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What "Theories" Do We Use to Understand Each Other's Behaviour?

In the past articles we have been examining personality from a psychologist's perspective, But how do ordinary people go about understanding the personalities of themselves and others? Do they use a version of "theories" to help them to do so?

We all feel the need to understand those around us, to interpret their actions and understand their intentions. Thus, in doing so, we tend to make assumptions perhaps even misguided ones about the personalities of others and even our own.

In fact, it is incredibly easy to make false assumptions about one's character, we are quick to make first impressions that are often biased and inaccurate. They are usually guided by our cultural backgrounds. We have a notion of how different personalities behave and we use that to categorise people when we meet them.

These "theories" are all at play during a job interview, where both parties attempt to analyse the other's behaviour. They look for subtle cues to determine one another's personality and how the interview is going.

Different cultures will have different interpretations on what certain behaviours mean and some traits may be more taboo than others. These are all factors that determine how we perceive not only others but ourselves as well.

Implicit Theories

Implicit Theories are the psychological term used to describe such theories, which basically refers to the personal explanation of personality that almost certainly relied on connecting people's behaviour with the traits you attributed to them.

Such theories work well a majority of the time in social situations especially in familiar situations where our expectations line up with reality. This is because we have been exposed to such situations overtime and our expectations have been shaped by our past experiences. They allow us to anticipate people's motives and behaviour, allowing us to perform our work.

However, what about unfamiliar situations? This is when we fumble and fail to interpret one's behaviour. We apply our preconceived notion that we have been accustomed to but as it is a different situation, we miss the mark. When we thrusted into a new cultural environment, we often feel lost, everything feels foreign and we rely on what we know. This can often lead to even more confusion as we realise that the same behaviour can be interpreted differently.


At the end of the day, the most important thing is how you perceive yourself and if you actually know who you are. Many a times, we create our own self-narrative; the stories we tell others about ourselves. How do you respond when someone asks you "Tell me more about yourself" , it is a well-trotted line during job interviews and for good reason, it provides an insight into the individual's self-perception. From which, you are able to evaluate their confidence and emotional intelligence.

Self-narratives are important because they represent our perception of ourselves, the stories that we tell others, whether because we feel like it is the culturally appropriate thing to say or is a true reflection of our feelings.

Self-narratives are also heavily influenced by cultural background as in Asian cultures, collectivism is emphasised and thus the individual is less likely to praise themselves as compared to western cultures where individualism prevails.

Thus, based on cultural backgrounds, a Western person is more likely to be complimentary of themselves in their self-narrative as compared to an Asian person.

It is interesting that the stories that we tell of ourselves are dependent on the cultural taboos that we are exposed to. Perhaps, you can even think of self-narratives as not an accurate perception of ourselves but rather what we believe we should tell others about ourselves.


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