Two Separate Realities: Dyadic Communication Problems Resulting from Interpersonal Differences in Internal Complexity

  • Felix Geyer
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 5)


This paper forms part of a larger study on the applicability of GST to alienation theory, where alienation is viewed as a generic term covering various kinds of information processing disturbances of individuals. Alienation is increasingly becoming an important subject of theoretical and empirical research in the social sciences. Since it is, in many ways, related to the specific structure of modern societies, our discussion will focus on a specific type of interpersonal alienation, originating especially in modern environments—between persons who need not be alienated themselves. To place this discussion in its proper perspective, however, a concise summary of a general systems approach to alienation theory will first be presented.


Interaction Partner Environmental Complexity Decisional Function Communication Problem Negative Stereotype 
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    The world outside the system can be divided into: an interaction environment (which one gives outputs to, and receives inputs from); an input environment (which one receives inputs from, without being able to emit effective outputs in return—e.g. a complex bureaucracy); -an output environment (which one gives outputs to, without obtaining effective feedback through inputs—e.g., in many cases, the audience of an author or actor); -a latent environment (a rest category, including all those unknown aspects of one’s environment one neither gives outputs to, nor receives inputs from at any given moment).Google Scholar
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    In our conceptualization, geared towards the explanation of alienation, defense mechanisms can be viewed as subsystems that imply new ways of coding in those cases, where continuing the old way of coding would lead to anti-survival behavior of the individual concerned. It should be noted that in psychiatry, defense mechanisms are generally defined in a retrospective way, stressing their negative effects in the present rather than their presumably positive effects at the time of their construction: a perhaps once survival-relevant and new way of coding has never been altered, while environmental (and perhaps also intrasystemic) change has made it dysfunctional for the individual’s behavior in the present.Google Scholar
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    “Effect-testing” gives perhaps a better idea of what goes on than “reality testing,” which suggests the existence of an objective, immutable external reality. It should be clear that, in our opinion, everyone makes his own mental constructions of his external environment, and the only thing one can do in reality testing is to sharpen one’s hypotheses toward greater predictability of environmental reactions. Nevertheless, we will continue to use the term “reality testing” in line with general usage.Google Scholar
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    Which of the two depends on whether H views L’s low internal complexity as mainly due to his state functions or to his decisional functions.Google Scholar
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    The complete text can be obtained from the author, R. F. Geyer, SISWO, O. Z. Achterburgwal 128, Amsterdam, Netherlands.Google Scholar
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    The world outside the system can be conceptualized, independently of the categorization proposed in Ref. 6, in the following way: -natural environment: the non-human environment, insofar as not produced by human activity; -direct-interpersonal environment: all those with whom one has face-to-face contact on a regular and diffuse (instead of functionally-specific) basis; -indirect-interpersonal environment: all those with whom contacts are either face-to-face, but shortlived and functionally-specific, or non-face-to-face; -societal environment: the man-produced non-human environment, including symbolic communications, large-scale institutions and processes, etc.Google Scholar
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    Albert B. Cherns, “Work of Life.” In: Theories of Alienation, op. cit., p. 237.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felix Geyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Netherlands Universities’ Joint Social Research CentreAmsterdamNetherlands

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