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Socionics as a Potential Scientific Theory

We socionists would like socionics to be something more than just a philosophical view of the world — an "interesting way of looking at things." It needs to have some practical application as well. For socionics to be more than a 'philosophy' and more like a scientific theory, it needs to produce hypotheses of some sort that can be verified or refuted.

As a rhetorical question I would ask, what hypotheses does the Meyers-Briggs typology produce? You might be able to make a case that the typology's theory is that people of the same type will be behave in similar ways or will have similar career or other preferences. To me this seems inadequate for a full-blooded theory, since the tests that are used to determine type according to the MBTI ask questions specifically about behavior and skill preferences. If the Meyers-Briggs theory claims to be a scientific theory, then it is rather circular in nature, isn't it? You might as well create tests that ask people what their favorite color is, divide them up into types by their results, and then claim that your typology predicts color preference. Thus, I am not sure that the Meyers-Briggs typology can qualify as a potential scientific theory.

In my discussions with Russian and Ukrainian socionists, I often try to make the point that socionics' ultimate purpose is to explain relationships. This allows us to make verifiable hypotheses about the nature of people's interaction based on qualities of these people. Usually socionists disagree with my interpretation. For example:

Allow me to disagree with your interpretation of the purpose of socionics. As I and many of my colleagues see it, socionics is first and foremost a theory and typology of the individual's information metabolism, and only secondly a theory of intertype relations. Any transactions that take place with a type are secondary to the type itself.

I don't necessarily disagree with this formulation, but I continue to emphasize that as a viable scientific theory socionics must attempt to explain something that exists in the material world. It is not enough to simply "describe reality!" What is a "theory of information metabolism?" Information metabolism is a concept, not a verifiable material phenomenon. These common, sloppy formulations of socionics demonstrate that today's socionists are still more interested in philosophy than in science.

Why a theory of relationships?

Many socionists don't seem to understand that socionics already is a theory of relationships (or interaction — it doesn't matter here which we choose). All that needs to be done, in my opinion, is realize that this is the case and focus more attention on studying qualities of relationships and interaction and their connections to socionic types.

Each scientific theory must answer a question. The theory of evolution answers a question about the origins and development of life. Quantum theory answers questions about the movement and behavior of subatomic particles. Stock market theories answer questions about why market prices behave the way they do. The question that socionics tries to answer was formulated by Aushra Augusta herself at the beginning of The Theory of Intertype Relations:

Several years ago I — a pedagogue by profession and sociologist by interest — came across Jung's book Psychological Types. Was this an accident? Yes and no. Just as it was no accident that I studied economics in order to understand the foundations of human relations. Thanks to economics I realized that — in addition to economic factors — there are other no less rigorous patterns [laws] in interpersonal communication. These are what I was trying to figure out. The main thing that I couldn't understand was why and how irritation and animosity appear despite everyone's desire to be kind, sensitive [caring], well-natured. Everyone wants the same thing, and yet it's always other people that get in the way. But why? What mechanism gets in the way of mutual understanding and goodwill?

To summarize Augusta's question, I would say, why do people not always have the relationships with others that they would like? This question has a childlike simplicity and naiveté; that makes it an ideal candidate for deserving a fundamental theory of human interaction. So far no such theory exists, as a matter of fact. Certain aspects of societal and economic interaction are described in sociology and economics respectively. Social psychology describes many mechanisms of group influence. The field of intimate (marital) relationships has no explanations that I am aware of, besides socionics. The concept of psychological compatibility is currently seen by many as too intangible to study. And yet it is definitely a sufficiently universal and material ("experiencable") phenomenon to merit a scientific explanation.

Socionists have never claimed that socionics is able to explain all dimensions of interpersonal relationships. I am hardly alone in saying that there are many other significant factors affecting interpersonal relations. But if socionics is able to explain at least some important aspects of interpersonal relationships — especially close relationships, which have hitherto been ignored by science — then it wholly deserves to become a scientific theory, or at least part of a larger theory of human relations.

