Wednesday, July 31, 2019

E. Tory Higgins's "Shared Reality"

E. Tory Higgins is the Stanley Schachter Professor of Psychology, Professor of Business, and Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He is the author of Beyond Pleasure and Pain: How Motivation Works (2012). He has received the Distinguished Scientist Award (the Society of Experimental Social Psychology), the Anneliese Maier Research Award (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation), the William James Fellow Award for Distinguished Achievements in Psychological Science (the American Psychological Society), and the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions. He is also a recipient of Columbia University's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Ambady Award for Mentoring Excellence (Society for Personality and Social Psychology).

Higgins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Shared Reality: What Makes Us Strong and Tears Us Apart, and reported the following:
From page 99:
We have all heard about “horse whisperers.” We recognize that they have a special gift. What is this gift? It is the gift of listening to the inner state of the horse, by carefully studying its expressions and movements (the body language), and responding appropriately. Horse whisperers signal to the horse that what matters to the horse also matters to them. And over time this builds trust. The horse and the whisperer become partners.

Creating a relationship with an animal as a “whisperer” is not restricted to horses as partners. It can be done with many other animals. Dogs are an obvious example because dogs are highly responsive to human social cues. Although most humans who have pet dogs love and care for their dog, this does not make them dog whisperers. Indeed, even among professional dog trainers who know much more than most of us about how to train dogs, only some are dog whisperers. Among dog trainers, the highest level of human-dog relationship is called an “adult-adult relationship.” This is when both the dog and the trainer behave as adult individuals, in contrast to having an adult-child relationship where the trainer takes on the adult role and the dog is given the child role.

What does this adult-adult relationship between dog and trainer look like? A dog and its trainer approach another dog. The trainer’s dog wants to play with this other dog. But it first looks at the trainer to check how the trainer is reacting to this other dog. Is my trainer, my partner, having a positive or a negative reaction to this other dog? If positive, then approach. If negative, then avoid. Importantly, the reverse situation also occurs: where the trainer checks the reaction of his or her dog to a new dog that is approaching them. Is my dog, my partner, having a positive or a negative reaction to this other dog? If positive, then approach. If negative, then avoid. This is an equal, adult-adult relationship where the trainer and the dog as partners learn from each other how to react to a third party. They may not begin with the same emotional reaction to the third party, but they share the relevance of the third party from the beginning. And, then, they converge on how to react to the third party.

This is an example of a dog whisperer. It illustrates how shared relevance can be created with an animal that builds connectedness and trust. For example, if your dog stops and looks at something or sniffs at something, and then checks back with you, you can make eye contact and then pay attention to what he or she is looking at or sniffing at. You can signal that what your dog is treating as being worthy of attention is worthy of your attention too. You create a moment of shared relevance with your dog. It is these moments of shared relevance that we need to experience with other animals. We need to reconnect with them in this way for their sake…and our own sake. We need to overcome the downside of domestication that came with civilization.
If browsers opened my book to page 99 [plus the sentence before and the sentence after], they would get a pretty good idea of a major takeaway message of my book on shared reality: it begins with shared relevance. To connect to other animals and one another, we need to share what matters in the world, what is worthy of our attention. This is what connects us to others. The phenomena of “horse whisperers” and “dog whisperers” illustrate how this works. A human and an animal truly connect when they signal to one another that what you take seriously, I also take seriously. The next step is signaling that how you feel about it, I also feel about it. Page 99 also states the importance of humans reconnecting to other animals by sharing what matters in the world.

These themes in page 99 relate to two important issues that are central to the book. First, in our current world of social bubbles, with each bubble having alternative facts, we need to connect to one another by recognizing that we often have shared relevance—we agree that health matters, education matters, jobs matter, and peace matters. By having this shared reality, we can begin a conversation. Second, the shared reality that produced civilization as a benefit also produced domestication of animals and domestication of ourselves that had downsides as well. We lost the ability to relate to other animals that we had as hunter-gatherers. Learning again how to be “whisperers” can be a very good thing for our relations to other animals, and benefit our own well-being. The upsides and downsides of civilization highlight how our human motivation to create shared reality is central to what makes us human—the best of us and the worst of us.
Learn more about Shared Reality at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue