Were we ever really individuals?

In Western philosophy, religion and thinking, the idea of being individual, is one that we hold. But how true is this? Individualism began in the 1700s as a by-product of the age of Enlightenment with the idea that we as humans have an individual free will. This idea is said to permeate society through a process of osmosis starting in the upper echelons of intelligentsia.

The famous experiments done by psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1963 in which he looked at people's compliance to authority, would question the idea of free will. Effectively, Milgram’s experiments show that we are fundamentally socially conformist.

A recent study would bear some of this thinking out using “big data” it looked at people’s interaction with things such as cell phones, credit cards, and social media. Social scientists; who studies our interaction, with our surrounds. Found that we as a whole like to conform. A good example of this was to look at people's weight gain, the study found that people pick up new habits from being exposed to the habits of their peers, and strangely, not just through the habits of their friends.

This means that when cakes are being given out in your workplace, you are likely to have one not because you need one or hungry, but because everybody else is doing the same thing.

The study found out that the largest single persuader in changing behaviours is the influence of peers. The research suggests, that the influence of social learning has more impact on you as a person than your IQ or your gene set, or for that matter your academic performance.

In light of this information, it is perhaps interesting to see how important individual choice is, compared to shared habits. A fascinating point was raised by the study suggests that the idea of shared ideas, as opposed to individual thinking, is more prevalent than we think.

Effectively, communication is key and how we communicate is a vital ingredient in how we interact and conform. A study carried out in the US looking at workplaces for drug rehab groups to call centers, looked at the pattern of communication. Researchers found that the most important elements of being productive is to have good communications. One would say nothing new there, but one spin off from this study postulated the idea of a collective intelligence, in which all parties, in the group, are part of a flow of ideas, that is generated when good communications are present, consequently, if one is valued in a group, and you are individual input prized, and thus productivity rises.

It would be interesting, to see how this fits into our British society.

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Crawley RH10 & Horsham RH13

Written by Tony Larkin

Crawley RH10 & Horsham RH13

Tony Larkin: counselor/psychotherapist and founder of Eleos counselling. A counselling service in Crawley, West Sussex. Tony holds an honors degree from Greenwich University and also a foundation degree from Greenwich University. Tony is a registered member of the BACP.

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