Jul 8, 2010

Thresholds and Psychological Types

I think the concept of thresholds might be important in unraveling the mysteries of different psychological types.

A threshold is "the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested" (MacBook Dictionary).

Thresholds are already a working concept in neuropsychology, and some types of thresholds -- such as pain thresholds -- have already been well-researched. Some people react to pain at lower pain levels, while others are more resistant. The lower a threshold, the greater one's sensitivity.

Could it be that socionic types essentially differ on the basis of their thresholds for different kinds of stimuli? Or might threshold levels at least be a partial answer to the question, "what are the significant mechanistic differences between people?"

I see this "mechanistic approach" to personality as the opposite of socionics' more traditional "abstract logic" approach where logical categories are established and phenomena (people, interaction, information, behavior) are classified according to these categories, but 1) there is never absolute certainty as to whether the established categories are actually the most useful ones, and 2) the actual mechanisms by which the categories exist and operate are unknown.

The pitfalls of socionics' dominant methodology are well-known and far-reaching, and I feel like I talk about them in every other blogpost. The shortcomings of the mechanistic approach are 1) the slow pace of scientific progress and 2) the possibility that the results obtained through research will be too disorderly to be of much use to laymen. In my opinion, many socionists have a gut fear of disorderly scientific findings messing up their clear mental picture of things socionic.

But I digress. The mechanistic approach must be developed in socionics to bring it back to life and make it something more than a scientific conjecture (that is treated as fact by many of its proponents).

When looking for thresholds that may be significant determinants of interpersonal behavior and compatibility, I see no reason to assume that there must be 4, 8, or 16 such thresholds, or that the level of the threshold can be only "high" or "low," making it convenient to divide people into two discrete groups. Or that each threshold must be independent of the others (such as the four Jungian dichotomies), making it convenient to create a typology.

I would prefer to work from the bottom up, observing individual people and looking for thresholds, and basically any traits in general, that seem to play a significant role in their interaction with the world around them.

It is easiest to start with myself and people with a temperament similar to my own. From what I can tell:

- well-developed planning faculties, but unwillingness to make long-term plans (commitments) due to impulsivity (see below) and changeability of one's state
- low short-term self-control (things like leaving the house on time, abstaining from eating free cookies, or redoing one's work), but fairly high ability to make rational longer-term choices
- impulsivity as a result of low short-term self-control and changeability of moods and desires (a low threshold to a certain kind of stimuli?)
- waves of productivity as a result of impulsitivity; someone like this typically has to find a way to exploit one's changeable mental states in order to be productive, for instance by choosing an unstructured lifestyle and developing productive activities for each recurring state, and then engaging in each of them as the states change
- generally high threshold to signals from one's own body and to sensory signals in general; can easily take a mental interest in these areas via study or mentorship
- strong tendency towards mental absorption, which is a positive emotional experience; this absorption is often stronger than the demands of one's physical needs and almost always stronger than one's self-control, leading one to "overdo" things and neglect one's personal needs and external duties, if any
- great interest in information exchange with other people; a need to know what's going on in the spheres one is interested in and exchange information about it with other people
- low novelty threshold, and novelty is associated with positive emotional experiences; mental activity is easily stimulated by anything unexpected, unusual, and unfamiliar (however, this applies only to things that can provide mental stimulation: news, information, facts, activities, people, capabilities of other people, characteristics of the environment)
- as a result, one tends to use novelty as an "upper" to stimulate positive states and motivate oneself to act; lack of novelty is associated with boredom, lethargy, and indifference
- avoidance of pain and potentially painful situations (low pain threshold?), whether physical or interpersonal; this can lead to avoidant behavior patterns and an unwillingness to deal with problems

Clearly, this temperament "signature" is not unique to myself. Furthermore, it is clear that it has an evolutionary basis and serves a valuable societal function.

