Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Psychology of Rapport: Sociometry

Originally posted on June 22, 2011

The Brafman brothers’ recent book, “Click,” and other writings speak to an extension of the growing popularity of applied social psychology and social intelligence, which is a sub-trend in contemporary psychology. Back in the 1930s, one of my teachers, Dr. J. L. Moreno, was writing about this dynamic. He became more well known for his invention of the therapeutic role-playing technique called “psychodrama,” a very effective modality that has been gradually squeezed out of managed-care-driven psychiatric treatment. It was somewhat popular in the mid-20th century, though, offering a more dynamic alternative to psychoanalysis. The point here, though, is that Moreno was also a pioneer of social psychology.

Human nature involves the fact of being embedded in social networks—we should not be viewed mainly as individuals. This was how Moreno bridged the fields of psychology and sociology. As deep as any Freudian-described complex are the dynamics of feeling liked or disliked, feeling the joy of being included or the hurt of feeling excluded. These are aspects of the elusive dynamics of rapport—Moreno’s term for this was “tele.” I want to bring Moreno’s perspectives to the attention of a wider range of people. For example, I wrote about the relevance of sociometry—Moreno’s methods for exploring the dynamics of rapport—in group psychotherapy. (Other papers I’ve written about sociometry are also on this website.) This heightened awareness is also relevant for how we run our schools and businesses.

I suspect Moreno’s own style of writing and a variety of problems with the method itself—being new and not really easy to use—impaired its acceptance, so sociometry became less well known in sociology after the 1970s. However, recent research offers an opportunity to re-integrate and refine some of Moreno’s insights.

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