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Social Behavior

Consciousness is a private experience; each person can directly experience only his or her own consciousness. However we all realize that other people are conscious too, because they can tell us they are. Language is a very useful social behavior. We are able to recognize our needs and express them verbally, that is, we have verbal access. The behavior we request from the other person must be under verbal control, that is, the words must be capable of causing the person addressed to perform the behavior.

Many events occur in our bodies to which we have no verbal access. However we do have verbal access to the psychological events that occur. 

Verbal control refers to the effect of words on the behavior of other people. Speech is useful to us because it can elicit behaviors from other people. Consciousness then can also be seen as a consequence of our ability to communicate – internally, with ourselves, and externally with others. We are conscious of those events we talk about, including our own feelings and memories.

Although the principle benefit of communication is its capacity to affect the behavior of other people, it has other advantages as well. Through communication, one person’s experience can be shared with others. We are not limited to learning about things that we have directly observed, we can profit from what other people have learned by listening to them, speaking or reading what they have written. This ability allowed human culture to evolve.

The selective process that controls our awareness of events in the environment is called attention. It refers to our ability to gain verbal access to stimuli currently present. Attention plays a very important role in memory. By exerting control over the information that reaches short-term memory, it determines what information ultimately becomes stored in explicit long-term memory.

Consciousness can be analyzed as a social phenomenon, derived through evolution of the brain mechanisms responsible for our ability to communicate with each other (and in addition with ourselves.)

With the exception of sexual behavior (without which our species would not survive) communication is probably the most important of all human social behaviors. 

When we speak to someone, we produce a series of sounds in a continuous stream, punctuated by pauses and modulated by stress and changes in pitch. Thus speech does not come to us as a series of individual words; we must extract the words from a stream of words. The human auditory system performs a formidably complex task in enabling us to recognize speech sounds. Comprehension of speech also involves knowledge about the world and about particular situations that we may encounter.

Language, the second most important human behavior, is an orderly system of communication. Our recognition of words in continuous speech is far superior to our ability to recognize them when they have been isolated.

The invention of writing was an important turning point in civilization. Human vocalization begins with crying, then develops into cooing and babbling and finally results in patterned speech. 

Thinking is an activity that takes place where no one can see it – inside our heads. Because it is hidden, we can only infer its existence from people’s behavior. When we think we perceive, classify, manipulate, and combine information. When we are through, we know something we did not know before. The ultimate function of thinking is to solve problems.

Social psychologists study the effects of people on people. They explore perceptions (of oneself as well as others) cause and effect relations in human interactions, attitudes and opinions, interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, and emotional behaviors, such as aggression and sexual problems.


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