The observations above might be summarized as follows:

Societal purpose
This type is oriented towards the satisfaction of a certain kind of mental needs -- one's own and of society (hence the drive to exchange information). It specializes in the detection, processing, and conveyance of new and potentially useful information (news, trends, useful skills, tricks) and accumulates and exchanges this knowledge and skills with others, largely passing by information that is not easily conveyable. Where there is too much information available for one person to keep track of and process (such as in a complex society), a person of this type tends to develop niche interests and disregard other areas, in order to conserve energy.

Other, competing classes of needs -- physical and, to a lesser degree, social -- take a second seat to mental needs. This is probably accomplished through thresholds: mental states having to do with the presence or absence of new, interesting information (boredom/absorption, mental excitement level, a sense of prospects or the lack thereof) have low thresholds, meaning that they affect behavior powerfully, while physical needs have high thresholds (with the probable exception of one's pain threshold) and social thresholds are at medium levels.

This type is poor at making commitments, exercising continual conscious discipline, or submitting to structure and external demands due to impulsivity, changeability of moods, lack of self-control, and high susceptibility to mental absorption. At the same time, the type is good at engaging in a wide range of activities fitted to its different states of mind.

In addition…

Find ways to become an information specialist and exchanger without overstimulating yourself mentally and weakening your body and social relations. Develop a lifestyle that capitalizes on your high mental absorption potential and lack of self-control while steering you away from addictions (see earlier post).

Who complements you
Most likely, people with high novelty thresholds, low physical thresholds, and medium social thresholds, who are also moody, changeable, and impulsive.

Some ideas

I would need to do some research on physiological and neural thresholds to build upon or revise what I've written above. However, I do have some ideas that might be applicable to socionics.

One is that extraverted intuition types are fundamentally interested in information exchange, while what introverted intuition types are interested in can less easily be called "information" in the traditional sense of the world. It's more an experience or process, or perhaps a way of seeing things.

Another observation regards different types' response to what I call "novel information." Most extraverted sensing types I can think of seem to have a much more reserved, somewhat negative (mistrustful) response to novelty. They are more resistant to the influence of new information and tend to accept it only after it has ceased to be novel (at least in their particular social circle). Again, we have to be careful about defining "novel information" (which I won't try to do here).

It is tempting to try to associate each socionic function with some kind of threshold, and I try to resist this impulse. Nonetheless, I wonder if one might have a low threshold not only with the 1st function, but also with the 4th. The difference might be that the motivation with the 1st function is to embrace, while the motivation of the 4th is to avoid. In other words, the 1st function is easily stimulated with the purpose of embracing, while the 4th function is easily stimulated with the purpose of avoiding.

It is also tempting to continue on in this classical socionic spirit and hypothesize a "new socionics model" (whoop-dee-do) where each function number is assigned an approximate threshold level (High, Medium, or Low) and a positive or negative sign:

1: L+
2: M+
3: M-
4: L-
5: H+
6: M+
7: M-
8: H-

You analytical types can now pick that apart in search of symmetry and asymmetry and make it more elegant, but I am still convinced that this type of model gets us nowhere. It just teases a certain brain module without providing any real answers. Progress will be made by working from the ground up, collecting data, and trying to understand how specific neural mechanisms work.

So, it is more useful, in my opinion, not to look for thresholds that correspond to socionic categories, but rather thresholds that correspond to directly observed phenomena.

I find myself moving away from the classical socionics ideas that information can be divided into 8 categories and that when two types interact one function somehow conveys information to the same function in the other person. I'm not sure these concepts have much practical potential anyways (can they ever be tested?).

When thinking in terms of thresholds we can see that some bit of information might be "novel" and hence stimulating to one person and yet "old news" and hence uninteresting to someone else of the same type. Thus, it could be treated with interest or disinterest for reasons having nothing to do with type. The novel information (or old news) might be conveyed by a person of any type (imagine hearing a phrase such as, "have you heard about ________?"). Thus, something novel might be gleaned from someone who had no idea that he possessed novel information or qualities.

Note also that I am suggesting a definition of extraverted intuition quite different from Augusta's definitions: "the inner content and structure of an object" and "the object's potential energy." In practice I find that extraverted intuition types (ILE and IEE) are more about gathering, trying out, and conveying new and novel information than about "studying underlying phenomena" and "grasping the inner substance" (traits of analytic minds, perhaps?).


dc said...

