PERCEPTION DISTORTION AND THE EXTENSIONAL DEVICE OF DATING
William E. Arnold and James C. McCroskey*
Ever since the publication of Korzybski's Science and Sanity in 1933, the world has been treated to a wealth of theory in general semantics and a dearth of experimental tests of these theoretical formulations. As with most theoretical formulations involving communication, one of the main obstacles to experimental investigation of general semantics theories is the difficulty in operationalizing the formulations. Of all the general semantics formulations the extensional devices appeared to the writers to be the most amenable to experimental investigation. Specifically, the concern of this paper is the extensional device of dating.
"Dating" is the term used in general semantics to describe the process of noting changes produced in people or things by time. Writers in general semantics suggest that people frequently ignore the fact that change is basic in human behavior and indeed in all life. Thus subsequent evaluations of people and one's environment represent static rather than dynamic perception. The formulation known as dating states that if our evaluations and our statements about our environment are to be accurate, they must take into consideration the fact that both man and his environment are changing from moment to moment. For example, Richard Nixon 1969 is not exactly the same person as Richard Nixon 1962. Nor is the Vietnam War 1969 exactly the same as the Vietnam War 1962.
Dating behavior, then, would force the individual to take cognizance of the factor of change, to evaluate his environment, and to make verbal utterances which fit the life facts as they exist at the moment.
Much of this theory is predicted on the notion that change is a predominate
factor in life. The general semanticist often suggests that individuals
tend to ignore this factor of change and fail to differentially perceive
"in time." While it would seem that everyone knows changes occur
and that it is only natural to adapt to change, Korzybski, referring to
formulations such as dating, tells us in Science and Sanity:
Curiously enough, the principles involved are often childishly simple,
often "generally known," to the point that on several occasions
some older scientists felt "offended" that such "obvious"
principles should be so emphasized. Yet my experience, without any exception,
was that no matter how much these simple principles were approved of verbally,
in no case were they fully applied in practice.
The dating behavior which was the focus of the present studies was the dating of a source's attitude on a controversial issue. If a source's attitude on an issue last year (time1) was favorable, it is normal to expect his attitude to be favorable this year (time2). However, if the source states an unfavorable view on the question this year we have a circumstance calling for dating behavior. If, in the face of a statement by the source which indicates that he is not favorable on the issue this year, we still perceive him to be favorable, we have failed to date his attitude. To put it another way, we have a distorted perception of his present attitude.
The speculation which led to our research, therefore, was that the concept of communication or perception distortion as developed in relation to dissonance theory and the concept of dating as developed in general semantics theory represent the extremes of a continuum between two of the possible reactions to a communicative stimulus. Although it is unlikely that human responses to communicative stimuli often reach either pole of this continuum, it is important to determine the circumstances in which we can expect responses to approach either of these poles. In short, it is important to know when dating will dominate a person's response to communicative stimuli and when perception distortion will dominate that response.
The presumption underlying much of the writing in the field of general semantics is that dating behavior should occur in many circumstances but that it typically does not. If this presumption is correct, experimental investigations of circumstances calling for dating behavior on the part of a group of Ss should fail to indicate the presence of significant dating effects. Extended experimental investigations in this area, then, would prove fruitless. If, however, dating behavior can be observed in one or more experimental investigations, further experimentation would be very much in order.
Three exploratory studies were conducted. The purpose of these studies was to determine the feasibility of more extended research designed to define the circumstances in which dating behavior can be expected. The exploratory nature of these studies needs to be stressed. While the studies reported here provide preliminary data for predicting circumstances which will most likely produce dating behavior, firm generalizations based on these studies would be unwarranted. It is hoped, however, that the results of these studies will lead to further and more sophisticated experimental investigations of dating behavior.
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