series of crucial factors.

The social interaction and individual personality are modified by the size of the group or the distance between its members.

Furthermore, between subjects and society this phenomenon is of an interactionist nature, which leads to mutual determination .

Social structures are born from the interaction between individuals ; however, once created, they transcend themselves and can eventually exert a coercive influence on these new structures.

Components of Social Interaction

In order to study the broad network of relationships that take place in society, the sociologist Joseph H. Fichter Sociology (1974), Barcelona: Editorial Herder, pp. 221-234] highlighted that individuals and human groups are linked in the following way:

    • Interaction by reason of status : it is the link that arises from the position of a person within a social group. Individuals occupy a relative place within their social groups and in society in general.

Status keeps its meaning insofar as it can refer to other statuses , with which it is linked by subordination, equality or superiority. That is, people maintain a relationship from their position as son, grandson, client, student, partner, partner, etc.

Furthermore, the idea of ​​status concerns the relationship between groups , classes, associations, categories, among other groupings.

    • Status can be assigned or acquired: in the case of the former, the subject does not choose it (family, sex, race, age, etc.); in the case of the second, the individual obtains the status thanks to effort and ability, but may also lose the status achieved, in which case they will pass to another social status.

Status is accompanied by rights and implies the attitude that you might expect from the social environment regarding your position. Social mobility allows an individual to move from one status to another.

    • The interaction by reason of the role : it is the bilateral functional interaction given between individuals who perform their social roles simultaneously and in a sense of complementarity.

The roles, such as friend-friend, customer-seller, employee-boss, mother-daughter , etc., are opposed and interact.

The role of a person is the sum of the attitudes (and behavior) expected of him based on the status he occupies. The role carries a series of commitments demanded by the groups to which it belongs.

In this sense, an individual can exercise as many roles as their fields of action require it. For example, the role that a profession implies, being a member of a sports association and a parent.

    • Interaction as a function of the process : mediation by virtue of the process constitutes a different level of abstraction from the relationship by reason of status or social role.

The social process overcomes the interaction between two statuses or roles . Two individuals who cooperate or fight each other carry out a social process that is more than their role relationship.

More specifically, process trumps role ; the competition or obstruction process goes beyond, for example, the role of the business agent, who engages in it.

    • The process as a concept should be understood here as the achievement of a repeated series of operations that, in sociological practice, do not generate a product as if it would in mechanics (in the field of Physics).

In sociology the essential social processes are cooperation, accommodation, assimilation, conflict, obstruction and competition.

Again we see that social interaction is often conditioned. What is peculiar is that it generates structures that subsequently condition it. That is why it is said to be a social construct. Continuous interaction depends on the creation of constant references , only in this way is the social fabric that gives rise to exchange between individuals created.

Towards a typology of interactions by virtue of social processes

There are a number of consistent forms of behavior in the various probable types of human association.

This is how the interactions between employer and employee, mother and child, for example, can be conjunctive or disjunctive . Social reality describes harmonious or antagonistic relationships.

That is, the social process cannot be analyzed as a rigid situation that one individual holds with respect to another, nor as the behavior patterns that make up the role, but rather as the ways in which these roles and individuals function mutually.

We have already said before that the most important social processes are cooperation, accommodation, assimilation, conflict, obstruction and competition . These behavioral manifestations are normalized interactions in every society, although they vary in intensity in each one.

We speak then of functional processes of interaction of one group with another and of one subject with another that can be seen in any type of group in which they are related. It is clear that the social processes enunciated here are essential for the conservation of society, insofar as they exist in a regularized and accepted way.

Universal basic social interactions or social processes, as has been said, do not have the same intensity in all societies. It is observed, for example, that among Americans competition is of the utmost importance , while in other non-Western peoples it is not so relevant.

Classification of social processes

Social processes can be classified into two broad opposing categories: conjunctive and disjunctive processes . Each of these categories has its peculiarities. In this regard, we indicate information for our readers:

●The conjunctive processes:

With this name the norms of the relationships are known by which the subjects coincide and unite. Although it varies between individuals and groups, these processes are the expression of the social values of justice and love (altruism, for example), so these relationships are considered positive.

There are three conjunctive processes: cooperation, accommodation and assimilation. 

  1. The cooperation:

It is a type of social process in which two or more subjects or groups work together to achieve a common goal.

In this sense, cooperation is decisive for the conservation and existence of groups and societies.

Although it implies reciprocal action , in practice the effort of each of its participants is not equal.

The substance of this type of social interaction is the process that involves a common effort, more or less at the same time, in order to achieve a goal.

