Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Communication theorist Jesse Delia argues that:

"People who are cognitively complex in their perceptions of others have a communication advantage over those with less developed mental structures" - Em Griffin, 2003

Essentially, what constuctivism theorists consider to be the kind of cognitive complexity outlined above is relative to how a person perceives others. If a person is primarily "black and white" in their assessment of other people, they would be considered less cognitively complex. If a person sees more "shades of grey" they would be correspondingly more cognitively complex. Have I lost you yet?
The reason why this gives people a communication advantage is due to the fact that a person who is cognitively complex in their perceptions of others can "anticipate how different individuals may respond to a message, and ajust his or her communication accordingly" (- Griffin 2003)

Why is this important? Beverly Sypher from the University of Kansas and Theodore Zorn from the University of North Carolina conducted a four-year study of white collar workers at a large Eastern Insurance company. This study indicated that cognitively complex workers moved up faster in the ranks of their company, and were given higher paying jobs than their colleagues who demonstrated less cognitive complexity. Furthermore, Jesse Delia amoung others, has determined that Cognitive complexity is a culturally transmitted trait "passed down from parents to their children through complex messages of nurture and discipline." (Griffin, 2003) Parents from more advantaged socioeconomic background are more likely than their underpriviledged counterparts to pass this kind of cognition on to their children. Result, cognitively as well as materially, the rich keep getting richer.

It is possible to increase the "shades of grey" thinking of a child, by using reflective communication: statements that encourage the child to see things from the point of view of others. The question is, is this another job that we leave to an already overburded school system, or is there another way to level the playing field, maybe through mass media or new media?

I think we could all benefit from striving to become better communicators, but you knew that already! We are lucky to be amoung those in the world encouraged to write and speak freely. It's a gift.


Blogger nigel said...

How do sociopaths fit into this?...Sociopaths are often amazingly intelligent and successful people but lacking that 'piece' that enables one to cognitively understand another's point of view: the 'other' versus 'us' becomes starkly defined and then realised.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I think sociopaths have the cognition necessary to understand how to influence people through communication. I think that they lack the values or emotional connection. Cognition is the ability to think and understand what other people want to hear, the difference is whether you care or not. Good question.

8:47 AM  

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