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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 16

Person-Perception And Distance*

By R.J. Rummel

My clothes keep my various selves buttoned up together and enable all these otherwise irreconcilable aggregations of psychological phenomena to pass themselves off as one person.
----Logan Pearsall Smith, More Trivia, "Reassurance"


 I have already considered our behavior as it constitutes a space within our psychological field (Section 13.1 of Chapter 13). There the focus was on behavioral potentialities and choice. The situational object of behavior was ignored, except insofar as it was transformed into mental situations. If eventually we are to consider social behavior, however, we clearly must disaggregate situations and delimit those that are particularly social in the psychological field.

Now the situation toward which social behavior is directed can be other persons, sociocultural meanings, or material vehicles carrying such meanings.1 This excludes from social behavior, for example, kicking a rock (unless invested with meaning in a social context), scratching one's ear, or flagellating oneself as a consequence of some serious psychological disorder.

Whether one acts toward persons, meanings, or vehicles as objects, we respond to them not as objective things external to us in some sense, but as situations within our psychological space. Although for simplicity I will often use the object-predicate language in describing behavior, it should be remembered that what are perceived, what we behave toward, are not concrete objects or well-defined meanings, but percepts and concepts united into perceived situations in our mind.

Let me narrow my focus even more to interpersonal behavior, thus excluding, for the time being, behavior toward meanings like "a college degree" or "peace," or toward vehicles like a book or cross. By restricting my concern I do not exclude meanings and vehicles from consideration, because we may behave toward others according to their sociocultural meanings for us (as for a teacher, mayor, waiter, tax collector) and our behavior toward others may carry meaning to them (as a sign of strength or honesty). The frame giving structure to these meanings and vehicles, however, will be our situational perception of the other person.

To examine these particular situations with more care, remembering that they are outcomes of a dialectic struggle between perceptiles and ourselves in the psychological field.2 When we are sensually aware of another, what is perceived?3 First, as a cluster of dispositions, determinables, and powers, another person confronts us with a configuration of transitory and momentarily unique colors, forms, shadows, and perhaps sounds and smells. Those aspects of this configuration which we physically receive are transformed and communicated to our brain, where our cultural matrix gives them orientation and meaning. The configuration thus becomes a person to us, in addition to gaining particularity, say, as a male, Caucasian, taxicab driver. What we perceive of another, perhaps, at a glance, is a configuration of visual cues. These cues--manifestations--reflect the latent bundles of dispositions and powers making others intelligible to us. They enable us to categorize swiftly another's socioeconomic status, occupation, and immediate role, and to stereotype others by age, sex, race, and nationality. Comprising our categories and stereotypes, latents are the sociocultural patterns in the situations we perceive. On the basis of a few cues, a glance, a sound, we routinely make our way through diverse situations involving a variety of others.

Besides loading the perceptible of another person with meaning and orientation on the basis of its relevance to us, the cultural matrix transforms it to a perceptile with position in our dynamic psychological field. That is, a person will be given initial significance as he relates to our personality vector (profile), which also include our roles: we initially and unconsciously perceive others in relation to our abilities, motivations (drives, sentiments, roles), temperament, and moods and states.

In general, a person's relation to us in our dynamic field unconsciously informs us of three especially important aspects he has. First, we locate him evaluatively,4 as good or bad, on pertinent attributes. Is he a good scholar, a bad husband, an honest person, a sound thinker, a bully? Second, we relate his potency to ourselves. How big is he, how powerful? And third, we intuit his intentions toward us. These evaluative, potency, and intentions aspects are primary dimensions along which we orient ourselves to others.

Recall, however, that I consider another person as a perceptile in our dynamic field. Once located in our field, he is unconsciously perceived relative to our field's perceptual and psychological organization. Insofar as he is out of balance with this organization, psychological forces are generated on our personality, our perception of him, and our beliefs and memories to bring them into mutual balance. The perceptile of another person becomes more or less hostile, more or less a friend, or more or less intelligent as he is fitted into our field. The outcome of this struggle is our percept of another and associated concept as John, Mary, Jean, taxi driver, or government official.

