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Mapping the Human Relationship System

The Influence Matrix maps the human relationship system on four dimensions.

Key points

  • The Influence Matrix maps the human relationship system.
  • Two dimensions, relational value and autonomy-dependency, come from attachment theory.
  • Two dimensions, dominance and affiliation, come from the Interpersonal Circumplex.
  • Humans likely blend these systems more than other primates to navigate our complex relational worlds.

In the Unified Theory of Knowledge (UTOK), the human relationship system is one of five different systems of character adaptation (Henriques, 2017). The other four are the habit system, the experiential/feeling system, the defensive system, and the justification system.

The Influence Matrix is the fourth key idea in UTOK, and it maps how humans track relevant social information to generate a model of the relational world. It does this by positing four key “self-other dimensions” that are motivationally tracked, such that changes spark emotional feeling states. While it assimilates and integrates many different domains of interpersonal theory, it is best considered as a merger between John Bowlby’s attachment theory and Timothy Leary’s Interpersonal Circumplex. This blog shows how the Influence Matrix takes two dimensions from attachment theory and two from the Interpersonal Circumplex and joins them into a more complete picture of the human relationship system.

The evolution of parenting and attachment

Caring for offspring and the parent-child relationship is, arguably, the first systematic, intimate relationship in our evolutionary lineage. The attachment system is nature’s solution to fostering the capacity for young to elicit care and get their dependency needs met and for parents to invest in their young with discernment. In humans, the attachment system motivates children to form deep and longstanding bonds with one or a few primary caretakers. It also motivates parents to care deeply for the well-being of their children and engage in the longest, most intense investment patterns seen in the animal kingdom.

Much reliable work has been done on deciphering the patterns of attachment. There are two broad categories of secure and insecure attachments. Secure attachments can be framed as there being a healthy “cycle of security” such that the child feels known, valued, protected, and supported by the parent. Insecure attachment is when that condition is not met.

There are two dimensions that frame how children who are insecurely attached develop different strategies; one is called “avoidance” and the other “anxiety.” High avoidance refers to children who suppress dependency needs and are muted in their relational engagement. High anxiety refers to children who respond to vulnerability with exaggerated emotional displays. Finally, there are children whose attachment patterns are disorganized, and they exhibit a fearful and erratic pattern that combines and vacillates between high anxiety and high avoidance.

These dimensions correspond to two of the four dimensions on the Influence Matrix. Specifically, the “core black line,” known as the Relational-Value and Social Influence line, and the green line, which tracks involvement, autonomy, and dependency. Here is the relationship between the two frameworks:

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

The evolution of cooperation and competition

Although parenting and attachment first emerged in the mammal world, later social groups appeared that would create opportunities for long-term relationships between animals. This is especially true in social mammals like wolves, whales, elephants, and primates. In these animal groups, we see both competitive hierarchies that involve struggles for scarce resources, such as food, territories, and mates, and we see cooperative or affiliative alliances between individuals who engage in reciprocity and care. These patterns gave rise to the two dimensions of dominance and submission mapped by Leary’s Circumplex. These two dimensions are included in the Matrix.

Anthony E. D. Mobbs / Gregg Henriques
Source: Anthony E. D. Mobbs / Gregg Henriques

The evolution of the human relationship system

Work by Michael Tomasello, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, and many others has demonstrated that, prior to the emergence of human language, our hominid ancestors engaged in remarkably complex social relations that far surpassed the nuance and complexity of other great apes. This is because of the capacity to develop shared attention and intention, both with other individuals and with groups.

According to UTOK, this required a blending of different relational modules into a complex human relationship system that maps the relational field and tracks key changes in it. Thus, the attachment/parenting and cooperative/competitive systems, which may well be quite separate in other animals, come together to form the Influence Matrix that guides us in the relational world.

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

As shown, the diagram depicts the four motivational self-other process dimensions in the middle and lists common emotions on the outside. In the model, emotions are “perceptual response sets” that “energize motion” toward or away from desired states of being. (See here for more on understanding emotions and how to process them). Thus, it shows that the emotion of pride is associated with higher status, rank, and achievement, whereas shame is associated with inferiority, ineffectiveness, and low self-worth. The Matrix depicts anger and guilt as essentially opposite emotions, and this blog explains why and why people often experience “splits” between them.

Via the two boxes on the outside, the Matrix also represents what are called the self- versus other-oriented quadrants in the upper left and lower right corners, respectively. This blog explains what it means to be “other-oriented” and why some people are preoccupied with connection and dependency. This blog explains what it means to be “counter-dependent,” which is a self-oriented position and aligns with a dismissive attachment style.