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Psychographs: An introduction to human behaviour ( )
A site map: One afternoon, a long time ago, I went to a cantonment in Bombay to visit an army officer at his residence. I knew his postal address, but was unfamiliar with the physical layout of the location. The soldier in the sentry-box, apparently a fresher to the post, rather diffidently said to me, "That might help you, Sir" -- pointing to a large metal board that stood opposite his cabin. The board bore the "Site Map".

I looked up and sighted C-16, my destination, on the map, but felt as lost as before. The map turned out to be nothing more than a nice piece of art -- essentially useless, given my immediate need. Tired and gingerly, I ventured into the huge compound, looking for C-16. I found it after several stops and turns for inquiries on my way.

It so happened that the officer and I took a walk together the next morning. We reached the sentry-box in less than 10 minutes from C-16, whereas I had devoured more than 20 minutes between the same two points, the previous day. Could I have been more efficient?

Interrupting our walky-talky chat, the officer stopped at the site map and volunteered to go over it with me. All of a sudden, in the process of going through the details on the board, I comprehended the utility of that drawing; the "piece of art" was veritably a functional map of the territory I had treaded! Yes, I could have spared myself half the time and all the anxiety, had I known how to read the map.

I felt rather stupid indeed at having been so inept in reading a simple map. When, with help from the officer, I learnt how to read it, I became more confident. I could then use that map to reach any other apartment in the compound, on my own. I could also similarly locate objects on a new site, whenever I had a good map of the site. Now I can read maps, all right. But, what if I had to visit an altogether new area today and had no map of it at all or had one that either did not show what I was looking for or used a different convention?

Nature of maps: When we hear the word map, we usually think of a sketch, drawing or diagram of a geographical area, like the cantonment. The site map, in the incident above, was not the cantonment; it was separate from and much smaller than the real cantonment area I had to deal with. Take a map of India. The country as it exists out there spans about 320-million hectares of land. Yet, a good map of it could be as small as can be held in the palm of your hand. Despite its greatly reduced size, the map can help you understand several aspects of the country -- its contours, the various places therein, their relative locations and various other properties. Maps of geographical territories are, thus, graphic and iconic representations that provide a frame of reference to people who want to deal with the territory, by helping them understand where they are and where they could go.

Man uses various guiding devices in the course of his life so as to observe, understand, relate to, interact with and, at times, also influence the reality he encounters. The multitude of concepts we have, the hypotheses we formulate, the theories we construct, the assumptions we make, the values and beliefs we hold are all like maps in that they guide our behaviour in the world. They represent respective territories, some of which are established (those represented by concepts), while others may as yet be hypothetical (those represented by constructs). Concept and reality or the word and the world are related to each other as a map is to the territory.

Education, both formal and informal, may indeed be viewed as provision/acquisition of a number and variety of potentially useful maps for life. The various subjects we are taught in schools, colleges and universities are indeed circumscribed sets or clusters of maps for dealing with their respective subject-matter, which is their chosen territory. Physics, for example, provides you with maps such as atoms, molecules, motion, acceleration, gravitation, friction, heat, temperature, etc. to understand and deal with certain aspects of its territory, the physical world; Chemistry supplies you with its own set of maps, such as compound, solvent, reactivity, catalysis, valency, etc., which help you understand certain other aspects of the same physical world. Both these subjects study and manipulate the same territory, but from different viewpoints. Mathematical and statistical concepts, such as BODMAS, standard deviation, variance, correlation, regression, etc. are also guiding devices (maps) to help analyse and understand data, their territory. Similarly, every subject or academic discipline has its own set of concepts, constructs, hypotheses and theories to look at and deal with its own adopted territory (subject-matter) in special ways. The different subjects are thus different ways of looking at, thinking about and dealing with reality. An expert in a particular subject may thus indeed be one who has disciplined him/herself to deal with the subject-matter thoroughly by means of the conceptual tool-kit available in the subject (discipline!). If we might, for purposes of our discussion here, designate any subject-matter of interest as territory, we could call the specific ways in which we choose to view the territory as maps. By this convention, a territory would be anything that we choose to study or deal with; the ways of thinking (including the words/concepts, assumptions, theories, etc.) that we adopt to apply to the chosen territory would be maps.

Cartographs and Psychographs: The map of India or of England is a geographical map or cartograph. The mental picture I have, for example, of the English, my views of what's right and what's wrong, the meaning or purpose I attach to life, the assumptions I make about my neighbours, etc. are psychological maps or psychographs. You may compare and contrast cartographs, photographs and psychographs!