Through this process, from determinable others to perception, repeated each time we sense another, we develop a stable perception of him--a perceived situation--that is invoked by the slightest cues. We come to see him, for example, as a close friend, sharing many attitudes, kind of soft-hearted, always helpful, a good father, and a successful and talented doctor.

Clearly, the percepts of another person are constantly being renewed in different locations of our dynamic field as we perceive him doing different things, such as throwing a ball or reading a book. Moreover, his relevancy to us will change as we shift in context from one role to another, as for example from the role of a friend to a professional one. This means that the associated percepts may be altering its position continuously in our dynamic field relevant to us, but within a stable region of our space: our memory of situations comprising another person form a well-defined configuration and (within our perspective) one of his dispositions is to always fall within this configuration.

Regardless of the different perceptions we have of another person, regardless of his momentary location within this configuration of perceived situations, there is a relatively unchanging, dialectically determined, core situation defining his intentions and power, as well as his relation to our values, temperament, abilities, motivation, and moods and states. This is a core situation linking the ever changing momentary percepts of the other person and giving us a stable orientation toward him. Henceforth, I will capitalize this core Situation to distinguish it from our ever changing momentary situational perception of the other.

These changing situations are not to be confused with their ephemeral manifestations. A perceived situation still largely comprises the invariant underlying its manifestations, as when, for example, we perceive the situation comprising someone driving an automobile. In this situation, he has the same latent properties to us that he has when reading a book, or swimming, or lecturing. These situations, however, will be located differently in our dynamic field as they activate varied needs, roles, temperaments, and so forth of our personality.

There are thus three perceptual aspects of another person. There are first his ephemeral manifestations, ever changing, momentarily unique, and partly transformed into percepts. Second, these are perceived as situations, differently located in our dynamic psychological field as we become aware of him from different perspectives, in different contexts, doing different things. And third, there is the Situation comprising the other, unifying the various changing situations involving him , and defining his importance to ourselves.


 The picture we have of person-perception so far, in its most basic form, is a relation between ourselves and the Situation comprising the other person in our dynamic psychological field. What more precisely is this relation? Let me again denote the percipient as i and the other person as j. Recall that i's vector location in his field defines his common and unique personality and his will. This vector may define i as, say, a conservative with a low sex drive and high status motivation, who is temperamentally hard-nosed and easily angered. Now, j (j means the perceived Situation comprising j, unless otherwise noted) as i perceives him will be also a vector on these same components. As a bundle of dispositions and powers, j will bear upon i, compelling perception. No less than any other aspect of actuality, j is an inner-directed vector of power.

Figure 16.1

To clarify all this, I will use one temperamental component, conservative-radical, and assume that i is a political moderate with a (vector) position on this component as in Figure 16.1a. Now Figure 16.1b shows the hypothetical (vector) positions of a person j and another person k on the component as perceived by i. Both j and k are equally distant from i, and one is clearly seen as a conservative, the other as a radical. What i perceives are these distances of j and k from him, and not any absolute conservative or radical quality they may have. To a radical, a moderate will seem conservative, while to a conservative a moderate will seem radical. This point need not be overworked. It is a common human experience to find that a conservative or liberal image changes according to whether one is among a group of university colleagues or of businessmen.

To say that a percipient's relation to another within his field is a perceived distance is still unclear, for a distance can be simply a magnitude (it is 20 miles from my home to the University) or a magnitude and direction (the University is 20 miles south of my home). Is this distance of j and i perceived simply as a magnitude, that is, a power? Look again at Figure 16.1b, where the distance magnitude of j from i is the same as that of k from i. If only the magnitude were relevant, then j to i and k to i would be undifferentiated on this common personality component. Yet, this would violate this component's very nature, for if people could only perceive that others were different from them in conservatism-radicalism, but not whether they were radical or conservative, then a common conservative-radical component would be a logical impossibility.5 Remember that i and j are located on these components in i's dynamic field; therefore, the perceptual basis of these (vector) positions must be logically consistent with the nature of the components upon which i's psychological forces locate j.

Aside from this logical argument, which is sufficient to show that i must perceive more than his distance magnitudes from others, that i would perceive only such magnitudes is simply inconsistent with everyday experience. A political moderate not only perceives that others differ on a conservative-radical component, he also perceives the direction in which the difference lies. That is, we all perceive our friends and enemies as more or less radical or more or less conservative than we. And similarly on our other common personality components we perceive others as more or less ambitious, introverted, hardheaded or softhearted, and so forth. It is thus that we must perceive both distance magnitudes and direction, that we perceive distance vectors.

