We perceive other people, ourselvesas well as social institutions in terms of two types of content, described as agency and communion. It is the first category that largely affects our selfperception, as proven by Professor Bogdan Wojciszke, precursor of studies on agency
FOR HIS STUDIES on agency and communion carried out together with Prof. Andrea Abele from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, the European Association of Social Psychology awarded Prof. Wojciszke with the prestigious Serge Moscovici Medal in 2017. Prof. Wojciszke studied matters related to love and power for many years. He is the
author of numerous books, including Psychologia miłości: intymność, namiętność, zaangażowanie (Psychology of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment) and Procesy oceniania ludzi (Processes of Forming Judgments of Other People).
The researcher has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship and held research fellowships at the University of Aberdeen, the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Cambridge and Oxford. He has won numerous awards, including the Foundation for Polish Science Prize.
What is the current subject of your research?
PROF. BOGDAN WOJCISZKE: The major area of my interest for the last ten years has been the existence of two types of content in perceiving other people, oneself, and social institutions, that is two dimensions of social cognition, which are called agency and communion. Agency pertains to the effectiveness of our actions, the focus on achieving our goals, as well as competence. Communion, on the other hand, involves functioning in social relations and those features which help us establish and maintain social connections. I carry out these studies in international collaboration with Prof. Andrea Abele from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
What conclusions can be drawn from your research?
It turns out that when we compare the relevance of these two types of content, it is different depending on whether we are looking at others or at ourselves. When we are looking at others, we pay attention chiefly to the communal content, that is whether another person can offer us anything good or rather do us harm, whether their intentions are good or bad. Whether we have a positive attitude to someone or, on the contrary, avoid them, is very strongly affected by the way we perceive their communal characteristics. If that person is warm, cordial, moral and honest, we strive to stay in touch with them. At the same time, we barely care for their agency:their competence and ability to achieve goals.
And how do we perceive ourselves?
Interestingly, when we look at ourselves, the perception is completely opposite. We do not pay attention to our morality, honesty, but rather assume that we possess those qualities. Instead, we strongly focus on our agency, competences, ability to accomplish goals and the extent, to which we come closer to or further from succeeding. Self-perception greatly depends on how we perceive our agentic features and hardly on how we see the communal ones. It is similar with our family and friends, with our own child: we perceive them mainly in terms of their agency.
Do the studied populations, e.g. in Poland and in Germany, differ in this respect?
In fact, they do not. We thought that the dominance of agentic content in self-perception could largely result from culture. Individualistic cultures (e.g. in the UK) emphasise individual agency, while collectivist ones (e.g. in China) – teamwork skills. However, we carried out various studies e.g. in China, Japan, Colombia, and it turned out that there, too, self-perception greatly depends on what people think of their agency and to a minor extent on how they evaluate their communion. This is precisely the same as in the classic individualistic cultures, such as the UK or the Netherlands.
Are you planning to continue the research? In which countries?
Yes, the research continues in Poland and in Germany. So far, we have examined several thousand people.
SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities
Sopot Faculty of Psychology