The factors that generate the cooperation process are varied . A first factor may be the simple interest in personal gain; a second factor could be loyalty to groups and their ideals; a third factor is the fear of aggression by another group; and a fourth factor the essential need for mutual dependence.

Of course, these factors vary throughout the cooperation process at various levels. The cooperation is social solidarity implementation.

  1. The accommodation:

This name is given to the social process described as accommodative adaptation , to a minimum degree, which allows individuals to follow their activities, even if they do not fully share the group’s goals.

This type of social relationship facilitates that, in complex societies, individuals cooperate in one group and settle into another .

Accommodation is a type of social process in which two or more people or groups work together in order to stop, reduce or eliminate conflicts .

Accommodation is, in this sense, the process that occurs after overcoming a conflict ; subjects understand the need to adapt to each other.

The basic degree of accommodation is tolerance . The second level is the compromise, which consists of the concession that each of the parties makes to the other.

Accommodation is typical in arbitration and conciliation processes between parties. It is even given by force, in the event of a war conflict, where the winner and the loser agree to a new order or the return to the previous one. Furthermore, accommodation occurs through law enforcement and as a result of threats.

  • The asimilation:

It is a social process by which two or more individuals or groups admit and exercise the behavior models of the other party .

The important thing here is the process, although the level of assimilation is still indicative of their sociocultural integration .

It could be thought that only one of the parties accepts and assimilates the models of the other; but, the concept also implies some degree of mutual assimilation, only that the dominant party manages to transmit its models with greater force.

Unlike socialization, which is a process of learning the essential cultural behavior patterns to function as an element of society, assimilation is a limited process .

It must be taken into account that this assimilation is typical of populations made up of various ethnic groups , in which different cultural characteristics from other regions of the world are brought together.

Assimilation implies confrontation and synthesis . Members of different cultural regions adapt, adjust, and eventually assimilate traits that were alien to them. Such is the case of the so-called Moors and Spaniards, whose amalgam can be seen in the south of Spain.

The sociocultural use of what is different necessarily goes through many factors.

We are facing a process that usually occurs slowly in places where there are patches of class, caste, rejection or inability to share what is considered culturally valuable .

The language, religion, education, wealth , etc., and its dimensions and manifestations variables are sometimes obstacles to flow the process of assimilation.

With this we have done a review of the conjunctive processes. We insist that they are the most positive: they cause cohesion and stimulate the continuity of social relationships . In addition, they are the most beneficial for a community.

● Disjunctive processes

They are the processes that distance individuals , making them less supportive. Consequently, these processes always manifest the social anti-values of injustice and hatred.

They are considered negative to the extent that they represent injustice and hostility inherent to individuals. Furthermore, they often tend to separate society. However, these are fairly common forms of socialization.

Three negative or dissociative disjunctive processes have been distinguished. We indicate them below:

  1. The conflict.
  2. The obstruction.
  3. The competition.

This triad describes the behaviors of individuals who strive to try to hinder and prevent others from achieving a desirable goal. Interactions are marked by struggle.

We insist that these three forms of negative interaction are common. Even more so in very competitive societies. Religion and certain forms of philosophy have proposed to eliminate these interaction schemes, but it has not been possible. In given, we describe them for our readers:

  • The conflict :

This is the name given to the interaction by which two or more individuals intend to discard each other , through the annihilation or reduction of the other’s performance.

The typical manifestation of this type of interaction is war , in which large contingents of soldiers engage in armed combat in order to annihilate each other.

An important fact is that the armed conflict does not aim at annihilation for the sake of annihilation itself, there is always an interest that goes beyond that.

The conflict, as Sociology understands it, is not one-sided as stated. It is a social process and as such a reciprocal human relationship. There are two interacting parts. They are two parts that antagonize, although one of them has started the tirade.

Conflicts are preceded by a series of behaviors and reactions of disagreement . Its origin comes from competition, opposition and rejection and, unless there is a destruction of the parties involved, it is followed by a process of accommodation.

The Greco-Roman wrestling, for example, is a conflict because it is about reducing the adversary and hitting more with keys and positions of domination.

However, it also has the other aspect of sports competition , in which the wrestlers compete for the prestige in their discipline and the respective medal.

In our societies, there are often organized conflicts. We have already mentioned the case of sports competitions. These conflicts demonstrate the human need for catharsis .

  • The obstruction:

Here we have a social process in which each of the opposing individuals or groups tries to prevent another from achieving an objective , whether the person wishes to obtain it or not.

It can be seen as a subtle and even courteous form of conflict , since it involves rivalry, but without attacking directly and in front of the subject. The affected individual is not always on an equal footing.

