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3 Diagnosing behaviour using the interpersonal circle

The interpersonal circle – also known as the interpersonal circumplex or interpersonal wheel – is a psychological tool that helps explain why we experience the reactions explored in the previous activity. For example, why is it that, when you don’t want to talk and don’t feel like saying much, and then someone is very dominant with you, it makes you feel even more reluctant to talk?

In the 1950s, Tim Leary developed the idea of the interpersonal circle as a simple way of visually representing the interactions that take place between people. It’s therefore a well-established idea and has been used to look at the interactions between all sorts of people – doctors and their patients, police officers and suspects in interviews, and partners in romantic relationships. It has even been found to translate well to the interpersonal interactions of primates.

The following video introduces the principles of the model. Once you’ve watched it, you will move on to using the model to diagnose some behaviour.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2 The interpersonal circumplex (basic model) (adapted from Leary, 1955)

Transcript: Video 2 The interpersonal circumplex (basic model) (adapted from Leary, 1955)

INSTRUCTOR
The interpersonal circumplex is a really old idea. It was developed in the 1950s by Tim Leary, and it's basically just a way of visibly representing the interactions that take place between people, all sorts of different people, whether it be doctors and their patients, whether it be police and suspects. It's even been used with primates to characterise their interactions as well.
And it's based on a simple circular structure. And that is intersected by two different axes. The first axis runs from dominance to submission, and the important thing about this axis is whatever you give you invite the opposite response. So say I'm being dominant in conversation in a lecture theatre, for example. I'm giving a lecture, and it's to a crowded room. Me talking all the time and dominating the conversation invites submission from the people listening.
Likewise, if I'm having a conversation with someone, and it's like pulling teeth, they don't seem to want to talk to me, or make eye contact with me, they're in a submissive position. And what that makes us want to do is to actually be dominant in response. So we start to fill the silences. So whatever you give on this axis, you get the opposite back.
Now, the second axis runs across the way from hostility through to cooperation. And importantly, it works in a different way. So what you find with this axis is hostility invites hostility, and cooperation invites cooperation. So it works slightly differently. So whatever you give, you get the same in return. And we can probably all relate to this from our own personal relationships. You come downstairs, and you're a bit grumpy in the morning with a family member, and they're grumpy in return, because you get hostility inviting hostility. Likewise, when someone's really kind to you, it's incredibly hard not to be cooperative back to them.
Now, we can use this to plot interactions. So for example, we would plot neutral behaviour towards the centre of the circle, but more intense behaviour towards the edges of the circle. So say someone was being intensely cooperative, we'd mark them around here. But we can also use the principles of a circle to plan behaviours. So say, for example, I want my dinner making this evening, and I would need the person to be cooperative and slightly submissive in order to achieve that. So we'll mark them there.
How would I get them to do it? Well, we know that to get cooperation, you need to give cooperation. So we know I would need to be on this side of the circle. But we also know that to get submission, we need to be dominant. So I would be plotted somewhere around here. I would need to plan to be slightly dominant and cooperative in my approach to put the other person around here.
Now, what's really interesting about the circle is people don't unpredictably move from one area to another. They move around the circle in quite predictable ways. And also, the circle in many ways characterises what naturally happens, our natural reactions. But we can control those reactions. Now, I'm going to be adding some more complexity to this model later on in the course. But this gives you the underlying principles.
End transcript: Video 2 The interpersonal circumplex (basic model) (adapted from Leary, 1955)
Video 2 The interpersonal circumplex (basic model) (adapted from Leary, 1955)
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Now that you understand the basics of the model, you can have a go at ‘diagnosing’ behaviour by marking where you feel someone falls on the interpersonal circle.

Activity 3 Plotting where someone is on the model

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

First, take a look at the following interaction.

Download this video clip.Video player: pwc_2_w3_video3.mp4
Skip transcript: Video 3 Interaction in a car park

Transcript: Video 3 Interaction in a car park

MAN
Right, you, is that your car? This is supposed to be parking for everyone, but you didn't give a monkey's, do ya? Hey? You're supposed to park within the lines. You're nowhere near, eh? You selfish, arrogant, prat. Well, I think you need to get on and get it moved. What are you going to do?
End transcript: Video 3 Interaction in a car park
Video 3 Interaction in a car park
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Now consider the following questions.

1. Where is the person on the hostility–cooperation axis? Do you see them as being mainly hostile or mainly cooperative?

2. How intense is that behaviour? Remember that neutral behaviour goes towards the centre of the circle and more extreme or intense behaviour towards the outside of the circle (Wiggins, 1982).

3. Where is the person on the dominance–submission axis? Do you see them as being mainly dominant or mainly submissive?

4. How intense is that behaviour?

You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Using the following plotting tool, plot where you would position the person in the video on the interpersonal circle.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Discussion

The person in the video would be plotted on this point of the interpersonal circle:

Because the interaction shows high intensity dominance and high intensity hostility, the cross on the circle is placed on the outer edge of the circle in between the dominance and hostile points.

PWC_2

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