What importance do we give to the opinion that others have of us? The usual thing is that we underestimate it; in fact, although it seems incredible to us, it seems that we have a mechanism that makes us adapt our behavior to the information of this variable. To delve a little deeper into it, today we will talk about the sociometer theory.
This theory tells us about a psychological mechanism that helps us to minimize the likelihood of rejection. And it would also be closely related to the self-regulation of our behavior in company or towards other people.
This regulatory mechanism seems to respond to changes in relational value. It provides a framework on which to analyze phenomena such as self-esteem and sensitivity to rejection. Also personality disorders and many of the reactions that people have in relation to others.
This psychological indicator can even provide very valuable information about what happens when people self-regulate in a dysfunctional way. This form of self-regulation further damages their relationships with other people. Closely related to self-esteem, this sociometer affects and also influences the regulation of our emotions.
Evolutionary bases of the sociometer theory
Baumester and Leary developed the sociometer theory of self-esteem. Later it would be expanded by Gardner, Pickett and Brewer. They did it based on the idea that the human being is practically incapable of surviving and reproducing without maintaining a minimum social relations. Therefore, he developed a system that allows him to maintain these relationships successfully. This requires a system that monitors the reactions of others to our behaviors; especially, the reactions to our actions that may cause social rejection towards our person.
This monitoring system alerts the individual to possible changes in their status of inclusion or decrease in social acceptance. This scanner to assess the state of our relationships is what motivates us to perform behaviors that repair situations that may be damaging our relationships. They also alert us to any behavior that could endanger our social ties. That is, the human being has developed a psychological mechanism that monitors the indirect visual environment in search of clues that are relevant to the relational value of a person in their environment.
Emotions: measurement tools
According to the sociometer theory, self-esteem is an indicator of the quality of our social relationships. When people maintain behaviors that lead them to be rejected by the group their self-esteem will suffer and descend. If, on the other hand, behaviors linked to positive emotions are maintained, self-esteem increases. We could say then that self-esteem has an important emotional component.
Evolutively, nature has provided us with an alarm system that often marks with pain the things it wants us to avoid. In the same way, he has marked with pleasure the things he wants us to repeat. When a person’s needs are not covered, aversive sensations occur. Its purpose is for the body to react and remedy the situation that is unpleasant or threatening. And this also applies in the case of membership needs. Emotions serve to alert us to events that have considerable implications for our well-being. All emotions are adaptive.
How does it work?
This monitoring system seems to act far from consciousness and does so until we detect that the relational value is low or decreasing. It is at that moment that it causes the individual to consciously consider the situation. If the person has experienced a rejection experience recently, they will be more sensitive to what other people think about them. In this case, he will dedicate more cognitive resources to reasoning about his social situations.
This theory, in fact, what explains is that self-esteem is an indicator and therefore it would not make sense to act on it.
“For a person with low self-esteem, wanting to raise it, per se, would be like wanting to manipulate the needle of a car’s gasoline marker to want more gasoline. When in reality, if we want to have more gas in the car, what we have to do is fill the tank.”