Mar 22, 2009

Experiments in Socionics

In previous posts I have discussed the pervasive lack of scientific method in socionics. All socionic studies conducted so far have been one of two types:

  1. Studies of type-related behavior that accepted as a given that participants' types had been identified correctly.
  2. Studies of socionists' opinions regarding socionics and socionic types.
Neither of these types of studies is of much use to researchers outside the socionics community. None prove the existence of types, intertype relations, or other concepts, or demonstrate the precise physiological or mental characteristics associated with socionic categories. I know of no ways of proving any of socionics experimentally. If you do, please leave a comment after the article. 

However, if we broaden our interests to include psychological compatibility, personality differences, and perception, then we can potentially create lots of good studies with real  scientific value that would touch on -- but not prove -- theoretical elements of socionics. Here are some ideas for such experiments. 

Does psychological compatibility exist?

Try to determine whether different combinations of people living or working together closely experience significantly different levels of compatibility, and whether these levels are dependent upon particular pairings of people. 

"Compatibility" could be measured physiologically (levels of hormones in the blood associated with stress, contentment, irritation, etc.) verbally (using questionnaires), or through observation (how much time people spend talking, characteristics of conversation, etc.). A combination of the three would be most informative, but if the subjects knew that the object of the study was to measure psychological compatibility, that might color their responses to the different people they are paired with. To avoid this, questionnaires could be about subject's general emotional state, mood level, and well-being in order to not give hints about the real purpose of the study. Subjects would be told the purpose of the study was to find out more about their physiological responses to living conditions, for instance. Questionnaires and blood tests should be administered once daily at the same time each day. Daily routine would be the same each day. Observation would be conducted through hidden microphones that would record the amount of time each day that the people spend talking. If other patterns are discovered, researchers could analyze conversations for other parameters as well, such as the amount of laughter, emotional tone, or range of topics discussed.

Necessary conditions
To allow for compatibility to be clearly felt, subjects would ideally need to spend at least one week together in an isolated setting. They should have some kind of work to do, but nothing that would involve anyone other than each other. 

Possible settings include:
- a prison where inmates spend most of their waking time in their cells without external contact
- a hospital ward or sanatorium where people are recovering from long-term illnesses in a stationary setting
- an artificial setting, such as a summer camp in the woods specifically for the experiment

Participants of a single sex and heterosexual orientation (to rule out confounding sexual factors) are paired randomly multiple times (say, 4 times over 4 weeks) and made to spend most or all of their time together. Blood tests and questionnaires are given daily at the same time each day. Participants may be given tasks that require them to interact more closely with their roommate. A hidden microphone tracks the amount of time each day that roommates spend talking, and can be used to analyze conversation content. At the end of each week, participants are abruptly moved to a different location (room) where they are paired with another person they have never met before. 

Variation 1: Participants could be reunited with one or more previous roommate at some point in the experiment. Researchers would be checking to see whether compatibility levels are the same as the first time together. 

Variation 2: Pair partners with people of the opposite sex (if they are both heterosexual) to see how results change when gender factors are introduced. This could make things complicated. 

Variation 3: The study could be duplicated for both sexes to allow for comparison of results between the sexes. 

Possible findings
Such a study would produce a large and very interesting body of data with a myriad of possible conclusions. Here are some questions that might be answered:
  • Do people have stable compatibility levels with others? Or do levels (as measured in the experiment) fluctuate?
  • If they are stable, how quickly are those levels achieved? Within one day? Five days?
  • Are all people equally susceptible to compatibility? Or are there people who tend to be compatible, or incompatible, with everyone or nearly everyone?
  • How widely do compatibility levels fluctuate? Is the fluctuation the same or different for different participants? 
  • How well do people's self-reports correlate with blood test results? Is their perception of their own state correct?
  • How does audio data from hidden microphones correlate with blood tests and self-reporting? Do more compatible partners always talk more? What, if anything, is different about their audible interaction? What about incompatible partners?
  • When people are paired repeatedly with the same person, how closely do the results of the second period together match those of the first? Are there any patterns, such as that incompatible partners get even worse, or compatible ones get even better?
Most likely, many other things would be discovered that aren't on the list. 

