A Functional Analysis of Imagined Interaction Activity in Everyday Life
A program of research examining imagined interactions in everyday life is described. Imagined interactions are a type of cognition in which individuals imagine themselves having dialogue with others. They reflect a type of imagery in which communicators experience various message strategies with others. A multidimensional instrument reflecting imagined interaction characteristics has resulted in eight dimensions of imagined interaction features. Imagined interactions may serve a variety of functions including rehearsal, increasing self-understanding, and catharsis in the form of tension relief from anxiety-producing situations. Therapeutic benefits also accrue from imagined interactions.
It is a pleasure to be here speaking at Yale today on imagined interactions in everyday life. Within the field of human communication, the study of mental imagery has been discussed under the labels of intrapersonal communication and social cognition. I believe the study of mental imagery is increasingly vital and important given the advent of new work technologies which may provide individuals more free time to be introspective, daydream, or fantasize. Ultimately, the question arises if this increased free time is spent on functional or dysfunctional thoughts, some of which may include imagined interactions. Caughey (1984) surmises that when an individual’s attention is not taken up by demanding tasks, the self’s attention shifts inward to a world of inner imagery and silent language. He argues and I agree that this is a pervasive phenomenon largely ignored by social science. I believe the study of covert dialogue or what my colleagues and I have termed “imagined interactions” can enlighten us in this area.
During the last 10 years, there has been an interest within my field on information processing and how this affects communication behavior and outcomes such as interpersonal attraction. For example, in some studies in the area of initial interaction, an individual arbitrarily designated in an experimental role as a “perceiver” may be induced to believe that he/she will be meeting a stranger who will be of some personality disposition (e.g., friendly/unfriendly, similar/dissimilar other). The interaction may be sequentially analyzed in some fashion and postinteraction ratings of the other’s social status and likeability may be gathered (e.g., Street & Murphy, 1987; Capella, 1984; Berger, 1979; Ickes et al., 1982).
In situations such as these, we may expect the perceiver to “rehearse” what he or she will do during the anticipated encounter. Thus, the perceiver is placing him or herself in some role and developing a cognitive representation of planned interaction. The perceiver is having what we refer to as “imagined interactions” (Edwards, Honeycutt, & Zagacki, 1988; Honeycutt, Zagacki, & Edwards, in press; Zagacki, Edwards, & Honeycutt, forthcoming).
Imagined interactions are a type of daydreaming that tend to occur with significant others (e.g., romantic partners, friends, relatives) as opposed to total strangers we never expect to meet. Thus far, we have deliberately restricted our study of imagined interactions to real-life others as opposed to fictional characters. We have examined the characteristics of these in everyday life. It is my hope to learn more about the form and functions of imagined interactions in daily situations. In our conception, imagined interactions are not simply internal thoughts or fantasies. Rather, an imagined interaction takes place when the self is involved in internal dialogue with a real-life significant other. More is said on this later when I will discuss a working definition of imagined interactions. Imagined interactions (IIs) may serve a variety of general and specific functions. Furthermore, the process of having an II serves to develop cognitive representations of the self. In this regard, an individual having an II is afforded the luxury of visualizing him or herself in a variety of roles, situations, and hypothetical scenes. For example, an individual may imagine an interview with a company recruiter. If the individual anticipates negative reactions to some things he/she imagines saying, then the individual may “rewrite” the II in such a way as to anticipate favorable outcomes (Edwards et al., 1988).
Today, I will partition my address into four major areas. First, I will detail how the interest in studying IIs began and how our research program at LSU started to emerge. I will review some of our survey findings such as the relationship between loneliness and general features of IIs. Second, I will discuss the theoretical foundations behind the II concept. Finally, I will speculate on the therapeutic benefits of IIs and present some sample journal accounts of II functions.
KeywordsSocial Cognition Mental Imagery Internal Dialogue Real Interaction Communication Satisfaction
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- Berger, C. R. (1979). Beyond initial interaction: Uncertainty, understanding, and the development of interpersonal relationships. In H. Giles and R. St. Clair (Eds.), Language and social psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Caughey, J. L. (1984). Imaginary social worlds. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
- Hewes, D. E. (1986). A socio-egocentric model of group decision-making. In R. Y. Hirokawa and M. S. Poole (Eds.), Communication and group decision-making. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
- Honeycutt, J. M., Zagacki, K. S., and Edwards, R. (in press). Intrapersonal communication, social cognition and imagined interactions. In C. Roberts and K. Watson (Eds.), Readings in intrapersonal communication. Spectra.Google Scholar
- Howell, W. S. (1986). Coping with internal monologue. In J. Stewart (Eds.), Bridges not walls: A book about interpersonal communication. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
- Kellermann, K. (1984). Scripts: What are they? How can you tell? And why should you care? Paper presented at the annual Speech Communication Association Convention. Chicago (November).Google Scholar
- Laing, R. D. (1969). Self and others. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
- Manis, J. G., & Meltzer, B. N. (1978). Symbolic interaction: A reader in social psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
- Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Osgood, N. (1985). Suicide in the elderly: A practitioner’s guide to diagnosis and mental health intervention. Rockville, MD: Aspen.Google Scholar
- Schank, R., & Abelson, R. (1977). Scripts, plans, goals and understanding: An inquiry into human knowledge structures. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Schultz, K. D. (1978). Imagery and the control of depression. In J. L. Singer & K. S. Pope (Eds.), The power of human imagination. NY: Plenum.Google Scholar
- Singer, J. L. (1978). Experimental studies of daydreaming and the stream of thought. In K. S. Pope & J. L. Singer (Eds.), The stream of consciousness. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
- Zagacki, K. S., Edwards, R., & Honeycutt, J. M. (forthcoming). Imagined interactions, social cognition and intrapersonal communication: Elaboration of a theoretical construct. Top two papers to be presented before the Intreapersonal Communication Commission of the Speech Communication Association as the annual conference, New Orleans, November 1988.Google Scholar