What’s Implicit? – If you get your neighbor’s mail would you return it unprompted?

I have a little informal experiment that I have set up in my office to see how in-tuned my students are with their surrounding and regarding implicit expectations. The parents who accompany them are strictly advised to not say or prompt their child. Typically, I invite the student into my office while I have deliberately dropped a ruler on the floor in their path as they step into to my office. As a response to this a few scenarios are likely to unfold. Some students are just blatantly oblivious and might just walk past the ruler without even noticing it or let alone doing anything. Some student may even notice it but yet not do anything about it. And finally, those observant few may actually notice it, pick it up and hand it to me.

This little social experiment brings me to the concept of executive ability required to meet the implicit expectation as part of the task demand. When we are instructed to perform or expected to do, the brain needs to process information into two parts

  • actions to take
  • conditions to follow

Let me illustrate this idea with an example. Imagine, if a mom says to her teenage, “Put your clothes into the hamper” the action involved would be picking up the closes, walking to the laundry room and then dropping colored and white clothes in two separate hampers. The implicit “condition” here that the teenage needs to adhere to is to pick ALL the clothes and not just a few and to sort colored clothes from white ones in order to dump them in respective hampers.

Imagine another scenario with slightly modified situation where a teenager walks into his bedroom where his clothes are lying all over the floor. Here, as a response to this observation, several things need to happen. First of all, the teenage needs to observe and react to the fact that he is standing on top of a pile of dirty clothes. Then he needs to become aware that the clothes need washing and finally the teenager needs to separate the white clothes from colored ones. The implicit “conditions” that the teenager needs to adhere to are that of personal hygiene and self-initiated effort.

These executive functioning elements of deciphering ‘actions to take’ while meeting the ‘implicit conditions’ is a driving force behind self-sufficient behaviors. Socially savvy individual is completely aware of the social ramifications of violating these implicit rules or conditions. In order to navigate through the world effectively one has to envision the goals that are designed by self as well as the implicit conditions that are imposed by self. These self-guided behaviors lead to productive management of one’s own intentions. We refer to such individuals pragmatic, efficient and independent. But not knowing how to create such imposed conditions on self or failing to adhere to the unspoken rules or expectation can lead to social faux pas and performance underachievement.

If you have any comments or questions about this topic, please email me at Sucheta@cerebralmatters.com

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