Psychographs are one's mental models of reality. How do we form our psychographs? We begin our life in the external world as infants. The infant makes its first acquaintance with its immediate environment by physical contact and direct experience. These experiences leave their impressions in the infant's mind. As time goes by, the infant has more and more experiences with more and more resultant impressions, relating which the growing infant forms simple concepts, which are abstractions to represent concrete reality. These infantile concepts, representing as they do only the first-hand experiences the child has had, are quite limited in number. The child then begins to move around on its own, plays with other children in the neighborhood and comes in contact with more and more people. In the course of this widening experience, the child also picks up readymade (second-hand) concepts from other people. When the child begins to read and interact with others who read, it acquires, in addition to its ever-growing first-hand experiences, second-, third- and nth-hand knowledge, too, which s/he will use in his/her future dealings with the world. In the process of these interactions, involving reflections and reasoning, some of the child's psychographs get confirmed, while others are altered, modified or changed; some new ones may also be formed to replace or add to the existing ones.

Psychographs, besides being idiosyncratic (peculiarly individual)representations of reality, also behave like lenses through which we look at a given reality in our subsequent contact with the world. The effectiveness of a person's interaction with the world is dependent, therefore, on the degree of fidelity with which his/her psychographs represent the given outside reality. If your psychographs are of hi-fi quality and correspond to the outside reality, you will know more or less what to expect in a given situation, feel at ease, behave in a fairly sure-footed manner and enjoy the results. If, on the contrary, your psychographs were erroneous, you would be ill-adjusted and suffer the consequences. If you, for example, (erroneously) believed firmly that people are untrustworthy and educated ones are even more so, then you would be so very cautious in sharing your thoughts and ideas (or other possessions) with your classmates that your life on campus became a veritable hell on earth! The degree to which one can be effective in an environment is determined by the accuracy of the psychographs one operates from; the greater the inaccuracy, the more the maladjustment.

Description versus prescription: Some of our psychographs are descriptive, while others are normative or prescriptive. The stereotypes we have of people, for example, are descriptive psychographs -- insofar as they say what people are like. We also carry in our heads certain imperatives and injunctions regarding what is right, what is wrong; what ought or ought not to be; what one should or should not do, etc. In other words, a descriptive psychograph stands for what is, while a prescriptive one stands for what should be. The prescriptive psychographs often colour our observation in a way that turns around the old adage of "seeing is believing" to "believing is seeing"!

While all psychographs influence our understanding of reality, the normative ones can play havoc, specially in our understanding of another's behaviour. To illustrate, here is an example from Athos and Coffey: Assume that a young man and a young woman are seated on a park bench in the moonlight and that they are kissing. Three people who witnessed the scene later tell you what they saw: One says, "As I was walking in the park, I was shocked to see two wild youngsters violating all standards of decent conduct." The second says, "As I was walking in the park, I was delighted to see two fine youngsters enjoying each other so much." The third says, "As I was walking in the park, I saw two people, a man and a woman, each about 20, sitting next to each other on a park bench, kissing."

Psychographs also possess varying degrees of finality. They can be tentative and amenable to corrections and modifications in the light of subsequent experience and/or analysis. They could also be iron-cast and final -- impervious to further experience or input. While tentative psychographs facilitate learning, rigid ones can actively hinder it. This flexibility-rigidity dimension may, however, ensue from the attitude of the person concerned rather than from the nature of psychographs themselves.

Use of psychographs: Psychographs are inevitable; human life is impossible without them. Psychographs help us see more of a given reality than we could without them. However, they have a flip side, too. To make good use of psychographs, we need to be aware of some of the problems they can cause. Faulty psychographs can lead a person to (mis)take them for the reality itself; the person may force-fit objects to the mental maps s/he has of them. In so doing, the person would be dealing with reality as caricatured or distorted by his/her psychograph. In extreme cases, one might even dispense with the reality altogether and get locked up in a world of concepts -- chasing shadows as if they were the real objects! Care needs to be taken, therefore, not to confuse psychographs with reality they are to represent.

Would it not be a good idea to circumvent the danger (of mistaking psychographs for reality) by ignoring the psychographs? Well, though difficult, we might learn to do so, but the result would be intellectual impoverishment and sub-optimal accomplishments. Suppose I divided you into two groups and asked you to go observe the main vegetable market in town for a week and submit a written report, summarising all that you observed. One group received no further guidance, while the other was briefed to look for, say, the average volume of arrivals by category of vegetables, the layout of the market, gender and age profiles of customers, the most preferred vegetable(s), etc. Supposing the two groups worked independently, whose report do you think would be more comprehensive and useful?