To see this, look at Figure 16.1c which shows two opposite arrows, one originating at k and the other at j and both impacting on i. They tell i, by virtue of the direction they come from, whether j or k are conservative or radical, and the length of the arrow (its power) indicates the degree to which they differ from i in that direction.

Figure 16.2

Consider, therefore, that i thus perceives j on all the personality components in his dynamic field. We can then say that overall, i perceives j in his psychological space in relation to himself as defined as a distance vector from j to i in his field. Figure 16.2 shows this relationship. The point to all this is, by way of summary, that we perceive others in terms of how and in which way they differ from us. In particular, we perceive their intentions toward us,6 their power compared to ours, and their value differences from us.


 I have discussed actuality as dispositions and determinables carried by inner-directed vectors of power and have described perception as a result of the conflict between this vector and our opposing vector of perspective transformation. Moreover, I have noted that a Situation constituting another person is a bundle of perceived dispositions and powers underlying this perception. A person is located in our field as a vector of power transformed by our perspective and in relation to ourselves. The direction of this vector, this Situation, in our field defines the dispositions the other person has on the common personality dimensions. It informs us of his temperaments, needs, roles, sentiments, and such.

What within this actuality then is the distance vector? It is simply our perception of the powers and dispositions of another relative to ourselves. It is the inner-directed vector of power as it directly bears on us from within our perspective. We thus perceive others in two ways. Under our perspective transformation of this actuality bearing upon us, we perceive people as powers and dispositions in their own right, that is, we perceive their abilities, motivations, temperaments, and so on. But, we also see them as powers and dispositions regarding ourselves. From our perspective we perceive others not only as transformed situations, as entities, but also as transformed vectors of power now directed toward ourselves.

Thus, actuality transformed through our perspective is split into two aspects, as is light through a prism. We perceive a reality of powers and dispositions as though independent of ourselves, an actuality comprising people of varied shapes, desires, goals, and emotions. However, we also see this actuality as it directly relates to ourselves. We perceive others as having more or less the same motives, goals, moods, looks, and so on. And in the next Chapter we will see that this transformation of reality into two vectors of power is functional, for one comprises our descriptive perception of actuality, of our social world, while the other provides the basis for our behavior toward this world.

That there is an actual distance vector that we perceive and feel can be verified easily through our common experience. Consider how a very different person commands attention. A hippie, a beatnik, a bum, a stranger, a foreigner, by his odd behavior, appearance, or dress, may suggest a great distance from us in our field and, by virtue of that distance, compel our perception and concern. That is, such a person is a cluster of dispositions and determinables manifested within our perspective, and their power toward manifestation is a function of their perceived distance from us. 


* Scanned from Chapter 15 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. I am employing the agent, meanings-values, vehicles, distinctions of Pitirim Sorokin. See Section 24.1 of Chapter 24.

2. See Section 11.4 of Chapter 11.

3. For some of the person-perception literature, see: Hans Toch and Henry Clay Smith (eds.), Social Perceptions (Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, 1968); H. C. Smith, Sensitivity to People (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966); R. Taguiri and L. Petrullo (eds.), Person Perception and Interpersonal Behavior (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958); F. P. Kilpatrick (ed.), Human Behavior From the Transactional Point of View (Hanover, N.H.: Institute for Associated Research, 1952); Marshall H. Segall et al., The Influence of Culture on Visual Perception (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).

4. The three aspects to be considered here, the evaluative, active, and potency are given in our psychological space. See Section 11.3 of Chapter 11. It is interesting that the quantitative analysis of concept meanings and the separate and largely nonqualitative work on person perception or social perception should arrive at very similar dimensions: we categorize by strength, values, and activity.

5. Technically, if one had a matrix of perceived distance magnitudes of column objects (j's) from row percipients (i's) on a conservative-radical component, the matrix could not be reduced to this one component even though all magnitudes were originally generated from it.

6. That is, we perceive their distance (vectors) from us on relevant motivational components.

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