Are You a Communication Scientist?
Do you like to talk about talking? or talk about what you think about talking? or talk about what you think other people think about talking?
Then you are a Communication Scientist!
In college we were called Comm. Majors. After getting my Communications Degree I started to look for a job. Soon it was apparent that there wasn’t a big demand for people who talked about talking and who knew theories about people talking and about people thinking about talking.
None of the interviews I went on asked me to cite the standard deviation in the infamous ‘Bobo Doll Study’
…nor did they ask me to explain Milgram’s intentions with his infamous study on obedience and environment.
Yet in college my entire grade was based on how I responded to these types of questions.
So it didn’t qualify me for a specific job, but it did prepare me for a life of amateur research on talking. And it isn’t just us Communication Majors…almost everyone does their own amateur research! And they have been doing it for a long time.
65 years ago the first official Communication Scientists, Shannon and Weaver, wrote the first paper on how people communicate. Ever since then (and long before I suspect!), people have been talking about talking and creating meaning about talking…even going so far as devising their own theories!
What’s different about theories of an amateur communication scientist vs. those of a professional is the scientist designs ways to test the theory and then subjects the results to public and professional scrutiny. Our own personal opinions are usually not tested nor do they comply with professional research standards. So we may not be forming accurate or effective theories on what we are talking about…or thinking about talking!
In fact, the Bobo Doll study which took place from 1961-1963 shows how we gauge other people’s responses and adjust our own behavior based on interactions we observe. All unconsciously!
In this study the theorist, Bandura, tested his ‘Social Learning Theory’. It claims that people learn through observing, imitating, and modeling other people’s behavior, depending on whether those people are rewarded or punished for their behavior. Simply described, children in a waiting room with a Bobo Doll (the standing, blow up kind) observed a grown up come in and either act violent or not act violent to the Bobo Doll (except for the control group who observed no grownup interact with the Bobo Doll). Sometimes the grown-up was rewarded and sometimes not.
Researchers then observed the children to see how they treated the Bobo Doll after observing the interaction. The highest incidence of violence occurred with boys when they saw a same-gender model attack the doll with violence and get rewarded for it. In all cases, the subjects’ behavior appeared to be markedly influenced by what they observed in comparison to the control group. From these controversial findings, it could be said children behave based on what they see and what clues they get about what is expected of them in the situation. I can say this certainly true in my own children.
Often my sons will say something just to see how I take it. The wheels turning in their minds as they assess and catalogue my response are almost tangible! Since they are twins I can also almost see the telepathic lines buzzing back and forth between them with understanding…like cyborgs.
“Mommy what is the VERY LAST and FINAL task you want us to do before we can play our video game?” If the question doesn’t work and they in fact get three more tasks rather than one, that particular phrase will be filed under ‘don’t try this again!’. If it does work (even if it’s only once!), it will quickly become the ONLY phrase they ever utter, ever again. A change in my expression or a tension in my jaw will alert them immediately, ‘wrong question!!’
or ‘abandon this mission’!
Children and adults create theories based on what they think they see. This is good news and bad news. It’s good news because it shows the unlimited potential we have to condition (like Pavlov’s dog) people to respond. It is also bad news, because it may mean the world is not so orderly and pre-determined (and we are not so helpless) as we may have previously thought!
For example, I often make the mistake of assuming if my words are clear (and/or loud) enough, I will be understood. I fail to take into account human error…mine as well as the receiver of the communication. The other day I had lunch with a client and ordered a salad with dressing on the side. The waiter repeated my request and said, “Yes, ma’am. We can do that.”
My salad came with dressing mixed in. I pointed out that I had asked for salad with dressing on the side and the waiter looked surprised…as if he had not heard my request. He quickly recovered and brought a new salad, made how I had ordered it. I reflected on it and realized many times I have asked something or even started to make a statement and then lost my train of thought or got distracted and the thought or response was lost forever. The waiter may have understood perfectly, but failed to connect the request to the action required to fulfill it.
I guess the point is not even the scientists know the TRUTH about communication and human response…mostly because there is no truth. We create the truth with each thought and with each expression that originates in a thought. Or at least that is what the Symbolic Interactionists say. But that’s another story…
Please take the survey for Dana’s My Coach to see which kind of communication scientist you are, and how we can help you further your studies! To take the survey click here.