THE INDEPENDENT MIND
By Gregory Mitchell
Solomon E. Asch was a world-renowned American Gestalt psychologist and pioneer in social psychology. He became famous in the 1950s, following experiments which showed that social pressure can make a person say something that is obviously incorrect. Solomon Asch thought that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong, but the results showed that an alarming number of participants gave the wrong answer.
The inner-directed person has discovered the potential within themselves to live and act not according to established norms, but based on what they discover using their own inner compass. They have their own moral code and values. They are originally influenced by parents and other authority figures, but later the source of their direction appears as an inner core of principles and character traits. The inner-directed person does not derive his sense of value or identity solely from tradition nor from conformity to peer-group fashions, but from the resources of his own nature.
Other-directed persons tend to be dependent. They may be anxious and fearful about others’ approval or disapproval of themselves. They tend to be oversensitive to others’ opinions and are compulsive conformists. They often are manipulating in order to please others and insure constant acceptance and approval.
Research by cognitive psychologist Herman A. Witkin reports that one aspect of cognitive style, namely field-dependence/field-independence, is affected significantly by socialization and child-rearing practices.
The term ‘field‘ relates to the external perceived world.
Relatively field-dependent individuals thrive more in situations where decisions are made for them.
They tend to prefer a ‘spectator’ approach to life with responsibility on the shoulders of others.
They operate with a relatively external frame of reference, as opposed to the greater ‘inner-directedness’ of the field-independent individual.
Inner direction is considered a desirable trait in Mind Development. This orientation can only be achieved by an individual who is in the process of developing his own character, of becoming ‘field-independent’, his or her volition self-determined (based on self-knowledge) rather than the effect of manipulation or propitiation.
The most original, creative and outstanding men and women are invariably of this type, and yet it is no ‘elitist’ type, for it is available to all human beings with the courage of their convictions.
It is the way of life that takes ‘Individuation’ (as described by Carl Jung) as its goal: to manifest one’s highest potential. To achieve Individuation, the individual needs to become much more field-independent and inner-directed than is generally the case. There is a significant correlation between field-independence and IQ.
Rely on the surrounding perceptual field.
Have difficulty attending to, extracting, and using non-salient cues.
Have difficulty providing structure to ambiguous information.
Have difficulty restructuring new information and forging links with prior knowledge.
Have difficulty retrieving information from long-term memory.
Have a tendency to be extrinsically motivated.
Have a disposition to be other-directed.
Have a tendency to be extraverted.
Field-independents: (independent thinkers)
Perceive objects as separate from the field.
Can dis-embed relevant items from non-relevant items within the field.
Provide structure when it is not inherent in the presented information.
Reorganize information to provide a context for prior knowledge.
Tend to be more efficient at retrieving items from memory.
Have a tendency to be intrinsically motivated.
Have a disposition to be inner-directed.
Have a tendency to be introverted.
Field independence/field dependence are a semi-independent dimension to introversion/extraversion, but the separation is not complete.
There is a moderate correlation between introversion and field independence, as well as between extraversion and field dependency.
The capacity to introvert is a skill dependent on a certain level of maturity – children and the immature are not good at this.
The process of introversion is a skill that the child will need in order to develop greater intelligence and wisdom.
Introversion reaches a maximum at about age forty, the true age of maturity.
By the age of forty, most people have had twenty years of adult life, they have had the experience of marriage, children, ownership of property and forging a career, and they have become politically aware.
Introversion is the tendency to focus one’s attention towards the inner, mental world, but it is only with maturity that harmony may be found.
The American bias toward extraversion as a sign of maturity is a dangerous but little-discussed political phenomenon.
Let us consider how dangerous this bias is.
It requires that the introvert abandon her particular genius in order to join the crowd.
Consider the extraverted leader who values loyalty above clear thinking; consider the dangers we are led into by a coarse, unsubtle extravert who distrusts the loner, the doubter, the thinker.
Ironically, although extraverts tend to have developed outgoing social skills, people who are truly great at working social interactions such as diplomats tend to be introverts, since they have needed to look inside to develop meaningful empathy between themselves and others.
Internal motivation is an attribute of the introverted personality.
An introvert spends inordinate amounts of time processing the world around him through his own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. He frequently thinks about how his environment impacts his existence.
As a result, when he is enthusiastic about a life task, he is able to discipline himself for greater periods of time for the purposes of reflection and problem solving.
This process of inner reflection energizes him and propels him forward toward new ways of thinking, believing, and behaving.
In essence, an introvert is motivated by his own self-talk. Introverts work well independently, and usually prefer to work alone. Internally motivated individuals are frequently insightful and can more easily see the association between cause and effect.
On the down side, an introvert is more susceptible to mood swings and depression because he spends so much time reflecting upon the significance of his life.
Introverts tend to be intrinsically motivated.
Intrinsic motivation is inner-directed (field-independent) interest in a task.
In studies on field dependence and field independence, it was found that field-independent individuals tend to engage in a hypothesis-testing, participant role in learning.