Interesting post Rick. I find that collecting information is a means to and end. The end being filling out my understanding of the world around me. Like looking for pieces to an ever expanding puzzle. This helps me to infer missing information. I like socionics because it gives me a framework or lens to look for information, which I can confirm or disregard.
Looking forward to your continued video post. Your physical presence is much like my friend who is also IEE. I'm a shorter, rounded version of IEE.

aestrivex said...

"Who complements you
Most likely, people with high novelty thresholds, low physical thresholds, and medium social thresholds, who are also moody, changeable, and impulsive."


"The shortcomings of the mechanistic approach are 1) the slow pace of scientific progress and 2) the possibility that the results obtained through research will be too disorderly to be of much use to laymen. In my opinion, many socionists have a gut fear of disorderly scientific findings messing up their clear mental picture of things socionic."

Yes, I think this is a good way of putting a lot of my reactions to your blog posts about neuroscience, other than that I don't think any views I have about the topic amount to a "gut fear" -- rather, a belief that socionics is merely a highly complicated descriptive and normative model (and a highly imperfect one) which has no need to be strictly replaced by scientific findings that provide little interpretive value (and nor does socionics negate any of the scientific findings).

Anonymous said...

a nice complement to your other discussion about the "hourglass" Model A. in the hour glass analology, the 4th function doesn't perceive said information. in the threshold alternative, the 4th function perceives it but dislikes it and wants to avoid it.

as an Ne leading....how can i become identified as an information specialist and appreciated and COMPENSATED as an information specialist? these are the questions that come to mind. how could this be communicated in an IRL situation in order to obtain reliable results?

Rick said...

2 Anonymous:

I think the IEE's "connector" and "information gatherer" role is typically compensated indirectly, that is most IEEs are not paid specifically for this activity. On the other hand, if you perform any sort of services individually or as part of a small business, you can use this trait to develop tons of contacts and opportunities to grow your business.

In a traditional community, many IEEs can easily become people who know everything significant going on in the locale. Imagine you live in a small farming village. You would spend much of your free time talking to other guys around town finding out all the news, trying out different stuff and telling other people about the results. If new people came into town, you would go and try to talk to them to see what useful info could be gleaned from them. Probably no other type is as good at this.

Basically, you can be someone who catches wind of new trends and practices first and becomes a resource for other people who are interested but want to hear more about it or take a look first.

The modern corporate economy doesn't really do a good job of helping people achieve self-realization, so I think it's generally better to do this kind of thing on the side consistently and well enough that it becomes a stable social role that you are recognized for.

Within informal relationships and traditional economies, compensation comes in the form of special opportunities, acquaintances, and material assistance from those you help via new information. For instance, you gain friends who are willing to help you build and fix stuff for free.

Anonymous said...

thanks rick...i guess i should have said that my type is ILE, but these suggestions are great.

the ideas that i have usually are more technological in nature, not as much about people, although i do tend to know a lot of people and see what they are good at and how they can be useful.

i am trying to position myself for a job that would be somewhat of an information specialist or gatekeeper or resource for others. this is a long range goal.

Sam said...

Interesting point about Ne. I was thinking about the problem of how exactly to "define" (if possible) each information element, which I think is what Jonathan was getting at in our NYC meeting. It seems like there are a number of concepts that are clearly within the domain of each IE, but it's difficult to sum up each one as a single concept.

About novelty, though, I think it's important to distinguish the behavior of types from the "objective" content of the information. Probably the latter is of more interest from an experimental/psychological point of view, though, and maybe deserves more attention. In practice I usually learn about the IEs from observing people's behavior.

Vlad Romanenko said...

WHile discussing thresholds you mostly focus on information consumption. I feel like looking into information production explicitly and on equal weight with consumption would be a good complement. For example if you look into 1st and 4th functions that both have low income threshold there is a clear difference in their production. Same applies to 5th and 8th with high income threshold.