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Minds, Possible Worlds introduces the concept of "transactional self," or the self that is continually engaged in and developed from active relationships. These relationships "are premised on a mutual sharing of assumptions and beliefs about how the world is, how mind works, what we are up to, and how communication should proceed," (Bruner, 1986, p. 57). Almost a form of mind reading, transactional consciousness permits psychologists to make generalizations about typical human transactions and also pathological interactions with the world. Thus, a person intuits how others feel or think. Much of what we attribute to intuition, empathy, or even psychic powers can be conceptualized as an underlying intelligence about the transactional self.
Research, although burdened by methodological hindrances, reveals the nature of the transactional self. People tend to gravitate towards those who are perceived to like them. Questioning the underlying thought process, Bruner posits that the tendency to befriend those who are perceived to like us is either a form of vanity or a form of intelligence. Bruner's (1986) research also shows "that shared sensitivities and biases can produce some strikingly social consequences," (p. 59). These social consequences reveal the bridge between psychology and social psychology. For example, the tendency to bond with those who are perceived to be sympathetic creates stable social groups in which reciprocity is expected and implied. Moreover, transactional processes in social interactions tend to "intensify over time," which further solidifies in-group and out-group statuses (Bruner, 1986, p. 59).
Social transactions can be observed even in infants who have yet to develop language skills. Passing objects around a circle, for example, requires nonverbal cues. These nonverbal cues were shown to be transactional in nature in that they revealed "mutuality in action," (Bruner, 1986, p. 59). It seems as if human interactions are guided by an innate yet complex understanding of how to achieve social harmony. Children learn quickly to follow another's gaze, for example.
The transactional self also manifests in language construction and language learning. For example, deictic shifters are words that take on different meanings depending on the contextual cues -- mainly the speaker. They are typically pronouns and demonstratives such as "I." Thus, the speaker says "I" to refer to the self; the other person in the conversation says "I" also, but to refer to him or her. Bruner (1986) points out that spatial shifters like "here" and "there" serve similar purposes. Deictic shifters are mastered relatively quickly by children, showing that language acquisition depends directly on social learning and on the complex cognitive processes that are involved with interacting -- transacting -- with others.
The implications of this research are profound. For instance, the child who understands the contextual cues of language is not as "self-centered" as is sometimes believed. Theories of childhood "egocentrism" have become "so grossly, almost incongruously wrong" and yet "so durable," according to Bruner (1986, p. 60). These durable yet plainly wrong theories suggest that, in addition to egocentrism, issues related to privacy, unmediated conceptualism, and tripartism govern human consciousness development. In fact, early childhood learning and development reveals a marvelous capacity for placing the self within a broader context. Even if there is a clear distinction between a "public" self and a "private" self, this distinction can all but vanish in collectivist cultural milieus. Thus, another key implication of research in the transactional self is that psychological research can be constrained by ethnocentric biases on the part of researchers.
Understanding the transactional self depends on an appreciation for the purpose, function, and structures of language. Syntax, which "provides a highly abstract system for accomplishing communicative functions," contributes to semantics in language (Bruner, 1986, p. 62). Syntax offers a shared social framework for language, too. Individuals rely on the predictability of syntax to know that "others can be counted upon," (Bruner, 1986, p. 62). Using the syntax of a particular language restricts, on the one hand, yet creates and enhances social harmony on the other. A language barrier is thus more complex and meaningful than it seems on the surface; it implies that people from different cultures may actually think differently about the world. At the very least, people from different cultures do not share the core means by…[continue]
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