They seemed to function on intrinsic motivation and were perceptive of the subtle and inconspicuous information relevant to the task.
Intrinsic motivation, field independence, reflection, cognitive complexity, deep-level processing, and task orientation are all positive traits exhibited by introverts.
On the other hand, field dependent individuals tended to notice only the most prominent information and seemed to be motivated by extrinsic rewards.
The source of motivation tends to be externally based when individuals are other directed and seek affirmation of traits, competencies, and values from external perceptions and influences.
In stressful and/or threatening circumstances, field dependent individuals appeared to utilize repression and thus exhibited inferior or distorted recall.
The Illusion of Normality
Experiments were undertaken by Gestalt psychologists early last century, in which a person viewed through a mechanism of titled mirrors. At first all seemed to the person to be indeed tilted, but after a period a normalization effect took place and the mind auto-corrected the view so it seemed normal again.
When exposed to the real scenario, this now seemed tilted to the person. The normalization effect represents a wearing off of the influence of the framework of the outer world. In the mirror world, the framework of the normal objective world could not be sustained, and a new framework takes its place.
The subject felt he must conform to the influence of the titled framework, even when it meant not only suppressing bodily feelings (his sense of bodily uprightness) by subsequently feeling tilted when objectively upright but denying the obvious perceptual conflict when the frame could not possibly be upright when it was not lined up with his body. This indicated not only a denial of his body as a standard of reference and an inability to relate it to what he could see in front of him, but a denial also of perceptual contradictions. These are strong illusions and indicate the potent effect of the normalization phenomena.
Those who excepted the field as upright in its tilted position insisted they were quite correct in their judgments, or that “the longer I look at it the less faith I have in my judgments.” With continued conflict between visual and postural determinants, the conflict is resolved in the direction of even greater reliance upon the visual framework. Thus, when a person loses one of their main points of reference – in psychology it may be significant people, or one’s job, for example – and outer cues become stronger, inner conflicting cues are ignored in determining the objective reality.
In addition, as outer cues begin to saturate the person for longer periods, inner cues become less and less useful as a basis for judging reality. The surrounding field becomes increasingly accepted as normal, even though its acceptance leads to an inaccurate judgment of the world and represents a tilted and distorted view.
A field-dependent person actually has a much narrower visual field so even in everyday life he is actually blind to certain reference points that would exist on the periphery of his vision – his vision is more literal and central. Such a person when reading makes very small fixations, and cannot read more than one word either side, or one line above or below the fixation point they are looking at. They are focused on a single point without reference to the total context. Of course, there are many fields beyond the perceptual, such as cognitive fields and social fields.
By analogy we can think of many everyday life situations which provide a person with this kind of conflict, between his own inner feelings and the outside stimulation that surrounds him. It seems that although a person may at first resist the intrusions of the surrounding field which might be quite distorted, without a point of reference or with supports of the objective reality taken away, he cannot for very long maintain himself. An obvious example is the situation of sensory deprivation. The distorted world tends to right itself and be perceived as normal.
We may speculate that in social situations an individual’s judgment may be rendered less useful for making a true assessment of what the objective reality is, by constantly saturating him with a bold, distorted field whilst at the same time limiting his access to independent assessment of the outer situation. Although he may at first rely on his inner standards and judge the socially induced reality to be distorted and untrue, in practice he will tend gradually to be overcome and accept the distorted reality as normal and true.
These observations derived from the perceptual laboratory may also help us to understand such phenomena as propaganda and brainwashing, and how they insidiously work their pernicious effect over a period of time, even on individuals who under optimal conditions might demonstrate good judgment.
It would also seem that this is the model used by some governments and organizations, surrounding their people with stimuli that are presented as reality, while at the same time limiting popular access to other sources of information. In the beginning the people may resist and protest and view the offered reality with suspicion, but little by little they too may succumb to the normalization effect, to accept as true, right and normal that which was previously perceived as a distortion.
Both hypnotic suggestibility and vulnerability to non-hypnotic social influence have positive and significant correlations with field dependence. Rhetoric and reality can be confused even when there is a clear and definite need to distinguish between them. A person may be immersed in a philosophy and a context which permeates by a process of osmosis until it seems normal. The context therefore has a hypnotic effect.
In contrast the effects of work with Mind Development techniques lead to greater field-independence. The student is continually encouraged to objectively reality check his internal belief system, against the context of his relationships, his hobbies, the outside world in general, his occupation, and to utilize objective tests of performance such as biofeedback, IQ and personality tests.
Unless we are dead, we are all individuals to a certain extent, but when we have achieved Individuation we are inner-directed and field-independent, so we would not be compelled to be conformist. Solomon Asch stated that most of the participants in his experiment were field-dependent and other-directed. They may of course be classed as individuals, but they were a million miles from being Individuated. They may have been free to express minor individuality within a bounded reality, but they were unable to express their individuality in an unbounded reality.
When we have achieved Individuation, we can say metaphorically, we are in the world without being of the world. There is an enormous gap between being an individual in a small way, to being a person who can write his own script.