The Deep Dynamics of Social Mood

IRobert Prechter has noted that social mood is operating all the time. I am often struck by how pervasive and powerful social mood is. The fact that it affects all collective human behavior means it is deeply rooted in human nature. Why is social mood so potent? I believe social mood is so far-reaching in its effects because it is part of broader forces that operate at a fundamental level in nature. 

So what are the deep dynamics of social mood? Social mood may be related to the most basic forces of the universe at both the micro atomic level and macro cosmological level. This table summarizes these dynamics: 

                       DEEP DYNAMICS OF SOCIAL MOOD

                                   Positive Social Mood (progress)  Negative Mood (regress)

Level of Dynamics                  

Human Psychology                approach motivation            avoidance motivation

Atomic Interactions               attraction                                repulsion

Cosmological Level                expansion                                contraction


Human Motivation--Psychological Level

Social mood is related to a fundamental motivational orientation that researchers call approach-avoidance motivation. Approach motivation is the desire to seek rewarding and positive incentives. Humans are motivated to attain an incredibly diverse range of incentives, from physical sensations and material rewards to social interaction, emotional reinforcement, and intellectual stimulation, to higher-order and complex life goals. This type of motivation is necessary for life to flourish. I have previously described how positive social mood is related to collective approach motivation, the aggregate approach motivation of a society, which leads to a societal focus on potentially rewarding outcomes and stimulates collective goal striving, risk-taking, and achievement. 

Conversely, avoidance motivation is the disposition to avoid negative stimuli and aversive outcomes. These can include negative physical, emotional, social, or higher-order outcomes. Negative social mood is related to collective avoidance motivation and yields a defensive societal emphasis on avoiding harm and negative consequences.  So collective approach and avoidance motivation are related to positive and negative social mood, respectively. 

Atomic Level

Approach-avoidance motivation and social mood may also be related to the fundamental dynamics of atomic bonding as well as to electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. Atomic bonding involves attraction and repulsion of protons and electrons. Intermolecular forces, from which ordinary matter takes its form, are either attractive or repulsive. In electromagnetism, electric charges either attract or repel each other. So a fundamental dynamic at the atomic and electromagnetic level is attraction and repulsion.

Approach motivation and positive social mood involve a central dynamic of attraction. We are motivated to approach stimuli and goals to which we are attracted. And avoidance motivation and negative social mood involve aversion and repulsion to stimuli that are perceived as distasteful or threatening. So the same dynamics associated with the alternation between positive and negative social mood also are present in the tension between attraction and repulsion at the atomic level.

Attraction and repulsion are also fundamental properties of gravity. According to Alan Guth of MIT, creator of the currently accepted version of the Big Bang theory, positive pressure creates attractive gravitational fields of the kind to which we are accustomed, while negative pressure creates a repulsive form of gravity. Ordinary attractive gravity pulls everything together, while repulsive gravity--the cosmological constant--pushes everything apart.

Cosmological Level

Now lets expand our view to the level of the entire cosmos. I have written about cosmological theories that describe ongoing expansion and contraction of the universe. A cyclic model highly regarded by cosmologists posits that the universe had not just one creation event but rather has an endless sequence of an expanding Big Bang followed by a contracting Big Crunch. These Big Bangs and Big Crunches repeat over and over in a series of trillion-year cycles. According to this model, the universe is engaged in an eternal pattern of expansion and contraction. 

Social mood also involves a dynamic of expansion and contraction. Robert Prechter has described the many ways that positive social mood entails economic and sociocultural expansiveness, whereas negative social mood involves fundamental contraction and regression. Alternating waves of expansion and contraction may animate both social mood and the growth of the entire universe. 

So positive social mood, which impels progress and advancement, involves approach-attraction-expansion. Negative social mood, which is associated with regression, involves avoidance-repulsion-contraction. These  social mood dynamics may be related to the same processes that operate at the level of atomic interactions and at the macro level of the cosmos. Atomic forces shape the actions of protons, electrons and intermolecular interactions, while cosmological forces direct the actions of stars and galaxies, and social mood shapes the collective actions of human beings. These are very strong forces and may explain why social mood is so powerful and pervasive in affecting collective human behavior. 

The relations posited here imply a unity between the fundamental dynamics of the physical universe and the social dynamics of human behavior. Our collective actions, which are shaped by social mood, may be influenced by deep micro and macro physical forces. Future research and theory may help to elaborate the proposed linkages between these levels of dynamic processes. 

See also my articles:  Collective approach-avoidance motivation

                       Waves of expansion and contraction animate social mood and the entire universe