Friday, January 29

Absorbing Attitudes: Environmental Influences

At the end of World War II and again in the 1960s, environmental psychology became an increasingly popular field of study as shifts in society seemed to suggest that "nearby nature" affects people's mental and physical health. There are several reoccurring themes in the research (De Young, R., 1999, Encyclopedia of Environmental Science).

Common areas of interest within environmental psychology.

• Attention. How voluntary (things we want to notice) and involuntary (things that distract us) stimuli affect people.
• Perception. How cognitive maps recall past experiences associated with present events, ideas, and emotions.
• Environments. How people seek out and interact with places where they feel comfortable and confident.
• Environmental stress. How prolonged uncertainty, lack of predictability, and stimulus overload impact people.
• Participation. How involving people in design processes can contribute to feeling comfortable and confident.
• Conservation. How attitudes, perceptions, and values influence people toward an ecologically sustainable society.

My interest in the area of psychology was a result of working with my son on his science project. He placed two white carnations in each of three vases, and then added food coloring to two of them (leaving the third untouched as a control). The experiment was to test his hypothesis that the white carnations would adopt the color of the dyed water. They did, which opened an analogy that some people are familiar with (even when they are called by other names).

Tony Robbins includes it as his first of five keys to thrive in 2010, saying how important it is to feed your mind with positive messages and influences.

Harvard Business Review promoted the concept today by reintroducing emotional intelligence, a topic field I enjoy writing about under social intelligence.

There are countless studies that suggest children are prone to adopt parental behaviors, e.g., children of fit parents tend to exercise; children of parents who read tend to read; children who are abused have a greater tendency to become abusive; and so on and so forth. (However, the impact of nurturing depends greatly upon how individual children develop cognitive maps).

Unless we are vigilant in preserving self-awareness, we tend to adopt what we're exposed to.

In general, much like the carnations, we tend to be influenced by the information we absorb. In some cases, much like the carnations, we might not even notice those subtle veins of green or red. We're influenced (unless purposely uninfluenced) nonetheless.

In fact, it probably underpins another new study released a few weeks ago. Right now, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Fewer workers say they like their co-workers. And fewer workers like their bosses.

The lesson might be three-fold for anyone who wants to pursue it.

As individuals, we might pay attention to media we consume or groups we associate with as it can make a difference (which might be why the iPad speech seemed more palatable than the President's). As leaders, we might be especially cognitive as influencers over the teams we manage. And as organizational communicators, we might consider whether those messages help people become more confident as it could have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of the communication.

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