Implications for socionics
Such a study could support or refute some of socionics' basic claims and assumptions about intertype relations and compatibility.  


Bryan said...

I would be interested in just comparing the various reactions people have in close relationships. With a large enough set of relationships and clear definitions for them, you could set up experiments without typing people in the first place.

For instance, you could show that people with similar relationships to one person showed similar relationships to another, and that they had an identity relationship to each other. This would focus more on confirmed relationships, and some relationships would be easier to identify than others.

HIM said...

I do like the idea. I suppose that sort of experiment would do better in the Russian world where those involved with socionics have more face to face contact and can draw in others who are less familiar with socionics to participate.

I've had many of my own ideas but hardly wrote them down. However, if a few competent (which is subjective enough already to decide that) enough socionists could type a group of individuals and then have them paired with individuals for a long-term setting (like meeting together for so much time for so long a period)and then after that period is over (having them converse, work together, explore their interactions in different ways), ask them to think (not with each other) how their interactions were for that time, asking for an honest evaluation where they would write a two to three page essay exploring their thoughts, and then give them some descriptions of the intertype relations (without naming the type, just giving different profiles) and have them think carefully and choose which one fit their relations best (and maybe allowing for them to pick multiple profiles while ranking them in terms of accuracy). Of course, this would require some well regarded intertype profiles which give an accurate though comprehensive outlook in order to root out ambiguities.

That was an immediate idea I just had. If I think of more or better ones, I'll locate them to my blog(s) and wiki page.

Overall, I'm really pleased with your current insights and your active attempts to add some testing to socionics.

Rick said...

Thanks, spoon-san. I think that sort of experiment would be worthwhile in principle, but primarily to the socionics community itself. If the results were unsatisfactory or the participating socionists were unable to agree on the types of participants, or on the descriptions applied, it could easily turn into a scandal. One big typing experiment was done in Dnepropetrovsk in the 90s, where different socionists had to type the same people in a community setting, and the results were disappointing to many and contributed to more squabbles and disillusionment.

I'm inclined to think that the resolution of socionics' theoretical and practical difficulties (if one exists at all) lies outside of socionics itself -- in the realm of normal empirical science. I think that because I honestly believe that socionics is onto something that no one else has realized, and that ultimately the phenomena are physical in nature. However, I think that when the subject finally is adequately researched, socionics as a field will change significantly, almost beyond recognition. Most socionists will be left without a job, or may choose to continue on under the status of "folk healers."

slacker mom said...

This sounds like a pitch for a TV reality show! I'd watch it, anyway!

Sam said...

What would be the point of this study? The finding that interpersonal compatibility exists? Duh...

I propose that we simply get a bunch of people of various types, typed by a team of experienced socionists, and subject their brains to the finest scans available, monitor them while stimulated with information of a more-or-less clear socionic character, and note any correlations. I have no idea what kinds of scans are available, but this is basically the only way to make socionics itself testable. Has anybody done something like this?


Jeranimo said...

This sounds like a good idea. Controlled experiment testing intertype theory. It's great. However, I don't think the lack of such an experiment indicates that socionists aren't scientific or that Socionics isn't a valid science; this experiment would obviously cost a fair bit of money and would have to be performed across several cultures to compensate for cultural bias and formalities. Rick, I think you're too hard on Socionics's a growing field, and every day it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit better as more people learn about it. Most people don't even know about it right now; and of course, it might take decades before it's integrated into academic psychology. But someday it will. For example, I notice a strong correlation between the symptoms of ADD and the Extraverted Perceiving information elements; which one is which? Is ADD a valid affliction, or is it just indicative of society's response to overpopulation (less resources and less land require less Perceptive expansion activities like discovery, adventure and theory, and require more management of existing resources, integration of groups, emotional expression/co-operation, etc.)? Conversely, does Extraverted Perception really "exist", or is it just a symptom of ADD? (perhaps there is just one true Extraverted Perceiver, Ne or Se, and the other is an ADD/ADHD offshoot) Many, many more studies are going to have to be conducted in both Socionics and psychology in order to say for sure. Obviously it's important to question the validity of information, but it's also important to keep asking questions and making progress so that some day we can teach psychology the way we teach biology, chemistry and physics: empirically.