Obstruction can occur in combination with and within the cooperative process .

Among the most seen examples are mentioned: in parliaments it is common for there to be forms of cooperation for the public good and, at the same time, obstruction.

We note another case in companies, since in these areas there may be obstruction processes on the part of certain employees to prevent others from ascending to the same position.

How is the obstruction made or manifested? To be honest, the tactics are diverse : promoting defamations, obstructing the proposals of individuals, running rumor campaigns , etc. The obstructing agents usually resort to negative stereotypes of a person or social category.

Oddly enough, obstruction is of no relevance to Sociology if it is confined to just two actors. For this discipline, only obstructive processes that cover a broad organization among sectors of the population are of importance.

As an example of the aforementioned, we have the conflicts between religious and racial groups. Furthermore, it also happens that obstruction as a permanent process has been misnamed ” class struggle .”

The so-called majorities obstruct the minorities of a society, but neither do they aspire to achieve the objective they block. In reality, everything happens by mere rivalry or to maintain a status.

  • The competition:

We have here another social process in which two or more subjects make an effort to achieve the same goal . As has been seen, in conflict and opposition processes, the opposing party is especially important.

Instead, it happens that when two individuals compete, their attention is focused on the goal they want to achieve and only secondarily on the other. All individuals and groups compete for an item (recognition, a position, a sale, etc.) and the competition is even more pronounced if the item is scarce or of high value.

The competition takes place in peace and is subject to a series of more formal rules than the other disjunctive processes. The rules with which it is played are conscious and implicit, without cheating and with high stakes.

From the social point of view, it happens that competition is considered a beneficial process , although it could undermine the lives of the weakest agents. The case, for example, of a small businessman whose effort to stay in the market is useless in the face of competition from a large company in the same field.

It is important to point out that, in today’s Western societies, such as the United States, the extent and level of competition is enormous due to the dynamism of their social structures, in which there are numerous opportunities in all areas.

To this is added the recognition of talent and work. It must be borne in mind that capitalist systems take competition out of the political and military sphere, transferring it to the productive and economic . That is a feature of many of today’s societies, especially those of the first world.

The societies thus described can come to value the competition process as much as the cooperation process . In general, individuals compete in Western societies based on instances that involve judgments of social status.

These three processes are what show social rivalry. Keep in mind that not all societies are harmonious . Intrinsically, every group has a degree of conflict. The management of these conflicts is what often gives a social group a look.

For example, there are societies where disputes are resolved by force . This is the case of many peoples accustomed to authoritarian rule. Likewise, there are other communities that prefer dialogue over violence .

A good example of the above is found in ancient Greece . The Athenians were a society with a very different type of interaction from that of the Spartans. In the first, dialogue and meditation were relevant. In the seconds, physical force and shock were the way to solve disagreements.

Between ties and conflicts

The social interactions or social processes described above cannot be understood in their complexity if they are viewed as isolated watertight . Social processes do not manifest themselves in a pure way, at least for a long time.

The conflict process involves elements of the competition process, because adversaries generally dedicate their forces to achieving more than just destroying the opponent.

The processes of conflict and competition long – winded regularly involve a process of obstruction. Regarding the conjunctive processes of cooperation, accommodation, and assimilation, a chain is produced analogous to the case of disjunctive processes.

The particular content of the social role must be separated from the generic processes of social interaction. For example, a student can exercise his training role in the form of a competition process or he can follow an accommodation process, but he does not abandon the exercise of the guidelines of the student role.

The sphere of action of social processes is complex due to the fact that the individuals and groups involved in them can take part in two supposedly discordant processes at the same time .

For example, two political parties can embark on an obstructive process between them on a law against abortion , but at the same time they can agree on a food export policy.

The importance of the cultural notion

Culture is an important component that intervenes in the interaction processes of any society . Social values ​​determine, for example, that the process of competition is of greater importance than that of cooperation.

In addition, it exerts a major influence on the opportunities given to racial or ethnic minorities and the social class that is considered inferior.

Culture is an agent that modifies the norms and limits of the various social processes, as well as the analysis of the objects on which the interaction occurs.

A man from the country who does not know the metropolis can understand the competition and the conflict between land rights and cultivation of it , but he does not have to understand the conflicts over fossil fuel energy in some Middle Eastern country. The heart of the problem lies in cultural values.

Social interactions do manifest themselves in the form of obvious and potential patterns of behavior, but studying these outward expressions of behavior does not fail to analyze the ideas, judgments, and tendencies associated with them.

For example, it happens that competition is both a pattern of behavior and a widespread ” state of mind ” in the societies where it occurs.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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