Positive side-effects of my approach
If the socionics community were to accept the challenge to make socionics a theory of human interaction, this would provide an important quality control criterion for judging between alternative typing systems offered by different socionists and their schools. As it is there are a number of prominent socionists whose typing paradigms produce countless situations where the resulting intertype relations do not match reality. Yet other socionists discount the validity of intertype relations to focus instead on individual personality traits. Such socionists would sooner develop subtype systems and other theories to explain the relationship discrepancies than reconsider their original type diagnoses. If the socionics community at large recognized the purpose I propose here, offball typing paradigms would be less of a distraction.

As it is, discussion in the socionics community focuses far too much on abstract concepts. This reflects its standing as a philosophy rather than a science. Socionics needs to be brought down to earth and given some clear demands.

What needs to happen in socionics

If we view socionics as a potential theory of human relations, then it is easier to formulate our mid-range tasks.

  1. Re-formulate where necessary our understanding of socionic traits (functions, information elements, dichotomies, etc.) to reflect the qualities that play important roles in relationships. For example, "works well with his hands" is not a trait that is important for psychological compatibility (if it is, it certainly must be proved). I have written on this topic in my blog.
  2. Better formulate qualities of relationships and interaction that have measurable components (e.g. feelings of psychological comfort and relaxation are probably related to the level of certain hormones in the blood and/or brain, or to certain brain wave patterns).
  3. Study relationships and interaction between people to the point where we have a set of physiological and/or verbal criteria that we have determined to accurately reflect the psychological processes that are going on behind the scenes.
  4. Look for patterns and structure in the above phenomena; try to find out if there are certain kinds of people that a subject responds to similarly, and what the common characteristics of these people are.

What I have described here is the essence of real science — searching for hidden explanations for observable phenomena. We also free ourselves from the semantic debates surrounding immaterial socionic concepts and how to interpret them. Instead, we focus on studying phenomena directly and developing the instruments to accurately measure them.

Beyond socionics
It is possible that in our investigation of human relations, interaction, and psychological compatibility we come to new and unexpected conclusions not foreseen by socionics. Serious and honest inquiry often overturns one's preconceptions. However, there is nothing to lose if one bases one's views on the most competent research currently available.

08/09/2006 jsb'07
I found your article to be very interesting. Because I am not a scientist and as I think, I should also be a psychologist (socioligist too?), I can't give feedback which would be deep. I mean by that going into detail.  Reading science needs also understanding what it is and what makes it into one. Like fixing car will need understanding what car is.  Another good analogue would be doing chemistry needs understanding what chemistry is. Things are common with socionics, though people think that you can ride the bike without never done it before.

Let's get to my question. I am not familiar with Eastern socionics. By that I mean what do socionists study in Russia and Ukraine. When reading your article, it was obious that curent paradigm of this field is introverted. To be headed inside. Studing TIM is that. Studing relationships is headed outside and so it is extroverted.That should be also a new paradigm. I was wandering, why did socionics go into that track and also what does it need to make it go also otherside? To become also extroverted and doing reasearch in relationships, small groups and socion overall. Everyone can see how much profit can it bring to us and isn't one of the goals of science discovering new knowledge and bringing it into use? So I hope that things will change into otherside and socionics will be introverted and extroverted. I think that these two should be balcanced, but why? That's already Jung.

08/15/2006 Author
I think that socionics is actually reasonably balanced in the sense that socionists are sufficiently interested in both individual types and intertype relationships (I don't think there is too much of a disbalance). My point in the article is that for socionics to develop into a scientific theory there needs to be more concentrated focus on the relationship aspect; socionics has to predict something, and the things it should predict are in the area of interaction and relationships. Socionists need to demonstrate the possibility of creating a typology that effectively predicts important characteristics of relationships and then propose socionics as a candidate for the job.