Social Attention Theory

After the first month or so at my internship site, another theory that I have noticed in action is the Social Attention Theory. Social Attention Theory is the idea that we have evolved over time to pay attention to different signals from other group members to infer their motivations, intentions, etc. It also helps us determine the behavior we should adopt in a particular group. I will discuss the Social Attention Theory in relation to my work specific team. 


Within my own office setting the most obvious behavior that I have learned to adapt is how I dress. After the first few weeks, with all of the new interns coming in, we all began to dress more or less the same. In particular, I share an office with only one other intern who happened to start work a week after I did. So I was given the responsibility of getting her acclimated to the workspace and I also taught her how to go about her daily work responsibilities. Over the past month, her work attire has slowly become more and more like mine. Now, what is most interesting about this is that I do not dress like my supervisors. They tend to be more casual than I am, I usually wear business professional to the office instead of business casual. This other intern has increased the professional level in her dress, especially after we were moved into the same small space. This is a relatively nuanced observation about the Social Attention Theory, but I found it interesting.


Another instance where I have noticed the Social Attention Theory in action in my office is in the way that we communicate with one another. I know that the level of casual communication and the way that I may phrase or ask questions is dependent on the way that my direct supervisor communicates with me. I can feel myself taking cues from her conversation to determine the type of response that is appropriate. For example, my supervisor is very casual with me and instead of walking down the hall to talk to one another, we just text back and forth throughout the day. Our language is much looser and we joke around and poke fun at each other. With my supervisor, I can be more relaxed and not as cautious with phrasing and sharing of opinions. Conversely, the president of my organization comes to town every week or so from New York. He is a friendly man who always has a smile on his face, but interactions with him are very formal. When he is in town the entire atmosphere of the office changes to be more serious. Normally when the team is making decisions it is about bouncing ideas off of one another, but when the president is in the office is it much more of a “yes sir” type of attitude, where anything he says goes. 


Qualitatively this theory does well when the president is not in town. I think that the Social Identity Theory helps the office be a more cohesive group. I was nervous going into my internship because I was unsure of the type of workplace that it would be, but after a month I feel comfortable after following my supervisors’ example. Additionally, the type of leadership that my supervisors exhibit also helps to make the office cohesive. They are focused on leading by example and not treating “followers” or interns as any less than they are. This, in turn, has helped me and the other interns feel better about being a team and matching their styles. On the other hand, when the president is in town and we switch gears into following his leadership style, it becomes an obstacle to getting work done. He is very demanding and wants to only see the finished product of the work we have done, and will still trash the entire project if he does not like it. Plus he allows little room for compromise or negotiation. If he does not understand or there is some type of miscommunication, it is essentially game over for the project someone could have spent weeks producing. Since his leadership style seems to be one of only making the final decisions, there is a lot of work that goes to waste. 

One thought on “Social Attention Theory

  • July 10, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Interesting insights about how things change when the president is in town. Obviously, if you choose Social Identity Theory as the theory to write about in the major paper this fall, you’ll want to dive into the role of prototypicality and how there are seemingly at least two prototypes (your supervisor and the president) when discussing how behaviors change in their presence. Again, you’ll be doing a deep-dive into a theory and will need to explore all the elements, support or ‘denounce’ (for lack of a better word) them using examples from your internship site.

Comments are closed.