In all likelihood, the second group would have observed more and its report better organised than the first group's. Assuming the results were indeed so, what contributed to the enriched outcome of the second group? The second group was more effective, because it, unlike the first group, had specific ways of looking at the given territory. With little access to additional psychographs, the first group was less skillful in dealing with the given reality (the vegetable market).

Similar effects occur in other areas of life, too: What do you think will happen when you watch an art film, view a frame of modern art, visit a new park, or meet a stranger? What if you came across a creature from another planet?! Your appreciation of the situation would be enhanced or delimited by the presence or absence of certain psychographs in your repertoire. (Some of the possibly useful concepts in the above contexts are: media, message, montage, plot, perspective, scenery, colour, brush-stroke, texture, sensibility, serenity, atmosphere, ambience, layout, biomass, biophysics, culture, life form, intelligence, survival, etc.). The more ways you adopt of looking at a given territory, the better your understanding of the territory.

Hold on! The "more" could give rise to a problem of choice: What map to use when? With our enhanced education, we acquire more and more maps. When faced with a concrete problem situation, we might err by indiscriminate use of any or every map in our arsenal. Or, we might be at a loss as to which one to choose! Neither of these predicaments would be desirable. We must, therefore, in addition to acquiring more and more maps, also develop the skill to choose the most appropriate one(s) from among the legion we possess.

More than one map may be available for the same territory. For example, the cartographers have given us several maps of India: a road map of India, a political map, a resource map, a geological map, a climatic map, etc. Not all of these may be of use to a particular explorer. The pertinence and specificity of the maps will render some of them more useful than others for a given purpose. To drive down to the city of Bangalore from Bombay, for instance, you would find the road map of India more useful than a geological one. That road map wouldn't do you much good for finding your way around in the city, once you are there. There you would need to use a city road map rather than a national road map. Again, you couldn't use a city map of Bombay (even if it were an excellent one) to get by in Bangalore! A choice of maps, therefore, becomes necessary -- a choice based on relevance. The same holds true for psychographs, too. If you, for example, let your behaviour toward me be guided by the readymade psychograph(s) you have of a teacher, you might be like the driver who was frantically trying to find his way around in Bangalore with a map of Bombay in hand!

For maps to be useful, they must, besides being relevant, be specific, too. When you want to familiarise yourself with, say, the town of Anand, a map of Baroda or Bombay would be irrelevant. If you wanted to guide an out-station friend of yours to your Anand campus hostel, a general map of Anand would be relevant, but inadequate; a less inclusive, more specific map of Anand, highlighting your campus would be required. For your friend to be able to reach your room in the hostel directly on his own, s/he would need an even more specific map that portrayed the location of your room. The appropriateness of maps is, thus, determined by their relevance and the specificity, which are dependent on the purpose one wants to achieve. Similarly, in the domain of human behaviour, if you for example wanted to understand your partner's sudden outburst of an unusually aggressive behaviour, the concept of adjustment might be too inclusive to be useful for the purpose; concepts such as feeling and perception would be more useful for understanding and dealing with his/her immediate behaviour.

Toward developing the skill: To understand reality better, it is useful to differentiate observation from assumptions and inferences. Recall the park scene! Here is an example from a work situation: Amit's supervisor says, "Amit works long hours; he loves his work." What do you make of the supervisor's statement?

To understand behaviour, one needs to observe behaviour and ask why it is as observed. An earnest attempt to answer this question will help us understand the causes of the observed behaviour rather than readily judge the behaviour by our own beliefs. What if Amit really disliked his work and yet (or, perhaps, even therefore!) worked very hard?

To increase our chances of achieving a better understanding of another's behaviour, we would indeed do well to distinguish between facts and nonfacts. For the sake of practice, you might like to analyse the supervisor's statement!

In honing one's skill of understanding, observation is the starting point. Observation, however, is hardly ever pure or independent of psychographs. To enhance the quality of observation, therefore, one must examine the properties of the attendant psychographs and validate them. In order for us to be able to do so, we need first of all to be aware of the psychographs that are operative in a given observation. Being aware of them, we can question them and examine their validity before allowing them to influence our understanding. A fair examination of available evidences, both supportive and contradictory ones, coupled with an awareness of any missing data will help us in understanding another's behaviour more accurately. We shall discuss more of this as we progress in this course on Individual, Interpersonal and Group Behaviour (IGB).

@ This note is based on the "Territory and Maps" by Anthony Athos and Robert Coffey.