Kurt Lewin, a german behavioral psychologist proposed a new notion for human behavior back in 1933, that challenged the popularly held belief at the time that we act according to our personality. It was believed that our intrinsic motivations dictate our behavior. Lewin proposed instead that our behavior was a result of both our personality and our environment together. He express this idea in an equation

 

B=f(P,E)

 

This concept unlike the previously held notion does not require you to take sides in a nature versus nurture debate. It instead allows for the person and their environment to have influence on their behavior in complex and profound ways.

 

The environment is everything that isn’t us, it can be the physical environment, which has an effect on what we do. It can also be other people, and what can be called our social environment. We are strongly influenced by other people and the social groups we join.

 

Our personality is of course a whole area of study and many theories and methods have been proposed to address how we can judge our personality type.

 

Most interesting for me as a user experience architect is how this concept applies to social software and social interfaces. In software design the interface can be thought of as an environment. Joshua Porter, suggests that the software interface is an environment that we play and work with on the web. He suggests that our behavior is greatly determined by the interfaces we use for these interactions. Social software he states should support the users personality, as well as, social environments and groups they are part of.

 

Joshua Porter outlines 10 key aspects of social behavior that need to be considered when building a social application or experience.

 

1. Humans are complex social animals, we interact for all reasons as outlined by Maslow’s Hierarchy

2. Humans organize themselves into groups

3. Groups can be small and large, and for any purpose

4. Groups can be made of family, friends or anyone with something in common

5. Humans act as both group members and individuals at the same time

6. People behave differently in groups than as individuals

7. Humans play different roles in different parts of their lives

8. When humans are uncertain they rely on social connections to help them

9. People usually compare themselves to those in their social group

10. The people we know affect how we act

11. Sometimes being self-interested means to support the group, and sometimes it means to focus on oneself.

12. Humans are not always rational, but are usually self-interested

13. Unpredictable behavior emerges in groups over time

14. People derive value form social interaction, that cannot be described in monetary terms.

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