On Alert

Here’s another bit of writing from my social psychology class last semester. We were reading and discussing the influence that groups have on our level of physiological arousal, and how being in a group tends to heighten our sense of arousal, which can be experienced as excitement or as stress. There was one section that broke out a few different reasons for this increased arousal, which I found interesting in light of my tendency to feel overwhelmed or anxious in the presence of others.

The first one was evaluation apprehension. When you feel others are judging you, you feel “on alert.” An obvious example is the way most people feel nervous about public speaking, or performing a solo musical piece for the first time. Everyone’s eyes are on you, and you worry about how you will look to them. But the same goes for informal social situations, especially if you have been teased or ostracized in the past for being socially awkward. You start to feel as if every social occasion will involve evaluation and judgment, and this breeds anxiety.

The second factor was distraction. When you are performing a task as part of a group, it’s easy for your attention to become split between doing the task yourself and looking to see how the rest of your group is doing, especially if you notice someone else faltering. For example, I used to sing in a small choir, and it was very hard to stay focused on my part if another member shifted position, or stumbled on the timing, or otherwise drew my attention.

The last factor mentioned was the “mere presence” of other people. This didn’t seem well-explained to me, just thrown out there as a catch-all to say that people (and non-human animals) still get aroused by the presence of others even if they aren’t distracted or competing with each other. But for me it did connect with a third factor that comes into play, which is sensory overload from the presence of other people. This could just be considered a part of the distraction factor, because it is often sensory input from a group that causes distraction for me, but it’s also there as an unconscious influence even if it doesn’t distract me at the time. So yes, the mere presence of other people—especially in large numbers—definitely has an effect on me as well.

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6 thoughts on “On Alert

  1. Interesting. I think it’s incomplete, though, as I strongly suspect other factors may or may not be covered by the distraction umbrella. Sensory influences are often powerful enough to eliminate my participation altogether, rendering me uncomfortable observer at best. Physical proximity sensitivity due to being overly sensitive to the energy of others needs more investigation in my opinion.

    I’m looking forward to holographic avatars for social activities, or something similar in the future. I’d gladly forego the potential excitement if I could forego the overwhelming stress. 🙃

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, definitely doesn’t seem complete to me, either, and it’s worth noting that this was kind of a baseline summary of explanations for the general population. I think that autistics may have many other factors in play.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Laina's Collection and commented:
    This is really interesting! What I get out of this is that we’re not as “weird” or “disordered as much of the medical profession makes us out to be. Maybe we’re just more aware of it, and it might be heightened for us through our wiring, but it might not be so “wrong” after all. That class sounds really fascinating! This is such a great read 😊💓

    Liked by 1 person

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